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 B en D o v e r , T im e t o d o it a g a in :

               N o b o d y 'll M iss 'E m
                               By Bill Cady

                         All You Need Is Love
Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                          1


                                 Oceanside, California

                         Monday, November 16th, 8:43 p.m.

       "You stayin' in Ronnie's motor home again tonight?" asked Benjy as he walked

slowly across the shopping center parking lot, timing his pace to Sam's slower step. In

his mid 60s, at least, Sam didn't walk all that speedily anymore. Benjy looked to his right

at his best friend of more than twelve years, who seemed just as decrepit as Benjy knew

he appeared himself.

       Sam, with a grayish blond beard to the middle of his chest, spoke slowly in order

to enunciate the words so they'd be understood. With only three teeth left in his mouth,

two on the bottom, one on top, none of them aligned with the others to allow chewing,

he'd learned to make do over the years. The blue plaid flannel shirt he wore was still

close to fresh, only being worn three days, so far. His jeans had done six days service,

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and the dark khaki colored coat he wore in the winter had been cleaned only a few years

ago. Four, five, maybe six. Sam wasn't sure, but it wasn't all that long ago. That part he

had a handle on. The beard? Trimmed within the last couple years, probably. Not more'n

three, he was near certain on that. His cap, a dark blue John Deere in baseball cap style,

had never been cleaned. He knew that, too, but it was okay. Who the hell ever cleans a

baseball cap?

       When you're homeless, there're a helluva lotta things more important than a clean

cap, or coat, and usually whatever else you're wearing. Like eating. Sleeping. A place

to be where the cops don't ticket you for being there, even when there's no place else to

go. Lots of things are more important.

       Such as figuring out where to sleep tonight when it's s'posed to get down to 30°,

accordin' to the weather report in that newspaper on the table at Mickey D's. Gonna get

colder'n a witch's tit, Sam warned himself. Wonder what Benjy's gonna do? "Can't," he

told Benjy. "He's got that broad sleepin' there t'night."

       "That one he met over at the beach campground?" Benjy wondered out loud.

       "Yeah," Sam said, leaning to the right to spit. "Same one. She jus' got outa jail

this mornin' fer tickets." He chuckled. "Ol' Ronnie, he couldn't wait, he tells me. 'Gotta

pick 'er up', he says, so's he can have hisself some fun." He laughed a bit harder. "Shit, I

ain't been with no woman in more'n twenny some years now, an' if she was the only babe

willin' t' gimme some action, it'd be 'nother twenny, fer sure."

       Benjy laughed with him. "How much time'd she do?"

       "Sixty days," Sam replied. "Had herself three tickets fer sleepin' there outside that

ol' church." He snickered. "Ya'd think the dumb ass broad'd catch on t' how's them cops

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is gonna keep comin' back t' check, once they nails yer ass someplace. Like she'd know

ya don't go back there fer a couple weeks, but I guess she ain't that blamed smart. Jus'

kep' on goin' back there, even th' very nex' night, every dang time."

        "Well, makes sense, then," Benjy offered. "If she done sixty days, ya gotta know

they stuck 'er ass in them showers a few times. Most likely she don't smell like she did

las' time ya seen 'er."

        "Mebbe, mebbe not," Sam conceded, "but I bet they still didn't get none o' them

hunnert, hunnert an' fifty pounds o' blubber she hauls around on 'er fat ass, neither. How

any dude can wanna bang something like that don't make no blamed sense t' me."

        "Me, neither," Benjy agreed, shaking his head in disgust. "Worse thing is, give 'er

ten, fifteen days, she'll smell same as she did 'fore they dragged her ass off t' jail."

        His remark made Sam think of something else he didn't look forward to. "Yeah,

an' if ol' Ronnie humps 'er there in his own bed, there in that danged motor home, then he

makes 'er sleep in t'other bed, it ain't gonna be no pleasant place t' sleep after he boots 'er

ass outa there in a coupla days, neither. Th' place's gonna stink jus' like she does!"

        "So, where ya gonna sleep t'night, then?" Benjy asked again.

        "Ain't sure. Where you goin'?"

        "I still got that tent b'longs t' Gary," Benjy told him, adding quickly, "an' I'd have

ya stay with me, but there ain't no room fer but one person in it. Shit, he bought that tent

fer ten bucks, ya know, an' it leaks like hell on one side. 'Sides, I gotta keep all Gary's

crap in it 'til he gets back from that job he's doin' with them guys in San Onofre. He's

gonna be back day after t'morrow, so I'll be lookin' fer someplace new t' sleep myself by

then, mos' likely."

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        "Damned cops, anyway," Sam said, spitting again. "Ever since they went ahead

an' confiscated our tents an' all our other stuff las' month, an' seein' as how I ain't got me

no money t' buy me another'n, it's been getting' pretty dang cold out here at night lately.

A lot colder'n I want it t' be."

        Holding out a figurative olive branch, Benjy offered, "We could try crowdin' in at

that there tent, you an' me. Ya know, both of us sleepin' on the dry side, if ya want. Who

knows? Might work if we did that."

        Now Sam laughed quietly. "I said I ain't had no woman fer twenny years, but that

don't mean I wanna be one fer nobody else."

        "Aw, man, I wasn't tryin' t' get ya —"

        "I know, I know," Sam said, smiling toothlessly and slapping Benjy on the back.

"I was jus' kiddin' ya, an' ya know I was. You an' me, we been buds too dang many years

fer me t' think nothin' like that 'bout ya. I was just joshin' ya, pal."

        Benjy smiled in appreciation. He was dressed much the same as Sam but, being

fifteen years younger, figured he didn't look quite as worn out. Then again, taking into

account his lousy physical condition, maybe he looked worse. Those "internal problems"

all the doctors jabbered at him about didn't sound all that freakin' good, either. All the

blood he barfed up on occasion, and the fact he could eat very few things … never a plus

for the homeless, who don't have an expansive menu to pick from … didn't bode well for

his future, they always said. Shit, what future do I have? he mused. If I die right in my

damned bed tonight, 'specially since my bed'll be there on the cold, hard ground 'neath

that damned tent, who the hell cares? Not me, boy. That's fer damned sure. It'd be a

blessing, it would. Future, my ass.

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                              5

       They were almost to Mission Avenue, where he planned to hang a left and head

for that spot over in the field behind the church. He'd hidden the tent in some bushes this

morning, right back there behind all those trees. Since there weren't any other homeless

sleeping there lately, he figured the tent would still be there when he showed up. So, he

wondered with some concern, where's Sam goin'?

       "Where you headin' for?" Benjy asked again. "Ya ain't told me yet an' I asked ya

about nineteen times so far."

       "Down there next t' that Mickey D's," Sam explained, pointing to the one in this

shopping center. They usually hung around for an hour in the evening, say from eight to

nine or so, at the MacDonald's on Old Grove Road, over by Highway 76, before leaving

to wherever they'd be sleeping that night. "Had t' chain up my dang bike way down there

'cause that nasty ass cop … ya remember that fat one with the attitude? … he was standin'

there watchin' when I got here t'day."

       Sam spat again, this time in disgust. "Blamed fool'd jus' as soon use them big ol'

bolt cutters the cops got an' cut my bike loose, then toss it in the dang trash. That's what

he done t' Ken las' month."

       "That was him?" Benjy asked. "The fat one? He done it?"

       "Bet yer dang boots," Sam complained, spitting once more for emphasis. "So,

now I gotta go all the way down there an' get my blamed bike so's I can ride it 'til I get

somewheres I can sleep without gettin' no ticket. Dang Ronnie, anyways, 'bout that fat

broad. Hope she gives 'im the clap, er somethin'."

       Benjy changed directions. "Okay, I'll walk with ya. We can get my bike on the

way back."

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                              6

       "Naw, go on ahead," Sam insisted. "Juana, the manager at this one, she said she'd

gimme a free cup o' coffee if'n I showed up b'fore ten, which's when they close up them

doors an' only take drive-thru until midnight. She's a cute li'l thing, Juana is. Might jus'

talk with 'er a bit an' see if she'll lemme sleep out there in the trash dumpster t'night." He

shrugged. "She might lemme do it. She's done it b'fore."

       "Ya sure?" Benjy probed, wrapping his arms around himself to ward off a quickly

dropping temperature. "I can wait, Sam, if ya want."

       "Naw, you jus' go on. I'll be fine. You gonna be there at the one over on 76 in the


       "Yeah. Soon's I can. Maybe seven? Seven-thirty?"

       "Okay. I'll see ya there," Sam promised, turning to the right, waving at his best

friend over his left shoulder. He stayed in the two-lane area where cars drove through

here closest to the street, parallel to Mission Avenue. He walked past the Verizon store

and the Starbucks and was halfway past the first bank when three guys appeared on his

right, all emerging from a crew cab pickup, a four-door dually. Dark colored, Sam was

able to notice, but couldn't tell much more than that. Black, blue, green, maybe even red.

Who knows? he asked himself. Been so blamed long since I drove anythin' but a dang

bicycle, ain't no way I know nothin' 'bout that stuff. Plus, he reminded himself, bein' as

how I'm sixty-five now, I might be lucky t' know which color it was even if it was noon.

       Can't tell fer sure, he mused as he watched the trio walking on a path that would

intersect him before he arrived at the intersection, where a right turn went to the Stater

Brothers grocery and a left turn put him maybe twenty-five yards from Mission, but they

all look in their 30s, maybe. Like construction workers, Sam decided. Sweatshirts with

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the sleeves cut off, blue jeans and work boots. Big suckers, too, he noted. Might be any

one of 'em could pick up one end of a car, fer Pete's sakes. Wonder what the heck these

guys is doin' 'round here this time o' day?

       As he drew closer he decided, Mean lookin' bunch, they is. Plus, ain't nothin'

more in front of 'em than that dang bank, an' that sucker's been closed fer hours. Well,

maybe they's goin' to use the ATM. Either way, ain't none o' my dang business, so I'll jus'

pay 'em no attention an' mebbe they won't bother me none.

       I hope.

       Long accustomed to avoiding people's eyes, since he still didn't get much out of

seeing people sneer at him for no reason, Sam kept his gaze on the ground and plodded

on his path to the restaurant. Another hundred yards or so, he concluded, an' I'll be there

at the parkin' lot. Seein's it's barely even nine yet, Juana's gonna gimme a hot cup o'

coffee, anyways, so mebbe it'll warm my ol' butt up a little.

       When he could hear it each time one of the men put a foot down as they strode to

the bank, if that's where they were going, Sam realized their paths would not only cross,

he'd probably even have to stop and let 'em walk in front of him. Sure won't do fer me to

walk in front o' them guys, he advised himself. No sense pissin' nobody off when I ain't

got no reason t' do it. In line with his own sage counsel, Sam stopped walking. Watched

ahead to see when they went by so he could resume his journey to see Juana.

       "Somethin' the matter, old man?" asked one of the men.

       "Nope," Sam replied, spitting on the curb from old habit. "Nary a thing."

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                               8

       "Yeah? I say bullshit," said one, a Mexican lookin' kinda guy, but he don't have

no blamed accent, Sam concluded. "I say you're tryin' to cause trouble," the Mexican told

him as he stepped directly in front of Sam.

       "Uh-uh. Not me," Sam told him, pointing toward the MacDonald's. "Just goin' t'

Mickey D's fer a cup o' coffee. You fellas jus' go on about yer business. I won't bother

ya none. Jus' go ahead." He waved the men through, still looking at the ground, wishing

they'd hurry up and go away.

       "You too damned good to look at us when we talk to you?" asked another, this

one a white guy who probably lived at a gym, or some other workout center. "Looks to

me like you're spoilin' for a fight. That it, old man? You lookin' to kick some ass here

tonight? Mine, maybe?"

       "No, sir," Sam explained, getting more than a just little worried by now, since he

wasn't used to people paying him this much attention. Not anyone other than a cop or a

security guard and, even then, not as mean sounding. "Jus' makin' my way over there.

No plans fer nothin' but a cup o' coffee."

       His announcement concluded, Sam shut up. No sense takin' no chance on sayin'

anything else t' piss these guys off. Mebbe they're drunk, er somethin'.

       The third one came around behind him. Sam hadn't looked up yet, so he wasn't

keeping track of who was where. All he wanted to do was get past this group and make it

to Mickey D's so he could get some coffee. That, and permission to sleep in the dumpster

tonight. Anything beyond that was too far away to worry about right now. He didn't pay

any attention to the third guy until he felt the first blow, a vicious jab from behind in his

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right kidney. It felt like a firecracker went off under the skin on his right side, almost in

the back.

       "Uuugh!" Sam grunted in startled pain and shock. His knees bent in reaction. All

the years of poor diet and no exercise left him without the strength to straighten up, so he

let himself continue the fall to land on his knees. "What'd ya do that fer?" he screeched

in pain and a glimmer of anger he hadn't bothered to feel for many years. "I didn't even

do nothin' t' you guys!" Only seconds after the startling sock of the punch, he also felt a

hot, searing pain that seemed to take up half his waistline where the guy hit him.

       "You callin' me a liar?" demanded the second guy.

       "No, I was jus' sayin' —"

       Sam couldn't finish the remark because the second guy slugged him in the mouth.

There were no teeth broken by the punch, since all three were too far back, but his jaw

was fractured by the man's big fist. "Ow!" he wailed as blinding pain shot through his

eye and left him seeing spinning circles of red, orange and green. "Man, that hurt! Don't

hit me no more!" he insisted, the words nearly indecipherable because of 29 lost teeth and

a now fractured jaw.

       "You hear this bastard orderin' us around?" asked the Mexican sarcastically as he

put his work boot into Sam's belly with an impact that seemed like it was a truck, not just

a big foot. "Seems this ol' bastard's got a big mouth on him, don't it?"

       "Sure as hell does!" agreed the third man, still somewhere behind Sam. "Maybe

we oughta teach the old prick a lesson, huh?"

       It felt like a boot, as far as Sam could tell, when something rammed into his ribs

with unbelievable velocity and broke a few of them. The shooting pain was something

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he'd never encountered before in his life. All he could think of now was getting away

from this crowd and getting to MacDonald's any way he could. Probably crawling, Sam

understood when he realized the pain was too incredible to rise to his feet. Not to make

mention of the fact he no longer had the strength to get up.

        Sam was also wondering if maybe, just maybe, all that stuff he learned all those

years ago in bible study, when he was a little boy, was true. As he wondered if Jesus, or

God, or Whoever, would provide him a home in heaven, something hard collided with his

skull, this time on the right, directly on the side. He heard the bones being crushed, but

only at the start.

        Immediately after he began hearing his skull beginning to break apart, Sam got

his answer about what they told him in bible study. His last thought as he crossed over

that line between life and where he was going was, Well, I'll be danged!

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                       11

                                  CHAPTER ONE

                                 Oceanside, California

                         Monday, November 16th, 10:16 p.m.

       They'd been standing around now for almost forty-five minutes and neither one

was very happy about it. These two Oceanside PD detectives worked out of the Crimes

of Violence division, since only the big city departments could afford to assign people to

homicides alone. In a city of 180,000 people, counting only those with a legal right to be

in the U.S., the Oceanside police department has around 150 officers, including the patrol

personnel. These detectives handled homicide, rape, muggings, armed robbery, assault,

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domestic violence on occasion, although there were a few detectives assigned exclusively

to that area, and anything else where people were harmed.

       These two, Detectives Benning and Hawthorne, were considered the elite of their

division. They always seemed to get the unusual cases, along with those least likely to be

solved. Both were Caucasian. Det. D. Benning, known as Dar to his friends, was short,

chubby, early 30s, a friendly looking redhead with a crew cut. Det. F. Hawthorne, who

everyone called Wendell, was tall, balding, late 40s. Sort of bad-natured. Gruff.

       Benning was dressed in levis and a sport shirt, with a dark blue windbreaker and

jogging shoes. Hawthorne wore a lined Chargers jacket, regular blue jeans, a darker blue

flannel shirt, and jogging shoes. He'd also brought a pair of gloves, which had generated

a good three or four complaints already from Benning, who wished he'd worn a pair. He

made do with the pockets of his jacket.

       Blowing into his cupped hands, Benning said, "Like there was anybody here for

us to interview, Wendell? Shit, my hands are freezin', and we have to stand here like a

pair of idiots waiting for the ME to finish up."

       "Zat so, Dar?" asked Hawthorne, hands hanging free at his sides, warm and not a

source of discomfort like his partner was suffering. "I guess maybe you can stand there

like some kinda idiot, if ya want. Me? I'm gonna stand here like a damned well bored

cop with warm hands and wait 'til he tells us what we already know. Then, when I get it

all confirmed, so I can be sure I was right in the first place, we can get started working on

this damned case ain't nobody ever gonna solve." He raised his face upward and took a

deep breath. "Ahhh! Progress. Smells so damn good. Better'n napalm in the mornin'."

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                           13

       "What? Damn it, Wendell, what the hell're you talkin' about now? Napalm in the

morning? Where the hell'd you get that one from?"

       "Robert Duvall in 'Apologize Now', that's where," Hawthorne told him with an

elitist sneer. "Helluva movie."

       "What? 'Apologize …', Wendell, do you mean Apocalypse Now?"

       "'Course I do, ya damned ignorant kid," Hawthorne said with fake superior tones

as he rode the younger detective. "Fat lot you kids know, boy. Most kids yer age can't

even pour piss out a boot, even if somebody went ahead and stamped in the directions for

ya right there on the heel."

       "So, why'd you say … never mind, Wendell. You know, even after four years out

here partnering with you, I still have trouble remembering you don't talk like normal folk

do. Sometimes you can be really weird, Wendell. I mean it."

       "Yeah, but ya gotta admit, I do it kinda cute."

       "Maybe, maybe not. So," Benning asked, changing course, "what's your take on

all this? What do you think went down?"

       Hawthorne leaned a little closer in a conspiratorial air. "Ya gotta keep this under

yer hat, Dar, 'til they let us release details on the case, but if ya ask me, I'd say somebody

went an' killed a homeless guy."

       "No shit?" Benning retorted in feigned astonishment. "Man, Wendell, when you

get into high gear on a case, you're a damned bloodhound, you know that?"

       After staring at the younger man a moment, Hawthorne added, "Well, could be a

lot o' things, Dar. Could be … I ain't sayin' it is, but it could be … some homeless piece

o' shit killed this guy. Could be some gangbangers done it. Could be some shithead doin'

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his first armed robbery who don't have the first freakin' idea who has money and who

don't. Could be he tripped an' whacked his damn head. Could be —"

       "What? Wendell, are you shittin' me? The side of that old dude's whole damned

head was caved in. Shit, if he tripped and fell off something, he'd've needed to be up on

top of that damned bank, which is at least a hundred feet away, maybe more. You're not

gonna say this was an accidental death, are you?"

       "Never, Dar, but we gotta keep our minds open. Could be anything, even if you

and I know damned good and well it wasn't. We start in thinkin' anything like that, we're

gonna end up like those dumb ass cops on TV who stand there lookin' at a body an' solve

the whole damned case while they bullshit with each other about it. Least ways, if we do

it that way, we ain't got all those damned commercials interruptin' us."

       Benning smiled. "Keep in mind, Wendell, those cops usually get their man and

solve the case … and they do it within that one hour layout … which would make us look

pretty damned good."

       "Uh-huh. 'Cept, they got better people writin' their scripts than we do."

       "Okay, enough with the bullshit. Really, what's your take? We already know

what the ME's going to say. I'm looking to see what all your experience tells us."

       "Okay, fair enough. It wasn't a robbery, since he still had a few bucks there in the

pocket of his pants. It wasn't gangbangers, either, 'cause they'd've done a lot more to 'im

than what we see happened, an' they most likely woulda shot his ass. It also wasn’t some

other homeless guy, since there's the money left an' no homeless guy I've seen in all my

years on the force has the strength to cave in the side of the man's damned head like that.

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                          15

No, this was some strong asshole. More'n likely, ya ask me, it was two or three of 'em.

All ganged up on the old bastard and did his ass in."

       "Why do you say two or three?"

       "Because I listen, Dar. I hear what people say and I file it away so I can use it

later. One o' the uniforms that was out askin' questions talked t' this little Mexicana there

at Mickey D's. Wanda, or Juanita, or … hang on," he advised as he flipped through his

notebook. "Juana, that's it. She's the manager there. Said she told some old homeless

guy she'd pop 'im a free cup o' Joe if he made it b'fore ten. They had her come over here

an' take herself a peek." He put his notebook away in his pocket, shaking his head at the

memory of Juana making the ID.

       "I saw that," said Benning. "Thought she was gonna upchuck."

       "Yeah, she was close, wasn't she? Ennyhoo, she told 'em his name's Sam, but she

ain't got no last name on 'im. Says she's let him sleep in the dumper a few times."

       "Jesus! Wendell, ain't that the shits? Some poor old bastard's gotta sleep in that

damned dumpster with old food and crap. Shit, there's gotta be nine-hundred rats in this

place every freakin' night."

       "Maybe more," Hawthorne agreed. "Rats gotta eat, too."

       "Yeah, but … shit! Wendell, can you even imagine sleeping all damned night in a

damned dumpster? I mean, with or without those damned rats?"

       Hawthorne chuckled. "Thinkin' back on some o' the broads I woke up next to in

the morning over the years, yeah, I can, Dar." He grimaced. "Some of 'em would make

those damned rats look like a better idea."

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                            16

        "That's because you drank so damned much after your divorce, and you ran with

every hog in southern California." Benning shivered, clearly not from the temps. "Man,

I get goose bumps thinkin' about sleeping with rats."

        Losing the grin, Hawthorne told him, "Better'n freezin' your ass to death, Dar, or

goin' to jail for bein' too tired to stay up all damned night long, in case a uniform finds ya.

'Sides, those rats are all too busy eatin' when they get in there. They wouldn't take time

to eat on a human as long as there was somethin' easier to get to, like a half a sam'wich,

maybe, or some o' them greasy French fries."

        Looking over to where the ME was about to finish up, Hawthorne explained, "Far

as why I think there was more'n one guy, that cute li'l Mexicana was gonna give the guy a

cuppa. That tells me he was headin' that way. You look at the body, Dar, he never even

got his old ass turned around. Never fought back, either. Somebody went an' beat his ass

senseless an' he either didn't make a sound, or he made so damned few of 'em nobody

heard a damned thing." He scanned the area. "Doesn't make any sense, Dar. There were

enough people around here, if someone was takin' a while to beat the shit out of the old

guy, they'd've heard it, but nobody did. That tells me it was over quick, meaning it was

likely not all that painful for the poor bastard."

        Benning nodded, mulling it over. "I like it, Wendell. Makes sense when you lay

it out that way. So, if that's what happened, a bunch of guys —"

        "Not just guys, Dar. These assholes who did this shit was all stronger'n the stink

off'n a dead whore. Muscular. Gotta be. Not many men with average strength are gonna

cave in the man's head that way, not that bad, with one whack."

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Nobody'll Miss 'Em … by Bill Cady                                                           17

       "You think it was only one pop that killed him, Wendell? Why?"

       "You see any other marks on the guy, Dar? 'Course, they gotta run a shitload o'

lab tests so everybody can protect his damned job, but I'm tellin' ya it was some asshole

with a tire iron did him in."

       "Could be," Benning agreed, not stupid enough to flaunt his few years in the field

against all Hawthorne's years and what he'd learned. "If so, you think it's a hate crime?"

       "Good possibility," he said with a nod. "Thing is, although there's a whole lot o'

people really don't think much of homeless guys, who'd be so pissed off at 'em he'd want

to do all that damage? Can't be sure yet … not this early, I mean … but I don't see this as

a beating that went south. For my money, Dar, they meant to kill him." He spat on the

ground. "Question is, why?" Hawthorne shrugged, casting his eyes again around the

crime scene.

       "Well, shit," said Benning. "That'll make it all the harder. First, if that's the case,

we have to figure out a motive."

       "Yeah. That won't be easy. I know one place we might look, though."

       "Yeah? Where's that?"

       "He kinda looks like one o' those Ben Dover guys."

       "Huh? Bend over? What? You think a guy that freakin' old … a homeless guy,

even … was one of those fairies who likes to take it up the poop chute?"

       "No, not 'bend over', Dar. Ben Dover. Remember him? The guy who does all

that stuff workin' with the homeless?"

       "Oh, yeah. The older guy with that incredibly gorgeous little Mexican girl?"

       "They call 'em Mexicanas, Dar, an' yeah. That's the guy … an' she's definitely the

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girl. Sweet little thing like her, a guy don't forget. Even her damned name, Dar. It says a

lot about her."

       "I forget. What's that little fox's name again?"

       "Fancy, Dar, an' she damned sure is. That little darlin' can break my heart any

day, any time she wants to."

       "Uh-huh," Benning said with a big smile. "Even with you … granted, it hasn't

gotten out to the entire department, but a lot of people know about it … since you've got a

deal going with Sonya? Sweet little Sonya, a damned tough cop, who'd either shoot you

dead or cut your balls off and serve 'em up with noodles and gravy if you cheated on her?

You sure about what you just told me, Wendell?" Standing in front of Hawthorne with a

big grin, he added, "I don't know if you've got those kind of cojones."

       Now Hawthorne had to grin. "Okay, I said any day, any time. I guess except for

that day, and that time."

       "So, we going to go look up Dover now?"

       "It'll keep. The man's probably home enjoyin' his little sweety t'night. We can get

t' him tomorrow." He grinned again as he reflected on Ben Dover. "Don't want to rile the

man. Not after he kicked my ass up there in the gym that day."

       "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that part, Wendell."

       "Uh-huh. Well, I didn't, and I bet Dover didn't, either."

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                                CHAPTER TWO

                                Oceanside, California

                         Tuesday, November 17th, 11:04 a.m.

       As life unfolds before us, there are changes. Me, for example, and where I live.

Where I live now, I mean, and where I lived when we last spoke. You remember, when

Moki stepped into my life and made it a living hell? The drop-dead-beautiful Asian who

knew every last thing there was to know about "take", but had only the dimmest glimmer

of the meaning of "give"?

       Yeah, that one.

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        In the end, she had her own suicide interrupted by someone battling on my behalf,

so to speak. A former employee killed Moki, then died when the police were arresting

her. I managed to be the only member of the "good guys" cotillion to get himself shot, a

bullet in my left thigh. Of course, they only take bullets out on cowboy shows, or from a

corpse for evidence, so it's still in there, meaning we'll never know which cop shot me.

        That's right. As it all came to a "thundering" conclusion, one of the cops shot me.

Unintentionally, of course, although I explained that sure as hell doesn't make it hurt any

less. Still, this, too, shall pass. It only took a couple months to heal, primarily. I still get

a twinge every so often, but it's a bit better each day.

        You may also recall from that exciting episode in the life of Ben Dover, that is,

me, I made a tremendous addition to my world. Her name's Fancy. Fancy Martinez, and

she's one of the finest people I've ever met. Oh, and among the most beautiful, although

her value as a friend and her part of my life heavily outweighs her appearance. Since she

is the younger of the two women, that makes her the lookalike, but her resemblance to the

starlet known as J Lo is almost hard to believe.

        Okay, I can hear it back there, and whoever's doing it better stop right now, damn

it! Man, I really hate to hear people titter at me from behind their hands when I'm trying

to tell them something serious. Anyway, despite the prudes and the jokesters, Fancy is,

um, younger than I am. By quite a bit, actually.

        See, I'm almost 56. Will be next month. Fancy also has a birthday coming up in

a few months. Her twentieth. Oh, c'mon! Will you people stop? We love each other.

We really do. Plus, if Fancy hears any of that crap from any of you, you'll be turning an

absolute angel into a pit bull. Don't say I didn't warn you. I mean it.

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          Matter of fact, one of the biggest problems I ran into during the series of events I

called What's Love Got To Do With It? was our age difference. It bugged me to the point

I tried to push her out of my life, but Fancy wasn't going. Under any conditions. More to

the point, she's made a tremendous number of concessions, if you want something to call

everything she's done, and what she's not doing.

          She and I agreed, given my head, I could probably outdo Mickey Rooney and

Elizabeth Taylor in failed marriages, (they each have eight in the toilet). I might be the

least qualified marital candidate on the planet. I'm really no good at it. Loving a woman

and making her feel like a princess every day of the week? Hell, yes! I'm damned good!

Be-bopping around as the "Other Named Party" on a marriage license? No talent. None

at all.

          So, we compromised. I found Fancy a rock to put on her finger, a diamond so big

she says it makes her left arm get tired sometimes. Just the annual insurance premium I

pay for that "African nugget" is more than most guys spend on the diamond they give to

the woman they marry, no matter which marriage it might be. Among the concessions

we agreed to is Fancy's my fiancée, in a manner of speaking, since we're "engaged to be

engaged". Not engaged to be married, just engaged. In and with each other.

          Fancy has a couple other differences, beyond being so incredibly beautiful she

puts men at risk when she goes out in public. There've been times when a guy, especially

an old duffer like me, sees Fancy and inhales so sharply in surprise he can't let it back out

again. Rather than watch 'em die, I usually whack the guy once, a good one between the

shoulder blades, just to get him drawing again. After that, he's fine.

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        It's easy to determine, from her surname of Martinez, Fancy's family came here

from Mexico. Yet, because of things she'd heard me say well before we ever became "an

item", she works very hard to "not be a Mexicana", as she puts it. Oh, and she's also a

polyglot, meaning she speaks, reads and writes at least five languages. Maybe six, I'm

not positive. You'd need to ask Fancy to be sure.

        However, she tries to eat Mexican food only one or two days per week because

she attests, "I ain't gonna get all fat an' sloppy, Ben, so's ya don't wanna look at me no

more like ya look at sexy girls". Which leads to another unique facet of the woman I so

dearly love. When necessary, or sometimes just because it's her mood, Fancy can talk as

if she just graduated from Bucknell University. She's that linguistic. However, when the

occasion doesn't call for it, Fancy says she likes to "talk relaxed, an' like that, Ben, 'cause

that way I c'n pay attention t' what I'm sayin' an' not how I say it".

        A smart woman, my Fancy.

        She also voluntarily included in our oral agreement, a pact wherein she refused to

go any farther than "being engaged to be engaged" because it always leaves the ex and

me as enemies to a degree, another astounding feature. Fancy acknowledges I'd rather

spend all my time with Democrats and follow only their suggestions than be around kids.

Yet, for a Mexicana, having three of 'em by age 20 is nothing at all unusual. However,

my little angel loves me so much, not only did she rather easily agree we'll never have

any, she doesn't even expect me to be around the kids in her family very often.

        There are a lot of kids in Fancy's extended family, take my word for it.

        Instead, she satisfies herself with being Tia Fancy, meaning Aunt Fancy in the

only language I speak. English. She teases me at times, telling me I'm Tio Ben, the

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seldom seen uncle, but I let it roll off me. After all, I only have to be in the vicinity of

those kids a couple-three hours per year and, even then, she keeps 'em away from me.

        Yet another facet of her "I gotta stay sexy fer Ben" program unfolded before my

very ears today. Yeah, my ears, not my eyes, since I heard it first instead of seeing it.

        We still live in that retirement community I was in before, but not in the same one

bedroom condo I had back then. Instead, we're in a spacious two bedroom unit not much

more than a hundred yards from the old one, which I still own and rent through an agent.

Part of the community rules insist all residents, (that'd be me), must be at least fifty-five.

Anyone younger can't live here, with a few limited exceptions. A spouse can be as young

as forty-five, but the "spouse" part necessitates being part of a marriage, which definitely

ain't gonna happen. (See above).

        That means Fancy, with her heart-melting smile, explained herself to all our new

neighbors this way: "Yeah, me an' Ben know all 'bout them rules. Thank God we're safe,

'cause I'm forty-five, but I work out a lot, an' Ben's the one who smokes, not me." Then

she shows 'em her ungodly expensive ring, leaving the women as the ones gasping for air

and the guys not giving a damn because they all like to watch her chest and derrière. Her

smile is also worth millions.

        She and I decided, in the event we get any grief, we'll just buy something where

there aren't any restrictions and rent this one out, too. I was in the insurance business for

many years and did one of those "this can't possibly happen" things that paid incredible

millions. As a result, I take care of the homeless in many ways and no longer have to

work at that business. Oh, and I write books, as well. That adds to the pot, so we're not

at all hurtin', is a good way to say it.

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       Today, since it's very early for me and I just recently got up, I was sitting in my

favorite spot of this really neat couch we have. It's three-piece, making it C-shaped, with

a console of sorts between the seat on the far right and the rest of the couch. That's my

seat, the one closest to our front door. The remainder is large enough to easily seat six or

seven people, as long as they don't mind sitting right beside each other. I mean close

enough to rub thighs. However, as her family's all Mexican, none of them object to being

that crowded, although it would drive me insane in about ten minutes. They just crowd in

with each other and laugh about it, none of which bothers me. Then, in line with the deal

Fancy and I have, her family can only visit us without children in tow.

       The State of California saves me in that case. It's against the law to have a loaded

firearm in the house if minors are present. Since the only people stupid enough to keep

an unloaded handgun in their house all had "Vote for Obama" signs in their yard a year

ago, and have now burned all those signs based on his record, all my weapons are loaded,

ready to go. If someone breaks in while we're sleeping, I won't need to attempt to beat

the guy to death with a piece of metal bearing a trigger lock while my fiancée searches in

desperation for the key to unlock it.

       So, as I was getting to, I was enjoying a cup of coffee. An insulated cup with one

third of it filled with Crème Brulée from Coffee-Mate. That, and my Union-Tribune, the

big local newspaper for whatever time there will still be newspapers available for home

delivery. Since the condo is a two-bedroom, the smaller bedroom is used as my office

here at home. I have another office at the facility we use to provide for the homeless, a

former business complex here in Oceanside over in the area between Highway 76 and

Mission Avenue, facing Mission. We also have two bathrooms.

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        One is adjacent to the master bedroom, where we sleep. The other, right next to it

and closer to the front of the building, is at the end of a hallway running from our large

and spacious living room, which has a wooden floored dining room on the right, between

it and the front windows. The hallway bypasses a door going into a very efficient kitchen

Fancy swears is fantastic, with the other door opening into the dining room. At the end

of that hallway is my office on the right. The second bathroom is only a few inches away

from directly facing the hall, and a left turn takes you into our bedroom, the door being

maybe five feet from where the hall angles to the left. Beyond a fifteen foot enclosed

back porch that runs the length of the house, that's where we live.

        That second bathroom is somewhat a "no-man's land", in that no man would ever

want to step into it. Not only is practically every damned part of it, including the padded

toilet seat, pink, it definitely has a "woman's touch". Half the wall on the right, looming

over a sink I believe I could almost bathe in, is a mirror. The shelves Fancy had me get

installed, as well as all the drawers under the counter beneath that monster mirror, are

jam-packed full with girl products. I can't swear to it in court, but I believe all the local

Avon ladies know, in the event they ever run short on anything, Fancy will deal it to 'em

wholesale if they ask nice.

        So, just as I was setting my coffee onto the end table at my seat, I heard a sound

that told me a Zulu warrior with an emergency kill quota had somehow managed to get

into Fancy's bathroom and impaled her with his lance. "Owie!" she wailed from down

the hall, setting every single hair on my forearms and the back of my neck in an attack


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       Unhesitatingly knowing I'd face death without a second thought before allowing

her agony to continue even one more moment, I flung my newspaper aside and dashed

down the hall in just my stocking feet. I momentarily regretted not sidestepping into the

kitchen where Fancy has a slotted block of wood with as many as a dozen Cutco knives,

some large enough to take on an angry bear. Instead, I continued the other eight feet to

skid to a halt in the doorway to her beauty parlor. All I found was Fancy, seated on the

red padded Queen Victoria chair I got her to use in her bathroom. I looked all around the

place, but saw no attacker. "Ángel," I asked, my heart still pounding, "what the hell did I

just hear?"

       She turned her face to me, filling it with a smile easily capable of stopping all the

hostile activity in Iraq and Iran if they'd merely paste it on a billboard. "Hi, Ben. I love

ya, Querido." She calls me that name quite a lot. It's Spanish meaning "Dear", if the one

being referred to is male. For a female, it'd be Querida.

       "Princesa," I implored, "what the hell was that?"

       "Nothin', Baby," she said, curling her lip a little and turning that smile of hers into

a full-fledged party for me. "Jus' tryin' t' stay sexy fer my guy." Her left hand, the one

farthest away from me since her mirror was on my right, was in the area around her left

temple. She yanked her hand away quickly, yelling, "Owie!" at the same time.

       I saw a large piece of clear plastic tape in her hand with something dark on it, an

indiscernible item I couldn't figure out. "That!" I told her. "What the hell's going on that

makes my girl howl like that? For God's sake, I thought you might be having surgery in

here and the anesthesiologist called in sick today!"

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       "Huh?" She looked up at me, then glanced at the tape in her hand. "Oh, ya mean

this, Ben? It ain't nothin'." Fancy put the tape back in the same place, yanked once more,

and wailed, "Owie!"

       "Damn it, Fancy, what are you doing?" I cried, almost taking a step into her room,

catching myself at the last, desperate moment.

       Now she held up the tape so we could both see it. "Jus' takin' care o' things the

way ya want 'em, Ben. No big deal."

       Her hand went to the counter, where I noticed there were still two more strips of

tape lying on the marble top. Her right hand lifted one, pressed it to the side of her head

just in front of her ear, and she yanked again. "Owie!" she squealed, her eyes getting all

big and round. Deep chocolate art we really should have on display somewhere, if only

for the benefit of the public-at-large, in my opinion.

       "Ángel, stop it! Baby, why are you hurting yourself?"

       The look on my girl's face told me what she'd seem like if I ever informed her my

preference for dinner was raw rat tails, unwashed, freshly lopped off a local rodent. "Fer

you, Ben. Jeez, why'n the heck else would I do this stuff?" Shaking her head in the same

way my Dad used to do if he asked why I did something and the answer I gave him only

made sense to another teenager, she applied the tape again in roughly the same place and

howled, "Owie!"

       "Fancy, stop! Princesa, why the hell are you hurting yourself that way? Why in

the world would you say you're doing it for me?"

       She turned on her chair, now sitting sideways on it. The pink nighty she had on,

which didn't cover too far below that delectable fanny if she was standing, not only rode

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up on her, it pulled back and was covering almost none of her lap. Worse yet, although it

might be deemed "better yet" under other conditions, she was wearing some panties I got

for her when I was in what she calls "one o' yer guy moods". They also didn't cover too

much, even under optimal conditions.

       The reaction she caused in me shot my train of thought into what would be seen

as a screaming dive to the gutter if we weren't monogamously committed to each other.

Instead, my thoughts went soaring to an astral plain of imagination I was forced to jerk

myself away from to get the answers I suddenly needed very much to hear.

       "Ben, it's 'cause o' these," she explained patiently, her manicured fingernails, a

very sexy red she knew I enjoyed seeing on her, touching in front of her right ear. "If I

don't do it this way, ya know what'll happen, Ben. Jeez, ya jus' ain't thinkin' t'day, are ya,


       "What? I'm not thin— … Fancy, what the hell are 'these'? Baby, what do you

mean when you say 'these'? 'These' what?"

       Now she used only the index finger, and turned her head toward the mirror a bit,

exposing the side of her face. And, I noticed fleetingly, she unconsciously spread her

legs a little. Legs that looked sexy as hell even if she was fully dressed. Wearing slacks,

even. However, all Fancy had on her legs at the moment was air and the light from her

heated ceiling lamps. "Sideburns, Ben, like ya don't already know that, er nothin'. Jeez!

Some days, Ben, I wonder if yer even thinkin' when ya talk t' me."

       "Huh?" I replied, allowing her to bask in my elegance as I overpowered her with

my superior grammar and intellect.

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        "Ben, I heard ya a couple o' times, 'way back b'fore ya let me fall in love with ya,

sayin' how ya couldn't stand it when some o' them gorgeous Mexicanas was all wearin'

what ya was callin' them 'ugly sideburns' like Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip, which I already

went an' looked up 'cause I ain't never heard of it. Wikipedia says it was a TV show all

about these private detectives, startin' 'way back in 1958, when you was jus' ten years old.

That's why I ain't never heard of it, but I saw that guy, Kookie. Soon's I saw 'im, I started

t' do this 'bout every two weeks so's I won't start lookin' like all them girls ya thought was

stupid lookin'." She flashed me another smile that would've allowed any photographer to

take pics in the dark and added, "Ain't no darn way, boy, I'm ever losin' the man I love

jus' 'cause o' some dumb ol' sideburns, I mean it. I may be young, Ben Dover, but I ain't

crazy, an' I ain't stupid, neither. Ya ain't never leavin' me fer somethin' silly like these ol'


        "Princesa, I don't want you to hurt yourself just for—"

        "Uh-uh!" she said, holding her right palm out like a crossing guard signaling the

people to stop. "I ain't takin' no chances with nothin' like that, Ben. I love ya, an' I'm yer

girl, an' that's all she wrote, Querido. If all it means is I gotta do this every couple weeks

er so, it ain't no biggie."

        "But, Baby, I don't want you to … who the hell could that be?" I asked when the

doorbell rang.

        Fancy shrugged. "Got me. I ain't 'spectin' nobody." She stood, pulled on a filmy

robe from the back of her chair, and started to walk out of the room in a path that would

take her directly past me.

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       "Uh, Princesa? Where are you heading?"

       This expression announced I'd just asked for seconds on the raw rat tails. "T' get

the door, Ben. Jeez! It ain't gonna open itself."

       "Dressed like that?" I queried in astonishment.

       She stopped and looked up at me, all the way from her five-two to my six-two.

"Ya want me t' take off my robe, Ben?" Now I'd evidently offered her a rat tail and was

unable to understand why she didn't want it.

       "Not hardly," I explained as I bent and kissed that sexy mouth. "I'd rather you put

some clothes on, Ángel."

       That dainty hand came up and scratched her head, which she'd recently dyed to a

beautiful cinnamon brown that shrouded her small shoulders. "Ain't that bein' kinda rude

t' whoever's at the door?"

       I snapped my fingers. "Wait, Fancy! I know! Let me answer the door! You think

that might solve the problem?"

       While I was again washed in a smile God's gonna want back the very moment He

notices it's missing, she admitted, "Well, that might work."

       This time I kissed her forehead. "Please, Princesa, go put something on, then you

can come out and overwhelm our guest, or guests, with your awesome beauty."

       Fancy came up on her tiptoes and kissed me gently on the lips. "An' ya always do

make me feel like I'm pretty, Ben. Good thing the man I love's such a good fibber." Her

mouth bathed me in one more cherubic smile and she headed into our bedroom.

       The doorbell rang one more time as I approached it. Since it was daylight, I didn't

bother to glance through the peephole in the door. As it was around an hour before noon,

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even if it was November, it was almost time to open the doors and windows and let some

air in here until about three. I pulled the door open and stopped in surprise. "Well, well,"

I remarked in some amazement. "If it isn't Detectives Hawthorne and Benning. What is

it I can do for you, fellas?"

        "We'd like to ask you some questions about a dead body," Benning announced.

        Taken aback a moment, I still relied on my rudimentary, often astounding, sense

of humor. " I didn't kill whoever you're asking about," I told them. "Why question me?"

        "He was homeless," Hawthorne pointed out.

        I lost even any trace of a smile. "Shit," I replied as I unlocked the metal security

door and pushed it open. "Nice to see you, too, guys. C'mon in."

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                               CHAPTER THREE

                                Oceanside, California

                        Tuesday, November 17th, 11:12 a.m.

       As the detectives entered, I gestured toward the longer part of the couch and said,

"Have a seat, anywhere you like."

       Hawthorne pointed to the corner seat, where I'd been reading my paper. Where I

always sat. "This okay?"

       My mind raced back to the day we first met. At the place where we take care of

the homeless. How they were waiting for me in my office when I stepped through the

door. How Hawthorne was in my chair. How we almost went nose to nose before he got

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out of my seat. The way he tried to tell me I couldn't smoke during his interview. The

clever way I told him to kiss my ass, then chain smoked until he left.

         "That's my seat," I explained almost tersely, mentally correcting myself in hopes I

wouldn't act like a spoiled brat, especially since we were on my turf.

         "Ahh," he said with a nod, moving to the other corner, putting him farthest away

from me. "Don't want to intrude."

         Now I felt guilty. "Look, if you'd really prefer —"

         "No," he broke in, waving it off, "I just like to position myself where I can see all

that's goin' on." He indicated the hallway with his thumb. "Just like to stay on top of it

all, if I can."

         "Oh, well, that's good."

         Hawthorne, a nonsmoker, patted the chest pocket of his sport shirt. "Smoke 'em if

ya got 'em."

         "Pardon?" I looked at him as if he was now requesting those raw rat tails.

         "Memory flash from our first interview," he said, as if I needed reminding. "We

sort of went at each other about it, so I was just hoping to loosen things up a bit."

         Benning said, "What with it being his house, Wendell, that may have been a reach

of sorts."

         Hawthorne smiled at me. "Sorry. Brain fart."

         Before I could say anything, we were distracted. Yet another reason Fancy's so

different, in a better kind of way, than most women. Faster than others can decide on the

first three items of clothing they don't want to wear that day, my little angel has an outfit

selected and is wearing it. This time, she did herself up proud. She had on a sundress, a

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short one, dark blue, that did very little to hide her mammary assets, at least allowing a

good enough view to provoke a man's imagination. It ended about three inches above her

knees, and was snugly fitted to her trim waist.

       When she came into the room, both cops shot to their feet like Marines in boot

camp when the Drill Instructor enters the room. I even noticed Hawthorne redden a bit

when he unconsciously ran a hand over his thinning hair to groom out any tufts or snarls

that may have arisen. Each man broke into a smile I can only describe as dazzling.

       "Miss Fancy," Hawthorne greeted her, his smile good enough to be a demo shot

for a toothpaste ad. He even folded his right arm across his belly and made a partial bow

as he beamed at my girl. Of course, using that name I think is so special, "Miss Fancy",

took the edge off it for me.

       Benning, nudged rather handily in the photo finish to greet the little goddess who

displayed a grin for both men, said, "Hello, Miss Martinez."

       "Gentlemen," she said with a happy smile. "I do believe it's Detectives Benning

and Hawthorne, if I'm not mistaken?"

       "Yes, ma'am," Hawthorne said, his smile unrelenting, "although you can feel free

to call me Wendell, if that's any easier."

       "And Dar is just fine with me," added Benning.

       "Wonderful, gentlemen, and please, just Fancy is fine. Might we provide you

with a cup of coffee? Tea, perhaps, although that will take a minute or two? We also

have orange juice, considering the hour of the day, as well as a few assorted brands of

soft drinks. Please, what can I get for you?"

       Wondering if they'd ever heard my girl "talk relaxed, an' all", I watched as she

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wormed her way into their hearts and kept the shit eatin' grin off my face. "Oh, coffee

would be just fine, Miss Fancy," Hawthorne nearly gushed.

        "Yes, that'd be great," Benning concurred.

        "Very well, gentlemen. I'll return momentarily," she promised, her feminine

wiles accented in the smile that also proclaimed innocence and trust perhaps never to

have been witnessed since Jesus walked the earth curing the lame. Beaming as she began

her exit, Fancy turned and walked unhurriedly down the hall, then turned right into the

kitchen. With every step she also offered testimony walking sensually isn't something to

be learned. It's a knack where a woman can capture an art form, then recreate it upon

demand because it all comes so naturally.

        After waiting a polite moment in the event either cop needed to drool, I told them,

"Okay, guys, please have a seat." I took mine, sat forward with my forearms resting on

my knees, and waited to hear what they had to say.

        Keeping their chins dry with remarkable forbearance, each cop sat as before. "We

have a homicide, Mr. —"

        "Whoa," I told Hawthorne, my palm flat like Fancy's imaginary crossing guard.

"It's just Ben, fellas. I mean, let's be real here. Once you've shot a guy, it puts you on a

first name basis, don't you think?" I grinned to show I was kidding.

        He caught on quickly. "If that's how it goes, I'll be Detective Hawthorne."

        I laughed. "No, Wendell it is. So, tell me, what happened," I finished, losing my

smile in a flash.

        Benning took the lead, notebook in hand. "We had a homicide last evening in the

time between eight-thirty and nine-fifteen. A homeless man, his age assumed to be in the

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mid to late 60s, possibly older. No positive ID so far, just a first name, or maybe a street

name. We can't be sure yet."

        "I've come to know a few street names," I offered cautiously. "What is it?"

        "Not much," Benning answered. "All we have is Sam."

        "Aw, shit," I said, knowing right away I was unfortunately correct, even before I

asked a question. "Blondish gray beard, down to here," I asked, my hand in the middle of

my chest, "practically no teeth, looks to be around 70? Wearing reasonably clean clothes

and recently bathed? Probably riding a rather used ten-speed? Looks like what you think

of when someone says Grandpa, assuming he had any teeth?"

        "That's him," Benning nodded. "You know him?"

        "Aw, shit," I repeated, putting my forehead in the webbing between my thumb

and right index finger.

        Fancy appeared again, carrying a tray on her left hand, holding it deftly like the

waitress she would've been if I hadn't swooped her out of that part of her life while she

was still a busgirl. "Gentlemen, here we are," she said, still smiling happily. She held the

tray lower for them to remove their coffee cups, balancing the small containers still there.

One had cream, I knew, which she keeps around for guests, since I use Coffee-Mate and

she doesn't drink coffee. The other would be sugar, or course, and I had what my Mom

always called a "sneakin' suspicion" about the other, which Fancy soon confirmed.

        "This is the Crème Brulée Coffee-Mate, if you'd prefer, gentlemen."

        Both cops glanced at each other before Hawthorne said with a goofy look on his

face, "Why, sure. I believe I'll try it."

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       Benning nodded, so Fancy tipped the spout end over each coffee, telling each,

"Say when." They did, and she bowed once, then headed for the kitchen, leaving each

cop with a cup of coffee, a small dish, a spoon to stir, a smile on his face, and possibly a

very lurid dream to be enjoyed at the end of the day, just as they drifted off to sleep. I

didn't look closely at either man's lap, fearful of what I might see.

       Hawthorne took a sip and remarked, "Mmmm, delicious!"

       Benning said, "I agree. This is great. I'll have to buy some."

       "Yeah, I know Sam," I said unhappily. "Best of my knowledge, he's either 64 or

65, on Social Security, and has been homeless for about twenty-five years. He hangs

with a guy named Benjy, who I can probably help you find, and they spend time at the

Mickey D's over on Old Grove by 76. Do you guys need someone to come make a face

to face ID? If so, Benjy's probably your best bet on that. Those guys have been hangin'

with each other since Christ was a pup."

       "Yes, that would help," Hawthorne assured me. "Where would we look for this

Benjy? Any suggestions?"

       "Not anything immediate," I answered. "I'll need to see a few people. Either of

you pack a cell phone? If so, assuming you're willing to give me the number, I can get in

touch with Benjy, then call you so you can come see him." I finally lit a cigarette, having

been too caught up in what was happening to think of it until now.

       Without hesitating, Hawthorne got out his business card, scribbled something on

it, and handed it to Benning, who added his own and passed both to me from where he sat

in the middle of the long curve of the couch. "You can call either one," he volunteered.

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"We're usually together but, if we aren't, we always know how to find each other in a big

hurry, if needed."

        "Got it," I said, unhappily taking the cards. I peeked at each, then set both on the

end table to my right. "How'd he die? I assume, since it's you guys, it wasn't just a heart

attack or an auto accident?"

        It was Hawthorne who spoke first. "Someone beat the bas— … poor guy to

death," he corrected himself as Fancy came back into the room. My girl was still smiling

like this visit from these two had been at the very top of her wish list. Her expression

was proof her life certainly wasn't going to get any better than this.

        She sat on the leather sofa ahead of me and to my right, with its back to the dining

room that was about nine by twelve feet. "Do they know who was killed, Ben?"

        "Yes, Princesa. It was Sam."

        No theatrics now. Fancy really liked Sam. She used to give him a hug and kiss

the old fart whenever we came upon him. "Oh, no," she said, the smile so far removed it

was as if it'd never find its way back to her face. "Sam was so nice," she testified in his

memory. "I'm going to miss him. This is terrible news."

        Her brow furrowed, making me regret sins I'd committed so long ago I'd forgotten

them until I saw she was unhappy and the idea I may have caused it set in. "Do you have

any idea who killed him, or can you tell us … well, tell Ben, anyway … how he died?"

        Hawthorne again. "Yes, Miss Fancy," he said, his sadness suddenly on a par with

hers. "Someone beat him to death." He reluctantly turned his eyes to me now. "Used a

tire iron and crushed his skull," he added, as if her dainty ears shouldn't hear this at all, or

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in small doses at worst, if she must be told. If she heard, it should be as an aside, but not

by direct confrontation. "One swing, a pretty vicious one at that, and he was gone."

       He faced Fancy with the comforting part. "We're relatively sure he didn't suffer at

all, since death was instantaneous."

       Fancy frowned, probably making both cops remember their own past sins. "Well,

at least that's a small comfort. Will you need Ben, or Ben and me, to identify our friend?"

       Benning seemed apologetic. "No, Ben's going to put us in touch with a friend of

Sam's to identify him. He said he was going to contact some people and call us when he

has the information," he adding consolingly.

       "Then we'll both be talking with those gentlemen," she said, now bowing her head

respectfully. Turning to me, "Will it be our dear friend Benjy we'll be looking for first?"

       "Yeah, I thought he'd be our best shot, Princesa. You sure you're up to it?"

       Another respectful nod. "When it comes to a friend, Querido, I am always up to

the challenge."

       Neither cop said anything, and I had nothing to add.

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                                  CHAPTER FOUR

                                  Oceanside, California

                          Tuesday, November 17th, 5:39 p.m.

       After we shooed all the law enforcement out of the house, having stepped out on

the porch to finish saying adieu, I came back inside and saw Fancy standing across the

room, by the far corner. We have two television sets, one directly in the far corner, one

next to it on the floor, positioned in the center of the wall. The one in the corner, setting

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on a wooden stand, is 17" x 15", whatever size you'd call that. The big one is a 52" that

makes me feel like I'm at the movies.

        That's about all we watch on that set. I watch the Padres and the Chargers on the

other one. Fancy watches cooking shows on the set in our bedroom which is, I believe,

22" x 17". She usually does that during the daytime while I work on my laptop out there

in my favorite seat. We aren't big TV people. If memory serves me, we've got less than

$400 tied up in all three sets, thanks to a thing called Craig's List on the 'net.

        What got my attention was the beautiful young woman standing between those

TV sets with tears running down her cheeks. That preempted anything else I might've

had in mind. In three long strides I was in front of her, my arms wrapped around my girl

with her small body pressed to my chest.

        That's all it took. The tears picked up speed and volume. Fancy began to shake in

my arms a few moments, then nestled her face closer to my chest and wept softly another

two minutes or so. When she was finished, she nodded her head against my now slightly

damp sport shirt and sniffled. "Gracias, Querido."

        My curled forefinger went under her chin and lifted her face so I could see it, the

tracks of mostly dry crying marking her soft cheeks. "I love you, Ángel." I smiled.

        Another sniffle. "I know ya do, Baby. That's what keeps me from fallin' all apart

when bad stuff like this happens t' somebody we love." More sniffling.

        I kissed her, soppy face and all. A better kiss than I could recall finding on any

mouth I'd ever known, wet or dry faced. Our tongues even got into the act, giving each

other a quick hug of sorts before retreating to our separate mouths. Too much of that and

we wouldn't get anything done as far as finding Benjy. Compartmentalizing her previous

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sad mood, Fancy let her flat palm trail slowly up along my zipper and giggled. "We best

be careful, Ben, er we ain't even gonna make it outa the house t'day."

        Nodding my reluctant acceptance, I said, "You should take a jacket, Ángel. It'll

be cold later."

        "Yeah, an' I'm gettin' one fer you, too, hombre," she countered, heading for the

closet over by the front door. It was two sliding mirrored doors opening onto a big space

around six feet wide, maybe two feet deep. "Ya think I wanna be sleepin' all night with a

guy who's sneezin' like a dumb ol' donkey, er what? Ain't no way I'm lettin' the man I

love get sick so's I gotta spend all day makin' 'im no chicken soup." Laughing quietly,

she got one of her jackets, a blue denim about 25% the size of mine, and a jogging suit-

type jacket for me.

        Draping both over my left arm after I sat and donned my Reeboks and tied 'em

snug, I noticed she'd gotten her shoes on twice as quickly. She was standing in front of

the door now, waiting for me. We shared a brief kiss as Fancy twisted the doorknob and

pushed it open. I even managed an affectionate fanny squeeze on her as we stepped on

the porch, which she acknowledged with a smile. "Thanks, Baby, I needed that."

        We used my Dodge Viper, a street legal race machine put out by Chrysler that

would blow away all these kids in their hotrods whenever I felt like it. I remembered to

check my stash on the way to the carport some fifty yards from the condo. I still had a

big wad of twenties, maybe as much as two grand worth, in my left rear pocket. With the

people we were going to see, that would probably be enough. If not, there are banks all

over the place.

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       I make it a practice, after all those years being homeless, to always carry a lot of

loot to hand out to the homeless. That's the group, unfortunately, we'd be checking in

with this afternoon.

       We started first at the Mickey D's on 76, but the three guys I knew when we got

there hadn't seen Benjy for a day or two. Next stop, a mile east on Highway 76, was the

shopping center with the CVS Drugstore, a Seven-11, gas station, and assorted small

businesses. I parceled out sixty bucks at the first stop, found a total of seven more guys

who hadn't seen Benjy at the second, and left $140 in my dust when we took off.

       Farther on, a mile more to the east, was a monster shopping center.

       It even had a Wal-Mart.

       There was also a Von's grocery, so we went around behind it first, with the Viper

lugging in first gear, and parked. The total body count we found there was twelve guys

and two women, a wide variety of what represented the homeless community. One of the

guys was about 30, maybe 35, and had some unusual problems. A diabetic, like me, his

illness had been much worse, and the medication he didn't take was about as much help

as would seem to be expected. He'd lost both legs to amputation after gangrene set in and

was now using a wheelchair.

       Although that would be considered an encumbrance for someone with a normal

life, I saw it as an awesome burden for a man who lived outdoors 365 days per year. I'd

tried in the past to get him to let me provide him a place to live, except he'd pretty much

given up on life by this point. He always wore fingerless gloves so he wouldn't get hurt

more than necessary wheeling himself around town all day. Hindered by that chair, he

wasn't able to sleep in the bushes and underbrush which, because it was so thick, the cops

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couldn't check at night with their spotlights. Instead, he usually slept behind buildings in

this area, or the church, the Alano Club on occasion, and once in a while in the drainage

ditch when he'd be willing to let someone push him into it on the chair.

       He'd only do that for the few he trusted to come retrieve him in the morning.

       Fancy knew where I keep the other bank bag in my car. The one with the $100

bills. I had no doubt she'd extract at least two or three of 'em when I saw her head back

to the car. While I was busy with all the others, a visit I got out of for $300 because I

gave forty bucks to a kid not even twenty who was just getting started in his homeless

lifestyle, Fancy visited our pal in the chair. As usual, she initiated another kiss-fest and

slipped the money into his jacket pocket. Then she started a chitchat session where, I had

no doubt, she inquired about Benjy, in addition to the varied goings-on of his life. I knew

she was finished when she planted another kiss on him and embellished it with a hug. It

was the tears in her eyes she tried to hide as she came my way that got me a little choked

up for a moment.

       "How's he doin', Princesa?"

       "He's dyin', Ben, a few inches at a time," she said gamely, fighting as hard as she

could to avoid crying in front of these poor people. "An', he still won't let us do nothin' t'

help him, neither. Jus' makes me so angry when I can't even do nothin' t' help people like

him, an' so many others is on welfare when they can work, 'cept they don't wanna."

       Then, like always, she sucked it up. Still not wiping her eyes, standing with her

back to the crowd, she rose on her tiptoes, kissed me quickly, and scurried around to her

side of the car. Too fast for me to head her off, Fancy opened the door and piled in the'

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car. "C'mon, Honey, an' get me outa here so's I can cry some. I don't want nobody t' see

me this way if I can help it."

        Unable to argue with a request like that one, my own eyes uncomfortably moist

by now, I got in and we drove away, waving casually at everyone. As I pulled around

toward the other side of the shopping center, which consumed around thirty acres, I had

to ask, "Fancy, are you up to this? I hate to see you cry."

        Dabbing her eyes with tissue, she managed to work up a smile. "Yeah, I know ya

do, Ben, an' I love ya for it. It's jus', these people are our friends, ya know? It hurts me t'

see 'em so bad off an' all."

        "Why, Baby? Why are they your friends?"

        She looked at me as if I was being weird. "Why'd ya ask me that, Ben?"

        "I guess because, until we got together, you didn't know any of 'em, and now you

act like you're butthole buddies with all of 'em."

        She giggled a moment at the southern slang term, but sobered to make her reply.

"These're all nice people, Ben, an' they ain't got no friends. Just each other, an' us. If we

ain't their friends, ain't nobody gonna be their friend." Those absorbing brown eyes took

hold of mine. "That ain't no way t' live, without friends. Without nobody lovin' ya. No

way can I let all them people not know somebody loves 'em, Ben. No way."

        Keeping in mind I didn't want to take the second shift for crying, I only nodded

and went back to driving. Less than two-hundred dollars later, we finished and went to

the other corner with a very large, but still somewhat smaller, shopping center, where we

still couldn't find Benjy. That one was also less than two-hundred, but we still had plenty

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of cash on hand. The sad part was knowing, if we kept looking long enough, there'd be

more homeless to be found than the cash we had available.

       Another side trip took us to the shopping center where I have my P.O. Box which,

I didn't know at the time, was where Sam was killed. After mingling with a total of ten

more homeless guys, an even $200 worth, there was still no Benjy, although they brought

me up to speed on Sam. I didn't want to say anything to Fancy, but I now had a big, new

worry. Since Sam and Benjy spent a great deal of time together, and had for many years,

I was beginning to wonder if there wasn't still one more dead homeless guy to be found.

       From the nervous look on her face, I also worried Fancy might now be having the

same bad thought. We drove and looked, then looked and drove, not finding a soul who'd

seen Benjy. Frustrated, but not ready to quit yet, I drove us back over to the Mickey D's

on 76, after seeing there were no homeless people at the one closest to where Sam was

killed. When we pulled into the shopping center, even before I'd started making any of

the turns, Fancy squealed, "There's Benjy, Ben! I seen 'im!"

       Very relieved at the announcement, and wondering what Hawthorne and Benning

would say if they heard "Miss Fancy" when she was "talkin' relaxed, an' all", I wheeled

my way over to the restaurant. Even as I came to a stop, that spry little goddess in the

passenger seat made her Olympic vault over the door and dashed straight over to Benjy.

With her arms flung wide, she called out, "Benjy! It's me, Fancy!"

       Glad one of us was sane enough to get the car parked, I shut it off, palmed the

keys, and made my way over to the hug session she'd initiated. Benjy was embarrassed

at all the attention, but I noticed he wasn't jumping away as Fancy crowded up next to

him, her right arm around his waist in back. "See, Ben? He's right here!" Then, adding

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emphasis for whatever reason made sense to her, Fancy did her tiptoe routine and planted

one on Benjy's left cheek.

        I shook his hand. "Hey, Benjy. How ya doin'?

        "Not worth a shit, Ben," he told me, tears suddenly in his eyes. "You heard yet?"

        "About Sam?" I asked, assuming that's what it would take to make such a street

hardened man be so close to weeping.

        "Yeah," he told me, choking on the word. He turned to his right and spat, then

got a bit red. "Sorry, Miss Fancy."

        "Why, Benjy?" she asked as she hacked up what she faked was a glob of phlegm

and spat in the same place. "Ya do somethin' wrong?"

        Realizing that had to be the first time I'd ever seen her spit, I managed to keep the

grin off my face. Then, figuring I might as well join in and leave anyone who didn't have

a load to drop be the odd man out, I hawked a loogie of my own down where they'd both

just left theirs.

        "No, but, um, I mean … ya know, I was —"

        "We're so sorry, Benjy," Fancy attested, her left hand taking a grip on his while

she kept herself pressed against his side. "Me an' Ben's gonna give Sam a funeral, too, if

it's okay with you an' the guys?" She glanced my way, possibly wondering if she'd gone

too far, stepped over a line she shouldn't cross in her enthusiasm.

        "It'll be a nice one, Benjy. Just what Sam deserves." I watched Fancy's smile as

it spread across her face. I also knew she'd meant what she said.

        Some time back, when I first fell in love with this woman, I was worried about the

"Codger Syndrome". I wondered if an absolute angel like this one was after me just for

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my money, which would've completely broken my heart. So, to test her, I took Fancy to

the bank with me one day, where I opened a joint chequeing account in both our names

and deposited a million bucks in it.

       I believe a few bank employees even required medical treatment for sudden vision

troubles after her smile beamed the way it did as it tried to keep pace with Fancy's brown

eyes that took on the dimensions of Lake Geneva. So, I left all the money in that interest

bearing account, earning a paltry 3.5% on the balance. Then I surreptitiously checked the

account on-line every so often. Although Fancy was the one in charge of the household

expenses, and paid them from that account, there was over $25,000 more in it now than

when we started.

       Scheming little wench, isn't she?

       When I casually mentioned it one day, she told me, "Ben, we gotta keep all that

money safe in case ya run out someday, ya know? Jeez, Ben! Don't ya ever even take a

look in the future, or nothin'? What're we gonna do if ya go through all the rest o' the

money an' we ain't got nothin' left?"

       Fancy knew "the rest o' the money" was at least seventy million, but that didn't

mean she'd be letting her guard down. Sure did go a long way toward helping me trust

her. I decided, then and there, I'd have her write the cheque to pay for Sam's services.

       "You guys ain't gotta do that," Benjy told her, his eyes now even wetter than they

were when we arrived.

       Fancy reached up, but not that far, since Benjy's only about five-eight, took a soft

grip on his shaggy beard, and turned his face so he was looking directly at her. "Ya think

ya can stop us, Benjy? Ya know we love Sam, too, doncha?"

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       Toughing it out to the bitter end, Benjy kept the tears inside, but only nodded. He

didn't have enough strength to keep all he felt contained and talk, too.

       In hopes of slightly bettering the mood of the moment, I asked, "Benjy, do you

know anything about what happened?"

       He shook his head. "Naw, 'cept it musta happened right after we split up an' I

came back this way." He pointed southeast, in the general direction of the San Luis Rey

Mission Church, not quite a mile away. "I been sleepin' in a guy's tent … well, I was, I

mean, 'til t'day, when he got back … in them bushes over there by the road. Ya know, by

that street up t' the Alano Club?"

       I nodded. "Where was Sam staying?"

       "He wasn't sure. I was gonna let 'im sleep in that tent with me, but the damn thing

only holds one. It leaks, an' —"

       "Ya ain't gonna hafta borrow no tent t'night, Benjy," Fancy said as she slipped

what looked like two Benjamin Franklins into his hand. "Me an' Ben're takin' ya down

there t' the Wal-Mart t' get a new tent right now."

       "No, no, ya ain't," he argued, the tears welling again in his eyes. When his hand

came her way and Fancy tenderly swatted it, he gave in part way and shoved the money

into his pocket. "I got my bike," he said, pointing to a serviceable ten-speed leaning on

the side of the building where the McDonald's was located. "I can ride down there an' get

one … if yer sure, I mean?" His hand started for that pocket again.

       Fancy swatted it again, just as gently, and smiled at him. "If ya don't let us help,

Benjy, I'm gonna make ya let us get ya a place t' live instead, an' ya know how good I can

be when I start naggin', doncha?" She grinned at him to add emphasis.

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       "Yes, Ma'am," he said, a small smile erupting on his face. "I surely do."

       "So, you and Sam split up, huh?" I asked. "Then what?"

       "He said Juana … that's the cute li'l Mexican girl that runs that other Mickey D's,

'way over there on Mission, by where he was killed … was gonna give 'im a free coffee if

he got there b'fore ten, an' he had him plenty o' time, Ben. Shit, it wasn't even quite nine

by then, an' he wasn't but, I dunno, two blocks away, max. We was right up there by the

bus stop … that's where my bike was … an' he started walkin' that way. The next fuckin'

thing ya know … sorry, Miss Fancy … I mean, next darn thing ya know, I'm hearin' guys

tell me they found 'im dead las' night."

       Benjy's valiant effort to avoid letting his guard down was suffering losses right

and left. The tears were trickling down his face, but he tried to ignore them. Fancy's

hand came up, another miracle tissue in her fingers, and wiped his eyes while she kissed

him on the cheek. "So, that's the last ya saw o' Sam?" she asked soothingly.

       "Yeah, it was," he answered with a cracking voice, fighting like hell to quell the

emotion so he could get his crying done in private, after we'd left.

       "Benjy, the police want someone to ID Sam. I told 'em I'd go try to find you and

they said they'd pick you up and take you there, then bring you back to wherever you told

'em you wanted to be dropped off. Will you let me —?"

       "Not a fu— … freakin' chance, Ben!" he snapped back, correcting himself in mid

vulgarity. "I ain't gettin' in no damned cop car! Shit, I got me some tickets, still, Ben, ya

know? Three of 'em, at least. Maybe four."

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        "For what?"

        "Whaddaya think? Fer sleepin' outside. Trespassin'. Campin' on public property,

an' all that shit. I get in a damned cop car, them bastards is takin' my skinny ass t' jail."

        I let a smile cross my face. "Benjy, do you trust me?"

        He almost looked insulted for a moment. "Do I trust ya? Shit, Ben, ya know I do.

Ya know damned good an' well I trust ya. Why the hell'd ya even ask?"

        "Because I'm going to do you a favor … since you trust me. Listen up." I got my

cell phone out of my pocket, pulled out the business cards, and dialed the number with

my left thumb. It only rang twice.


        "Wendell, it's me, Ben." I greeted him without using my last name, having heard

the last "bend over" joke I wanted to hear many years ago.

        "Oh, hi Mister … Ben."

        "Gee, thanks, Wendell. 'Mister Ben' sort of makes me sound like some big, old

cuddly bear of some kind."

        "Sorry," he said with a chuckle. "All that damned inbred courtesy. You have any

luck, so far?"

        "Actually, I did," I told him, winking at Benjy. "I have a plea bargain to present

to you, as a matter of fact."

        "A what? 'Plea bargain'? Ben, I'm no DA. You'd need to see them for anything

like that. What're you talkin' about?"

        "My friend, Benjy," I replied. "Seems this virtual murdering gangster has quite a

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few tickets for sleeping outside, trespassing, plus being a damned human being without a

home, things like that, Wendell. So, here's our deal."

       "Here's 'our' deal?"

       "Yeah, Benjy's my bud. So, since I'm representing his best interests —"

       "You're not a lawyer, Ben."

       "No, but I'm the guy who can hook you up with Benjy … for a price."

       After a confused laugh, Hawthorne asked, "And that'd be?"

       "All his tickets go 'poof' … guaranteed … and you'll have a quiet chat with the

night watch commander and get his guys to cut Benjy some rhythm."

       "Aw, Ben, I can't …"

       "I'm hanging up now, Wendell."

       "… uh, see any reason we can't do that for your friend," he said in what I had no

doubt was a very timely change of heart. "Tickets, you say?"

       "Yeah. Benjy can tell you all about 'em when you pick him up here at the place I

suggested, that Mickey D's on Old Grove, off 76. Oh, and Wendell?" This was sort of a

fast one-two punch to set some boundaries.


       "You guys are bringing him back here, right?"

       A brief pause. "It'll mean working overtime if we do."

       "And you can sure use the money, right, Wendell?"

       Now he sighed. "Of course."

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       As I slipped Benjy a twenty, I added, "And you won't care if he finishes his meal

in your car on the way to the morgue, will you?"

       "Jesus! You want we should take his ass in for a pedicure at the same time?"

       "Well, you could swing by the station and let him get a shower," I teased.

       "Not … a … fuckin' … chance!" he barked back at me.

       Figuring that showed I'd gotten the best deal available, I laughed and added, "So,

Fancy and I won't have to wait here too long, will we? Benjy can give you his story …

he was with Sam until just before it happened … and go make the ID, right? Oh, and we

plan to pay for the funeral, Fancy and I do, so we'd appreciate anything you can do to get

the ME to hurry it up as best they can."

       "Oh, sure," Hawthorne shot back. "An' I s'pose ya want the city t' pay fer a brand

new suit t' bury his ass in, too, huh?"

       That made me chuckle. "I'd argue that one with you, Wendell, but Sam'd end up

in a cheap suit that way. No, Fancy will pick him out something nice, but you can ask

the ME's office to get his measurements, so she gets the right size."

       "You ain't shittin' me on that one, are ya, Ben?"

       "Not one brown bit," I told him. "We want measurements, plus Benjy's deal, and

that chat with the watch commander."

       He paused a moment, fretting, then said, "Done."

       "Cool. We'll be right here with Benjy while he chows down … after Miss Fancy

gets done huggin' him, that is."

       "Huh? What the hell' she doin' that for? Why's she huggin' him?"

       "Because everyone needs a hug now and then, Wendell."

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        "Oh, yeah. Suuuuuuuure they do."

        "Lemme ask ya, Wendell. Would you say 'no' if Miss Fancy wanted to give you a


        He chuckled. "Tell 'im I said bon appetite, an' enjoy that damned hug." He hung


        Smiling at the cuddly couple in front of me, I said, "When you two finish up with

all that huggin' and what not, go inside and get yourself a bite to eat. You can finish it in

their Crown Vic."

        Half joking and with a red face, Benjy said, "Heck, Ben, I'd almos' rather jus' hug

this here li'l sweety than eat."

        Fancy wheeled him around and started toward the door. "Ain't no reason we can't

do both, ya know," she said as she treated us both to a melodious laugh.

        I had to agree with my girl. There really wasn't a reason.

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                                    CHAPTER FIVE

                                  Oceanside, California

                          Tuesday, November 17th, 7:17 p.m.

       The look on her face demanded a conjunction.


       It would not only fit between nicely two very pertinent words, it was much more

than necessary, it was mandatory.



       Both descriptive and explanatory. Each one fit her exactly to a tee, but neither

was appropriate without the other at the moment. Beautiful AND pissed. Pissed AND

beautiful. Either way was workable, since they both applied the same right now. But, to

say she was one without including the other would be glaringly incomplete.

       Because she was a beautiful woman. Incredibly so. She was also a pissed off

woman. Just as incredibly so. There was no "first thing" anyone would notice about her

if seeing her the first time today. "Two first things", yes, but they each earned half the

description. At this time, Sonya Charles was pissed off. And beautiful. She was almost

always beautiful, albeit she was not that often pissed, so any fair-minded onlooker would

allow courtesy to rule and permit pissed to have the lead.

       In that scenario, Sanyo Charles was pissed and beautiful. Each word would also

be entitled to its own "very", making her very pissed and very beautiful. While she knew

about one facet, pissed, she never paid attention to the other, beautiful. She didn't think

of herself as beautiful but, right now, she knew she was pissed.
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       As she drove past the shopping center next to where she worked, only seeing the

Albertson's grocery in her peripheral vision as she was going out of range, it came to her

she'd planned to stop at the deli and get something for dinner. Too far past to catch it, she

voiced her annoyance. "Damn, damn, dipple damn, triple dipple damn!" She pounded

her fist on the steering wheel of the Lexus IS C. Because that wasn't enough, she also

swatted herself on the cheek, then dropped her right hand back to the shifter of this six-

speed hotrod. "I am not turning around and going back!" she snapped, gritting her teeth.

"I've had enough of that damned place today to last me a freakin' month!"

       Just as quickly, she got hold of herself. "Sonya, if you keep going like this, girl,

you're going to let your whole night be pissy and you'll be in a bad mood for tomorrow.

And, you know damned good and well what that means, don't you?"

       Deep, limpid brown eyes flashed up to the rearview mirror so she could answer

herself, as she never wanted to be rude on purpose. To Sonya, it was important to look at

someone when speaking, even if the someone she spoke to was herself. Her right hand

came up, the fingers shaped into mock claws that raked the air in front of her in a feigned

attack. "Rrrrrrrrooooooooowwwwwwwwrrrrrrr!"

       Watching herself a moment, she was smiling again when her eyes went back to

the road. "So, just because that store's handy when I leave work, does that mean it's the

only place in town with a deli? The only place I can buy something to eat?" A glance at

the mirror again. "It does not! I, Sonya Charles, can go to any damned store I choose,

can't I? And I will, won't I?"

       The incredibly beautiful woman in the mirror winked back at her, so Sonya knew

she had someone in her corner, although she didn't give a second thought about the looks

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of that woman. Not the golden brown hair that hung four inches below her shoulders. Or

the slightly curled wisp of it dangling in front of her right eye. Not when I'm hungry, she

told herself. There's lotsa things more important than a strand of my freakin' hair.

       Without thinking, she brushed it aside, anyway. The tress didn't fall back down to

being out of place again for a full five seconds or more. So, instead of turning right off

Mission to get on Highway 76, a block to the east, she stayed on Mission another mile,

then turned left into the back of a monstrous shopping center parking lot. The drive that

enters next to the big building where that rich guy does all those things for so many of the

homeless people. Now, only a hop, skip and a jump through this shopping center, Sonya

promised herself, and there's a Ralph's. I know damned well they have a deli.

       Absentmindedly, she stuck a manicured fingernail, painted white today, into her

mouth. In the middle, pressing down on an unusually full lower lip he always said made

her look like she was getting ready to pout. The idea of the pout made her chuckle, that

warm feeling a woman has when she knows she's loved. A great deal. By a good man.

       She went back to the pout because the idea flashed in her mind again it was after

seven already, and the stupid deli might be closed. Then, in a reversal of thought, Sonya

reminded herself, Well, there's a Mickey D's here, if push comes to shove. Think I'll call

that "Plan B".

       Steeling her attitude, Sonya glanced once more at the enchantress in her mirror.

"I am not … get this straight, okay? … eating one more damned Lean Cuisine tonight! I

want meat, damn it! Something I can get my damned teeth into!" For added emphasis,

she flashed those pearly whites, then looked back to the road ahead of her.

       And hit her brakes.

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        "Shit! Shit, shit, shit!" Sonya pulled up the parking break, shifted to neutral, and

got out of the car.

        As she closed the door, a late model Mustang rumbled to a halt behind her. Two

guys got out, two big guys. Late 20s, muscular, both wearing windbreaker jackets and

fancy levis of some kind. They came walking toward her, the driver ten feet ahead of the

other one.

        When he was ten feet away he said, "Hey, baby, you okay?"

        Sonya stopped, whisked a handful of hair away from her face, and asked, "What

did you just say to me?"

        "I asked if you're okay," he said, still heading her way.

        "Stop where you are," she said, holding out a flat palm. "That's close enough."

        "Huh?" he asked, coming to a halt six feet away. "Hey girl, what's the matter with

you? We just stopped to make sure you're okay. You know, since you jammed on your

brakes like that. What's the matter, baby?"

        "I saw something and decided to check on it," she told him, her hands hanging

loose at her sides. Dressed in a white long sleeve blouse with a U-shaped neck, medium

gray sleeveless sweater and matching skirt, wearing penny loafers for the comfort and

convenience, Sonya realized she probably didn't look too intimidating. With sunset at

quarter to five or so, it was dark enough to bring out what she called the "night crawlers",

the kind of people who wait until dark to crawl out from under whatever rock or hole in

the wall they hid in during the day. Last thing I need, she advised herself, is two Romeos

back here in a dark parking lot when I'm all by myself. Man, why me?

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       The other guy rounded the Mustang, crossed behind her Lexus, and stood next to

his buddy. "Need some help, baby?"

       "Do either one of you mistakenly think you're my Dad?" she asked. "I am not

your 'baby', boys, and that goes for both of you."

       "Hell, no, babe," said the driver with a swaggering attitude. "I can see makin' a

kid with you, but you sure as shit don't look like one."

       "Oooo," she replied, "you have some outrageous dreams, I can tell. So, here's a

tip, as far as those dreams go."

       When the four eyebrows the duo possessed arced at the same time, Sonya said,

"Keep me out of 'em, okay? Ain't gonna happen, fellas. Just ain't gonna happen."

       "Look," said the passenger, stepping toward her, "all we —"

       Sonya aimed a painted index fingernail at him and ordered, "I told him to stop,

and I'm telling you the same damned thing, mister! Stop where you are!"

       He did, but seemed to grow argumentative. "C'mon, baby, why you bein' such a

hard-ass?" he questioned and began moving again. "All we wanna do —"

       "If I have to tell you one more time to halt, your ass is gonna be in more trouble

than it's been in for a long, damned time. Halt, asshole!"

       His expression turned angry. "Look, bitch, just 'cause you're a fuckin' fox, it don't

mean ya get to jump in my shit like that, ya know? You may be foxier'n shit, an' a damn

decent lookin' piece of ass, but you are still a nigger, ya know?"

       The driver said in a conversational manner, "Dave, she might be a spic. She ain't

all that dark, you know?" Facing her, he asked, "You Mexican, or are you a—?"

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       Sonya's right hand went behind her back, under the sweater, while her left fell

into the purse hanging by a strap from her shoulder. The right one came out with a Glock

10mm semiautomatic, the left with an Oceanside Police Department badge, now held in

her palm so they could see it. "Well, I'm definitely not Hispanic," she explained with her

last degree of patience, "and if I hear the word 'nigger' out of your mangy white ass one

more time, you're going to be shot resisting arrest! Do either of you assholes remember

the part where I told you to halt?" She moved the pistol from passenger to driver, then

back again. "Answer me, motherfuckers!"

       All four eyes were now saucer-size. "Yeah!" they howled in unison. It was the

driver who added, "We heard you, officer!"

       "Well, hear this," she added venomously. "Put your hands on the fender of your

car," she commanded, "then put your feet back and spread 'em."

       "Look, all we —"

       "Do it now!" she snapped as headlights washed over her from an approaching car.

It stopped, still running, and an OPD uniform got out. "Sonya, what's the problem?" he

asked as he came toward her, his own weapon out, carried next to his right leg.

       "These two assholes were conducting illegal ancestral searches," she told him

with a wink, "so I had to pull my weapon."

       "We didn't conduct no—"

       "Didn't one of you scumbags ask if I was a nigger?"

       The uniform smiled and said "Tsk-tsk" under his breath. "He called you a nigger,

Sonya? Man, that's not too smart. He must not know who you are." He chuckled.

       "Um, well, we mighta said somethin' you thought sounded like—"

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       "Thought, my bloodshot ass!" she cut in. Looking at the uniform, Sonya asked,

"You got time to run these two jerks in?" She winked at him again.

       He got it. "Well, I could, but they might get off when it comes to trial by using

the moron defense."

       A smile broke out on her face. "They do look like they can qualify for it. You're

right, Felix. Think I should let 'em go?"

       "Maybe just this once," he said with reluctance.

       "Okay, scumbags," Sonya told them while she returned the weapon to the holster

in the back of her waistband, "you can go now, I guess, but I don't want any conflict with

you, ever again, and you'd both better hear me."

       "Slowly," advised Felix as they both darted to the Mustang. "If my unit can't

catch you, my radio can. Slowly."

       They clambered into the Ford, started it, and moved away at just above an idle.

By the time they were fifty yards away, Felix was chuckling loudly. "I'd say you scared

the living shit out of 'em, Sonya. What happened?"

       "I'm not sure yet," she said, pointing toward the greenery next to the parking lot.

       There was a deep drainage ditch, perhaps six feet or more to the edge, another ten

feet straight down, and forty feet wide, that rimmed the long parking lot on the west side,

a third of a mile between Mission and Highway 76. Bushes and trees had taken root and

now shot up ten feet above ground level from the banks. "Possibly a drunk there at the

side of the road, but it could be a lot worse than that." She took a long, deep breath. "A

whole lot worse."

       "Why?" he asked, holstering his weapon.

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       "Because, I think I saw a bloody forehead." Her hand in her purse on the Glock,

Sonya made her way over to where she'd glimpsed someone at the side of the road.

       Felix followed, his holster unsnapped with his hand on the butt.

       When she was a yard away Sonya said, "Aw, shit. You'd better call it in, Felix. I

think we've got another dead homeless guy."

       While his hand went to the radio mic on his left epaulet, she squatted next to the

man's head. Took in all the damage, also noting someone had whacked his forehead hard

enough to crush deep into the bone, leaving a huge, gory dent. "Shit," she cursed quietly

as she looked him over. "Well, at least it was probably painless, from what I see. You

poor guy, you were dead so fast you never even had time to bleed very much."

       Standing, she stepped back a couple feet, got the cell phone from her purse, then

opened it and pressed a speed dial number. When she heard him answer, she said, "Baby,

it's me. You're about to get a call, unless I miss my guess. You may just want to head on

over here to the Lowe's shopping center, out back on the Mission side, behind the loading

docks. Looks to me like we have another DB."

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                                    CHAPTER SIX

                                  Oceanside, California

                          Tuesday, November 17th, 7:44 p.m.

       The two Crown Vics that pulled up and parked off to the eastern side of the drive

would've fooled no one about who was driving them. The main difference between these

units and patrol cars was their dark blue paint and the red and blue oscillators were parts

of the front grille of each big Ford. Each car offloaded a cop, a detective in plain clothes.

       The first, early 30s, red hair in a crew cut style, borderline burly, two steps away

from pudgy but still muscular, Detective Darwin Benning moved at a brisk walk toward

where Sonya awaited the arrivals. He wasn't smiling. Although he normally had a rather

convivial nature, he never saw anything funny or amusing about taking on a homicide or,

as referred to in all subsequent reports, a 187.

       The second, mid to late 40s, was almost six feet, approximately the same weight

as his partner, but leaner. The "leaner" difference was offset by a 12-year age difference,

but both were in excellent condition. This one, the badge now clipped to his belt saying

he was F. Hawthorne, was called Wendell by everyone who knew him, with an exception

in the case of Detective Sonya Charles. She knew his name was shown on his paycheque

as F. Wendell Hawthorne. She knew he didn't like his middle name, although that's what

he told people to call him. She knew, while he disliked the middle name, he abhorred his

first name.

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       So, Sonya called him Flav. Only when it was private, just the two of them.

       No one in the department knew about that name. Not even his partner, whose

badge said he was D. Benning but everyone called him Dar, knew about that first name

until just recently. They also were unaware Hawthorne, some years divorced now from

his Catholic ex-wife who loved having babies but wasn't all that crazy about the process

needed to make them, was head over heels in love with someone.

       Among yet more rarities that had remained unknown in the department, a true

rumor mill in constant motion, had been Detective Sonya Charles' love life. The bare

facts held by the general populace of the force were few. Agreed, Sonya was probably

the best looking woman who'd ever worked for the OPD, and there were some damned

fine looking female officers on the force. Sonya may have been, many speculated, the

most adorable woman ever to enter the building, without regard for where she worked.

       Also agreed, there were probably not more than ten unmarried males working for

OPD who hadn't hit on Sonya at one time or another. Speculated upon was whether or

not any of the female officers might've even hit on her, unable to hold back, never having

made known their sexual persuasion. (Two had hit on her; one officer, still in the closet,

and one ranking staff member, about whom the force only knew she never dated). In

truth, the largest percentage of the married male officers had also dangled invitations in

front of Sonya with high hopes, only to have them dashed immediately.

       Sonya had long ago made it clear. "The only thing even connected with the OPD

that will ever get between my legs will be a motorcycle, and only then on an undercover

assignment." When asked why she refused to date a cop, she always told them, "Because

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I am a cop. I know better." After a while, almost all of them gave up, unwilling to face

the purposeful belittlement Sonya would impose when someone ignored her first couple

turndowns. Her practice was to make subsequent denials very loud and very public, not

at all a spicy item for a patrolman's personnel jacket.

       One cop never even tried. On the rare occasions anyone asked him about making

the effort, he always said, "Don't be a fuckin' idiot." When asked to explain himself, he'd

say, "C'mon, I'm about two inches away from butt ugly. I've got a Catholic ex who goes

to court twice a year to ask 'em to raise the child support I pay for six kids who ain't got

any damned interest in me at all. If I ever fell in love with a woman, I'd be more likely to

put her outa her misery for wantin' me around than I would to marry her. Plus, if that

ain't enough all on its own, I'm an asshole most days."

       That cop, F. Wendell Hawthorne, was the one man on the force who knew better

than to "make a fuckin' idiot outa myself over a woman who wouldn't even let me polish

up 'er fuckin' shoes."

       That one got back to Sonya. Not long after, the Hand of Fate arranged for Dar,

his partner, to be up in Sacramento at a criminology seminar when it came time in the

rotation for Hawthorne and Benning to take a turn on a stakeout. The Chief of Detectives

knew all the rumors, and was well aware the only men on his squad who wouldn't crawl

all over Sonya Charles, the officer he drafted from Vice, were Hawthorne and Benning.

Hawthorne because, well, he's Hawthorne. Benning because his darling wife, Elena, was

always so suspicious of him cheating on her, she even checked up on him a lot. If Elena

ever found him cheating, the other woman might die.

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        Benning wouldn't die, in that event. Matter of fact, he'd be served a special dinner

to celebrate. The main course would be his own testicles. Raw, bloody, freshly severed.

        Prudence being what it was, the Chief of D's arranged to have that too implausible

pair sit eight hours in the same car, watching for an accused murderer who never showed

up until the next day, after Hawthorne and Charles had figuratively punched out. During

their shared time, having heard the rumors about Hawthorne, his attitude and beliefs, she

chose to question him. As they filtered through the lengthy list of hypothetical situations

on the quiet stakeout, she even raised the ludicrous idea of what he thought would happen

if the two of them were to start dating.

        The very idea made Hawthorne laugh. He'd told her, "I wouldn't be able to hang

on to a woman like you half as long a drunk fuckin' Marine would a fifty on a weekend."

        When she pressed the issue, curious about a man who wouldn't even sniff hard at

the false treats she'd laid out before him, knowing before she did so she'd yank it away if

he even nibbled, Hawthorne went the other way. "Little girl," he'd told her, something

that dug deep into the quick of her pride, "why in the hell would the ugliest fuckin' guy in

the whole damned department even bother datin' a woman so fuckin' gorgeous? Even if I

think soccer's a sissy sport, I don't want my fuckin' heart kicked around like a soccer ball,

an' that's what'd happen if I went after your foxy little ass."

        She'd taken a couple days to mull it over, then caught him at his desk when Dar

was in the john, something she'd been checking on every fifteen minutes that day. Her

question at that time was, "How would anyone even know we were dating if we took our

own cars and met down in San Diego, or up in Laguna Beach?"

        Leaving her business card with her personal cell phone number neatly printed on

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the back, she'd waited three more days before he called her and said, "Nobody'd know we

were dating … if I was ever stupid enough to try for it. Thanks, anyway, pretty girl." He

hung up.

       That sealed it, as far as Sonya was concerned. She was waiting when he headed

home the next day and followed him … without him seeing her, since she was also pretty

good at her job. Pulling in behind him and blocking his car in, she explained he'd need to

follow her thirty miles up the coast to San Juan Capistrano and help her understand why

he didn’t want to date her. She further elucidated, if he didn't, she'd have to let the rumor

mill know she gave him a shot at it and he wasn't able to get it up.

       So he followed her, since she already had the address and a MapQuest trip to the

Starbucks she wanted to use. They talked, almost argued, came to an agreement, and he

kissed her as she was standing at the door of her car. Sonya insisted on following him

home again and found out he has a very comfortable bed, which she didn't leave until just

after four the next morning. Since that time, now committed lovers but not stupid enough

to let the world in on what they had together … or the department … they'd managed to

keep their relationship hidden.

       Then, when they were arresting that woman in the case with that Ben Dover guy,

when Sonya almost killed Dover's little sweety, then even tried to shoot Dover when he

charged her in a vengeance attack, Hawthorne averted it. Benning hit Dover like a pro

linebacker and stopped him. They learned Sonya had only grazed the Mexicana princess

and a dual tragedy was averted. Overcome with gratitude and a flood of emotions, Sonya

not only held his hand, then kissed him in front of everyone, she also let slip the name she

called him. Flav.

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       So far the rumors had been rather quiet, but they didn't have much time left, and

they both knew it. Soon everyone would know she was his girl, and Sonya had already

decided she didn't give a pink rat's ass who knew it. Damn it, I love that man and anyone

who disapproves can just kiss my round little ass. Plus, she thought with a big smile, it'll

even stop the rookies from hitting on me. Not a damned one of 'em wants to mess with

Flav. He may be older than they are, but that doesn't mean he's not dangerous as hell.

       Dar got there first. "Hey, Sonya, what's up? They call you out on this one?"

       "Nope," she said, shaking her head and losing sight of him for a moment when a

tidal wave of long, springy golden brown curls half covered her face. She idly whisked

the hair away. "I found the body."

       "Gee, thanks," he told her. "I was just finishin' up a late dinner and Elena was

even being kind of affectionate tonight. I was waiting until she put the kids to bed and I

had a few really choice ideas in mind."

       Smiling, Sonya stepped forward, grabbed his right wrist, and pulled it up. She

glanced at his palm turned it over and examined the back of his hand. "You'll be okay,

Dar. Not to worry," she added with a chuckle. "There's your backup."

       Hawthorne came to a halt at Benning's side. "Why's he need backup?"

       She chuckled, "He told me Elena's feeling frisky and he had some tentative plans I

crapped on by having Felix call this one in." Glancing at Dar, she added, "Dar, if you'd

only called and said something …"

       Hawthorne laughed quietly and patted Benning on the back. "Hell, Dar, with that

little thing of yours, she won't even remember if ya did or didn't do any diddlin' t'night."

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       "Oh, she'll remember, alright," Benning testified. "I may be in a little late in the

morning, but she'll have plenty to remember. So," he said, changing course and looking

at Sonya, "you give a report to the uniforms?"

       "Hell, no. I'll write my own and do it better than any of them could do. I stayed

here to let Flav … I mean, let you guys know what happened." She went on to tell them

what went down, including the two guys in the Mustang, which pissed Hawthorne off a

lot more than she anticipated. While she was talking, although neither detective took any

notes since she'd promised to make her report, Sonya noticed Benning take out his cell

phone and make a call, after stepping away a few feet for privacy. She even understood

him a little, calling Elena, since she also had it in mind to discretely invite Hawthorne to

swing by her place when he was finished here.

       Barely two minutes after Benning hung up, she heard a very loud car start up and

the screaming sound of tires burning rubber. Wondering why it sounded as if a race car

was so damned close, she heard it approaching. A black sports car was moving this way

with what seemed like it had a race to win. When it slid to a screeching halt and was shut

down, Sonya watched a beautiful young woman she'd recently shot, or she at least grazed

with a bullet, and a good looking older guy she'd also tried to shoot, hop out of the car.

       The uniforms made the car stop at least a hundred feet away, a rarity now since

they had a car at each place traffic could enter to tell anyone who wanted to drive through

to detour around. This was now a crime scene, not a public throughway, until Flav and

his partner said it was. Her former victim and the almost victim, holding hands, hurried

in her direction. The guy, Ben Dover, didn't look a damned bit happy, she decided.

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       "Damn it, get out of my way," Dover snapped with irritation at the uniform who

tried to send him back to the car. "That's one of our guys who was shot, and Detective

Benning just called me. Get the hell out of my way, will you?"

       "Rudy, he's okay," Benning announced to the Hispanic officer who was thinking

about restraining the overly aggressive civilian. "Like he said, I called him."

       When Dover and the little fox stepped into the slowly forming circle that had been

three and was now five, Sonya smiled and said, "Hello, Mr. Dover. Miz Martinez. How

are you?"

       "Not worth a damn," said Dover, "and it's just Ben. Remember, there's a special

bond between a citizen and any cop who tries to kill him. Oh, and this is Fancy, not that

'Miz Martinez' stuff. We're just Ben and Fancy."

       "Good evening, Detective Charles," said the little Mexicana fox, making Sonya

feel the beauty tables had suddenly gone out of balance. "Good evening Wendell, Dar,"

she added with a smile Sonya wondered if she could compete with.

       "Miss Fancy," they both said happily, each beaming at her. Sonya experienced

the very briefest twinge of jealousy, then dismissed the entire concept as inane. Our Dar

wouldn't dare do anything, if the chance ever came to him … which I don't think it will

with this little angel … and I know where all Flav's dirty ideas are channeled. With a grin

she couldn't stifle, Sonya told herself, Straight my way.

       Dover asked, "What the hell happened? Is it one of our guys?"

       Hawthorne said, "Can't be sure yet, Ben, but it probably is. He's homeless, from

what Detective Charles says. I'll be asking all the uniforms in a few minutes if anyone

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knows him, but there's one rather odd facet to it. There's a battered and busted up old

wheelchair next to the body, and the man has no legs."

        Sonya had noticed Fancy stepping around the other two cops, but she hadn't said

anything about it because she didn't want to interrupt Flav when he was talking. Now she

heard Fancy scream, "Oh, Ben! It's Petey! Someone has killed our Petey!"

        When Sonya looked at Dover she saw his face tightening in rage. "Aw, fuck!" he

roared. "That's it! One step too damned far! That bastard's really going to pay for this


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                                 CHAPTER SEVEN

                                  Oceanside, California

                          Tuesday, November 17th, 8:11 p.m.

       The call from Benning came in when there was nothing going on at the facility, at

least, nothing on behalf of the homeless. Everyone we had staying overnight with us now

was either here and accounted for, or would be here before nine, the "curfew", if you will.

We've had to set a schedule of sorts for our residents or the facility would be running like

a Democratic administration, with nobody knowing what was going on.

       Still, there was something "happening". Right there in my office.

       When my cell rang, Fancy was sitting on my lap. We were on the couch I had

installed not that long ago for visitors, but it was on the verge of being used otherwise.

The breathing was hot and heavy and both of us were beginning to rumple the other's

clothing to a noticeable degree. The funny thing about really being in love with a woman

like Fancy … as opposed to just being in lust … means every single time we get this way

is just as exciting as the first time we made love. Differently than so many relationships

in my past, holding her, kissing her, and touching her was still almost brand-new every

time it happened. As if what I'd find when my hand snuck under her top, albeit without a

scintilla of resistance on her part, would be something altogether new.

       In a way, it always was new because, each time we make love, it's this time.

       If you haven't known it, I really can't explain it. Leave it at this: it's not anything

someone who's known a love like ours is willing to turn down or defer. That's why, when

I heard the phone ringing, I mentally ran down my top ten cuss words. However, when it

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could be someone who needs me, the frolicking we were doing would have to take a back

seat for the time being.

       No longer than necessary, mind you, but for the time being.

       The call was brief and very disheartening. I didn't see any way they'd have it

wrong, and was even a bit ashamed of myself for the thoughts running through my head.

I hoped it wasn't one of ours. Bad enough if a homeless guy has to die, but it's worse if I

know the man. Again, hard to explain. Either it makes sense to you, or I'm babbling.

       I explained it to Fancy as we tidied ourselves up, not wanting to look as if we'd

been so close to what we were so close to when Benning called. Piecing it together in my

head as we raced to the Viper, I wondered for a moment why we'd take the car, since it

was barely more than two-hundred yards from the building. Until I remembered why

were using the car when I started panting just from running to it. I made a note to myself

to cut down on my smoking by at least one cigarette per day.

       Maybe more.

       We'd just reached the cops I knew, after bellowing in the face of a Hispanic guy

in uniform who was considering the idea of whipping my ass for me, but was called off

by Benning. While we did the briefest amount of chitchat, Fancy broke away and went to

where she could see the body they were working on. I've no doubt she knew who it was

just by seeing the wheelchair, since Petey had painted some racing stripes on the side of it

and had his red ribbons tied so they flared behind him when he got to top speed.

       Her screams were still echoing around us when I took her into my arms. "Shhhh,

Princesa, hush, Baby. I know, Honey, I know." She was crying, sobbing, asking all the

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usual dumb questions. "Why'd it hafta happen? Why Petey? Why wasn't he there with

us t'night? Why didn't we—?"

       That's where I shut her off, gently clamping my cupped hand on that adorable

mouth. "No, Fancy. Don't go there, Baby. Petey was a big boy and you know it. He

wasn't the kind of guy to let anyone give him anything, Princesa. You must've asked him

to stay at the shelter a hundred times and he almost always said no. Honey, you can't

blame yourself. It was his choice."

       In a couple more minutes I had Fancy calmed down. A very unhappy, still crying

quietly, young woman had her face buried in my chest when I motioned to Hawthorne so

he'd know he could approach us. I gestured with my hand for him to come nearer, then

went back to hugging my girl. He asked, "You got a name for this guy, Ben?"

       "Off the top of my head, just Petey, but we have more at the facility. Hang on a

sec and I'll get it for you." I pulled my cell out of the fanny pack and thumb dialed the

office. When it was answered I said, "Danniee? What're you doing working so late?"

       "A project I've been working on that won't get finished otherwise," she said. "If I

don't stay late and get these things done, they never happen, Ben. You know that."

       "Oh. Okay. Look, this is important. There's been another killing. He's one of

our guys."

       "Oh, no! Ben, who?"

       "You'll have him listed with a nickname of Petey. P-E-T-E-Y. He's the guy in

the wheelchair with no legs."

       "Oh, no! Ben, he was a nice guy."

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       "Yeah, I know. That's why whoever's doing this has to be stopped. Look, do a

computer search for that name, then print the file and bring it to us, please. And, before

you bother to jump in my shit about it, we're right outside the office. When you come out

the door on the parking lot side, you'll see all the commotion. There's about twenty-seven

cops wandering around here. Just walk … scratch that, knowing you, you'll drive … over

to where we are. Tell the cops who try to make you go away you're here to see Detective

Benning, okay?"

       I heard her muttering to herself as she wrote everything I'd told her on paper, then

she said, "I'll be there in a minute," and hung up.

       A glance at Hawthorne, "Petey didn't like to be inside. Said it made him feel as if

he was imprisoned. He's been pretty sick. The diabetes, and no medical care, are what

cost him his legs. Poor guy's just been sliding farther and farther downhill the last couple

years." I shook my head. "Fancy's been trying very hard to help him help himself, but he

hasn't given much ground. Now this," I added, looking all around us. "Anyway, Danniee

will be here in a couple minutes with a printed copy of whatever we have on him."

       "That'll be all the info you have on the man?" asked Hawthorne. "Whatever we

get from this Danniee?"

       "Yeah." I shrugged. "You can get a warrant, if you want, or just go on over there

and look right now. I've got nothing to hide."

       "No, Ben. No warrant. I'm just making sure. Of course, none of that will help us

as far as finding out who did this," he added, gesturing to the people working on Petey's

body over the other side of the cable wire that ran alongside the parking lot. "We need to

talk to people who knew him."

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        "Good luck with that, Wendell. These people, the homeless, don't want to talk to

a cop. Every last one of 'em trusts you half the distance he can throw you left-handed.

To them, you're 'The Man' and to be avoided at all costs."

        "Maybe if you said they should talk with us—"

        Benning broke in, "Or sat in on the interview, even. If you're there, maybe they'd

feel free to say something."

        Again I shook my head. "Not a chance, Dar. Not even a slim one. They won't

say a damned thing, even to me, around you. These people do not like cops."

        "Well, that's a chance we'll hafta take," Hawthorne countered. "We need to learn

all we can about him and anyone he's come across lately. People who knew him, anyone

who owed him money, or crossed him in any way."

        "Tell ya what I'm gonna do," I replied, sounding more like a used car salesman

than I liked. "This isn't anything you'll need to use in court, is it?"

        "Not that I can see. Not yet, anyway. Why?"

        "I have a microcassette recorder right there in my office I'll put in my fanny pack

when I talk with the guys, which I intend to do this evening. I'll record with it while I ask

my questions, making sure I use the guy's name when I talk with him for ID, if you need

to know who said what later on. When I'm done, I'll give you guys the tapes. Fair


        Hawthorne and Benning, along with Sonya Charles, who'd somehow attached

herself to the conversation, looked at each other in a silent conference. Then he faced me

and nodded. "That'll do, for now, anyway. We may still hafta go back and talk with

these guys later, one-on-one, but what you get out of 'em will give us a start."

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         Fancy came up for air, now leaning against my chest while standing beside me.

She watched all of us, but said nothing.

         I noticed Sonya had idly made her way around the group so she was positioned on

Hawthorne's left. Seconds later, they were loosely holding hands while we talked. He

gave me a verbal rundown on the questions to ask and I took mental notes, mentioning it

was hard to even get these guys to admit they had a social security number, let alone to

admit remembering it. If they even did remember.

         When we finished that part, I had a surprise for Hawthorne and Benning. "I said

that bastard has gone a step too far, and he has. You guys just picked up a volunteer."

         "Meaning?" Hawthorne asked leerily.

         "You guys know I have a carry permit now, right? Because of all the money I

have on me to give away to the homeless."

         "Yeah, we know," he said with a nod. "What's that got to do with the price of


         "It means I'm going to start carrying … twenty-four/seven … and I'm going to

stop shaving, as well. Oh, and I'll be heading over to the Goodwill shop tomorrow for

some clothes. The worst I can find."

         "Aw, shit, Ben. You don't mean—?"

         "Damned straight," I finished. "The homeless community is going to grow by one

more member tomorrow because Ben Dover is going undercover."

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                                 CHAPTER EIGHT

                                 Oceanside, California

                         Tuesday, November 17th, 8:38 p.m.

       The first step of my new plan didn't work the way I had in mind. Knowing it was

safer for her, I had it in mind to send Fancy back to the facility with Danniee and pick her

up when I was finished. So, I sprang my nifty idea on her. "Princesa, I'd like you to go

back to the main building with Danniee and see what work-connected things you can get

done while I go talk with a few guys to see what I can find out."

       Fancy put both hands on her hips and stood silently watching me.

       I waited for her to say something. Acknowledge what I asked her to do. Wish me

luck in whatever I had in mind. Offer a suggestion, maybe. Even tell me I had spinach in

my teeth. Anything.

       She didn't say a word. Just watched me with a blank expression.

       Danniee, my former almost fiancée and the first employee I hired after beginning

this operation, stood off to my right, slightly behind Fancy, watching her. She also said

nothing, just took in whatever wasn't going on with me and my girl. I began to wonder if

we wouldn't end up drawing a crowd just from the oddity of standing here speechless and

eyeballing each other. Finally, I weakened and blinked first. "Querida, aren't you going

to say anything?"

       "Yeah, soon's ya stop talkin' goofy, Ben."

       "I'm not talk— … what're you trying to say, Ángel?"

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        "Yer talkin' goofy, Ben. I ain't goin' back t' the main building with Danniee, an' I

ain't lettin' ya go off by yerself an' ask a buncha questions without me bein' there. But yer

tryin' t' get rid o' me, so I figure I'll jus' wait 'til ya stop babblin' an' you an' me can go talk

t' all them guys t'gether."

        "Honey, this could be dangerous. You can't expect me to—"

        "See? There ya go, Ben, babblin' again. Ya ain't leavin' me here, Querido, an'

that's all there is to it. So, lemme know when yer done makin' goofy noises an' we can go

see them guys an' get started findin' whoever killed Petey an' Sam."

        "But, Ángel—"

        "Ben, we ain't got all night," she told me, tapping her wristwatch. "Them guys'll

all be findin' themselves a place t' sleep pretty soon, meanin' you an' me best get goin' t'

see 'em pretty quick, ya know? So, soon's yer done talkin' goofy, we c'n get started." She

sighed. "Ya done, Ben?"

        Knowing from past experience Fancy very seldom puts her foot down on anything

with me, but when she does an act of congress won't even phase her, I gave up. "Okay,

but you'll have to stay in the car while I—"

        "Ben, yer talkin' goofy some more."

        "You're not going to even listen to me, are you, Princesa?"

        "Sure. Soon's we get in the car, I'll listen t' ya 'til we get where we're goin'."

        I let out a long breath I hadn't realized I was holding, shrugged and took her arm.

"Let me guide you to the car, my pretty." I sighed again and took the woman I loved, her

face now adorned with a victory smile, to the Viper.

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        As we walked past Danniee, who is far from stupid in any respect, her mouth was

hanging open. I'm sure she was mentally flipping through our three plus years together

and wondering how the hell Fancy just pulled that one off so easily. She hadn't managed

it once when we were a couple and Fancy made it look like a piece of cake.

        Our first stop was the local McDonald's, right here in the shopping center. There

were three guys, none of whom I knew by name, but they all had a vague understanding

of who I was, so they were willing to talk with us. They said they hadn't known anything

about Sam until the next day, although one of them knew a guy who'd been around that

evening after the cops showed up. He wasn't sure what the other guy was called, but said

it might be "Skip" or "Skippy".

        They all knew Petey, of course. They said he'd been vacillating about where he'd

decide to stay for the night and finally concluded, because he was so tired, he'd "do what

that little cutie was always askin' about an' stay the night over there at the main building"

of My Friend's Place. At those words, Fancy turned and walked back to the car.

        I thanked the guys, gave them each a twenty, and hurried after her. "Ángel, you

can't let things like that get to you," I told her as I took her into my arms.

        With tears streaming down her face, she said, "No? Even if I got 'im killed?"

        "Damn it, you didn't. Baby, all you ever did was try to help Petey. Who knows

why someone jumped him tonight? Okay, it was while he was on his way to our place,

but they might've found him anywhere, if they were looking for him. If not, if he was a

random victim, you can't blame yourself for his location, for Pete's sake. You—"

        "See? Ya jus' said it yerself, Ben. 'Fer Pete's sake', ya said. What if —?"

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       "That's not what I meant, and you know it. I might've said 'for Christ's sake', but

I'm working to clean up my language a little. If I'd said that, would you blame Jesus?"

       Her tears abated a little. "'Course not. Ya can't blame Jesus. He died fer our sins,

but I still think—"

       "Uh-uh," I broke in, placing a finger on those pretty lips. "There's no way in hell

you can put yourself in that spot. That's as silly as saying you're to blame for him losing

his legs because you didn't nag him to take his medicine, or go see a doctor. Sometimes

you just can't make people do what they should, even if you have a good reason. There

are times they have another motivation, maybe one they don't even know about, and they

won't do the 'right thing' because of it. Princesa, these things are all part of God's plan,

you know. You can't make yourself responsible for the entire world."

       Fancy shrugged, small shoulders popping up and falling away, then sighed as she

glanced up at me. "Yeah, I know, but I jus' feel so bad 'bout Petey."

       "I know you do, Baby, so maybe you should let me take you back to —"

       "Now yer babblin' again an' talkin' goofy," she advised me. "I ain't givin' up on

this stuff 'til we catch whoever did this t' Petey, an' ya ain't makin' me go nowheres, Ben."

       That made it my turn to sigh, so I helped her into the car and we took off again.

We went to the shopping center where Sam was killed and parked, figuring we'd find a

few more homeless people, as well as any of the small number of people who weren't

homeless but might acknowledge them as living beings. As we passed Pizza From Mars,

a local fast food shop that actually does make pretty good pizza, two guys were standing

out front of the wide glass wall arguing, calling each other names.

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       Wiser now by what I'd learned over the years, since they were close to the glass

wall, I got on Fancy's left and took her elbow in my hand. I intended to be a barrier that

kept them away from her as we moved by them. We were less than a yard past the two

when one guy said, "That's what you say, ya cocksucker!"

       I was in the middle of my next stride when I noticed my girl was gone. As fast as

she heard the guy roar, she'd spun in place, turning to her right, then headed back toward

the pair. "Um, s'cuse me?" she said, breaking in on their argument by placing a hand on

the burly right forearm of a man in his 30s wearing a plain flannel shirt, work jeans and

dirty work boots.

       "What?" he snapped, spinning halfway around to face her. Prepared to deliver

more of his rage to whomever the stupid newcomer who interrupted him might be, he

made a rapid change of facial expressions when he saw Fancy. "Hey, baby, what's up?"

       "How come ya said that like it was a bad thing, er somethin'?"

       "Huh?" He glanced at the other guy, then back at her. "What'd I say?"

       Fancy looked at him the same way my Mom or my teachers always looked at me

if I gave a stupid answer to a serious question. "Cocksucker. How's come ya said it like

it was a bad thing? That ain't very nice, ya know?"

       He stepped back about a foot. "Why're you askin' me that, baby?"

       Fancy frowned. I know. I could see it, since I was at her side now and hoping I'd

get us out of this without any trouble. The guy was maybe five-ten, all of 200 pounds,

muscular and not incredibly intelligent, from what I'd seen and heard. Plus, she asked

him a potentially embarrassing question when he was already in a bad mood for some

reason. "Look, fella, we shouldn't've interrupted you when —"

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        She moved halfway in front of me. "Ben, I only asked the guy why he was sayin'

that 'cause it ain't nice. I jus' wanted t' find out —"

        The guy put his hammy hand on her shoulder, pulled Fancy around and positioned

her to face him again. "You one o' them assholes that's always stickin' up fer them fags,

are ya? Maybe one o' them bitches that thinks all them queers should get married? You

sayin' ya maybe know somebody who's a cocksucker? Zat it?"

        He'd managed to pique her resentment a little, but Fancy was still maintaining her

cool. "Jus' me," she said, "an' that's only fer Ben, but ya still shouldn't—"

        "Oh, really?" he said with a combined lust and anger. "Think ya might be gettin'

ready t' take on any new customers?" He finished it with a leer, then began raising his

right hand. It would land in the general vicinity of her left breast, which convinced me

the entire conversation was well past the point of no return.

        My left hand shot out and took a grip on his wrist, flinging it back. "Don't even

think you're gonna get away with that shit, asshole."

        He'd been challenged. The look on his face was the same thing I'd seen on bullies

since first grade, maybe even earlier. I was making him look bad, so he'd have to either

make me back down by intimidating me, or win the fight with a sucker punch. Jerks like

him seldom have the cojones to go at it fair and square … if there really is such a thing in

matters like personal combat. However, if lofty principles like that do exist, I'm sure they

only happen in fantasy novels. The "rules" of street fighting, short and sweet as they are,

start and end with, "Someone wins. Whatever ya gotta do to make that happen, it's within

the rules."

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        He moved into position, even slowly bringing his right hand back. I was sure he'd

pulled this one before and his opponents had no idea what happened until they returned to

consciousness at a later time. "Oh? Zat so?"

        He was flexing his muscles, verbally and mentally, getting ready to coldcock me.

It reminded me of the "whatever ya gotta do" part of "the rules".

        "You might've gotten along well with Larry and Curly," I told him patiently, "but

you would've hated Moe."

        "Yeah? Why's that?" he asked, his movement suggesting he was about to cock a

punch that would leave me helpless. Then he'd be free to deal with the lovely little treat

in front of him who'd made it known she did something that interested him greatly.

        "Mainly 'cause he'd do this a lot," I snapped, jabbing my index and middle fingers

into his eyes. I even felt something wet when they landed, so I knew I'd just scored two

direct hits.

        "Ow!" he wailed in pain. "Ya dirty bastard, that ain't fair!" he screamed at me in

righteous rage as he put both palms on his eyes and reflexively leaned forward.

        I managed to bring my right all the way back, then swung it down and up at him

again with all the gusto I could add. My fist landed in his belly, convincing me with both

blows I hadn't lost my touch from the days I boxed, almost thirty-five years ago. Maybe I

didn't have the velocity these days, but my accuracy hadn't suffered too badly in the time

between then and now. Well aware no job's worth doing if it isn't done right, I finished

by bringing up my right knee as he fell forward, doing as much damage to his face as my

fists would do in half a dozen hard punches.

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        He made a scream that came out a frothy gurgle as he spat blood all over the wide

sidewalk and continued falling to land on his ravaged face. As he groveled and moaned,

I faced the other guy. "You want a piece of this shit?"

        The other guy held up his hands, keeping them even with his ears, and backed up

the last few inches to let his back press against the glass wall. "No way! Not me, man!

He's an asshole an' he was jumpin' in my shit about —"

        "Like I care?" I interrupted. "You'd better call 9-1-1 and get him an ambulance.

He's gonna need some help."

        Walking away, the guy said, "Fuck 'im, let someone else do it. I don't give a shit

if he lives or dies."

        Thinking to myself, That makes two of us, I stepped inside the restaurant, letting

my hand tell Fancy to stand still, right where she was, and wait for me. I went up to the

register and told the young woman ringing up an order, "You'd better call 9-1-1. There's

a guy on your sidewalk bleeding to death."

        Before she got a close enough look to recognize me, I marched out, took Fancy's

elbow, and we started walking quickly away.

                                  Carlsbad, California

                         Tuesday, November 17th, 8:44 p.m.

        Chico, Rex and Clarence all got out of the crew cab pickup, with Chico making

sure he had all the doors locked before putting the keys in his pocket. Then they looked

around the parking lot until they saw the dumpster near the back of the lot. Clarence, the

black guy, leaned forward to ask Rex in a confidential sounding whisper, "Why'd he want

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us to park up here by the hotel? Don't make no sense, ya know? If we's supposed t' meet

'is ass back there by th' dumpster, why'n the fuck didn't we jus' park back there?"

       "Maybe he jus' wants us to think he's stayin' here, but he ain't," Rex answered, "or

maybe he's stayin' here an' flat don't wanna be seen with fuckin' riffraff like us. How'm I

s'posed t' know, man? Ya wanna know, ask 'is ass yerself."

       "Uh-uh," Clarence said, flexing his muscular arms by crossing his massive chest

in a back and forth motion. "I ain't askin' that dude no fuckin' questions, man. No way."

       "Okay, then keep that shit t' yerself, then. I ain't got a fuckin' clue." Rex turned

and led the way, his large and athletic body moving with lithe ease across the parking lot

as his green eyes swept the area for trouble. Thirty-two years old, a trained combat vet,

two years out of the Marines on a bad conduct discharge, he didn't have any friends, and

he liked it that way. Friends were a huge weakness, as he saw it, and gave a man foolish

reasons to make him second guess himself.

       Having friends could get a man killed, the way Rex saw it, and he didn't want to

die right away if he didn't have to. An even six feet, a hard 190 pounds, all of it muscle

and laced with anger at the world, he wasn't afraid to die, either. Even knew it was just

around the corner, the way he lived, but that day wasn't here yet. Anyone who tried to

make it happen that way for him, or even disrupt the life he was living in any way, was a

lot closer to dead than Rex was, if Rex had anything to say about it.

       So far, he'd always had something to say about it.

       Clarence, a latent homosexual from Detroit who'd never yet dared cross that line

to make sure, was actually horrified anyone would ever find out he was still a virgin at

age twenty-eight. Although he'd had numerous opportunities to be with women, since

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half those sluts threw themselves at him, the idea never seemed right. Shit, I can't even

get me no boner around those bitches, he'd told himself time and time again. He knew

the times he did get one were events like the body building shows he attended, sometimes

as a participant, sometimes just to watch. Still, he always managed to maintain himself

when others were watching.

       It was when he was alone, afterward, the excitement would begin. Yet, he knew

better than to let Rex or Chico know about that part of him. Something told Clarence it

meant one of them would die if that ever came up. Even as muscular as he was, even

with a mean streak that made people back in Detroit call him "Pit Bull", Clarence wasn't

comfortable with the way he thought that situation might end up. These motherfuckers is

a pair o' bad ass dudes. Uh-uh!

       Chico was a thirty year old Mexican who'd never been any deeper into Mexico

than a few trips to TJ. He barely even spoke any Spanish. It wasn't allowed in the house

of the Army Major who raised him because his housekeeper mother was stupid enough to

let her boss knock her up. The man had forced conditioning on Chico until he became

the "lean, mean fighting machine" the Major wanted.

       Then, a week before Chico's sixteenth birthday, when the Major was enjoying yet

another training session where he kicked Chico's mangy spic ass all around the back yard,

something snapped. Chico managed to get the Major's .45 from the bench where he put it

while he kicked the spic's ass and shot the cocksucker dead. Six rounds, all square in the

chest. Whip my ass, will ya, ya prick bastard?

       Because he was a juvie when it happened, and had absolutely no criminal record

while he was in the Major's custody, i.e., since the day she brought him home from the

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hospital, they could only keep him 'til he was twenty-five. Deemed incorrigible by all

who knew him, including the psychiatrists, there still wasn't a thing they could do to stop

him when it came time to go.

       They also couldn't prove he was guilty of killing the three other juvenile inmates

who'd died while he was a prisoner. Hey, Chico thought with a wry smile, I might be a

fuckin' Mexican, but I ain't stupid. Alibi is the word o' the day, my man. Alibi, an' I

always had one. Every fuckin' time. Always will, too. Ain't no way I'm goin' back. The

bastards is gonna hafta kill my ass first.

       Wordlessly, their meeting prearranged, the trio headed for the dumpster. After

all, The Man wanted to talk with them. That meant they'd better be there, and they'd all

better be there on time.

       'Cause he is The Man.

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                                   CHAPTER NINE

                                   Carlsbad, California

                          Tuesday, November 17th, 8:46 p.m.

       As they approached, Rex couldn't take his eyes off the guy he'd come to know as

"The Man". That's what he said to call him the first time I met the bastard, and it just

sorta seemed right, he thought without finding an argument. Som'bitch is one bad ass

lookin' mothafucker if I ever saw one.

       The Man stood only about five-eight. Weighed maybe 180, 190, every last ounce

muscle and nastiness. He created the impression it might be best to make him angry. At

least that way, with some degree of emotion involved, he might not kill you as a matter of

course. It was clear to anyone watching him if he wanted to kill you, that'd be it. You'd

be dead and there'd be no further discussion of it. Nor would the man think about it. Not

at all. A human being could die at his hands with no more dispassion or concern than a

fly, and even easier, since flies can be hard to swat at times, if they're quick enough.

       Rex got that impression as he approached the meeting area, a space in the dark

shadows beside and toward the rear of a huge garbage dumpster. He saw a small man,

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but not a little one, standing in a classic Marine DI pose. Feet spread slightly to provide

balance and a firm base. Leaning forward about 2-4 degrees, again for balance. Arms

crossed behind his back, conveying he was holding his left wrist with his right hand.

       No look on his face.

       People are supposed to have a facial expression, Rex realized subconsciously. A

look that tells to some degree what they're thinking. How they feel. Portrays a mood or

an attitude. The Man shows me nothing. Worse, it isn't even transparent. It's nothing.

No emotion, no attitude, no feelings. It's a mask. A barrier that announces you'll never

get inside him and you'll never get to him. Can't hurt him, emotionally or, in an obvious

revelation, physically. Rex almost shook his head involuntarily as it dawned on him.

This bastard could kill all three of us right here and now with his bare fuckin' hands.

       Chico said nothing, just walked a half pace back on Rex's left side. He felt as if

he was approaching an angry pit bull with his wrists handcuffed behind his back.

       Clarence, his heart in his throat a little higher with every step he took, kept trying

to gulp and couldn't make himself swallow. Why'm I thinkin' this mothafuckah might

jus' kill my black ass fer somethin' t' do?

       When they were ten feet away The Man, still wearing black sunglasses at this late

hour, stepped two paces to his left, leaving the dumpster on his right. Keeping his eyes

on the trio, he gestured they should stand in the dark shadow of the garbage bin. When

they did, he made a brushing motion with his hands, the backs turned up, indicating they

should all back up and get closer to the wall. Once all three were in position, he moved

into the inky space in front of them, himself overshadowed, with all four now unseeable

from the parking lot.

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       Rex decided he was being ridiculous, but had to admit it felt as if the three of

them were now surrounded.

       The Man's hands went behind his back again, the right emerging with three white

envelopes. Rex noticed he was wearing plastic gloves, a milky white. That hand eased

forward toward Rex. "Pay your troops when you leave," said The Man in crisp, sharp

words. Following that, he stared at them.

       This is fuckin' stupid, Rex counseled himself as he stuffed the envelopes into his

waistband. Can't see the mothafucker's eyes, not in the dark an' with sunglasses on, but I

can feel the fuckin' things burnin' through, as if they was scorchin' my ass. Som'bitch, I

don't ever wanna piss this bastard off.

       "You've done well, so far," The Man told them, speaking to the group but looking

only at Rex. "But, I need better. I need more, and I need that more to come faster."

       Chico blurted out, "Man, how much fuckin' faster can we go, ya know? We go

any harder on these assholes, there's gonna be six fuckin' cop cars with every group o'

them fuckers."

       Still eyeballing Rex, The Man said quietly, "Tell him I'll kill him if he ever speaks

to me again."

       Already back by the wall, Chico coughed nervously and shrunk in size, crowding

against the concrete blocks.

       Rex answered, "I believe he got the message." He said it with a trace of his usual

swagger, speaking as the assumed leader of the group.

       "I said tell him!" snapped The Man. "If you don't, I'll kill you. Right here. Right

now. Tell him."

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       Feeling his blood run cold for a moment, suddenly afraid to turn his head enough

to face Chico, yet terrified for some reason to disobey, Rex barked in a now shaky voice,

"Chico, front an' center!"

       "Fuck you!" Chico nearly screeched.

       Rex gulped, not expecting Chico, someone he'd already seen kill a man, would be

that afraid of The Man. He was still trying to decide what to do when his mind was made

up for him.

       "Either you get that man up here … now! … or I'll bring his dead body up. Your

choice, Marine."

       "How'd you know I was … never mind." He turned to Chico. "Man, walkin' or in

a body bag's your fuckin' options. On three. One —"

       Chico stepped forward, clearly smart enough to know his life hung in the balance.

       The Man faced Rex, eyes still invisible, and ordered, "Tell him to kiss your ass."

       Without any hesitation, Rex snapped, "Chico, kiss my ass!"

       His gaze moving back and forth between The Man and Rex, Chico was silent.

       Rex asked The Man, "Okay, I told him. Now what?"

       "Drop trou so he can kiss your ass."

       "Hey, you can't really mean—"

       Nobody even really saw him move. The Man was facing Rex, then Rex was on

his face on the blacktop, nose bloody and scraped, his cap three feet ahead of him. He

tamped down all the anger he felt and did a pushup motion, starting to rise. That time

Chico and Clarence saw The Man's right foot move. They thought so, anyway. The boot

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collided with the back of Rex's skull, smacking it against the blacktop again, bloodying it

a little more.

        "From down there," The Man ordered. "Pull 'em down and bare your ass so your

spic girlfriend can kiss it. I will not wait."

        The Man had scarcely applied a period to the sentence when Rex had his pants

and underwear down around his knees. "Chico, come kiss my fuckin' ass or I'll fuckin'

kill ya right fuckin' now!"

        With scarcely any delay, Chico fell to his knees beside Rex, then leaned forward

and kissed the left cheek. While he was raising his head, The Man added, "Now tell your

little spic girlfriend I said to put a hickey on your ass for being disobedient. If I have to

tell her, you'll both die right here, right now."

        "Chico! Hickey! My fuckin' ass, Chico! Gimme a fuckin' hickey!"

        No delay this time. Chico sucked on the cheek of Rex's ass so hard it made Rex

wince in pain. When he was done, Chico looked at The Man, perhaps for permission to


        The Man said quietly, "Get up, Marine. Put your pants on."

        Unbidden, Chico retreated to the depths of the shadows, once again pressed hard

to the cement block wall.

        Rex made it to his feet, pulling his pants up as he rose. He fastened them again,

then buckled his belt, stood at attention and awaited further orders.

        The Man said, "Tell her, next time she disobeys, she'll suck your cock. If you

don't say it, as I've just ordered you to do, you're gonna suck off the nigger."

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        "Chico, you get outa line again, yer suckin' me off. Got it?"

        "Got it!" snapped Chico.

        "Ask the nigger if he has that down," ordered The Man.


        "Got it, Rex. I fuck up, I suck you off," Clarence volunteered.

        "He's got it, Sir!" barked Rex, now at full attention, hands stiff at his sides.

        "Make sure of it," said The Man, eyes still riveted on Rex. "I want another one by

tomorrow, and I want it bloody. I want the body left someplace where someone will find

it right away. If you don't do enough damage, I will then provide an example so you'll be

sure to do it right afterward."

        "An example, Sir? You mean you're gonna kill one of 'em yourself, Sir?"

        "I mean I'll kill one of you, the way I want it done, so the surviving two will know

how to do it the time after that," The Man explained. "Keep that cell phone I gave you

handy," he added. "When I want another meet, you'll hear from me." He glared again

through the black lenses and added, "Dismissed."

        Rex never hesitated. He immediately began walking toward the truck. If one o'

them assholes don't get it in time, fuck 'em! Let The Man kill 'im. I ain't fuckin' with that


        Clarence and Chico were only a step behind him all the way to the truck.

                                    Oceanside, California

                         Wednesday, November 18th, 11:37 a.m.

        My own damned fault, I'd realized when we got up far too early today so we'd be

ready for Sam's funeral. I didn't arrange transportation for Sam's friends. Mainly due to

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the fact I never took a roster count. So, paying the price for not thinking, Fancy and I

jumped in the Escalade and headed for that Mickey D's to meet them. Again realizing I'd

forgotten to adapt my thinking to their way of life, I then remembered I promised to buy

breakfast for all the guys who went to Sam's farewell ceremony.

       Consequently, it shouldn't've been any big surprise to me when I found a group of

twenty-seven homeless guys waiting, spread out on the sidewalk in front of the store,

with maybe ten more inside. Those who had some money and had decided to at least get

coffee while they waited.

       Not only is there a surprising degree of loyalty to each other in the community of

the homeless, there's an even greater degree of hunger. Sam, he was a good ol' boy, that

went without saying, but every man facing me was also never sure where … or if … his

next meal was coming from.

       Thankfully, I had yet another asset I could use, since we were going to need a lot

of transportation. I keep a spare White Pages and a Yellow Pages in the wheel well area

of the SUV, which I handed to Fancy, along with a credit card. She got on the phone

with instructions to get ten cabs over here ASAP and to tell the dispatchers I'd pay their

standby rates until we left. When even her sugar tones weren't enough to swing the deal,

Fancy used her classic innovative sense and added a free breakfast for every driver who

made it here on time.

       Counting Fancy and myself, although we just had an Egg McMuffin and an OJ

apiece to take the edge off, I was able to add 46 meals to the breakfast count that day. It

left at least twenty of the guys burping during Sam's services, and every one of the group,

still in a cab I was paying for, made it to the final internment. The burpers were down to

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less than a dozen by then. Fancy had gone out of her way to make sure Sam got a really

nice spot under a tree. I could only hope I was able to get out of this for fifteen grand, or

less, but just as quickly dismissed the idea as money-grubbing.

       With the meters all still running, the cabs ferried my motley crew back to that

Mickey D's and dropped 'em off. Fancy balked when I told her to give each driver a

twenty as a tip, but didn't really resist when she saw the look it brought to my face. As

she was doing that, with the rates already handled on my credit card, after being stupid

enough to ask if anyone was hungry, I got the chance to spring for thirty more lunches.

       Going around from table to table, since we'd again commandeered the place by

the volume of our group, I asked questions. None of the guys had seen anything worth

talking about, with Sam or Petey. The last anyone saw of Sam was when Benjy told him

good-bye and left on his bike. The last anyone saw of Petey he was wheeling himself on

the blacktop out of the parking lot into the long wide space separating Lowe's from the

cable fence at the side of the lot. If there were cars that went that way after he left, not a

soul could say what it was or who was in it.

       After all, who pays attention to traffic in a monstrous parking lot?

       No one. That is, no one with the exception of Ben Dover, who would soon head

home to get dirty and dress himself down. I needed to look homeless and tattered by this

afternoon so I could get some tough guy, or guys, to try to kill me.

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                                  CHAPTER TEN

                                 Oceanside, California

                       Wednesday, November 18th, 1:07 p.m.

       Newly elected City Councilwoman Helena Salazar was very much accustomed to

getting her way. Always from men, and usually with women. It had been that way for

her since … well, there was no since. It had always been her way to get what she wanted,

with a brief exception of one recent year, and there was no reason she could see for things

to change now. She didn't expect that to happen, and wouldn't allow it. Not Helena.

       Born to an Irish mother, fathered by a seafarer whose ethnicity was in question,

beyond the fact he was white, she'd known a reversal of plots, so to speak, throughout her

life, 34 years thus far, and counting. Her young, white mother, Colleen, a housekeeper

for the Guerrero Salazar family at their winter estate outside Mazatlan, had also been the

dearly loved mistress of Senor Salazar. She'd told the man who thought of Colleen as his

loving and tempting concubine after hours, and housekeeper during the day, many things.

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Some of them were even the truth. None of her omissions, however, bore anything but

lies and the deceit of what was left unsaid.

       The valued housekeeper/treasured mistress had a boyfriend, Sean Warner, who

worked the fishing boats by day and drank heavily at night. When the ever so lovely

Colleen announced herself with child, Sean promised to take her away from all this in the

morning, to be his wedded wife. Colleen went home to pack so she could slip away in

the late morning when Senor Salazar was having his nap. Sean stole a car and made his

way to Monterrey, on the other coast of Mexico, since that was easier than telling Colleen

to go to hell. When Colleen got to the docks and found him gone, she hurried back home

before the lord of the manor awakened from his nap.

       Then she made sure he found her crying at the foot of the stairs.

       During her explanation of fearing until now to tell him he'd impregnated her, she

made the melodramatic announcement she would leave to help him avoid the shame if it

became known what he'd done. Yet, as Salazar was even more in love with Colleen than

she'd thought, he insisted she stay on, promising her they'd work it out. He also insisted

she keep it as "our little secret". Two weeks later, he had his wife killed in a manner that

made it look like a horse riding accident. He then married his exultant mistress a month

after becoming a widower.

       Positive she'd struck gold, a bigger vein than she'd ever dared dream of, Colleen

began growing accustomed to a life of luxury. The excesses became greater and greater

by the day. Hedonism became a matter-of-fact staple in her life. She even stepped up

her partying in the last trimester of her pregnancy, to the point a cocaine overdose in the

eighth month left her comatose. Her baby, Helena, was delivered by Caesarean section.

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       Two months later, Colleen passed away, never reviving from her OD state. Her

short term husband, then in his late 70s, never married again, but did live to the ripe old

age of ninety-three years. When he passed on, he left uncountable millions of dollars to

his only heir, his daughter Helena. It had been assumed since birth she didn't look like a

Mexican because of her Irish mother.

       Guided and guarded by the trustees he'd appointed, she didn't come to receive her

full estate until her age thirty, some four plus years ago. Like her father, Helena chose to

marry well below her station in Society. During a drunken, drug-fraught weekend up in

northern Mexico, outside Tijuana, Helena fell in love with a dashing young Marine Lance

Corporal and married him so she could follow him home to his government-paid housing.

Yet Jason Craig was far more in love with her money than with Helena, although she was

a stunning woman in every respect.

       Rich, curled mocha hair that hung six inches past her shoulders, warm brown eyes

that glistened because of the love she felt, and a body that had attracted unhealthy male

attention ever since she first became a teen suddenly weren't enough for Jason, her new

husband. Helena was all he wanted during that drunken, drug-crazed weekend, and even

when he brought her back with him, amidst a hangover that could've felled a horse. But,

when it came to thinking of her as his "wife", the idea soon disgusted him. Girlfriends

were fine, he told people, the foxier, the better. But a wife was something to be with one

of those "old married guys". Plus, she was older by a few years. In short, she pissed him

off. Everything she did, all she was, and anything she might become, pissed him off.

       As a direct result, Jason began telling the foxy bitch how much she pissed him

off. When that wasn't enough, just telling her, he began to punish Helena for her many

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transgressions, the most frequent of which was breathing. Jason made her life hell from

dawn 'til dusk, whereupon he fucked her brains out and passed out cold every night.

        Whenever he got drunk, which was an average of four plus days per week, he

made sure they had a fight when he got home. Most of the times they fought, primarily

because Helena couldn't sit back and take it, especially when it was undeserved, it gave

him a reason to punish the bitch. By the time they had their first anniversary, Helena had

been his wife only a total of four weeks, the first four, when she wasn't bruised.

        The worst blows were delivered to her body trunk on most occasions. Her chest,

since he got a kinky excitement from "poundin' on them big, fuckin' tits o' yers", took the

brunt of it, along with her belly. Often, when he slugged her in the stomach, he'd add it

was "just in case ya got yer slut ass knocked up, so's I ain't gotta raise no fuckin' brats."

Many times he contented himself with pounding on her shoulders, making sure she wore

sleeves the next few days to hide the marks of abuse.

        Other times he'd beat on her legs, especially when it wasn't summer so she wasn't

wearing shorts during the day. When she threatened to leave him, Jason would retaliate

by pledging to hunt her down and kill her dead. All too well aware of his talents in that

regard, and still harboring a twisted love of some degree, she endured. Lasted. Toughed

it out against all odds.

        And no one ever noticed, he told her. Promised he'd kill her if she ever dared to

make it known. Told people, even inadvertently, what he'd done to her. She should also

keep in mind, if she ever tried to expose him, no one had ever noticed. No one had seen

it. She'd be unable to prove a history of abuse. However, if she did start that battle, he'd

be the one to end it. By killing her and making it look like an accident.

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       Except someone did see. An E-8, a Master Sergeant saw it. He didn't approve.

       He didn't approve to the point he began watching the house with a jaundiced eye.

Then came to the house one day to apologize for what was happening. To let her know

he'd do what he could. Try talking with Jason to make him see the error of his ways.

       Helena nearly became hysterical. That couldn't happen. Jason would kill her if

he even thought she'd told anyone. So, they talked all morning. Deep, serious subjects

where Helena bared her soul to the E-8. Told him everything she could possibly recall

about herself, her person, her wants, her hopes, her dreams.

       Along with her countless millions.

       That part made the E-8 feel bad, hearing about all that money. He knew it would

make matters worse, and harder for him. It would confuse the fact that, somewhere in the

morning-long conversation, while he drank in those coffee-colored eyes, saw the dazzling

smile on a woman he deemed so beautiful anyone who hurt her should be sent to hell, he

fell in love with her. Hopelessly, head-over-heels in love.

       Married to his job until the day he met Helena, he still had more than six months

of accrued leave. He began cashing those days in, one at a time, during the work week,

and had used ten of them when it happened. He came to see Helena and found her on the

floor by the bed, badly beaten, her nose broken, full lips puffed and scabbed, both those

gorgeous eyes blackened, and not able to hear well from her right ear.

       It was due to a combination of mishaps and misdoings. The E-8, so enraptured by

looking at Helena and listening to anything she said, even to reciting the alphabet if that's

what she chose to do, stayed later than usual yesterday. Because they talked so long, she

didn't do all her customary duties, including changing the bed linens, which she did once

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weekly. She also wasn't able to finish her standard check on the condition of the house

when the E-8 left for the day, and had only managed to do the dusting and vacuuming in

the bedroom by the time Jason came home. Early. He'd claimed sickness when his unit

was ordered to begin a 20-mile run, primarily because of an overwhelming hangover, and

was allowed to leave early. Finding an empty Dr. Pepper can, left by the E-8, something

he knew she didn't drink, was bad enough. When he headed off for the bed he needed so

very badly and found it yet unmade, he was almost convinced.

       Since she hadn't actually left the house all day, staying here to spend time with a

man she had now fallen in love with, Helena had no real excuses. No explanation able to

satisfy him or answer the bombardment of questions Jason hurled at her. As a result, the

dirty, rotten bitch pissed Jason off more than she ever had before. Consequently, he beat

the slut's ass the way she deserved. Helena was actually pretty fuckin' lucky he didn't kill

her no good ass, was the way he explained it to her when he left the house that morning.

       Still unconscious from the beating until almost 4:00 a.m., Helena only managed to

drag herself, hand over hand by pulling on the furniture and squirming along on the floor,

into the bedroom. Too weak to pull herself into bed, she'd passed out again on the floor.

That was the condition the E-8 found her in when he arrived.

       His reaction was a cold fury that would have horrified any and every Marine on

the base at Camp Pendleton. Any Marine with more than two weeks on the base knew

him, if not from personal contact, by reputation. Those Marines also knew you didn't go

take on "The Man", his long-ago-acquired nickname, by yourself. If you were to go after

"The Man", you'd take along three or four of the toughest fuckin' Marines you could find.

Not friends, just damned tough Marines. No sense exposing friends to getting killed, the

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strongly possible result of only four or five guys going noses-to-nose with "The Man".

He was a task force all by himself. Didn't need anybody's help to kill anyone.

       If you only had three Marines, even if they were the most practiced killers on the

base, reschedule that attack for another day. Three men wouldn't be enough. Four was

cutting it close, and it would take five or six, assuming they were bad motherfuckers, to

put the odds at 50-50. Matter of fact, one of "The Man's" own expressions was, thought

many who'd seen him in a fight, as true as true could possibly be. "I am not your dick,

Marine, so don't ever try to fuck with me."

       However, that's what Jason had done, albeit by proxy, so to speak. He'd fucked

with "The Man". He beat the shit out of the woman "The Man" had fallen in love with.

       That evening, a faithful follower of the "hair of the dog theory", Jason was back at

his favorite pub in Oceanside, sucking down straight whiskey to make himself feel better.

The best guess anyone could make when they later found Jason's body, around two-thirty

when the bars finally closed for good, was he had been robbed by a gang of thieves, since

no one man could've beaten him so damn bloody. Not even two. Had to be at least three,

maybe four or five guys. They took his wallet, of course, but they broke more than half

the bones in his body. Anyone and everyone who knew about it was positive it had been

a gang of homeless men, and even the local police accepted that theory. As a result, they

launched a large, wholesale assault on homeless men of all ages in Oceanside, arresting

over a hundred individuals on a large variety of charges by the time it was done.

       Helena and "The Man" never talked at any length about what happened to Jason

that night, beyond agreeing he got what he deserved. They did talk about the fact they'd

better not reveal their relationship to the world right away because it would make both of

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them look guilty of something neither had done. Instead, they carried on discreetly and

knew a quiet kind of love. That's why, when Helena held her press conference today by

the fountain in the plaza in front of the City Library, "The Man" was in civvies and kept a

quiet and unnoticed position across the street. He could see and hear perfectly, meaning

he didn't miss a word of what she announced.

        "As your Councilwoman, I am here to denounce any and all these ridiculous ideas

of a serial killer here in the City of Oceanside. If you'll look back over the years, all these

homeless people are nothing but criminals walking around in plain sight. Virtually all of

them have been arrested, some of them numerous times, and everyone knows they spend

their lives in and out of jail. Now, simply because this gang of many hardened killers has

begun feeding on itself, some people want to start a panic and say we have a serial killer

on our hands? That's preposterous!"

        "Councilwoman Salazar," came a voice from the dozen media personnel in front

of her, "isn't it true almost all the homeless people who go to jail are there as the result of

warrants for tickets? Isn't it because they can't pay tickets issued for sleeping outside, or

in their cars, or taking recyclables from trash cans, or urinating in public, these people go

to jail? If so, how can you deem them bloodthirsty killers?"

        "We all know," said the always cool and collected Helena, "these people are but

the tip of the iceberg. Many, and I emphasize many, of the unsolved killings right here in

our beautiful city are crimes of which homeless people are strongly suspected. However,

they have such a closely knit community … as do all professional criminals … the police

are unable to crack their veneer. Let me ask you this: are any of you brave enough to put

yourself in their clutches after dark? Are any of you so full of bravado you'd dare go to

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the places these killers gather in the evening? Are you? Do you have the courage to go

to the city or county parks after dark? Would you allow your children to be anywhere

near where these brigands hang out? I think not!"

       "But, do you have any proof?" asked a woman from a local newspaper. "Any at

all? Anything that shows the homeless are becoming violent?"

       "Yes!" she snapped, tears now running down her face. Helena came off the wall

around the fountain and strode to the woman who'd asked the question, stopping just far

enough from the fountain to stand directly in front of a local TV station's camera. All her

tears were then filmed as they trickled down her cheeks. "My late husband was killed by

a pack of those some savage animals only a year ago! He was beaten to death the same

way these heinous killers are all now feeding on themselves! If you don't believe me, go

look up the case yourself! Jason Craig was killed by a group of them the police estimated

must have been six, eight, maybe ten or more! My husband was a Marine, lady! Trained

to kill with his bare hands, and a horde of these vicious murderers killed him for but a few

lousy dollars! That's the proof I have! So, go ask our local police force why they haven't

even caught the bastards who killed my husband! Then, while you're at it, consider this.

Maybe the police agree with me, that it was homeless people who killed my husband. If

so, why bother them now when all they're killing are other criminals … themselves!"

       Blasting the crowd, and that camera, with a look of scathing anger, Helena spun

on the ball of her high-heeled foot and stomped away, as best as a woman can stomp in

that kind of shoe.

       Across the street, "The Man" nodded in acceptance and satisfaction, then walked

away quietly.

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                                CHAPTER ELEVEN

                                  Oceanside, California

                        Wednesday, November 18th, 4:16 p.m.

       It's a bit surprising, but it isn't all that easy to look like you're homeless. That's

why a homeless guy with a bath and some clean clothes can suddenly look like a citizen,

with one glaring exception. It took Fancy to show me what it was I lacked.

       After feeding all those guys, then giving in to my urges and handing out a large

stack of twenties one at a time, she and I got at it. Started doing what we both assumed it

would take for me to blend in. Become "one of the guys". I knew there'd be quite a few

who'd recognize me, a serious risk to blowing my cover, but I had faith I could convince

those guys to keep quiet. At least, do it long enough for me to do some good. Maybe get

some a-hole, or a-holes, to try killing me.

       When they did, they'd discover they tried doing the dirty to a scumbag with a gun

in his hand, not some defenseless guy who eats every other day, or less.
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       We went through all my clothing and decided it was just too good. Looked too

nice to let me pull it off. Inspired with my own brilliance, we went to the Goodwill Store

to buy something raggedy. Not much chance there, we discovered. They take in all the

things people give or throw away, clean 'em up, and put 'em on the counter marked down.

A great deal. Forty dollar shirts for six bucks. Thirty dollar pants going at four or five

bucks. Socks, five pairs for a dollar. Same thing with underwear and T-shirts. Plus, all

this stuff looked good enough to wear among human beings.

       When I was about to give up and go home, figuring we'd have to put some of my

things in a burlap bag, fill it with rocks, then tow it behind the Escalade, Fancy took over.

Proved she has more than a dynamite body and a beautiful face, in addition to a heart that

would fit nicely in any named saint. She's also sharper'n a gangbanger's switchblade.

       Fancy took the manager aside in a hushed conversation and told him she wanted

to pick some things out of their rejects. She convinced him she was doing a report for her

college class on the homeless and gave him some cock and bull story he bought into. Or,

just possibly, the man bought into her award winning smile. I might even concede, since

he kept letting his eyes fall to her boobs, which aren't required to take a back seat to any

set of boobs not surgically enhanced, his horny side tipped the balance.

       Whatever the reason, he let us pick through the things people should've thrown

away, but tried to assuage their consciences by dropping it in the bin and leaving with a

smile. And, if they carried their ruse far enough, some sort of cobbled receipt they could

use to claim a tax deduction.

       Some of the underwear looked as if the last time they were worn was the day the

owner developed a bad case of diarrhea. In one or two cases, those drawers never even

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made it inside a Maytag, just went straight to the giveaway bag. Without asking, we put

the entire lawn bag with that crap in it into the dumpster. We found torn T-shirts, men's

underwear with lots of wear on them, but clean, as well as saggy socks, denim pants with

holes in the knees, or the crotch, or the butt, and even a few shirts where I wondered if

the owner was able to survive the attack by a pack of pit bulls.

       By the time we finished, I had enough garments to shabbily outfit myself for a

week or more. Then, totally defeating the ultimate purpose of using the Goodwill Store,

as well as picking through their rejects, Fancy trotted up there with her chequebook and

cut 'em a reader for a hundred bucks. Okay, so we'd take the tax deduction, I guess.

       We made it home and laid all these rags out on the enclosed back porch, which is

really just a room the width of the house with a laundry room at the south end. It has the

furnace in it and a very long wall of windows for vision and ventilation. She picked out a

combo I wasn't sure many homeless guys would wear, since it was so tacky. Blue denim

work pants with big holes in both knees. A reasonably unworn plaid shirt of black with

big yellow vertical strips and green horizontal lines, as well as some old boxer shorts that

looked worn but clean. Still, when she handed me a pair of baggy socks, I drew the line

and said "No". Instead, I found a pair of my own in the hamper and put them on.

       It's one thing to look like crap, another to be forced to feel that way. Socks falling

on my ankles all day long, necessitating I pull 'em up a hundred times a day, would be as

bad as having lunch with all my ex-wives at once. Fancy'd even gone back into the store

whilst I was rag-picking and purchased a worn pair of jogging shoes that weren't all that

bad inside. On the outside, they were a lot dirtier than the raunchiest bachelor party joke.

I could see someone had even tried to wash 'em, but whoever wore those shoes owned the

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mentality of a six-year-old boy. I doubted, even as a kid, I'd ever been able to trash up a

pair of Keds that badly. (If you don't know about Keds, which were at one time among

the most popular of what we called "tennis shoes", ask your Dad or Grandpa).

       Therefore, when I was all decked out and ready to go, I stood looking in front of

our bedroom closet. The two sliding doors make a floor to ceiling mirror eight feet wide.

Fancy said, "Ben, ya look like crap."

       I elaborated. "I look like shit, Ángel."

       "Same thing," she said, topping me, "'cept, ya can say it my way in church."

       So, she had me there. The problem being, all I looked like was a man very badly

dressed. No style sense, wearing very old clothes, probably with very little money in my

pockets, but my appearance still didn't scream "homeless". She walked around the bed,

big eyes on me every second, holding her chin between the thumb and index finger of her

right hand. Those chocolate eyes went up and down, back and forth, sweeping me each

time and apparently recording what she saw. Making a mental image she could examine

deep in her own mind.

       Proving I was on the right track, Fancy stood next to me, perusing the image we

saw in the mirror, then closed her eyes. I could practically "hear" all those pieces of the

puzzle clicking together in her crafty mind. Then she opened her eyes, took another scan

of what we saw in the mirror, and smiled. I could tell she'd figured it out.

       "Ben, ya don't look like yer ashamed o' nothin'. Ya don't look guilty. Ya know

how a guy looks when he goes somewheres he ain't s'posed t' be? He ain't got no invite t'

be there, but he walked in anyways? Ben, ya gotta look like ya don't b'long wherever ya

are. Like yer guilty o' somethin'. Ashamed t' be there an' ashamed o' what ya are."

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        When my gaze landed on the mirror, I saw she was right as rain. I didn't have the

haunted look most homeless guys wear 24/7. I didn't look like I knew every person with

whom I came in contact automatically thought I was a piece of garbage. I didn't look as

if I was ashamed of being. As if I was guilty of something horrid just by being alive, and

whatever it was proved too grievous to ever merit forgiveness.

        That's when I dug into my arsenal. Fished around in all the tools I retained in my

memory over all these years. Thank God I was able to mentally crawl my way through to

the myriad passages of memories involving my ex-wives. Force myself to realize it was

never all one-sided when a marriage didn't work out. Mandate that my mind face up to

all the things I hadn't done for and with my kids. Address all the things I'd done wrong in

each and every marriage I'd once been a part of, and each time I had a chance to "step up"

as Dad, but I didn't.

        Awash in all those memories, I suddenly felt it would be a good idea if some huge

guy with a bad temper showed up and kicked my worthless ass all around the house, from

one end to the other. A smile flitted across Fancy's face, then disappeared just as fast as

it rode into town. "I ain't sure what ya done t' make yerself look that way, Ben, but now

ya look like yer a homeless guy." She paused, looked again, and added, "Even I gotta say

ya look like shit, Ben, an' I don't never talk that way."

                                   Oceanside, California

                          Wednesday, November 18th, 7:49 p.m.

        Almost to the door of her office, tired and ready to leave after a long and trying

day where she felt she'd accomplished less than what had been added on her plate since

this morning, Dannie Shilling heard the phone ring. She looked at it and sighed.

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        Great. I almost made it to the stupid door. She sighed again as the phone let out

yet another chime. Her memory tapes flashed on seeing the security guard walk past her

office here on the second floor not two minutes ago. Knowing there was no one else to

answer the phone after seven tonight, because the guy who had front desk duty was sick

and she'd sent him home just after he showed up, she visualized what would happen.

        The phone will go on ringing with no answer and, just possibly, one of the guys

Ben wants to take care of will have to do without our help. Ben will be pissed if he ever

finds out about it, and I guess I would be, too, she argued with herself. So go ahead, girl.

Pick up the stupid phone. It probably isn't anything important, anyway.

        Short at an even five feet, although hearing that word pissed her off because she

told the world she was five-four, Dannie took longer strides than normal on her platform

shoes to make it back to her desk. Once a very pretty girl when she was in her early and

mid 30s, the weight she'd fought off for years was gaining ground these days. No longer

able to claim she was a meager 115 pounds, now that her true weight was over 160, she

shyly admitted to "around 125" on the rare occasions giving someone a hot, scathing look

didn't somehow get the topic changed. Long hair dyed an unnatural blonde, although she

frequently let it go long enough for an inch wide strip of her dark brown roots to appear,

hung four inches below her shoulders. Absentmindedly sweeping a handful of it from

her left ear, Dannie put the receiver there and said, "My Friend's Place. How can I help


        Her somewhat thick Russian accent didn't attest she'd been raised in the former

USSR, but it did shout out loud she wasn't born on American soil. At least, if she was

born on American soil, it would've been part of a U.S. Embassy somewhere in Europe,

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where she actually did arrive on this planet. Birthed in Italy, then relocated shortly after

to France, she hadn't yet reached her teens when her parents returned to their homeland,

Mother Russia. Raised in Baku, a scant few miles inland from the Caspian Sea, coming

to the United States as a bride when she was twenty-one, she spoke Russian as her basic

language with family members and old friends. Divorced some many years from a tyrant

Russian-Jew with a caveman attitude, she was Ben's former "semi-fiancée", and now one

of his key employees.

       Shortly after the relationship with Ben was severed by mutual agreement, Dannie

entered into a newer one with an even older man, a foreigner relocated to the USA, that

lasted until her increasing girth caused its demise. A working mother of an almost grown

boy, she had little else to occupy her life but her duty. Consequently, due to the fact she

never considered her work finished until all was more than complete, Dannie worked late

hours almost every day. Even put in some time on weekends, although she wasn't given

that as a job requirement. Without ever admitting it to herself, she'd grown fond of many

of the homeless guys she met in her work.

       "Uh, is this the, uh, the place where, you know, a guy can maybe get some help if

he's, uh, up to his ass in alligators?" asked a tired male voice on the other end of the line.

       Possessed of a dry sense of humor that matched well with Ben's during the years

they were a couple, Dannie told him, "It depends on the size of the alligators. We don't

have any room for big ones." Still absentmindedly, she wheeled the chair away from her

desk and sat in it. Guess I hadn't realized how tired I was, she told herself. I don't want

to stand and talk if this is gonna take long.

       "Yeah, well I got me a big one," he said sadly. "I'm over there at the place set up

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for the guys who commute, Park 'n' Ride's what they call it, on Vista between College

and El Camino Real. My car died on me, and I'm broke and hungry, and if I try to get

some sleep in my car … Lord knows what the hell I'm gonna do tomorrow when I can't

move my car … I'm going to get a ticket. They might even tow the damned thing, which

will mean I'm completely, major screwed." He took a deep breath. "A guy gave me this

card for this Ben Dover … like that ain't a funny name, right? … and said if I ever got in

some really deep shit, I should call you people."

       Following another deep breath, one that advertised how tired he was physically

and emotionally, the man said, "Lady, this is some deep shit."

       Dannie almost smiled, enjoying the parody. "Oh, well, that's different. We've got

a special going for guys in deep shit."

       "Yeah? What's that?"

       She chuckled. "Much shallower shit." Waiting until he finished laughing, glad

she could give him a momentary respite from what she'd unfortunately seen was the sad

plight of far too many people, she continued. "We can have your car towed here and get

it repaired, if it's not too bad, and get you a place to sleep tonight. Tomorrow our intake

people will get you acclimated and we'll see what else we can do to help you make things

right again. Sound okay to you?"

       The relief was evident in his voice. "Damned straight, it does."

       "Okay. What kind of car do you drive?"

       "A brown Toyota Celica. It's an '88, four door. You need the plate number?"

       "No, I don't think so. Look, I'll call the tow company and tell 'em to pick it up as

soon as they can. They give us a discount in these cases, so it won't be like AAA where

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they show up in half an hour. They might not get there until after midnight, so you need

to put the keys on the passenger side rear tire so the driver can unlock it when he gets

there and tow it back here."

       "Yeah? What'm I supposed to do 'til he gets there? I just walked, uh, all the way

down here to this Circle K to use the pay phone … speakin' of which, I don't have any

coins left if we run out of minutes … so what'm I supposed to do now?"

       "Just go back to your car," she advised. "I'll leave as soon as I call the tow truck

people and come get you. Just wait by the car. I'll be driving a Mercedes convertible, so

you'll know it's me."

       "Oh, I see. You're rich, huh?"

       Smiling, Dannie told him, "No, I just skip lunch a lot. You go wait by your car

and I'll be there as soon as I can. Oh," she added, realizing she'd almost put the receiver

down without asking, "my name's Dannie. Dannie Shilling. What's yours?"

       "Edward Silversmith. But you can just call me Ed. That's Silversmith with no 'y'.

Nothin' fancy, ya know?"

       "Yes, I know Fancy," she said with a brief frown that just as quickly became a big

smile. "Sorry, that was sort of an inside joke, I guess, Ed. See, Fancy's the name of Ben's

girlfriend. Ben's the, um, the man who started this place."

       "Oh. Okay. I get it," Ed told her, clearly not getting it, just as clearly not wanting

the inside story with all the other crap going on in his life right now.

       "Fine. I'll call the tow people now and I'll be there as soon as I can. Say, twenty

minutes, or so?"

       When he agreed, she hung up and called the wrecker company. After giving them

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all the information she had, getting annoyed when they asked for the plate number she'd

said she didn't need, Dannie said, "Just look on the right rear tire and you'll know. If it's a

car someone else has left overnight, there won't be any keys." She hung up with a glower

on her face, took another deep breath, shrugged, and quickly headed for her car again. At

least now I have something to do for a while that isn't paperwork, she encouraged herself.

I just hope we can do something good for this Ed guy.

       Not too much more than twenty minutes later, Dannie was heading west on Vista

Lane and turned left into the Park 'n' Ride area, which had very few cars this late in the

day. She saw four men standing by an older Toyota and wondered why. I don't see any

tow truck, so who can these guys be? Pulling to a stop by the right curb of a blacktopped

area seventy-five yards long, with the half dozen remaining cars all parked on the south

side, nosed toward the freeway another seventy-five yards south of her, Dannie shut off

her engine and got out. Maybe Ed met some good Samaritans.

       Less than a dozen feet from her car she heard one of the men yell, "Run, Dannie!

These guys are up to no good!"

       In the dark, her headlights off, Dannie couldn't tell much about the three men Ed

referred to other than they were all rather large. As he finished speaking, one of them hit

the guy she assumed to be Ed, knocking him viciously to the ground. Another charged in

her direction, saying nothing aloud, but his aura advertised great danger. She hesitated a

moment, then whirled to get back in the Mercedes. Her hand was pulling on the handle

to open it when someone roughly grabbed her left shoulder from behind.

       She was yelling, "You better stop or—" when a rather large fist slammed into her

full lips and mashed them brutally, breaking her somewhat larger than average nose at the

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same time. Rocked back against the door, Dannie tried in vain to get her hands up and

ward off any additional blows. Her efforts were useless because her attacker simply took

a grip on her wrist to hold her in place and pummeled her soft belly with his other hand.

The first blow knocked all the wind out of her, leaving Dannie gasping for breath and not

able to intake any air. The other three or four jabs, she lost count, broke ribs. She could

even hear them crack, so damaging were the punches that landed on her.

       With her head swimming, all the strength gone in her legs, Dannie crumpled to

the ground under a continuing onslaught. That fist kept raining down on her long after

she saw a swirl of colors and lost consciousness. She never even felt it when someone

stomped on her left forearm, fracturing the bone, or the kicks to the face that broke the

skin and fractured bones with their savagery.

       Dannie didn't even hear it when Ed bellowed, "Dirty motherfuckers want to beat

up on a girl, too? You cocksuckers!" Deeply unconscious, she still wasn't able to mingle

with Ed on the outer edges of the netherworld he occupied. Even though Dannie was left

incognizant, Ed was already comatose, beaten far more brutally than she'd been injured.

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                               CHAPTER TWELVE

                                 Oceanside, California

                       Wednesday, November 18th, 10:22 p.m.

       My first day as an undercover homeless guy could've gone better. However, with

a whopping four past marriages under my belt, I've had enough experience in life to tell

me it also could've gone a lot worse. First problem we hit was transportation. Clearly, if

I'm homeless, I can't just pop open my cell phone and call a cab anytime I need to get to a

location. I also didn't want to make it obvious I had a cell phone, although that's become

such a clear necessity, more than half the homeless have them now. If a guy can't stay in

touch with the world, survival becomes nearly impossible.

       I didn't want to approach the matter as being one of the numerous homeless guys

with a car, either. To date, no one with a car had been hassled. Maybe the mobility was

a safety factor, keeping those guys out of range. I didn't want to let this thing expand any

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larger than it had to be. Yet, my knees, legs and feet are not what you'd expect to find on

a college athlete, either. There's been some wear and tear on my body over the years, so I

wasn't entirely gung-ho on the idea of walking anywhere and everywhere I went. That

left me with two options: the bus, or a bike.

       Because I don't speak Spanish, and didn't want to travel with forty-two Mexicans

each time I relocated, the bus was out, leaving the bike idea as my last avenue of hope. A

very frustrating half hour or so on the internet let me see, unless you know someone who

knows someone who knows someone, there's a terribly limited market for used bikes. At

least, as far as finding them without a real connection of some kind. Considering the fact

I didn't want to spend all my time bike shopping, as my goal was to stop whomever was

killing homeless guys, I was glad I had some money at my disposal. Believe me, it's not

exactly a snap to just run out and find a beat-up bike when you need one.

       However, I managed to get the job done. Not cheaply, mind you, but I did get it

done, finally.

       The best deal I could find on a bike, when there absotively, posilutely weren't any

"real bikes" as I'd call 'em, what would be called a "one-speed" today, I guess, meant I

was forced to consider a ten-speed. All I remembered from the days I rode bikes, about

45 years ago, was I didn't like three-speed bikes. The damned things always broke down,

and nobody has an ass skinny enough to be comfortable on those seats. Bicycle seats are

now manufactured with the intention of causing an internal rupture for the rider, so they

must be in collusion with the AMA. When my frustration had me lighting a cigarette off

the burning stub of the last, Fancy decided she'd had enough.

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        "C'mon, Ben," she insisted, taking my hand and pushing my laptop away from me

on the desk I keep in the office area at the house. I described it earlier to you as our back

room, the place with a sliding door from the bedroom and another one from the living

room, since it spans the width of the building.

        "Princesa, I can't," I said as I began my feeble argument. "I've gotta find a bike

so I can get around to all these—"

        "Ben, if we don't do somethin' t' make it happen a lot faster'n what yer doin', yer

gonna smoke yerself t' death, er have a heart attack right here while yer messin' 'round on

the laptop. So, I went an' looked up a bike shop and I called 'em. The guy says they'll be

there a while, so we're goin' now. Question is, ya wanna take yer SUV, er my Muskrat?

It ain't gonna be easy haulin' no bike in my car, but I ain't lettin' ya kill yerself out here,

so we're goin'. You pick which car we're takin'."

        Fancy may not have very big feet, but when she puts one down, it's solid and it'll

stay there until she says differently. When we were first finding out we were in love and

she was the most refreshing thing to enter my life in many years, perhaps ever, I insisted

on buying her a car. We found one she really loved, a big part of the reason she refused

to ask me to buy it. That, and the cost. Wow! A whole twenty grand! With a chuckle, I

paid for a Ford Mustang Cobra convertible, a spiffy 2001, with only 20,000 miles. It had

an automatic, a big ol' V-8, leather seats, chrome wheels, air, all the "toys", and was also

a nice "cop caller" red.

        There are a few reasons Fancy doesn't get tickets in her little hotrod. If some cop

stops her, she's got those great legs, her better than average boobs, and a smile that could

bring world peace if enough people saw it. Oh, and there's one other reason.

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       Fancy is Mexican.

       She laughs when she hears me say there are two ways Mexicans don't drive: fast

and worth a damn. In my entire lifetime, I've met six Mexican people who drove fast,

and five were male. They seem to feel, if you get to that number you saw on the sign,

what we call the speed limit, you're supposed to slow down. Americans, on the other

hand, look at that number as something to which we should add five or ten, depending.

       With her exposure to me, a bad influence on more things than I can ever hope to

count, Fancy would go the full 65 on the highway, but there was no chance she'd ever get

tagged for speeding. In her eyes, 66 mph would be taking your life in your own hands for

no good reason. She took me to a place here in Oceanside, Performance Bike, where the

cheapest ten-speed they carried was a Scattante with a Titanium frame that retailed at the

staggering sum of $1999.99 and, thanks to their timely sale, a paltry $1,299.00, plus 8%

sales tax, would buy it. The safety lock and a few "must have" additions added another

puny $258.47 to the bill, and he asked, "That be cash or credit card?"

       When I turned red, certainly with steam she'd've seen coming out my ears, Fancy

again assumed control. She said, "Thank you, sir. We'll take it. As soon as Ben brings

the car around, I'd like you to put it in the back." Glancing my way, once again into her

perfect English because she had someone to impress, she added, "Ben, Darling, please be

a dear and bring the SUV to the door, will you? Thank you, Darling."

       Finished with me at that point, she dug out the ATM card that goes with that big

chequeing account she barely ever uses and paid for the damned bike. After thanking the

guy who just sold a bike for more money than a teenager might pay for his first car, she

got in the Escalade. She was ready before the period was dry on my first point.

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       "Fancy, I can't go diddy-boppin' around town now on a bike that costs so damned

much money and expect anyone to think I'm a homeless guy. They'll smell a trap."

       Nodding, her eyes full of concern, she agreed. "Yeah, that'd be a dead giveaway,

Querido. So, let's head over t' Escondido. Twenny miles oughta be far enough."

       "Why the hell would I want to do that?" I asked, my frustration and anxiety now

coming back to me full force.

       "So's we c'n find us a homeless guy, Baby. Think some guy with a old, beat-up

bike'll be willin' t' swap even up if we give 'im this paperwork an' I sign it?"

       I spent most of the twenty minute trip telling my girl how incredibly smart she is,

another ten minutes finding someone with a bike I wouldn't be afraid to ride, then twenty

more minutes convincing him this was no joke and I wasn't a cop. I finally flagged down

an Escondido patrol unit and told him what I wanted. He thought it sounded suspicious

enough to call his sergeant, who was more helpful. He agreed to use my cell phone to get

the number, then used his own to dial the Oceanside dispatcher. After telling them who

he was, they contacted Hawthorne, the detective I knew best because I whipped his ass

fair and square once, who called the sergeant back.

       Hawthorne made the sergeant put me on the line, but didn't argue a whole lot with

my idea. I told him, if he gave me any shit, I'd meet up with him in the gym. With a soft

laugh, he gave the sergeant an okay. They relayed approval to the homeless guy who was

standing nervously next to a bike worth maybe twenty bucks, telling him he could swap

with me even up and wouldn't be in any trouble. The sergeant further advised the guy to

be sure he hung on to all the paperwork, and even gave the man his business card if there

was a problem at any point down the road, such as anyone accusing him of theft.

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       Stuffing what Fancy handed him into his backpack, the man got on the incredibly

over-priced new bike, asked, "Ya think I'm fuckin' stupid enough t' lose this stuff with a

bike like this?", and pedaled away without waiting for an answer. Giggling from behind

her hand, Fancy said, "Prob'ly not." Then she pointed to the back of the SUV. "Ya best

get that thing in there so's we c'n get back over t' Oceanside an' I c'n kick yer butt outa the


       When I looked at her with my jaw hanging, she laughed again. "Ain't that what

all them girls did when ya was married to 'em? Heck, this way I can pretend we went an'

got married, Honey."

       Shaking my head in the ongoing amazement I lived with having this "stupid kid"

in my life, I put the old bike away. We went back home and, perhaps because I feared it

would be too long a recess, I mauled my little angel all the way back to our bedroom. It

took her about five feet of the journey to catch on and start mauling back. Then, drained

but refreshed, I dressed down. Kissed my girl again, hopped on the bike, and headed off

to join the homeless.

       I got to use my new routine, and see how well it would work to keep the guys

quiet, at my first stop. The shopping center at El Camino Real and Mission Avenue. A

guy I knew from My Friend's Place, Darrell, saw me as I rode my badly used bike past

him by the Stater Brothers Market. "Hey, Ben! What the hell ya doin' here on a bike?

Man, you got more money than God, dude. What the hell ya doin' like this?"

       After I stopped, I got Darrell to walk with me over to the Mickey D's parking lot.

I used the combination I was given by the previous owner just to be sure it worked, then

locked up my new/old bike. We went into the restaurant where I was given the standard

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lack of respect for what I call an HPOC, (Homeless Piece of Crap), got two coffees using

cash, since no HPOC has an ATM card, and went back outside with Darrell.

       We found seats on the concrete picnic tables, although he looked around first, as

if someone would come shoo us away, before he sat. I'd kept everything to idle chitchat

while we were inside, but felt free to open up out here in the unoccupied dining area. "I

need to have you keep this quiet, Darrell," I said while surreptitiously handing him a Ben


       It disappeared as if he was a trained magician, jammin' the bill into the pocket of

his coat so fluidly, someone only a few feet away would've missed it. "Quiet, it is," he

said with a smile. "What'm I keepin' quiet about?"

       "You know there's an asshole, or maybe a few of 'em, going around killing a few

homeless guys, right?"

       "Yeah. There's been Sam and Petey, so far."

       "You say 'so far'? You think there'll be more, do you?"

       "Fuck, yes. Ben, it ain't like these was no big business guys who got in some kind

o' big deal buyout on each other, er nothin'. Yeah, some prick bastard's got hisself a great

big ol' hard-on 'bout offin' some o' us guys. Sure don't take no fuckin' detective t' figure

out shit like that, ya know?"

       "No, it doesn't," I agreed, shaking my head negatively in regret. "I can't figure out

why but, rather than do that part, I need to find out who, buddy. We need to know who's

doing it so we can stop 'em." I lit a cigarette and noticed I was so damned mad my hands

were shaking. Darrell saw it, too, then put his gaze back to my face. "So, I'm being sort

of an undercover homeless guy, hoping they'll pick me as their next victim."

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        "Man! You got a piece, or some shit like that? Where ya hidin' it, Ben?"

        The .38 I carried was in my fanny pack, a five-shot Taurus with Glazer Safety

Bullets. If I hit someone, since the head of the shell is loaded with bb's, it'd be like I hit

the guy with a .38 caliber shotgun. If I missed, a possibility but not likely, it wouldn't go

through a wall, or a car door, probably not even a car window. It would just splatter and

make a mess, but innocent bystanders wouldn't die.

        It's extremely difficult now for a private citizen to get a CCW permit, (Carrying a

Concealed Weapon), in San Diego county. However, back when I came into all that loot,

I made a rather large campaign contribution to the Sheriff's PAC, so they recalled who I

was when I asked for an appointment. After telling him I usually carry large amounts of

cash to give to the homeless and didn't want some a-hole to kill me because I wouldn't

give up all the money I had on me to only him, the Sheriff agreed. My permit was issued

and I was able to have a weapon on me without worrying about the local cops.

        Of course, they do know I have it. I didn't even bother to ask Hawthorne, positive

he'd run a check on me when I said I was getting involved in this mess.

        "No," I lied to Darrell, "no gun, but I've got something even scarier."

        "Yeah? What?"

        "A picture of all four of my ex-wives. Some prick gets in my face, I'll just tell 'im

I'll let 'em all know where he lives and they'll come after his ass." I grinned lewdly. "No

sane man wants to take on that pack of man-eaters."

        We both laughed a little, then I got serious again. "Look, I just gave you a c-note,

which you know I'd've done anyway if you really needed it."

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       He nodded, well aware of my reputation by now for helping out whenever I see it

needs to be done.

       "Darrell, this is important. I need to know you'll keep quiet about this. Don't tell

people what I'm doing, except for other homeless guys. When you do tell them, make

sure they know there's a c-note for them when they see me the next time … but only if

they keep their mouths shut. Anybody I hear spreadin' the word to anyone except to the

homeless guys he knows won't get shit, you got me?"

       "Loud an' clear, Ben. Run yer mouth, you ain't gettin' jack outa Ben."

       "Couldn't've said it better myself. So, tell me what's been goin' on here in this

area for all you guys? What're the cops doing to you? What good or bad stuff's comin'

down lately?"

       He shared what he knew about what was happening locally and we eventually

split up. I got in touch with five more guys before the cell phone I'd decided to carry in

my pants pocket began to vibrate. This one was brand-new, a pay as you go phone with

100 pre-paid minutes on it and a number no one knew. The only person I'd given the new

number to was the angel I woke up with every day, so I figured this was important. Our

deal was I'd call her when I was done for the night and then meet her somewhere close

by. She'd take me home, then get up at some ungodly hour, like six in the morning, and

drop me off so I could scuffle around all day. Maybe not the best plan possible, but it

was all I could think of at the moment.

       By this time I'd already made my way as far south as the AM-PM gas station and

minimart on Mission and Canyon. I was by myself, so I pulled out the new phone after I

made it around the corner of the building. "What?"

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       "Baby, it's me, Fancy."

       "I know, Princesa. Why are you calling me?"

       "Bad news, Ben. Them guys got another homeless guy t'night."

       "Shit! Who? Anyone we know?" As if that made it more tolerable? I smacked

myself in the forehead.

       "Not the guy," she said quietly. "We ain't never met 'im, although that don't mean

it ain't horrible, Ben. But, somebody else was hurt. Pretty bad."

       "Aw, shit," I muttered, leaning back against the building. "Who? How bad?"

       "It was Dannie, Querido. She's in th' ER an' they ain't sure if she's gonna make it.

I jus' got a call from Detective Hawthorne tellin' me … well, tellin' you, actually, since he

called in on yer phone. I got 'im t' tell me what's goin' on. Ben, they ain't too sure if she's

even gonna live, 'cordin' t' Hawthorne."

       "Oh, fuck! Ángel, I'm at the AM-PM on Canyon and—"

       "Ten minutes, Baby," she promised. "I'm in my car now out on 76, just crossin'

College. Be there in ten minutes, er less." She hung up. I assumed it was so she'd be

able to concentrate on driving faster than the posted speed limit, based on the throaty roar

I heard from her Mustang as she flipped the phone closed.

       Seven minutes later, with a squeal of rubber, Fancy's red hotrod raced into the

service drive area of the gas station. She slid to a stop, then her door opened as I trotted

in her direction, with her engine still running. Fancy hustled around the front of her car,

heading to the passenger door. "You gotta drive, Querido, so's we don't waste no time.

Hawthorne says he thinks she's pretty bad hurt."

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       As I pulled out, I made a mental note to myself to see if I'd left enough rubber on

Fancy's tires for her to drive it safely. The trip to Tri-City Medical was rather quick.

       I'd calmed down enough to at least properly park Fancy's car when we got to the

ER, and even locked it, although I kept the keys in my pocket. I knew she carried a set in

her purse as a spare, at my suggestion, so there was no need for her to have both. Not if

we'd be riding back home together in her car.

       Holding Fancy's hand and moving at a pace that required my long legs to keep it

to a walk, I had her trotting at my side. We never even made it inside the ER because I

saw Hawthorne and Benning standing outside the doors. They both jogged across the

drive to meet us on the edge of the parking lot. They wore Levis and jogging shoes, each

with a sport shirt of some darker color, both in windbreakers. Hawthorne's was a dark

blue, Benning's was black.

       Having the longer legs of the two, even if he was a dozen years older, Hawthorne

was ahead when we met up. "I assume Miss Fancy's told you what happened?" he asked.

       "A lot of it," I shot back, my eyes flitting to the ER door, back to him, back to the

door, back to him. "Pretend I know nothing and fill me in, huh?" I lit up a new smoke.

       A nod. "10-4. Seems there were some guys … we had a witness who drove in

the lot—"

       "The Park n' Ride on Vista?"

       "10-4. Saw what he says were three suspects and a woman … that'd be your girl,

this Daniella Shilling … with one of the suspects whalin' the livin' shit out of her. The

guy tells us he honked his horn a few times, real loud, but two o' the guys he saw started

runnin' at his car, so he did a high-speed adios on 'em. Hauled ass outa the parkin' lot an'

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got up to the Circle K. Waited 'til he was in the store, figurin' he was safe by then 'cause

they didn't follow 'im in there, and called 9-1-1."

       He flipped a page in his notes. "When patrol saw it, they called me an' Benning to

let us know and we busted ass to get over there. They found this other guy … hang on,"

he told me as he glanced at the notes again, "Edward Silversmith, and he was fucked up

… I'm sorry, Miss Fancy, I—"

       "No fuckin' problem," she said, flabbering his gast, "just tell Ben what happened."

       Hawthorne's eyes looked like dinner plates, but he resumed. I leaned over and put

a kiss atop my girl's head. He told us, "This guy was close to a DOA, Ben. He's still in a

coma. They have no idea when … or if … he'll even come out of it."

       "Dannie?" I asked pointedly. "What happened to her? How bad? What injuries

has she suffered?"

       He and Benning both sighed. "She's still unconscious, so they're runnin' about

700 tests, like doctors always do." Back to his notes, again flipping a page. "She's got a

fractured left forearm, internal injuries they won't know about until morning, earliest, a

long list of bruises, a probable concussion, fractured cheek bones, some broken ribs, and

they say they'll likely find a few more injuries before they're done." Hawthorne closed

his spiral notepad and slipped it into his jacket pocket. "Best we can figure, this Dannie

was goin' to pick up some guy who must've called in for help."

       "She does that all the time," I explained. "So, do you think these doers are the

same guys we're after, Wendell?"

       He nodded. "Almost sure of it."

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       I said through clenched teeth, "These motherfuckers are gonna die, Wendell. If

they get lucky, it'll be with a needle in the arm. If not, I'm gonna do it." I spat on the dirt

by the sidewalk. "If you guys nail their asses, it'll be the needle. If they find me first and

try to pull this happy horseshit again, I'll save the State of California some money and do

it myself."

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                             CHAPTER THIRTEEN

                                 Oceanside, California

                      Wednesday, November 18th, 10:54 p.m.

       The black Mercedes Roadster eased to a stop in the parking lot, nose pointing to

the Pacific. He moved the shifter to park, shut off the engine, and handed her the keys,

but she waved them away. "You hold on to 'em, Bod. I just want to walk on the beach in

the dark. Listen to the gulls and the waves. Get some sand between my toes, maybe."

She smiled broadly at him, opened the passenger door and stepped out. A quick walk to

the sand, ten feet away, and she pulled off her jogging shoes without untying them.

       He stepped away from the car after emerging, locked it remotely, and shoved the

keys into the pocket of his black Dockers. Zipping his jacket halfway up, he started to

follow and heard her say, "Bod, honey, you might want to grab the blankets."

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       A rare smile graced his chiseled face as he turned lithely and went to the rear of

the car. Extracting two wool blankets, one burgundy, the other navy, he jogged to catch

up with the woman now ten yards away, ambling barefoot on the beach. He noticed her

shoes as he passed them, but didn't pick them up. When he caught up with her he spread

the navy blanket across her slim shoulders and tucked the other under his left arm. His

Nikes made a repetitive crunch in the sand, while her bare feet were silent.

       A look to his left as they walked without speaking took him out to the break on

the horizon a few miles away, a line of sorts showing where the black looking ocean met

up with a blackish-blue night sky, now bereft of the red-orange glow it had at sundown.

He saw three foot waves rolling his way, turning to white foam when they dashed up on

the sand, soaking the beach higher and higher and higher, until they ebbed and washed

onto the part already soaked in lesser degrees, only to resume the cycle minutes later.

       Gulls swooped and dived, some announcing the catch of the decade, others only

attesting to failure with an angry screech. Yet more sang a song of distant lands where a

gull or a man could find enchantment eternal, if only there was a bridge or a strong wind

to carry them over the surging sea.

       The gentle breeze never told of the tropical islands it crossed to acquire the scent

it bore. Or testified to the enormous crests of towering water it skimmed atop a thousand

miles offshore. Instead, it pushed a hint of nearly forgotten warmth ahead of it to buffer

the dropping air temperatures. Stars looked down on the walkers crossing the sand from

millions of miles above in the sky, saying nothing, while creating the impression they had

memories recorded eons ago they could talk about if convinced to do so.

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       Still, with every step they took, he could hear the implied message of the Pacific.

Dare ye, man, to enter me or try to cross me? Dost ye possess the temerity? The skills?

The boldness and sense of adventure required? If ye have of it, test me, test me now.

Then, if we find ye are not of such to best me and my mightiness, I shall lay claim to yet

one more foolish soul swallowed into my unfathomable depths. Dare ye? Dare ye? Oh,

dare ye?

       He shook his head slowly. Why would I, you foolish ocean? With what I have to

live for now, why would I? Then he turned to look at her. The everything of his life.

       The rippled dark chocolate hair, streaming half a foot beyond her small shoulders,

was bouncing gently in the seaside breeze. She fit nicely against him as they walked, her

five-three body so compatible with his five-nine. A slim, hard form with those round, yet

firm, breasts that drove him crazy every time he saw them, touched them, buried his face

in them. Round, tight little ass, even more taut than a Marine bunk, freshly made. All the

other parts of her incredible body that made her, in his eyes, a two-legged pleasure palace

created only for him. "You know, Baby," he said to her in a tone barely loud enough to

be heard over the crashing waves, "it wasn't until I met you I was able to figure out why I

was born, or why I exist."

       She looked up at him, her hazel eyes brimming with love that bordered on sheer

devotion. Those beacons alone asked him to tell her that reason.

       "To love you, girl, and take care of you."

       As if on cue, she stopped. Looked up at him. Waited for it.

       Lowering his face to hers with no urgency, he pulled strength from her through

her mouth, twisting tongues gamboling from one orifice to the other for a few seconds.

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As he released her from his one-armed embrace, his left still holding the blanket, he said

in a throaty voice, "I love you, Baby."

       "Oh, Bod, you know how terribly much I love you!" she said with excitement and

happiness as she drew his head down and kissed him again. Ten seconds later the lovers

stood looking into each other's eyes a moment more, smiled and resumed walking in the

sand, each pace a piece of the prelude to what would soon happen.

       "You looked good up there today," he told her. "They were all paying attention to

what you had to say, Baby."

       "They should!" she declared emphatically. "Someone needs to." Kicking a tuft of

sand with her toes, she watched it waft away into the dark, then walked with him, her left

arm around a waist as hard as any tree. "Personally, I hope they step it up."

       "The homeless?" he asked to verify what he knew was true before he spoke. "By

'step it up', do you mean you want more of them dead?"

       The question caused her to stop, half turn and face him. "Bod, you … more than

anyone … know I want every fucking one of those bastards dead!"

       Bod smiled. "Yeah, Baby, I know you do." A shrug. "Could happen. Not likely,

but it could happen." When she said nothing, he kissed her gently and they resumed the

same pace, shuffling along in the sand. Sensing what was coming to him soon, a moment

of inexplicable pleasure he'd never known before in his life, thirty-eight years of always

doing what had to be done, he was swept into the warmth of arousal. On cue, his right

hand fell to her ribs and cupped that firm breast, evoking a quiet groan of pleasure from

the woman he'd rather die than forsake.

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       Cuddling even closer now, the heat of their bodies rising as their sides pressed to

each other, Helena Salazar told him, "They believed what I said because it's true, Bod. If

not for you pointing it out to me back then when Jason was killed, even I might've missed

it, but I didn't. You always seem to see through the façade and you figure out the truth of

everything." One deep breath and she added, "I'm so damned lucky to have you, Bod.

Just so damned lucky."

       "Well, it only made sense, Baby. Jason was one helluva good Marine … when it

came to hand-to-hand, I mean."

       She snarled, the hot anger erupting, but he knew it was the foreboding of another

explosion that would carry him to Eden, so he didn't dissuade her. "That bastard! That's

all he was good for, or at!" Helena seethed. "And, to think, I once loved that man with

all I had to give! Fucking pig bastard!" She switched to a snicker. "Well, there was one

other thing he was good for!"

       Bod sensed it now even more. The heat of passion was nearing a boiling point in

this woman who totally owned his soul and anything attached to it. Not much more, Bod

told himself. It won't take too much more and she'll make it happen. Son-of-a-bitch! I

can hardly fucking wait!

       "However," she added much more calmly, entering what he had earlier deemed to

be a mezzanine between her frothing passions, "he was my husband. Those bastards had

no right … no fucking right, Bod, none at all! … to take him away from me. Making me

a widow, for God's sake. Leaving me where, if I hadn't had you to protect me, I'd've been

all alone in the world again." She stopped again and looked up at him. "That's only part

of the reason I love you as much as I do, Bod."

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       "Because Jason's dead?" he asked quietly, knowing it would taunt her and push

the woman's emotions closer toward where he needed them to be.

       "No, his death has nothing to do with why I love you."

       "Oh?" A simple cue. His required step in the ceremony, he'd learned. Nudge her

and give her the room required, she'd go exactly where he wanted her to go now. Where

he needed her to be. This was an even more enjoyable part of something he'd found he

loved that much more each time it happened. It was coming and he'd die if it didn't.

       Couldn't possibly be so near to ecstasy and not partake. Not if he wanted to live.

       "No, I love you because of my life! Don't you see it, Bod? This is our destiny!

You came into my life when I was so horribly plagued, all tied to that horrible man and

unable to ever get free of him. I was his wife, Bod! His fucking wife!"

       Helena suddenly burst into laughter, something she'd done the one other time she

stumbled into the same unintentional pun. "And, I sure was fucking!" she burbled as her

mind coupled the words into an illegitimate scene draped in irony. "Almost every night,

he'd beat me, Bod. Then, when he finished, he'd fuck me until he was done, and he lasted

so damned long when he was drunk … which was every damned time." She laughed as

she wandered along Memory Lane. "That was the insanity part."

       "Meaning?" Bod questioned, as if he couldn't repeat the answer verbatim.

       "Meaning the worst part of my life, the beatings, all came just before the very best

part of my life, the fucking." Helena almost whirled to her left to face him. "Bod, does it

make me a bad woman that I love sex as much as I do?"

       "No, Baby, it does not," he attested as he took her into his arms and kissed her as

hard as he'd ever kissed any woman.

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       When they came up for air, Helena probed, "But, do you think less of me when

you know I want a 'Victory Fuck' every time one of those bastards dies? Does it make

me seem … I don't know … callous? Unfeeling? A bitch, maybe?" Helena took a deep

breath, her taut, bulbous breasts straining her sweater. "Or, even a slut?"

       Bod kissed her again, feeling the finish was now so close he knew he'd die if it

was delayed one split second past the appointed moment. "No, Baby, it only means I'll

get to serve this goddess I adore when she wrests free this accomplishment and allows me

to be a part of her moment in the sun. It brings me the distinct pleasure of doing what I'd

far rather do than anything else I've ever done." His left hand pulled down on the blanket

behind her and let it unfurl to the sand as he wrapped the other one around them. "It's my

signal, Baby, to tell me I'll soon hear those words that cry out to 'let the games begin', but

this game is so deadly serious. I love it, and I love you, and I so love my part in what you

allow me to have."

       With a freshly kindled fire in her eyes, each breath coming as if she'd just broken

the tape at a marathon's end, Helena all but screamed, "Now, Bod! Fuck me now! Oh,

Bod, fuck me hard! Fuck me long! Bod, fuck me!"

       Stripping her garments away like a madman, but not tearing or ripping anything in

the blur of passion, they had her naked moments later. Bod shed his clothing even faster

and all but hurled Helena to the sand, descending onto her as she fell. Seconds later they

were unified, and the ceremony began in earnest.


       It was a light sleep, if calling it actual sleep was even true.

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       His training, all the years in the Marine Corps., wouldn't ever truly allow sleep.

Not as the civilians knew it. There must always be someone awake to guard the camp,

Bod reminded himself. If not, who the fuck knows what'll come over the wall? So, if the

citizenry want to sleep, let 'em. It's okay 'cause we're here.

       'Cause I'm here. Always.

       He still hadn't opened his eyes. No need. His ears told him everything going on

in the vicinity, which was all he needed to know. The waves were still repeating what

they were doing before he went to heaven by being inside Helena. The gulls were still

making all that fucking noise, and the ocean was still waiting for someone stupid enough

to think the Pacific couldn't kill him to set up a match. A contest. Put himself in the spot

where it was somebody's ass on the line.

       Yeah, well, I've had my fucking ass on the line over there in The Sand. Had it put

on the line and brought it out. Not a motherfucker on earth can take my ass out, Bod told

himself, as he had thousands of time over the years. Only me, if I let my guard down.

       Looking to his right at Helena, her head on his pectoral leaving him awash in all

that beautiful hair, Bod sighed. Or, this woman, if she ever cut me loose. Couldn't take it

if that happened. Couldn't possibly deal with it. She owns my fucking soul.

       Another rare smile came to him. A newspaper article. That's what it took. Only

that, a few inches of fucking print, showed me everything. It was a Sunday morning, and

we were right there in her bed, reading the paper after we'd made love. She finds this part

in the B section saying some homeless prick got run over by a car and died.

       Man! It was as if that shit was fucking porn and it turned on her switch! Helena

went dog nuts fucking crazy! Practically raped me, and I loved every damned second of

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it! We must've gone at it for an hour, I swear. I have never in my entire fucking life seen

a woman get so excited about anything.

       Then, another article, saying they found a dead body in a drainage ditch. Turns

out to be another one of those assholes. There I am, in Fire Fuck City! Helena became

an actual wildwoman! Nearly tore me to pieces and wouldn't stop! Another sigh. As if I

wouldn't do anything within my power to keep making that happen? Shit, I hope there's

ten thousand of the bastards, right here in Oceanside. Maybe, if there's that many, they'll

get me fucked to death by the woman I love.

       One more sigh. What a way to go!

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                              CHAPTER FOURTEEN

                                   Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 12:27 p.m.

       In Darius Perkins' mind, it had been a good day ever since it began. For starters,

he'd slept last night in the back seat of a car, one helluva huge improvement over where

he'd planned to bed down, in some old cardboard boxes in the alley behind the restaurant.

Sure, the cops don't normally catch a guy when there's a good sized pile o' them ol' boxes,

but even not gettin' caught don't offset the fact it's awful fuckin' cold that way. It's kinda

safe, yeah. But damned awful fuckin' cold.

       So, freezin' my ass off, he remembered with a smile, I see that chickie-poo get in

the guy's car an' leave hers in the parkin' lot. Then, big as fuckin' brass, I go check it out,

hopin' I might swipe me some shit, er somethin'. 'Course, I wasn't gonna get me nothin'

if'n it was locked, 'cause I sure as shit ain't breakin' inta no damned vehicle an' gettin' my

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scrawny ass sent t' fuckin' prison. No way. Not me, man. So, I check all four doors an',

sure as shit, she left a back one unlocked. Wasn't a damned thing in the fuckin' car worth

me takin', o' course, but it sure as shit was warmer there. Plus, there was a blanket on the

damned floor, but it ain't there no more, he thought with a laugh.

       Then, in some surprise, he checked himself over. Fuck! That's right! Man, here

I went an' stole me a damned blanket, now I went an' lost the prick! Damn! How'd I ever

do that shit? He patted himself down, as if the blanket might've somehow gotten stuffed

in his clothing. Dirty gray work pants, never washed since he got them a month or more

ago at Brother Benno's. A blue and white checked flannel shirt, worn unwashed almost

as long as the pants. White socks acquired somewhere, somehow, but unremembered, in

the last couple weeks. Badly worn Florsheim shoes swiped at the YMCA over on Barnes

Street when no one was looking and they were left in a locker. All covered by a coat that

had seen better days before it was given to him at the church two or three years ago.

       No blanket! Fuck! Gonna freeze my ass off again tonight, he decided. Then, in a

capricious whim, he giggled. So? Who gives a flyin' fuck? After what that dumbass did,

I ain't feelin' no fuckin pain right now, boy! None at fuckin' all!

       The whole event played back in his mind. Walking across the parking lot behind

the row of stores. Seeing that new car parked over by the back of the store with the trunk

open, jus' bigger'n shit. There's all them damned bottles o' wine in them fuckin' boxes an'

the dumbass went inside the fuckin' store like ain't nobody gonna be cruisin' on by who

ain't had him a fuckin' drink in a week! Man, what a dumbass!

       An' me? Man, I ain't stupid! Not like that dumbass. I know there ain't no way I

can carry that whole box wi' six fuckin' bottles in it. So, smarter'n a fuckin' fox, I grabs

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me a bottle in each hand an' I high-fuckin'-tails it outa there! He giggled. Did'n' slow my

skinny ass down fer two fuckin' blocks! Uh-uh. No way. Not like I wanna get my poor

ol' ass caught by some nosy fuckin' cop with a shitload o' questions. I wasn't back there

at the back o' the line jackin' off when ol' God handed out brains, boy. Uh-uh. Not me. I

knew better. So, I gets my skinny ass over there in them bushes where the freeway starts

an' stops here on PCH an' 76 an' them two bottles o' wine was in fuckin' trouble, boy!

       This time he laughed. An' now they's gone, so who gives a flyin' fuck, huh? So,

both them bottles o' wine is gone? So what? I'm fuckin' gone, too!

       He started laughing uproariously at his own joke, then a smattering of a sober idea

crept into his mind. 'Cept, if some cop sees me, a half drunk nigger, walkin' along here

on the street laughin' my ol' black ass off, he's gonna have that same ol' shitload o' fuckin'

questions, an' my drunk ass is gonna be hauled off t' jail.

       The idea momentarily sobered him, causing Darius to stop and turn a full circle as

he scanned the area. Nope, no fuckin' cops, but that don't mean I c'n keep my black ass

out here on the fuckin' street. No, sir, it don't. Bes' thing fer me's t' get my skinny ass off

somewheres where ain't no cop gonna see me 'til I'm straight again in a few hours. Like I

need t' be in fuckin' jail again? Bad enough, I ain't even got me no fuckin' cigarettes, an'

can't even find no butts anyplace. I get my skinny ass tossed in jail, I ain't gonna smoke

no shit fer, like, thirty fuckin' days. Uh-uh, man. No way.

       Heading in the general direction of the ocean, Darius also knew he'd better stay

away from any of the houses crammed in together between Pacific Coast Highway and

the water. Them assholes'll call 'bout eighteen fuckin' cops the damned minute they see

my drunk ass. He decided the safest thing to do was to cross this parking lot, climb into

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the dumpster behind the bar, and get a nap. Sure, they might throw some garbage on my

ass while I'm in there, but ya never know, even if they do that shit. Lotsa times there's a

lot o' that shit I can still eat. 'Least that way, in the dumpster, ain't no cops gonna shag

my skinny ass an' toss it in no fuckin' jail.

        His mind all made up, Darius decided he'd do just that, soon as this fuckin' truck

gets outa my fuckin' way. Only a third of the way across the lot, standing and swaying in

broad daylight, he couldn't understand why that big-ass pickup would stop right here in a

fuckin' parkin' lot when there was maybe a dozen spots t' park in. Well, fuck 'em, Darius

concluded. Swervin' an' staggerin', or not, I ain't gonna jus' fuckin' stand here 'til some

prick cop comes up an' arrests my ass. I'll jus' walk around th' asshole.

        He made it around the rear end of the truck, a big, long one raised way the hell up

in the air, turned the corner and was trying to generally aim himself to the dumpster. Not

more than a hunnert feet t' go, he decided. Then a huge black guy got out of the rear door

and started toward the bar. Darius even thought about saying to the guy, "Hey, Brothah,

what it is?", but changed his mind. Niggah prob'ly get all uppity wi' my black ass 'cause I

be shitfaced. Prob'ly tell me jus' t' go fuck my own damn self. Well, fuck him! Like I'm

needin' his shit?

        He waited a respectful few seconds to let the Brother pass, then started out again

to the dumpster, but a Mexican got out from the front door. I'm tired o' all this shit, man,

Darius told himself as he veered slightly to the right so he could pass the guy. I ain't got

me all fuckin' day, ya know what I mean, man?

        Then the Mexican said, "Hey, man, wait a minute. I got somethin' for ya."

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       Darius stopped, turned, and asked, "Yeah, what?"

       "This!" bellowed the guy as he swung a fist at Darius' face. The blow landed on

his left cheek and Darius immediately saw a swirl of beautiful, bright, fiery colors. He

also rocked backward, running on his heels a few feet, but stopped when he fell and hit

his head on the asphalt. He felt the first few kicks, the ones that landed on his ribs and

broke most of them in only seconds. He also felt it, somewhat but not completely as he

was already fading away, when the white guy stomped on his shins. Darius only felt the

heat when something entered his belly and ripped up toward his sternum, gutting him like

a freshly caught fish. He didn't really feel the kick to his skull, the one that crushed a hole

in it because of the steel-toed boot, but he did hear a female voice yell, "Stop! Police!

Raise your fucking hands, asshole!"

       He never did see what the bitch looked like, since he was busy dying. All Darius

was able to think as he left this world was, Get these mothuhfuckahs, babe! Get 'em!"


       The "bitch" Darius was mentally rooting for now stood outside her Lexus hardtop

convertible with a Glock 10mm aimed at Chico, holding it in a two-handed grip, ready to

take out both assholes if either one moved. They didn't know she'd been qualified by the

Sheriff's Range Master these last three years as the best shot on the OPD, and she didn't

give a red rat's ass if they knew it, or not. All Sonya Charles knew for sure was, if even

one of 'em did anything funny right now, they were both going to die.

       This'll be a righteous shoot, and the only arguments against me that way will be

whatever the Coroner comes up with after he examines the dead bodies. These are some

bad ass people and this girl isn't cutting anybody any more slack than she thinks might be

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necessary. "You!" she barked at the white guy who had just rounded the front of the big

truck when she yelled the first time. "On the ground! Face down! Do it now!"

       Falling back on her training, and all her experiences over the years she'd served as

a cop, Sonya had made up her mind. I will be taking zero shit from these assholes! They

will do what I say, or I'll explain it all to The Brass and the Coroner. "You, asshole!" she

bellowed at the Mexican. "Face down, on the ground! I am not fucking with you, boy!

Do what I tell you! Do it now!" As she moved the barrel to aim at him, her eyes swept

both men, wondering if, by some strange and crazy chance, these two were "it", or if they

had anyone else in the crew.

       Sonya was about to look to her right, toward the row of buildings, all their back

doors opening into this parking lot, when she partially heard something collide with the

side of her head. She only heard a small part of it, and never felt any real pain, because

the blow was so hard and fast. Sonya never saw Clarence and, even if she had seen him,

had no idea he was there. Or that he could hit so hard with a fist so large.

       She was watching assholes one moment, then her world was only darkness.


       "Damned good move, dude," said Rex as he collected the semiautomatic from

where it had fallen at Sonya's feet. He raised it, aimed at her head from three feet away,

then used his thumb to release the hammer and moved it back to the rest position. "We

can't shoot the bitch here," he remarked, pulling a switchblade knife out, flicking it open

with a plastic gloved thumb, and glancing at six inches of gleaming Toledo steel. "I'll gut

the slut and slice her fuckin' throat open. Comes out the same fuckin' way."

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       As he started to bend down, Chico interrupted by grabbing his shoulder before he

could do anything. "No, man, no! You see what a choice piece o' pussy we got us here?

Man, even if you don't wanna dick this bitch, me an' ol' Clarence here'd love t' fuck 'er a

couple, three time's 'fore ya off the whore." Chico squatted and squeezed one of Sonya's

larger than average breasts. "Man, lookit the tits on the bitch! Dude, I'm dickin' this one,

so ya ain't killin' 'er ass right here, ya hear me, Rex? Ain't no fuckin' way I'm passin' up

such a choice piece o' pussy, man. No fuckin' way. Damn! Lookit this bitch! This's a

fuckin' fox, dude!"

       Apparently seeking some backup to his fervent plea, Chico looked up at Clarence.

"I c'n throw a bone t' this bitch right after you, okay, Clarence?"

       Looking down at the sensual woman on the ground in front of him, sprawled upon

the blacktop with her short skirt hiked halfway up her thighs, Clarence blanched. Shit, on

her bes' day, ain't no way I be wantin' t' dick this Sistah, but they also ain't no fuckin' way

I dares tell that t' Chico er Rex. Shit, if Chico ever found out I'd be more likely t' jam my

dick in his ass than in this Sistah, the mothahfuckah'd shoot my black ass!

       Chico yelled, "Clarence? Man, I'm fuckin' talkin' t' you, dude! Ya gonna let me

dick this bitch after ya get done bonin' 'er, or what? Man, we ain't got all fuckin' day, ya


       Deciding he didn't want to have this discussion at all but, if they were going to

have any version of it, they shouldn't have it here or now, Clarence leaned forward and

down. He scooped the inert woman from the ground and cradled her in his arms, her

body pressed tightly to his massive chest. "Open the back door," he instructed Chico.

"Me an' the Sistah's gonna be in the back. We can't be doin' all this shit out here in no

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fuckin' parkin' lot, dude." Jaw set firmly, Clarence strode over to the back of the truck

and waited. "C'mon, Chico. Like ya said, we ain't got us all fuckin' day."

        When Chico reopened the back door, Clarence moved the unconscious Sonya to

the wide seat without tossing or dumping her, then agilely stepped up and into the back of

the crew cab. "Let's be haulin' us some ass now, huh? The Sistah, she wakes on up b'fore

we gets t' where we's goin', I'm gonna hafta strangle 'er ass t' keep 'er quiet, an' if I gotta

kill this here woman that way, ain't nobody gonna fuck nobody." Adding more emphasis

by creasing his brow, since he'd been told it made him look so mean and fierce, Clarence

glared at the other two men. Seconds later, the two other doors were slammed after his

was shut noisily, and they were underway.

        Looking down at what he had to admit was an astonishingly beautiful woman, and

wondering how he'd let the others know he wasn't going to sample her because he didn't

want to, and doubted he could, Clarence passed the inert woman a worried thought. Girl,

ya wake yer foxy li'l ass up b'fore we get where we's goin', I'm gonna hafta choke yer ass

t' death. Ya know what's good fer yer round little ass an' pussy, yer gonna stay knocked

out. 'Cause, if ya do wake the fuck up an' make any kind o' noise, ol' Clarence not only

ain't gonna fuck ya, he ain't gonna fuck with ya, neither!


        The truck entered the driveway, turning right and immediately climbing a hill at

least a hundred yards long. With all the curves in the S-shaped path off the road, the trip

was a hundred and fifty yards, maybe better. Rex halted the big truck in front of the large

double garage long enough for Chico to jump out and open the door, then idled it in and

shut off the engine.

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        Clarence already had the door open on his side. Again cradling Sonya in his big,

muscular arms, he slid out of the raised back seat and stood waiting. Chico closed the

door and came to stand in front of him. "We gonna fuck the bitch in yer room, dude? Ya

heard us talkin' on the ride over here, right? Ya heard Rex say he wants a piece o' this

slut, too, didn't ya?"

        "Yeah, I heard," Clarence answered, watching Chico's eyes, knowing what was

coming next. "I might be black, Chico, but I ain't fuckin' deaf, an' I ain't fuckin' stupid,

neither. I heard ya both."

        Rex appeared from the back of the truck after walking around it in the now closed

garage. "You got a problem o' some kind, Clarence? What? Ya gonna say we can't dick

the bitch, too, after yer done fuckin' 'er?"

        "I ain't said no shit like that," Clarence argued, much of what he planned to tell

them already worked out on the half hour trip from downtown Oceanside. "I ain't sayin'

shit, Rex, 'cept I wanna work this out my own way, ya know? This's a Sistah an'—"

        "What?" Chico howled. "What kinda shit's all that, Clarence? Yer tryin' to tell us

this primo bitch is a nig—… black bitch? Bullshit, dude! She's maybe Asian, or from th'

Philippines, er—"

        "Chico, I'm tellin' ya, this's a Sistah," Clarence insisted, his massive left hand now

holding Sonya's face a bit higher, his thumb and index finger on each side of her mouth.

"Take a look at this here mouth. Them lips, bigger'n normal, an' this light tan she got on

her. Man, that ain't no sun-fuckin'-tan, this here's a Sistah, an' she was fuckin' born with

this here skin." Seeing a glimmer of hope, he added, "Maybe you two ain't gonna even

wanna fuck 'er, now ya know she's a Sistah?"

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       "Naw, I'm gonna jam one in the bitch a couple times," Rex advised, his right hand

cupping Sonya's right breast. "Big tits like this, a ass like that, them fuckin' legs, gotta be

one super hot pussy on the bitch, ain't no way I'm lettin' this cunt slide on by without she

takes a ride on Clyde, my one-eyed worm. I'm throwin' me a bone t' this one, fer sure,


       "Yeah, me, too," Chico tossed in. "Funny, she don't hardly look like no nig—…

like she's no black bitch."

       "Down south," Clarence explained, since because of his race he was in possession

of information many people never heard, "back there in the ol' slave days, they'd all call a

Sistah like this one a octoroon. That mean she be one eighth black, an' all th' rest white."

He spat on the cement floor before adding, "That don't mean they didn't treat these here

Sistahs jus' like any other niggahs most o' the fuckin' time, 'cept for when they'd get her

ass buck fuckin' naked. Seems ever'body always was wantin' really bad t' fuck all them

ol' octoroons, then kick they asses out th' house after they went an' got they nut." He spat

again. "These Sistahs was always prime pussy."

       "Yeah, 'kay, so she's prime pussy," Chico argued. "An' that ain't what I asked ya,

man, an' ya know it. We fuckin' the bitch in yer room, or—"

       "Lookee here," Clarence told him, glaring again, "ain't nobody doin' no shit o' no

kind wi' this Sistah 'til I went an' had my way with 'er, ya hear me, Chico? I'm takin' th'

Sistah t' my room an' I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do. 'Til I tells ya diff'rent, ain't gonna

be neither one o' ya puts 'is dick in 'er." One more boiling glare to add needed emphasis

and Clarence made his way to the wall with a door that opened into the kitchen. "Are ya

gonna open this fuckin' door, Chico, or I gotta do that all by my fuckin' self, too?"

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       As he waited for Chico to get there, Clarence heard the Sistah groan quietly. He

clamped his hand on her mouth and hoped. The Sistah makes her 'nother fuckin' noise,

gonna hafta snap 'er fuckin' neck like a chicken, I am.

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                                  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

                                   Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 1:47 p.m.

       The blue Crown Vic wheeled around the corner in a skid, although it was Benning

at the wheel, not Hawthorne. He was squirming around in the passenger seat. The door

was flung open wide with the big Ford still moving around 10 mph, Hawthorne's right

jogging shoe skimming the blacktop. The car still hadn't completely stopped when the

older, senior detective alit, bracing himself on the door so he didn't fall. Squirming loose

and dancing around the door, he sprinted for the Mercedes with a uniformed cop looking

in the open driver's side door.

       "Damn it, this is Sonya's car!" Hawthorne howled, making a point and not trying

to supply new information.

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        "That's what they said when I called it in, Wendell," the cop confirmed. "We got

here in answer to a complaint of a mugging and found him," he added, pointing to Darius

Perkins, who lay dead on the blacktop thirty feet ahead and to the right. "Someone made

the call from a cell phone. They haven't traced it back to him yet, but they will. The guy

hung up, according to Dispatch. Said someone killed a nigger out here in the parking


        Hawthorne's big left hand went flat on the uniform's chest and slammed the man

against Sonya's car. "She's not dead, and she's for damned sure not a nigger!" he roared

as he cocked his right fist.

        Benning, a lot stronger than he looked, took hold of Hawthorne's arm and held it

back, twisting it around to take an armlock on his partner. "Wendell, chill, man."

        The uniform said, "Damn it, Hawthorne, I'm telling you what the caller said. The

dead guy's a black dude. I'm not calling Sonya anything like that, but if you hit me, you

dumb fuck, I'll arrest your ass and you'll ride back to the station in my fucking unit!"

        Benning pointed his left index finger at the uniform. "There's a damned decent

chance you'd get shot making the arrest, Blevin, so let's not hear any more of that shit out

of you, okay? Wendell's not exactly on top of his game at the moment."

        "Then maybe you'd better put him back in the car," Blevin retorted, smoothing the

blouse of his uniform.

        Relaxing slightly in Benning's grip, Hawthorne said, "Look, I'm sorry, okay? You

think this is easy for me, Blevin? What the fuck happened?"

        "I was trying to tell you until you went fucking postal," he said, now rubbing his

hands on the long sleeves of his black shirt. "We got a call saying someone killed him,"

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he said as he again pointed to where a team that had been two paramedics and four men

from the fire truck was transferring scene control to three people from the Crime Lab.

"When I showed up, I saw the dead guy and this car was here, door open, engine running.

I saw the police radio in that pull-out hanger on the passenger side and figured it didn't

look so good for our side, so I called it in. They got right back with her name and said it

was our Sonya."

       Putting a hand on the detective's shoulder, Blevin added, "We'll just forget about

that other horseshit a minute ago, Wendell. I've heard rumors you and Sonya were close,

and the way you're acting says it's not just bullshit in the wind. Sorry, man."

       "That's all you've got? Nobody saw who took her? Saw how they got an armed

cop in custody and took off with her? Nobody saw shit?"

       "Not that I've talked to. Hang on." He turned away and looked toward a Mexican

female officer just coming out of the back of one of the businesses. "Lopez? You talk to

anyone yet who saw anything?"

       She shook her head and went in the back door of the next shop.

       Blevin shook his head, too. "Nobody's seen shit, Wendell. Sorry, man. Wish I

had more for you, but that's it. All we've got." Notebook in hand, he leaned in again to

get the odometer reading.

       Benning pulled Hawthorne back a few feet. "Wendell, take a couple deep breaths

and get a grip, pal. This is not gonna be easy the rest of the way."

       "Like I don't fucking know that, Dar? Well, I'm tellin ' ya, there ain't no fuckin'

way they're takin' me off this one. They'll get this son-of-a-bitch if they try," he growled,

fingering the badge hanging on his belt.

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        Benning swiveled when he heard the announcement on the radio in their unit and

went to lean in the door and listen. When he came back, Hawthorne was already nodding

and heading toward the line of businesses. "Can't use my cell when they say call in on a

land line." Shaking his head as he went, Hawthorne kept walking, leaving Benning to

ask questions of the few people gathered to gawk.

        Ten minutes later, Hawthorne was back.

        "Well?" Benning asked, relatively sure he knew what he'd hear, but surprised it

wasn't as bad as he thought.

        "They had it in mind to pull me off these homeless killings," Hawthorne said as

he spat angrily on the ground. "I told 'em I'd turn in my fuckin' badge and gun and work

the case as a PI if they pulled that shit." He scowled. "You get anything outa anyone?"

        "No," Benning said, shaking his head. "That's it? No restrictions?"

        "Well, yeah. They said I can stay on these killings, but they told me, if it gets to

where I'm concentrating on Sonya, they'll yank my ass." He gulped. "I believe all they

have about me an' Sonya right now is rumors. He asked me if I was dating her and I said

'no, 'cause we ain't 'dating', Dar. 'Bout three nights a week, I'm at her place. The other

four, she's at mine. Shit, we might as well be married, we spend so much fuckin' time

with each other, off the job, I mean."

        He put both hands against the fender of the Crown Vic, moved his feet way back,

and stretched. "Dar, if they pull my ass off'n this, I'm puttin' in my fuckin' papers, and

that ain't no shit. I gotta find her, Dar. I gotta."

        "I know ya do, Wendell," Benning said, putting a hand on the man's shoulder for

comfort. "Don't worry, man. We're gonna find her."

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        "Yeah, I know," he said, almost in tears. "I just hope she's alive when we do and

she's okay."

        Benning said, "Look, there's something personal I need to take care of. Can you

hang here, asking questions like a cop, for an hour? I'll need to take the car and I don't

want to sign out as personal time. Besides, it has to be done."

        Hawthorne took a deep breath, nodded, and said, "Hurry back, Dar. I have a bad

feeling this ain't even close to over yet."

        "10-4. Back in less than an hour."

        Again in the Crown Vic, Benning had his cell phone out as soon as he was around

the corner. He dialed a number by pressing send when he located the one he wanted and

heard it ring twice before a sexy female voice said, "This's Ben's phone."

        Caught off guard, he asked, "Is Ben … wait, is this Miss Fancy?"

        "Indeed, it is. May I ask who's calling?"

        "This is Detective … Miss Fancy, it's Dar. Is Ben around?"

        "No, Dar, and hello, sir. Um, Ben will be tied up a while. May I take a message

and ask him to call you? It may be a day or so before he's able to get in touch."

        "Huh? Why? Where is he?"

        "I'm not at liberty to divulge his location, Dar. I can only take a message."

        "Look, can you get a message to him? Quickly? It's crucial."

        "Perhaps. I have your cell number entered in this phone, since you gave it to Ben.

Is this the number he should call?"

        "Yes, and it's very important I talk with him right away. Any idea how fast I can

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speak with him?"

        "Let me see what I can do she said," disconnecting.

        Three minutes later, his cell rang. He answered, "Benning."

        "Detective, this is Fancy. I managed to reach Ben."

        "Great. What's the number?" He reached for a notebook, then dug the pen from

the pocket of his shirt.

        "You can't call him. He's waiting for you, however, at the shopping center with

the Wal-Mart on 76 and College. There's a McDonald's there. He'll be outside having a

cup of coffee in ten minutes. Can do, Detective?"

        "I'll be there," he said, this time disconnecting first.

        When Benning arrived at the restaurant, he parked on the side and walked over to

the area with tables for dining alfresco. There was a tubby woman with very poorly dyed

blonde hair at a table with two little boys, both around five or six. She was using all her

time to control them and letting her own fries and sandwich get cold as they played with

their food instead of eating. He saw a homeless guy in dirty clothing with two coffee

cups on a cement table, sitting on the right, smoking. Two Mexican teen girls, neither old

enough to drive, were drinking shakes at another table, and an elderly white couple sat at

the far table, each with a sandwich, fries and a soft drink.

        As Benning started to scan the area again, wondering if Ben was going to make it,

the old homeless guy said, without turning his face, "Dar, come sit at the table behind me.

Don't look at me, and don't blow my damned cover, whatever you do."

        Muttering, "Well, kiss my ass, he is here," Benning took a seat on the other bench.


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       When he was seated, after handing him the other coffee, I asked, "So, what's got

your shorts all knotted up on you like this, Dar? Did I forget to pay a parking ticket, or

something? I can't imagine why you'd need to talk to me where it couldn't wait a bit."

       "It's about Officer Sonya Charles," he said in a grim voice.

       "Sonya? Hawthorne's girl? Man, she's almost as gorgeous as Fancy. Excuse me,

as 'Miss Fancy', since that's what you guys prefer," I chuckled. "What's up?"

       "She's gone," he said quietly, and not at all happily. "Kidnapped is all we can see

as the reason."

       I almost turned around. "What? Kidnapped? Dar, the woman's a cop!"

       "Thanks for the update. There was another killing just after noon."

       "Aw, shit. Another homeless guy?"

       "Bingo. He, or they, are stepping it up, Ben. The man was beaten badly, and they

also gutted him like a fucking deer. Tore all the damned belly out of him."

       "Son-of-a-bitch! You got a name?"

       "Darius Perkins. Black guy, 48, looks 78. Off PCH. Ben, they beat this guy like

a damned drum, then gutted him. Caved in his skull, on top of that, and took her."

       "Jesus! Man, I hope they come after me soon. We can't have this continue."

       "You carrying?" he asked.

       "Just a picture of all my exes," I lied, seeing no sense in admitting it, or in even

discussing it. He had to know I was armed, and doing it legally.

       "Uh-huh. Well, make sure you keep that picture locked and loaded."

       "Gotcha. Why'd you need to talk with me if Sonya's been picked up by this guy,

or these guys?" I considered it a moment and added, "If she was taken, that leads me to

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think there's got to be more than one. She's a pretty damned good cop, as I've been told,

and I doubt one guy, all on his own, could take her prisoner."

       "I don't think one man, alone, could do it, either," Benning agreed.

       "So, why'd you need to meet with me, Dar? I'm one man working a stakeout in

hopes these assholes will make a try on me. What can I do to help? How in the hell do I

matter, or even figure in on this thing?"

       "Because I've worked with Wendell long enough to know the man," he told me.

"I know Wendell better than anyone, with the possible exception of Sonya Charles. I also

know what he's gonna do, Ben, and I'm telling you, right now, you can't allow it. When it

happens … notice I didn't say 'if', I said when … you've got to notify me." He slid a card

on the cement bench next to me. "That's got my cell number on it, too, since you don't

have your regular phone with you. Call me as soon as it happens. Ben, I'm telling you

now, in plain English, you're gonna have to tell him 'no'."

       "Tell who? When? Why?"

       "Wendell is going to get in touch with you, the same way I did, and we don't want

Miss Fancy caught in the middle here."

       "Caught in the middle of what, Dar?"

       "Wendell's gonna tell you he's appointing himself to your team. He's going to

want to go undercover as a homeless guy after his shift's over, or maybe he'll even take

some personal time and do it that way. Ben, you can't let him do it."

       "Makes a lot of sense to me. Tell me, why does it make sense to you?"

       "Because Wendell will make someone tell him where she is, and he'll kill every

damned one of 'em in cold blood. I don't want to be the cop who has to take Wendell in

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for murder, Ben." He sighed. "He'll either eat his fuckin' gun, or commit suicide-by-cop,

and they both stink. I don't want to watch him die, or be the one who has to kill him."

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                               CHAPTER SIXTEEN

                                 Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 1:56 p.m.

       As Fancy walked slowly down the hospital hallway, using a white plastic spoon to

scoop out the last tiny dab of peach yogurt from the cardboard container, she heard her

name called and looked up in surprise. She smiled automatically when she saw Melanie,

a black nurse around five-four, 275, not quite fifty yet, skin as dark as motor oil when the

owner skipped the last two scheduled changes. The woman had a set of teeth whiter than

any snowstorm, and big, warm, dark eyes that twinkled wildly like a meteor shower on a

summer night. The smile she seldom showed the people visiting her patients, but almost

always treated the bedridden to at least once each time she saw them, blazed at Fancy.

       Apparently, Melanie thought Fancy was special, important even, and Fancy felt

the same about her. "Oh, hi, Melanie." She looked apologetically at her yogurt. "If you

want, I can go back and get you one? I forgot you were on until three."

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       Swatting her own more than ample rump, Melanie said with a chuckle, "Child, the

last thing this ol' butt needs is more dairy products. You got any idea, little girl, what my

weight's up to by now?"

       Fancy said, "Sure. One-thirty, one-thirty-five. In there, right?"

       "Oh, Lordy, little girl, you're just too damned good at these things!" Melanie

exclaimed. She put a hand to the side of her mouth, as if sharing a secret, "Seems to me

it was one-twenty-eight, the last time I looked … 1979, I think it was!" She finished with

a big laugh, then quieted down as she glanced at the closed door to a room on her right.

"I never noticed you come out. Been gone long?"

       "Maybe twenty minutes," Fancy said almost apologetically. "I was hungry, and I

had to pee, too."

       "Child, I told you, use the toilet in the patient's room. No sense in you runnin' all

the way to the public john, much time as you spend here with that poor girl." Melanie

shook her head. "No change, yet, either. I was just in there and adjusted the drip on her

IV. She's still quiet as a mouse."

       Fancy looked that way, too, then sighed. "Still no idea from the doctors as far as

when Dannie might wake up?" She edged a few feet closer to the room.

       Shaking her head regretfully, Melanie said quietly, "Child, there's no guarantee

she ever will come back. Some of these things, we just don't know." Her big brown eyes

rolled upward. "All up to Him at times like these, little girl. All up to Him."

       "I know," Fancy agreed, putting her hand on the door. "I've been talking with

Him about that an awful lot lately. You know, ever since …" She left it unfinished.

       "Uh-huh, since you got here last night. When you goin' home to clean up?"

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        Fancy shrugged. "It's only been not quite a full day," she argued mildly, using her

fingers to press on her blouse from top to bottom, futilely attempting to iron out wrinkles

caused by extensive time in an uncomfortable chair at the bedside. "Maybe, if there's no

noticeable improvement by tomorrow, I'll have someone sit in for me and go home to get

a shower."

        "Little girl, you can't do that!" Melanie chided her. "A body's got to get some rest

or she can't keep going, not after a while."

        "Sure I can," Fancy said, her smile at least equaling Melanie's, "and I know you

do it all the time."

        "Oh, go on. I'm trained to suffer the punishment of standing here in these homely

looking shoes, ruining my feet all day." Another caring smile. "I'll stop in and see you

and our little friend Dannie before I leave today."

        "Melanie, you don't have to do that."

        "If I had to, I'd tell 'em to go to hell," she chuckled. "It's because I don't have to, I

will. See, we black girls can be just as contrary as anyone else." With a wink, Melanie

spun in place and walked away as lithely as a ballet dancer.

        Opening the door, Fancy blanched at the sight of Dannie in the hospital bed. Her

left arm was swaddled in a plaster cast from elbow to palm, only her fingers and thumb

exposed to air. She was bandaged around the top of her head, with what looked like HD

Band-aids on her face in half a dozen places. She was fitted in a thick plastic half-shell to

help prevent jostling her sides, which Fancy knew were wrapped up in athletic bandages.

The pretty lips Fancy always thought looked so nice were puffed and bloody, stitched in

so many places Fancy doubted they could count all the stitches they put in. Pretty blue

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eyes were badly discolored, dark purple, a garish yellow, and a shaded blend of bluish

green tinged in an inflamed pinkish red. Shaking her head and muttering "Tsk-tsk" at all

the damage, Fancy mused, Now I know what it means when people say someone would

look better if they were dead! Jeez-o! The poor baby!

       After quietly inserting her yogurt cup and spoon into the wastebasket next to the

bed, Fancy took a seat in the slightly padded chair with metal braces on the side draped

with a brown plastic cover supposed to resemble wood. To her, it didn't look anything

like wood, just cheap plastic. Plus, Fancy decided, this stupid chair slopes backward so

darned far, it's uncomfortable to lean forward and hold Dannie's hand. However, it's also

not tilted back far enough to sleep very comfortably! she thought with regret, recalling

the uncomfortable one and two hour naps she'd snatched in this chair. Oh, well. Dannie

needs someone here when she wakes up … whenever that might be … and her son had to

get to school. Glad Ben made him take a cab to get here and let us pay for it, and then

use another to get to school.

       With a smirk, remembering Ben gave the boy three hundreds for cab fare and

swore he'd have a driver meet him when he got out of school, she wondered if the teen

would notice his driver was one of the residents at My Friend's Place. Probably not, she

decided. Once we get 'em cleaned up and in some decent clothes, you can't even tell the

difference 'tween our guys and human beings. The idea made her chuckle softly.

       Ten minutes later, while wishing she'd gotten some gum from a vending machine,

Fancy heard a broken voice say weakly, "Water." At least, that's what she thought it was

supposed to sound like. Hard telling. Remembering, Let's see, Dannie is accustomed to

hearing me speak like a white girl, which put a grin on her face, she scrambled to the side

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of the bed. "Hi, Dannie. It's good to hear your voice, honey." When she was close to the

side railing, she daintily took hold of Dannie's hand.

       "Water," she rasped.

       "Not yet, sweety," Dannie denied her, using the Styrofoam cup to scoop some ice

from the small bucket on the standing table next to the bed. The table was about eighteen

by eighteen inches with a drawer at the top and two big doors that opened wide to reveal

three shelves inside it. "Here. The doctors said you can have some of these ice chips, but

remember to take them in slowly. You won't be able to chew very hard for a while." She

held the cup to the other woman's mouth and tipped it a little.

       Half a dozen chips fell into the mouth Fancy knew would normally open up a lot

more, but was probably too sore and swollen to create much space at the moment. As the

ice reached her tongue, Dannie murmured, "Mmmm, it's good." Then, when her tongue

came out to lick her lips, she winced visibly. "Ouch!"

       "I know, honey," said Fancy as she grasped Dannie's right hand, squeezing gently

and giving her more ice. "It's going to take some time, sweety," she said, using the term

so common and familiar to Dannie, who called almost everyone "sweety". "Your lips are

badly bruised, Dannie. Do you remember what happened?"

       "Fancy?" she asked.

       "Uh-huh. I'm right here, honey."

       Dannie screwed up her face. "Why?"

       Surprised, Fancy said, "Because you needed to have someone who loves you here

when you woke up, that's why."

       "Loves me?" Dannie croaked.

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       "Sure. You know I do, honey. We all love you."

       Rasping still through her bruised lips and scratchy, dry throat, Dannie countered,

"But, you're Ben's girl now."

       "Uh-huh. So what?" She furrowed her brow, wondering what the heck all that

might mean.

       "But, I was … before, that is … Ben's girl."

       "Uh-huh. I know that."

       "Not … jealous … 'bout it?"

       Fancy smiled. "Why would I be? Ben loves us both."

       "Doesn't … love me."

       "Sure he does. It just didn't work out that way with you two, being lovers, I mean,

but that doesn't mean he ever stopped loving you. Come on, Dannie, we've both been his

girl. We both know Ben's a very loving man."

       "You … knew about … Ben and … me … being … lovers?"

       Fancy laughed. "Dannie, Dannie, Dannie, you know better than that. No woman

is going to spend even one year with our Ben, let alone three and a half years, and keep

her panties on all that time." Now with a chuckle, "That's not how our Ben works and, as

cute as he is and can be, what girl would want to keep her panties on around our Ben?"

       Only for a moment, Dannie frowned. She stopped very quickly, wincing as she

got started, ending with a moan because it hurt so much to contort her face. "You say …

our Ben?"

       "Of course," Fancy soothed her, squeezing and gently rubbing Dannie's hand.

"He loves us both. I'm just the one who lives with him now, but that man would do just

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about anything for either of us, and you know it. In that way," she said with a calm and

comforting voice, "we're both Ben's girls. I just get to make him breakfast these days."

         The remark brought a grin almost to the surface, but it disappeared in the wave of

pain accompanying it. "Nice idea," Dannie said after grimacing.

         "Do you remember anything about what happened, honey?"

         At first, Dannie started to shake her head "no", but an instant reminder of why

that was such a bad idea stopped the gesture almost as fast as it got started. "No." Her

eyes enlarged and she ignored the pain Fancy was sure it caused. "Eddie? Is he okay?"

Now she watched Fancy's face, which Fancy was sure answered the question before she


         "No, honey, he didn't make it. They killed him."

         Again not acknowledging the pain it brought, with tears beginning to drip from

her battered eyes, Dannie wept. "Not fucking fair," she wheezed, her tone of voice then

telling Fancy the woman's sinuses were plugging up from the crying. "Was waiting …

for me to … bring him … back."

         Leaning so far over the bed rail her feet left the ground, meaning she had to use

her right hand for balance, Fancy kissed Dannie's right cheek. Falling back so her feet

found the floor, she caressed the battered woman's brow. "I know, Dannie, but at least it

was very quick. He didn't suffer," she attested, hoping for both Dannie's and Eddie's sake

she was telling the truth. "You did all you could do, and more. After all, you took quite

a vicious beating yourself."

         "Was them … wasn't it?"

         "Yes," Fancy admitted, faint tears dribbling down her cheeks, as well. "Dannie,

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did you hear anything? Any names? Anything important? Did anybody say anything to

let you know who they are or where they might go? Did you see what they were driving,

or get any descriptions?"

       Again Dannie tried to shake her head, but she wised up quicker this time. "No, I

didn't see … them at all. Not even the … one who … was … hitting me." She gratefully

swallowed the ice chips she'd been slowly chewing, then took in a few more tiny pieces.

"There was a big … pickup truck. Kind with … four doors. Not Eddie's car."

       "Did you see what color?

       "Dark. Dark color, and … was … dark out."

       "Anything else, honey?"


       "What? Dannie, did you just say 'Chico'?"

       She nearly nodded, then corrected herself. "Yes. Someone … yelled … Chico."

She gave a long, painful sigh. "Need to sleep."

       In the midst of Fancy saying, "Good idea," Dannie drifted off.

       Fancy got out her cell phone, then stepped into the hallway. She dialed a number

and listened until it was answered on the third ring with "Hola" before saying quietly in

Spanish, "Lupe? It's me, Fancy Martinez, your cousin."

       He greeted her and she asked, still in Spanish, "Do you know some guy named

Chico who would be the kind to viciously beat up people who can't defend themselves?"

       After he gave her some rambling ideas, she asked, "Wasn't there a guy named

Chico, a friend of Alberto's, who went to CYA," she asked, referring to the California

Youth Authority, the prison system for youthful offenders.

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       When he replied, Fancy said, "Yeah, that's the one. The guy who killed his Dad.

Didn't someone say he just got out of jail again after being free for a few years, because

he beat some guy up so bad he almost killed him?"

       Fancy listened again, then said, "Look, Lupe, I need to have you be really quiet

about this, and not let anyone know what you're doing. Just ask some questions where

you know you'll get good answers. Find out about this guy and let me know. If you do,

it's worth two-hundred dollars, American. How soon can you find out?"

       He told her and Fancy said, "Okay, good. Here, write down my number."

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                            CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

                                Oceanside, California

                        Thursday, November 19th, 2:12 p.m.

       Well, damn it! she thought when she tried to scratch the itch on her nose and her

hand wouldn't move. What the hell gives? She took a moment before deciding to open

her eyes, mainly because of the pain in her head. Was I sick before I went to bed? Why

in the world does my freakin' head hurt like this? After waiting a few more seconds with

no answers popping up, she shrugged mentally and opened her eyes.

       Two seconds later, she closed them again and held them both tightly shut. Well,

damn! That's one super good-sized bald-headed Brother I just saw sitting in that chair!

Where the hell am I now, and why in the world am I here? Sonya Charles took another

moment to let her mind get in sync with the pounding in her temples, then slowly peeled

both her eyes open again. Nope. He's not going away. Shit!

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         She closed them again. Her nose was still itching, even worse now, and it had

become a major source of annoyance, but she tried to ignore it. 'Kay, girl, so think back.

What the hell happened? Again, she squinted her closed eyelids as she delved into foggy

resources, digging to pull up the film stashed haphazardly somewhere in the back of her


         Yeah, that's right. There were two assholes, a white and a Mexican. They either

put that old Brother in ICU, or a funeral home. I remember seeing the Mex hit him. One

helluva shot. Gotta give 'im that. Seems he was five-eight, five-nine, one-seventy or so.

Black and brown. Muscular as hell, and mean enough to tell a rattlesnake to get the fuck

out of his way. Nasty little prick. I think I'd've shot him first, just 'cause he's so damned

nasty. Ornery little prick.

         Then there was a white guy. Taller, maybe five-ten, under two-hundred, but built

pretty damned good. Brown and either brown or green, best I could tell. Something else

about his eyes. What was it? Yeah, mean and even a bit … what'm I trying to dig up? …

sadistic. Uh-huh. Prick probably started tearing the wings off flies when he was six and

graduated to pulling the legs and tails off cats by age ten.

         Two in the chest, no questions asked, the split second my piece is targeted at that

bastard. Take no chances with that kind. Not unless you want what the flies and cats got

when he was little. Plus, something tells me he's not too far away from me at this very

moment. Shit! That'll mean that nasty little Mex will be right behind him. Girl, you'd

sure better hope you ate your damned Wheaties this morning!

         That brings us to "King Kong in Charcoal". Who the hell is this guy, and where'd

he come from? Why, in God's name, is the son-of-a-bitch sitting there in a chair like that

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watching me? Oh, please, God, don't tell me he's the first in a long line of assholes who

have all decided to play a couple fast rounds of "hide the weenie" in Sonya! I can't even

imagine anything more disgusting right now. Sonya took a deep breath. Well, girl, there

is music, and there is facing it. Guess you'd better get the show on the road, huh?

       Her eyes came back open. Shit again! This bastard's even bigger than I thought

he was. Even sitting like that, I call him six-two, six-four, around there. And, if he's not

at least two-twenty, two-thirty, then I'm a monkey's uncle, and I don't even have a dick!

Worse, he looks to be damned a mean nigger. Not a black guy, this one's a nigger. Shit!

Now what?

       "How you doin?" asked King Kong.

       "You don't want to know," she sneered, getting a touch more pissed off because of

the itchy nose. This is going to drive me up a damned wall!

       "Had to tie you up," he said informatively.

       "No shit? I thought I must've slept wrong and my arms fused together. Wouldn't

consider untying me so I can scratch my nose, would you?"

       "Your nose itches?"

       "Of course not. Scratching my nose is something I usually do to annoy people

who tie me up." A deep breath, then she released it. "Yes, damn it! My nose itches!

You want to untie my hands so I can scratch it?"

       "Can't do that," he denied. "Ya might try t' get away. Then I'd hafta kill ya."

       "Kind of a shitty 'Plan B', don't you think? C'mon, just untie my hands so I can

scratch my nose. Big guy like you, you're afraid I'm going to serve you up an economy

size can of whup-ass, maybe?"

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       "No," he said, shaking his head. "I'm 'fraid I'd hafta kill ya, an' I don't wanna do it

if I ain't gotta. Not yet, anyways. Not no sooner'n it's gotta be." He looked at her as if

making an assessment. "Be a fuckin' shame t' kill a choice lookin Sistah like you."

       "Seems we share at least one idea," she snarled. "Look, mister, I really need to

scratch my damned nose! Cut me some slack, huh?"

       He stood from the chair, a purple thing with a high Edwardian back made of some

kind of brown wood, the same lumber used in the frame and curving legs. It took him a

long time to stand, Sonya decided. Som'bitch's gotta be all of six-two, maybe better. The

guy moved athletically across the room from maybe ten feet away to the standard size

bed she was lying on, her right side to the mattress and enough space behind her that her

fingertips didn't touch anything. When he reached the bed, he bent and moved his hand

toward her face.

       Sonya flinched and pulled away, knowing her soft brown eyes were enlarged well

beyond normal. "What the hell are you doing?"

       "Gonna scratch yer damn nose."

       "I don't think so." She glared at him.

       "It quit itchin'?"

       Shit! Now it's worse than it was! Damn it! "No," she seethed. "It didn't 'quit'

itching. It's driving me nuts. Just let me itch my damned nose, huh?"

       "I said I was gonna do it fer ya, but ya tol' me no."

       "That's because I … aw, screw it. Look, you got anything you can hold in front of

my face so I can scratch my damned nose?"

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       It took him a few seconds, she noticed, but it seemed he finally got the idea. His

big hand tugged the blanket free at the top where it had been tucked in, maybe a foot or

so from the end of the bed. He held it about three inches from her face. "Go ahead, ya

ain't gonna let nobody help yer ass, rub yer damn nose on this mothahfuckah."

       Sonya started to glare at him, feelings of revenge and independence urging her to

tell him to stick the blanket up his ass, but the itch was really too freakin' close to driving

her batty, so she relented. Moving her face into it, she shook her head back and forth a

few times, then rubbed her nose up and down. Dear God! she thought suddenly. All that

relief is damned near better than sex!

       He pulled the blanket away. "Ya done yet?"

       Sonya shook her head again. "Not quite. Put it back here."

       He did, and she repeated her previous actions, then went through the series again

because it felt so good. Finally satisfied, she edged away from the blanket in his hand

and let her head fall slightly to her left to lie on the pillow. "Thank you. That helped."

       "No big deal," he told her, releasing the material and walking back across the

room to resume sitting in the same chair. Saying nothing, he just looked at her.

       "What're you staring at?" she demanded.

       "I ain't starin', but ya got some pretty nice tits."

       "Lose that thought, big boy. You aren't going to have even the first damned thing

to do with my tits, so get that crap out of your head in a big ass hurry."

       "Wasn't in my head," he told her. "I don' want nothin' t' do with yer damn tits,

girl." He turned his head on a neck that reminded Sonya of a fence post, looked at the

door, and scowled. "Cain't be lettin' them guys know it, though."

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       "Huh?" Sonya questioned, struggling to get herself erect. She managed it faster

than he could notice and come help her, so she was up by the time he made it out of the

chair. "Sit down," she directed. "I managed it on my own. What do you mean, you can't

tell them? Can't tell them what?"

       "Right now, babe, I's in here fuckin yer brains out, far's they knows."

       "Interesting," Sonya commented. "If that's true, you're not hung too well. Can't

seem to feel a damned thing."

       He flashed her a brief smile that showed teeth can be remarkably white in some

cases. "If I was bangin' ya, babe, ya'd feel it. Got a big dick on me."

       "Thanks for the warning," she said dismissively. "What can't you tell them, and

who is 'them'?"

       "Them other two guys," he told her. "Ain't no need fer ya t' hear no fuckin' names

on either one."

       "Oh? Well, if you won't tell me their 'fucking names', what names do you call

them by, and what don't you dare let them know?"

       "Tryin' t' trick me, ain't ya, girl?"

       She mused, By God, it was close. He almost bit on it. I don't think King Kong

here is the sharpest knife in the drawer. "Trick you? No way. You're too quick. Back to

what you can't tell 'em?"

       He looked troubled a moment. Conflicted. As if trying to come to a decision, but

torn in different directions. "Naw. Ya'd fuckin' laugh at me."

       "Girl Scouts honor," she told him. "I'd hold my hand up with the Scout sign if my

damned hands weren't tied, speaking of which—"

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       "I ain't untyin' yer fuckin' hands, so jus' drop that shit, okay?"

       Sonya sighed. "Okay. Again, what can't you tell 'em. I won't laugh. Promise."

       Again, he seemed to think long and hard. Finally, he relented. Slouched a bit as

he gave himself permission to confide in his prisoner. "They was both plannin' to come

in here an' fuck ya, soon's I said I was done dickin' ya my damn self. 'Cept, I tol' 'em I'd

be humpin' ya fer a while, so they's out there waitin' t' git a turn each. Maybe two turns."

       "Ain't gonna happen, Brother. Ain't gonna happen."

       "Not what they say," he informed her.

       "Oh? Those two plan to stick it to me with my hands still tied behind me?"

       He looked as if she'd just exposed a brand-new angle to the problem. "I don' got

no idea how they's gonna do it. Prob'ly undo yer arms while they's fuckin' ya, then tie yer

ass back up when they's both done."

       "Uh-huh," she told him, softly chewing her lip. "Got a news flash for you, dude.

They untie my arms, the only way anybody's sticking his dick in me is when I'm dead,

and that's not exactly the most exciting pussy they'll ever run across."

       He looked at her again, evidently assessing the woman, then shrugged. "Maybe.

Ain't my problem, not then."

       "Okay, what is your problem?"

       "I's s'posed t' be dickin' ya right now. Then, they's wantin' their turns."

       She winced mentally. God, what a gruesome thought. Okay, in for a penny, I'm

in for a whole damned pound. "So, why aren't you … as you say … dickin' me now?"

       He scanned her again. "Ya'd laugh if I said."

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        "Wrong, dude. Got not one damned thing to laugh about at the moment. C'mon,

it's bugging the piss out of you, so tell me. Why aren't you dicking me, or at least trying

to, right now? Tell me."

        After eyeballing her again for a few seconds, he said, "Ain't never had me no real

pussy." A sigh. "Ain't never had no sex, 'cept fer whackin' off. Ain't never fucked me no

woman, an' I ain't never wanted t' fuck one."

        "Oh, shit," she muttered. "You're gay? You like guys?"

        "Think so," he admitted. "Don't know. Ain't never fucked one o' them, neither. I

jus' get me this big ol' boner … not when nobody's around, ya unnerstan' … but when I's

all alone, after I sees some really good built guy, I gets me this big ol' hard-on. Then, jus'

'cause I gotta, I jack myself off." He released a long breath, as if relieved at having faced

the dragon and survived. "So, I's s'posed t' be fuckin' ya now, 'cept I don' wanna fuck ya,

an' I ain't sure what t' do."

        The pieces of a macabre puzzle were slowly fitting into place in Sonya's mind. I

wish I'd taken a couple more psych classes now, she remonstrated herself. This guy for

sure would keep an entire psych class busy the whole semester. "In other words, you've

never had sex of any kind? With anyone?"

        He nodded. "Jus' when I jack my dick off." He looked her over. "Sorry, girl, ya

jus' don' get my dick hard."

        "Thank the Good Lord for small favors," she said quietly. "Okay, not to be the

girl who bites the hand that feeds her, why did you tell them you'd be in here fucking


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       He scanned her again. "I tol' 'em that 'cause yer a Sistah an' I don' wan' 'em t' kill

ya." He coughed. "Or, kill my ass."

       "Again, thanks," she told him. "Why would they kill you?"

       "'Cause I be a fuckin' fag. A fairy. Them two'd shoot my black ass if they knew."

       "Not a pleasant thought," she concurred. "Look, why don't you help me get out of

here, huh? You know I'm a cop, right? So, if you help me—"

       "No fuckin' way," he informed her, shaking his head back and forth in denial. "I

do that, even if they's not killin' my black ass, the state's gonna. Shit, they's jus' gonna be

jammin' a needle in ol' Clarence's arm an' have theyselves one dead fuckin' niggah."

       "So, Clarence is your name, huh? Nice sounding name."

       "Aw, fuck!" he spat angrily. "Shit! I was hopin' they was some way … I dunno

how, but I was kinda hopin' … we wouldn't hafta t' kill yer ass, but now—"

       "Knock that shit off!" she snapped. "Look, Clarence, just because I know your

name now doesn't mean shit, dude. They already know who you guys are. I don't know,

yet, but they do."

       "Yeah? How's that?"

       "'Cause I called it in before I drew down on you guys," she prevaricated. "They

have the plate number now, plus your DNA," she told him, deciding maybe this guy was

probably dumb enough to buy in on her story.

       "What? Bullshit! How's they gonna get that?"

       "Well, just like you were saying to me, I'm not supposed to tell you, so I can't say

anything more—"

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       "Bullshit! Girl, this niggah done saved yer ass from them mothahfuckahs killin'

ya already! Ya gotta tell me, now ya says ya already got it!"

       "Okay," she said in a confidential whisper, "but you for sure have to promise me

you won't tell those other guys, either one of 'em, the taller guy, name of … shit, what's

his name again, Clarence?"

       "Who, Rex?"

       "No, of course not. I already knew about Rex. I'm talking about the other one.

Damn it, it's right on the tip of my tongue. Hs name's—"

       "They already know 'bout Chico, too?"

       "Yes, of course. I'm talking about his last name."

       "Oh," Clarence told her, shaking his head. "I don' know his las' name. Only the

firs' name. Chico."

       "Yeah, well, that's okay. Headquarters has it, so that'll do."

       "How you say ya got my fuckin' DNA? I didn' touch shit!"

       "You don't read the papers? Some of the police or crime magazines?"

       Again shaking his head, Clarence admitted, "I don' read so good."

       "Oh. That explains it. Well," she said, twisting her position because her arms

were staring to go numb, "if the crime lab gets there within half an hour of a crime …

you know they were there five minutes after you left, since I pulled a gun and you guys

left a body in the parking lot … those guys now have a scanner that'll pick up tiny bits of

DNA that fall off you as you walk around." Sonya looked up and down her own body.

"All the moving around I've been doing these last few minutes, you wouldn't even believe

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how much DNA has fallen off me so far." She sniffed once and looked at herself again.

"Probably a good quantimeter, at least."

        "What that? What ya jus' said?"

        "It's a container they use to hold fallen DNA when they discover it. However,"

she said with a sly smile, "you just happen to be in for a lot of luck."

        "Yeah? How's that?"

        "Well, since you're now sort of a friend of mine because of what you haven't

done, and what you're going to do—"

        "We's friends? You an' me? Bullshit." Not as vehemently. Hopeful, now.

        "Oh, really? You don't think, when a guy like you, a Brother, saves the ass of a

cop like me, we don't provide you points for a plea bargain? What are you, Clarence,

stupid, or what?"

        "Fuck that shit!" he instructed her. "I ain't stupid! I jus' don' read good, is all."

        "Okay, good. Plus, you could've already tried to fuck me, but you didn't. That,

all by itself, will get you a lot of points."

        "Points fer what?"

        Sonya was trying to decide how far she could string out this line of bullshit. If

I'm in it this far, might as well go for the gold, damn it! "Don't you know anything? Oh,

I forgot, you don't read much." She took a deep breath, preparing to lay out a whopper in

hopes he might gobble it up. "Are you aware, even if not from reading, but from talking

with people you know, about the 'no-fuck clause' law enforcement uses these days?"

        Clarence only shook his head, his mouth now agape.

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        "Okay, then I'll explain it, but you really better not tell Rex and Chico, since they

are no longer qualified for it."

        "They can't get the no-fuck clause, too? Jus' me?"

        "Of course not," she told him with a feigned lack of patience. "Everybody knows

when you have more than one person who takes a cop prisoner … assuming that cop is a

woman, such as I am … the first one who arranges not to fuck her is the guy who gets the

clause applied. And, I'm sure you know what … wait, you don't know about the clause at

all, right? Not even the privileges that go with it?"

        "Uh-uh. How'm I s'posed t' know that shit?"

        "Right. Sorry, Clarence, I forgot. My bad. Well, under the no-fuck clause, if the

one who qualifies helps that female officer escape, he gets a walk after the charges are all

filed and he goes to court."

        "Bullshit!" Clarence argued. "Not for no fuckin' murder, he don't! Cain't be."

        "Oh?" she asked slyly. "You don't think the courts don't believe an officer is a bit

more important than some damned homeless guy?"

        Clarence's eyes clouded slightly. "They can't, uh, you know—"

        "Clarence, these were only homeless people. I'm a fucking cop! Nobody'll miss

'em, pal. The courts are gonna look at the evidence … plus they'll have all my testimony,

saying how you could have fucked me but you didn't … and you're gonna walk." Sonya

took yet another deep breath. "That's assuming, of course, you get me out of here. If I

don't get free, or you let those other guys fuck me, I don't think I can get you the no-fuck

clause deal."

        "But, yer gonna ask 'em, right? Yer gonna try t' git it for me?"

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        "I'll do my best, Clarence … assuming you get me out of here unharmed and, of

course, unfucked."

        Suddenly, the door to the bedroom opened. Rex stood in the doorway with Chico

directly behind him. "Looks like it's my turn now, man," he said with a leer.

        Sonya looked at him, angry and resentful for the rotten timing. Damn it, I had ol'

Clarence eating out of my damned palm! Now this shithead's gonna blow it for me!

        "Uh-uh," Clarence told him, coming to his feet. "Not yet, man."

        "Why not? Shit, didja even dick the bitch yet? She's still got all her fuckin' stuff

on, an' her hands is still tied up."

        "Jus' shows ya don' know how I work," Clarence explained to Rex as he moved to

stand between him and Sonya. "If ya knew how I does it, ya wouldn' say that shit 'bout

no broad in my room. Not if'n ya knew my ways, ya wouldn't."

        "Yeah? How do you do it?"

        "After I fucks me a woman, I always puts 'er clothes back on so's I can make 'er

suck me off. Then, when I's ready t' fuck 'er again, I takes my fuckin' time strippin' 'er

down so's I c'n enjoy it." He turned halfway and looked at the astonished Sonya, then to

face Rex again. "I ain't fucked this bitch but only that once, so far, then I had 'er suck me

off. I's jus' gettin' ready t' fuck 'er again when ya come in here, so I's kindly askin' ya t'

git yer ass outa here so's I c'n get me some more pussy."

        Arms crossed on his massive chest, Clarence stood looking at them, now clearly

waiting for them to leave.

        After a tense thirty seconds, Rex headed for the door. "Well, hurry up, damn it.

We want t' fuck the bitch, too. Get yer nut an' let us know when the bitch is ready."

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       Shaking her head in amazement, Sonya thought, Well, fuck me! Ooo, no, wait!

Don't fuck me! The idiocy of the mental pun made her smile unexpectedly.

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                              CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 2:16 p.m.

       After giving Dannie one more hug and a kiss on the cheek, a teary-eyed Fancy left

her hospital room and headed to her car, almost exhausted. Okay, she told herself, so I'm

pooped out? Big deal. Dannie's okay … thank You, God … and she's sure gonna need a

friend while she heals up. She smiled. Guess that's me, huh? Well, I sure ain't doin' it to

make me no points with Ben. I'm jus' doin' it 'cause she needs a friend an' I know sure as

can be, if it was me, I'd be glad t' have someone. 'Sides, we need 'er back at work as soon

as she can do it. There's a whole lots yet t' be done.

       Leaving the building, she stopped for a moment to remember where she parked

the Mustang, then started walking that way. The cell phone she carried for Ben rang, so

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Fancy reached into the purse hanging from her right shoulder, reflexively touched the

Bluetooth earphone Ben had given her, then pressed SEND. "This's Ben's phone."

       "Miss Fancy? Why are you … why isn't Ben answering this phone?"

       "Who's calling, please?"

       "Oh. Sorry. It's me, Detective Hawthorne. I mean, Wendell. I was—"

       "Oh, good. Hello, Wendell. So nice to hear from you, sir."

       "Uh, yeah. Nice talking' t' you, too, Miss Fancy. Uh, where's Ben?"

       "He's indisposed, Wendell. May I take a message?"

       "No, you may not. How do I reach him. Now."

       "I can try to contact him for you, Wendell, but—"

       "No!" he snapped. "This is emergency police business. Miss Fancy, if you don't

tell me how to reach him, you'll be interfering with police business. I don't want to have

to threaten you, but obstruction of justice is a severe offense. A felony. There can even

be jail time involved. This is serious, Miss Fancy."

       "Very well," she said with a sigh. "I'll call Ben and—"

       "No, I said! Give me the number and I'll call him. Miss Fancy, I can't impress

upon you enough the urgency involved. Give me the number, and give it to me right

now, or you'll wish you had when I'm done with you."

       She gulped, just thinking about it. Man, I know Ben's gonna be P.O.'d, but I can't

tell this man ''no", for Pete's sake! He's a cop! "Okay, Wendell. I'm sorry. Have you got

something to write on?"

       "Give me the number."

       She gave it to him, and he hung up.

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       When my prepaid cell phone began vibrating in my pocket, since I didn't ever

want it to ring, I knew it would be Fancy. She's the only one I've given the number. I

was riding the used bike I purchased at the cost of swapping for a brand-new one on

Mission Avenue, heading east for the shopping center where I had a P.O. box, to check

my mail. I figured there'd be guys I knew, or would at least recognize as being homeless,

hanging around there, and maybe I could get some decent information if any of them had

seen anything.

       Barring that, my time in this undercover operation hadn't come up with anything

I'd dare call good news so far. Panting a little because I smoke too much, I pulled it from

my pocket and pressed SEND without looking, then placed it against my ear. "Hi, Baby.

What's up?"

       "For starters, Ben, I ain't yer fuckin' baby, an' if ya ever try t' kiss me, I'll knock ya

on yer ass." Hawthorne finished with a sort of phony laugh. "Where you at?"

       "In Oceanside. Why?"

       "Don't be a smartass, man. I need to talk to you right away."

       "Okay, go ahead. You're talking to me right now."

       "No, that's no good. Face to face. Where are you?"

       I suspected this was a first step toward what Benning warned me about, but didn't

want to push the conversation in that direction if I didn't have to. "I'm riding a piece of

shit bike on Mission Avenue, Wendell. What do you want?"

       "I already told you. I want to talk with you, in person. Look, Ben, don't make me

get hard-ass with you. I can just as easily put out a call and have a patrol unit pick you up

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and bring you to the station. It's your call, but I'm advising you, as a cop, as well as your

friend, things will go a whole lot easier if you do this my way. So, tell me where you are

and I'll come see you."

        "No good, Wendell. You'll blow my cover that way."

        "You don't think a black and white picking you up will do the same thing?"

        I thought about it a few seconds. "Actually, no, it wouldn't. Just because I get my

ass picked up won't blow it. That happens to these guys all the damned time. Seeing me

talking with you in that 'unmarked' car that anybody and everybody knows is really a cop

car with another color paint would, I'm afraid."

        "Okay. Have it your way. I'll put out the word and you can expect to get your ass

nailed within the hour."

        "Damn it, Wendell. What the hell do you want?" I asked, getting a bit annoyed

and running out of wind at the same time. For some reason, pedaling a bike and trying to

hold a cell phone to my ear was more exertion than normal. I wondered if it had anything

to do with steering one-handed. "Just tell me, damn it."

        "Face to fucking face, Dover. That's what I want."

        I noticed the "Dover" part. No more Ben, huh? Okay, must be serious. "I'm on

Mission, coming up to Foussat. There's a shopping center on the north side of the street.

I'll wait ten minutes, but that's it."

        "You'll wait 'til I get there, or it'll be your ass," he said as he hung up.

        A bit pissed off myself by now, I turned around, rode back a block, and waited in

the eastern corner of the parking lot. Not more than five minutes later, he pulled into the

lot, again driving a big, blue Crown Vic. Hawthorne turned right to come to where I was

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waiting on my bike. When I knew he'd seen me, I started pedaling toward the buildings,

then went around the far side on my right and headed toward the back. Anyone using the

one block cutoff from 76 to Mission could still see us, but I decided this was the best I

was gonna do, so I pulled over and got off the bike. It had no kick stand, even. Probably

too modern for a relic like this one. I laid it down and sat on a plastic crate I assumed

once held milk for delivery to a store, although there was no grocery store anywhere near


       Hawthorne parked the Ford so it partially blocked us from where I was sitting,

which I hoped was an accommodation on his part, but may have been a coincidence. He

got out, walked quickly over to where I sat, then squatted right in front of me, evidently

doing what little he could to avoid attracting attention.

       "Took you long enough," I taunted as I lit a cigarette, waiting to hear whatever he

had in mind. Hoping it wasn't a voluntary enlistment to my police force of one.

       "I stopped for a beer on the way," he told me. "So, how's the stakeout going?

       "Honestly? It's not. Not really. I've talked with a few people, gotten some info,

but not much. I haven't seen anything worth telling anyone about. Why do you ask?"

       "I'm going to help you."

       "Oh? How's that, Wendell? What're you going to do for me?"

       "Double the size of your operation, for starters," he told me. "I'm gonna arrange

my day so I can work with you on this as soon as I punch out each day, somewhere in the

middle of the afternoon. That way, there'll be two of us instead of just one. I'll be here at

night, which is when they're more likely to try something, and I know just a wee bit more

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about police work than you do, so the odds will increase exponentially. The chance we'll

do something good will get a helluva lot better."

        "N-G," I told him, shaking my head. "No good, man. You can't look like you're

homeless. You're too used to being a part of the human race to be one of us."

        "Bullshit. You do it, and you're not homeless. I can do it just as well as you can,

maybe better."

        "Really? Then, why do you need me? Just put on some shitty clothes, pal, and go

hang around looking like a useless piece of shit in everybody's eyes and see what you can

come up with. If you're so damned good at all this, you don't need me."

        He seemed to think about it a moment, then sighed. "Okay, so I'll need your help

with a few pointers, Ben. Look, man, I can't just sit here on my ass after shift doing not a

damned thing. I have to do something. Anything, but I've got to find these guys, and I've

got to do it quick."

        "Oh? Why?"

        "Because I'm a cop." He looked at me as if I might be ineducable.

        "That's not the reason, Wendell, and you know it's not. Any other time, you'd go

home, or wherever the hell you go after work, and you wouldn't give two shits in a high

wind what happened. You'd just go back to work the next day and do your job." I blew

smoke in his direction without thinking, then wondered if it was merely incidental or if he

was pissing me off and I wanted to annoy him. "In any other case, or under any other

circumstances, you wouldn't take a personal interest if seventeen homeless guys all got

killed in one night. Now, however, you do have a personal stake in this, so you want to

get involved. Well, I won't let you."

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       He stood and was looking down at me. I wasn't sure if it was because his knees

ordered him to knock off the squatting routine, or if he did it to gain a position where he

could better intimidate me. Either way, I didn't like it. I pointed to the ground where he'd

been standing moments ago. "Take a seat, Wendell, or this conversation's over."

       The way he looked at me, when I saw both anger and desperation behind his eyes,

I decided it was a combination of the two. I was just about ready to get back on my bike

and suggest he try to self-impregnate when he finally caved in and lowered himself to the

ground. "Gonna fuck up my pants sitting here."

       "Buy a new pair and send me the bill," I told him, waiting for him to get around to

what was really motivating him.

       "I take it you've heard about Sonya?"

       "Of course I have," I answered. "Shit, most of the regular homeless people know

by now a cop was taken prisoner, or kidnapped, if that's the way you want to put it." I

felt a pang of pain somewhere inside, wherever empathy chooses to make itself known,

as I realized how I'd feel if it was Fancy, not Sonya, those bastards had taken. "Wendell,

I really do feel for you, man. If it was Miss Fancy, I'd be more out of my mind than I am

most days, but you can't do this thing with me. For one, nobody among us would believe

you were who you said you were, so they wouldn't tell you squat. And I can't believe I'm

saying this to a good cop … and I know you are a damned good cop, or we wouldn't even

be having this conversation … but you'd only get in the way by trying to muscle in. You

can do us, and Sonya, one helluva lot more good just by being the cop you are and doing

what cops do."

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       "It's not enough, Ben," he responded, his eyes so wet I was afraid he was going to

start crying. "It's not enough. Damn it, I have to do more! Something, damn it! I've got

to do something, aside from just being a fuckin' cop!" He looked away a minute, likely to

gather the strength needed to continue. "If they kill her and I haven't done everything I

could possibly do—"

       "Wendell, if that happens, no matter what you did, it wouldn't ever be enough."

       He looked at me, his stare at first penetrating, then it faded and he was looking

past me. Into the future. Seeing the emptiness of living without the woman I don't think

even he knew he loved this much before today. A tear now made it out of his left eye and

began meandering down his cheek. Setting aside all his macho for the time being, he let

it find its own way down his face.

       "Tell ya what I'm gonna do, Wendell," I said, realizing I was sounding like either

a carney barker or a used car salesman. "I'll compromise with you."

       Grabbing at straws the same way I'd've done if it was Miss Fancy they'd taken, his

eyes took on the brighter look of hope and excitement. "What? How?"

       "You can't mingle with us. You'd stand out, no matter how you tried to disguise

yourself. You're a cop, so let's have you be a cop, huh?"


       "Meaning, when you get off shift, you show up where I tell you to be, and you sit

on a stakeout, waiting until I call you. We'll have to use the cell phones to communicate,

but at least you'll be close by if something happens. I can let you know what's going on

wherever I'm located, and you can let me know if you see anything funny."

       "Radios," he said. "I can get radios so we can communicate that way."

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       "Can I rig mine so you won't call at an inopportune moment and screw things up

for me?"

       Hawthorne looked at me a moment, grateful and embarrassed, then nodded.

       "Good," I told him. "Then get your ass out of here and go get us some radios so

we can get started. Call me when you're ready to set me up with mine."

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                              CHAPTER NINETEEN

                                 Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 2:38 p.m.

       Fancy pouted and fretted all the way home after the call from Hawthorne, worried

about what Ben would say when they spoke next. Her mood unchanged, she took a badly

needed shower, sat on the long C-shaped couch where she fretted and pouted in a change

of pace. Frustrated, feeling she'd let him down in a way, she went to the refrigerator and

got three slices of carrot to munch on. Least these won't give me a big ol' fat butt, which

I know Ben can't stand. So she came to her feet, walked down to the end of the hallway,

and assessed her side view in the mirror. Patting herself on the rump, she smiled. Maybe

if I move this around the right way, he won't even think about bein' mad at me.

       Back on the couch again, munching the second piece of carrot, her own cell phone

rang. It was in her purse, which she always parked on the smaller, two-seat leather sofa

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next to the small entryway of polished hardwood, just inside the front door. Pulling it out

on her way back to the couch, the carrot stick poised for another bite while the caller was

talking, she said, "Fancy Martinez."

       A funny thought crossed her mind. Ben can't do that when he answers 'cause he'd

be saying, 'Bend Over' … 'least, it'd sound that way … so maybe one day he'll marry me

so he can be Ben Martinez an' answer the phone the way he wants to. Shaking her head

at the incongruity, she added the thought, Naw. No way. Not my Ben.

       A male voice said in Spanish, "Fancy, it's me, Rudy."

       Remembering she wanted to hear from her cousin, she was still surprised it came

so quickly. "Hey, Rudy. You find out anything?" she asked, also in Spanish.

       "Yeah, I did. You gonna meet me so you can give me the money?"

       Fancy frowned. "What? You don't trust me?"

       "No, it isn't that, I just, uh …"

       "Yeah, Rudy, it sounds like it is that. After all I've ever done for you, suddenly

you don't trust me to pay you?"

       "No. I said it ain't that."

       "Oh? What is it, then?"

       There was an empty pause. "I kinda need the money right away."

       She frowned. "Drugs, again?"

       "No!" he shot back. "Honest! I been clean three years, two months now. I ain't

doin' no shit o' no kind. Honest. You got my word."

       "Then, why the big hurry? You can't wait for no mail?"

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        "I need it. I wanna take my girlfriend, Carmelita, to a music festival down here in

San Diego. The tickets is fifty bucks each. She was sayin' she wants t' go, but I ain't had

no loose change, ya know? 'Least, not 'til you called an' said you'd pay me to find that

Chico guy … which I did."

        "You wanna drive up here an' get it, Rudy? I can't be comin' down to San Diego

today, but I can leave it for ya."

        "You still with that old white guy over at them retirement places where me an' my

brother was helpin' ya move in furniture an' shit?"

        "Yeah, but Ben ain't old, Rudy. 'Sides, he can whip your skinny li'l butt any day

of the week, an' you know it."

        "Yeah, he prob'ly could. The old sucker's pretty damn big, ain't he?"

        "Rudy, I'm tellin ya, my Ben ain't old! Yeah, he's a big man. Like I said, he's big

enough to whip your butt."

        "Where ya gonna put the money?"

        "I ain't even sure I'm gonna give it to ya, Rudy. D'pends on what ya found out."

        "I found out his last name, Gonzalez, an' I found out he was a boxer for a while.

Well, 'least he tried to be one."

        "You find out where he lives?" she asked, absentmindedly munching the carrot.

        "Not for sure. Just that he's up by Camp Pendleton. Ain't that where there's all

them Army guys, er somethin'?"

        "Marines," Fancy corrected him. "It's a very big base. Any way you can get me

an address?"

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        "Naw, the guys I know ain't that sure on his ass. They jus' know what they told

me, is all."

        "Okay, what else?"

        "Like I said, he tried out t' be a boxer, an' I guess he hits pretty good. They was

all sayin' he's always been a bully, even when he was in CYA, where they send kids that

ain't old enough t' go t' the regular prison." Rudy cleared his throat. "He likes t' box, but

he can't take no punch in the belly. Almost any kinda punch in the gut, he gives up."

        "That it?" she pressed.

        "Only that he gets scared an' backs off if anybody ever stands up to his ass. Dude

ain't got no cojones, ya know, when somebody swings back. He's a real chicken."

        "'Kay, I'll put a envelope on the mail slot on the front o' the house with a cheque

in it. Ya can go right to the bank an' cash it."

        "T'day? I can cash it t'day? No waitin', er shit?"

        "Yeah. You can cash it t'day, Rudy."

        "On my way!" he exclaimed as he hung up the phone.

        Fancy only thought about it for a few seconds. Ben's gonna wanna know about

all this, an' I can tell him 'bout Dannie, too. That oughta make 'em feel pretty good. She

used her left thumb to dance on the dial and heard it ring three times before he spoke.

        "Yeah, Baby? What is it?"

        "My cousin Rudy called. He found one o' them guys. Kinda, anyway."

        "Rudy? The skinny one who moved some furniture for us? Stronger than tensile

steel? That one?"

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       "Yup. Anyways, I was askin' him 'bout this Chico guy. There was a guy named

Chico … he's a Mexican, but he don't know it 'cause he was raised by this white Marine

major, 'cept he killed the guy when he was sixteen … so he went t' the CYA 'til he was

25, old enough they couldn't keep him no more."

       "This is the same guy? You sure?"

       "Naw, I ain't sure, hombre. Jus', it might be him. Some o' the stuff I remember

'bout him Rudy verified, plus he gimme some new stuff I didn't know. Seems Chico was

a boxer, kinda, an' I guess he was pretty good. 'Cept, he can't take it if he gets punched in

the tummy. Jus' gives up if that happens."

       "Not that unusual," Ben confirmed. "It's a variation of the glass jaw."

       "Huh? What's a 'glass jaw'?"

       "Means a fighter can't take anything to the chin. He gets scared and backs off if it

happens, or he gets knocked out. Some guys just can't handle a belly punch. They seem

to lose all their gumption when they get hit there."

       "Guess that's it, then. Oh, and Rudy says he was a real bully, but he always cools

off in a hurry if somebody stands up to 'im." She frowned. "Sounds like a sissy, t' me."

       "That's a good description. Look, Princesa, I've gotta go. There's a couple guys I

want to speak with standin' over there between that little beer store and the post office

where I have my box. They look like they're homeless and I've never met 'em before, so

I've got to get going. Bye, Baby." He hung up.

       Aw, fudge! I didn't get t' tell 'im about Danny. She thought about it a moment.

Well, no reason I can't go t' that beer store an' get me a pack o' gum, is there? Then, if

Ben ain't talkin' t' nobody, I can tell 'im about Dannie.

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        The big Chevy crew cab pickup idled into Guajome Park, a regional county park

on the eastern end of Oceanside, almost into the city of Vista. Rex was driving again, so

he paid the $3.00 parking fee at the front gate machine, then moved slowly around the

curve and through the front parking lot, a long section with room for fifty cars and a big

restroom. Behind the restroom was a new playground of sorts with winding pathways to

wander among a lot of toy setups for kids. A slide, a merry-go-round, some athletic bars,

two pretend race cars, a modified Jungle Gym, a slide and a sandbox.

        There were three mothers, two rather fat and one thin but homely, with a total of

five kids, all under the age of six. Rex sped up a little bit, flowing to the left, then right

when the drive curved. The truck passed an empty ranger station with a sign in the door

saying a ranger would return by 4:00 p.m. He continued twenty yards to a smaller area

big enough for fourteen cars, with a gravel road leading off the far end on the right. He

took another look in the mirror, saw no rangers or anyone else who looked official, and

followed the gravel road.

        When it forked, the left heading back toward the camping area filled with other

pickups, motor homes, and a few cars, he went right, heading deeper into the open area of

the park. The road continued winding right and left until the far corner of the park, where

it neared Highway 76, then looped left to traverse the western border, all trees, bushes

and wildlife, with some walking trails. It soon angled even more to the left, now heading

southeasterly, and he could eventually see flits and bits of the rear of the camping area, so

he shut it off and parked on the side of the road.

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        All three got out, Clarence from the back, Chico from the "shotgun" seat by the

other door. They walked along the edge of the still curving dirt road until it opened wide,

with a hill on the left and a forest of sorts on the right. Rex pointed into the trees. "You

guys both wait here. Since I'm the white guy, it'll be easier for me to talk to these pricks.

I'll be back in a few."

        Clarence and Chico nodded, saying nothing, and entered the trees. In seconds,

they were no longer visible. Rex cleared his throat, spat, and smiled. Okay, assholes, I'm

comin' to get one of ya. He started walking toward the campground.

        The road again turned right, running parallel to the campground for a little more

than 100 yards before the outer blacktop road in the campground turned left, toward the

east, in the bottom loop of a large figure eight. The upper campground, a space able to

hold 17 of the 37 available campsites, was the smaller loop. Rex passed by a motor home

on the left with an elderly couple sitting in two lawn chairs next to their coach, a canvas

awning stretching from the vehicle to three aluminum poles eight feet away. He went by

a pickup with a camper on the right side of the road with two athletic young men setting

up a tent, both shirtless and in blue jeans. Each one looked like trouble to him. A lot

more trouble than the job was worth.

        Rex continued walking, past a younger woman in a campsite with an almost new

motor home and three young boys, all under the age of eight, playing on the slab. The

next campsite was an older Ford pickup, blue, with a camper shell. A worn and beaten

tent was set up behind it, a scrawny woman in her forties who looked to be at least 60

was cooking something on the barbecue rack attached to the campfire spot, a circle made

of part of an old oil drum. Leaning into the passenger door of the pickup was an equally

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scrawny guy, maybe fifty, looking almost seventy. The faces of each showed many hard

miles over a life without an abundance of happiness.

       Whistling quietly to announce his presence, Rex approached what he was sure

was yet another homeless couple living on a catch-as-catch-can basis. As he drew near

the door to the pickup, the man stood erect, maybe five-eight, less than 160 pounds, and

gave Rex a smile. "Help ya with somethin'?

       "Maybe," Rex told him. "My wife fell and twisted her ankle back there on the

trail," he said, turning to point back the way he'd come from. "We were walking a trail in

the woods when she fell."

       The woman said, "Ya better get ya a ranger, then. They can go back there with a

truck, or even use one o' them golf carts they got, an' give 'er a ride out."

       Her husband nodded, saying, "That' prob'ly be yer best bet."

       "Oh, I can get her out," Rex assured them, "once I get her free." He looked back

at the man. "Thing is, she twisted it by steppin' in a damned hole. Badger, maybe, a fox,

who knows what? Anyway, she's got her foot jammed in a hole and I can't get her out. I

noticed you have that," he added, pointing to a shovel tied to the camper shell, "so I was

wonderin' if I could maybe borrow it to get her out." He reached for his wallet. "I'll even

give you a twenty, as a deposit, kinda, if you want, but my wife's hurtin' back there and I

don't want to leave her any longer than I've gotta."

       "Oh, don't worry 'bout no deposit," said the guy, waving his hand to dismiss the

idea, then turning to quickly untie the shovel. Handing it to Rex, he added, "Jus' bring it

back when ya got 'er free."

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        "Sure," he said, smiling as he took the tool. "It'll be a while, though. Once I get

her loose, I won't be able to carry this and support her, too. Anyway, thanks." He turned

and started walking away.

        "Aw, hell. I'll come with ya an' I can bring the shovel back. Maybe even help ya

get 'er out."

        "Bobby, you sure?" asked his wife. "Yer back ain't in no good shape no more."

        "Yeah, I'll be fine. Jus' gonna help out, Lucy." He started walking fast so he'd

catch up to Rex. "How far away is she?"

        "Couple hundred yards, tops," Rex told him. "Look, I really appreciate this. I

wasn't sure what I was gonna do there for a while."

        "Don't sweat it," Bobby assured him. "Been in a spot myself a time or two."

        "Bobby, wait up!" called Lucy, wiping her hands on her jeans as she raced to

catch up. "I'm comin', too, 'case I can help."

        Smiling, Bobby said, "The more, the merrier."

        Bobby and Rex chatted meaninglessly about the weather for a few moments, but

Lucy started talking to him about not injuring his back by trying to overdo, then admitted

it was the reason she decided to tag along. With Bobby insisting she was being far and

away too damned protective, and Lucy arguing if she didn't watch out for him, he'd end

up in the hospital again, and then where would she be, they continued walking, rounding

a curve and leaving the campground behind.

        "This is the place," Rex announced, pointing into some heavy brush on the side of

the hill, on his right. Shovel in his right hand, he used his left to indicate a vague area on

the hill. "She's right up there."

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         "Why the heck'd she go walkin' in all that crap when there's a road out here?"

Lucy wondered aloud. She began heading off the road.

         "Hey, babe, not so fast," Bobby said protectively, darting off the road to catch her

by the arm. "Don't be fallin' an' bustin' yer buns in here."

         Having signaled his crew, who were in the woods behind him, Rex then hefted the

shovel and took a major league swing at Bobby, the back of the blade colliding with the

right rear part of his head, making a loud clang. Bobby wailed, "Ouch!", pitched forward

to his knees, and knelt groggily as his hand found the wound and came away soaked with


         Lucy screeched, "Bobby, what happened?" as she fell to her knees beside him and

tried to see where he'd been injured.

         "It was this!" Rex bellowed as he swung the other way, this time from his left to

the right, the blade smacking directly into Lucy's face. " Eeeeeeeeeee!" she squealed as

blood shot in all directions from her smashed nose. "What the hell'd ya do that for?" she


         By this time, Clarence and Chico had arrived. As Bobby staggered to his feet,

Rex hit him with a roundhouse right, shattering teeth and breaking his jaw. Chico came

up behind Lucy, got her in a half-nelson from behind, hoisted the woman off the ground,

and dashed back in the direction he came from. Rex swung anew, from the left this time,

and hit Bobby in the mouth again, knocking him unconscious. Then he raised the shovel

high above his head and began pounding the man's head, chest and arms. After a dozen

crushing blows, winded now, he stopped the beating and leaned on the shovel to get a

few deep breaths.

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        Clarence, who'd been looking off to where Chico had disappeared with Lucy,

turned his eyes back on Rex. Pointing to Bobby, he said, "Seems he's dead now."

        Too winded to speak, Rex only nodded, still taking deep breaths.

        Now watching where Chico had gone, Clarence asked, "Why the hell'd he go

runnin' off like that?"

        Rex sneered at him. "Guess that slut yer keepin' fer yerself back at the house

went an' got his ass all hornier'n shit, since ya ain't let us fuck the bitch yet. My guess,

he's back there gettin' hisself some pussy."

        "From her?" Clarence cried out, astonished. "That broad's butt ugly!"

        "So fuckin' what?" Rex chided. "Ya stand 'em on their heads, they're all sisters,

ya know what I mean? Sometimes, when ya got a monster hard-on an' can't get ya no

good pussy, ya take what's available."

        Too stunned to say anything else, Clarence stood watching the trees, waiting for

Chico's return. A few minutes later, with Rex breathing normally again and after he'd

wiped off the handle of shovel, Chico emerged noisily from the trees, idly zipping up his

Levis. Clarence asked, "You jus' fuck that ol' broad?"

        "Had to," Chico said with a snarl. "Don't worry, she's dead now. I choked her ass

like she was a fuckin' chicken." Then he glared up angrily at Clarence. "You ain't shared

that bitch you got with us yet, an' I been havin' me a fuckin' boner'd kill a fuckin' horse."

He glared at Clarence. "Ain't too much longer, I hope, b'fore we get t' bang that slut our

own damned selfs, is it? Me? I'm gettin' kinda pissed off with all the waitin'."

        Disgusted, Clarence said nothing. He began heading back toward the crew cab.

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       Carrying the shovel with him, since he'd touched it with his bare hands, Rex also

headed that way, followed by Chico after he took a moment and spat on Bobby's corpse.

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                              CHAPTER TWENTY

                                 Oceanside, California

                        Thursday, November 19th, 2:54 p.m.

       The two guys I managed to catch up with after talking with Fancy on my cell

phone were, as I told her, people I'd never seen before. Evidently they were druggies,

since every question I asked was met with hostility and suspicion. Since they were both

white, I knew they weren't worried about ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

They were just a couple of paranoid, hostile a-holes. I walked away with a partial guilt

feeling, halfway hoping the serial killers would choose them next, if there absolutely had

to be any more killings. All I could think was, Nobody'll miss 'em.

       My bike was padlocked to a tree in the front of the shopping center, the same one

where I have my P.O. Box, so I could walk around and talk with the homeless guys I saw.

I'd already started at the beginning of my "route", all the way downtown on PCH at the

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City Library. There are tons of homeless, guys and girls, who hang out there. The cops

are less likely to nail 'em for loitering and, on rare occasions, someone comes by looking

for some temp labor, which is a blessing. Not often, but it happens. My "pre-route" stop

was Brother Benno's, a place where homeless guys can get a mailing address, (crucial if

you have benefit cheques of any kind, or any incoming government mail, such as Social

Services, coming in), or take a shower, eat lunch, and even get a sack lunch. Anyone

accustomed to eating decent food probably wouldn't want it, but when you're gonna go

hungry without it, you change your point of view in a hurry.

          They provide a couple sandwiches, sometimes lunch meat, often just PB&J, and

fruit like an apple or orange, maybe a banana. There's also a bottle of water to use if you

need to wash it down, along with crackers or something similar. Occasionally they'll add

a granola bar, or a facsimile thereof. As I said, when you'd otherwise starve, it's quite a


          Brother Benno's is a couple miles inland. The library's about four blocks away

from the Pacific, so I left there, pedaled to the library, talked to a few people I hadn't yet

jawed with, and began working my way back up Mission Avenue. There are a dozen or

more small shopping centers along Mission, each with its own small homeless groups.

          At the shopping center, I toured the Mickey D's, then began the wide sweep, from

the west end to the east, a quarter mile of businesses, often with one or two of us hanging

out somewhere in front of the store. In those instances, the guys have to keep an eye out

for cops, who patrol it regularly, and even then, move every hour or so. No sense getting

a complaint lodged against you simply because you're too tired to go sit elsewhere and do

nothing until dark, when you really become unwanted.

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       I'd already had a security guard tell me to move, ordering me to "go do whatever

the hell you bastards do someplace else". I used a short, three-word phrase of what I call

self-breeding instructions that begins with "go" and ends with "yourself". I don't think he

did it, but at least he got the point. Either way, I was forced to move.

       In order to acclimate myself with the crowd, I had to eat much they way they did,

and I really wasn't able to motivate myself to visit Brother Benno's. Even then, it must be

done before eleven, when they close for the day, after opening up at seven. That meant I

was enjoying the "dollar menu" at Mickey D's. I began wondering why I used to get all

excited when I was younger over a double cheeseburger, but that was now my daily fare

at midday.

       Finally to the far end of the shopping center, which is the Post Office I use, I got

my mail and pitched almost all of it. A handful of useless ads and circulars, along with a

plea from the National Republican Party that I take a survey and send it right back to 'em

… along with a healthy cheque or a credit card number. Instead, I scribbled an obscenity

on it and mailed it that way, hoping they'd one day decide to save the wasted postage and

take me off their list. One more case of no one reading what I send in the mail.

       Getting tired, I sat on the sidewalk with my back against the wall and fired up a

cigarette. Then, something nice happened, although it verified how bad I must look. An

older guy was coming to the post office but veered at the last moment and came to stop in

front of me. He held out his hand with something green in it. Surprised, all I could do

was stammer, "Thank you." He smiled and left, but I remembered to toss a sincere, "God

bless you!" after him. Can't be sure he heard it, but I knew He heard it, so it all came out

in the wash.

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       Feeling pretty good about it, warmed for some reason, I added a twenty and sat

waiting. Five minutes later a guy in his 60s I had no doubt was truly homeless walked

by, head hung low. I let him get about two steps past me and used the best line I've yet

come up with, saying, "Excuse me, sir, you dropped this."

       He looked back at me and his eyes got bigger. Hesitant, he waited, looking from

the bills I had folded between my fingers, to me, back to the bills. I had the five folded

over the twenty, so his surprise would be all the greater when he saw it all. Of course, the

man was about 99% sure he hadn't dropped it, most likely because he knew he didn't have

any money to be dropped. Yet, rather than quibble over fine points, he accepted the slim

possibility he was wrong and took it with a hearty, "Thank you!"

       I smiled and said nothing, so he walked off without looking at it. About fifty feet

away, he could no longer resist the urge. When he opened it, I almost cried. He turned,

smiled at me, then kept walking.

       But he was no longer shuffling, or looking at the ground.

       Pleased with the results, I sat and worked on my cigarette, enjoying it and using

the time to watch everyone. Made some mental notes. I was still doing that when a big

Chevy crew cab pickup pulled in almost directly in front of me to park. There are only

three spaces in front of the Post Office and the dry cleaning store run by some very hard

working Asians I believe are Korean. The next store is what I used to call a beer store. A

variation of any Seven-11 in the country, owned by someone with a Muslim background,

they have the standard shelves of overpriced items. A small box of cereal a third the size

of what you get at the grocery store for only 20¢ more than the grocer charges for the big

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one. Batteries, cigarettes you'd almost need to finance at those prices if you ever bought

a carton, Lotto, and the rest.

        Oh, and beer. Lots of beer.

        I've never been able to understand how they do so much business when there's a

Stater Brothers market 200 yards to the west with bigger quantities in most things, but not

the beer, although all the prices are far less. Plus, I suspect this little store buys the things

from Stater Brothers about three days before the "stale date", then smudges the date and

puts it on the shelf. Go figger.

        The truck stopped and I could see two guys talking in the front seat. One was a

good sized white guy, the driver, and he was rather mean looking. He impressed me as a

man who'd make you wish you hadn't pissed him off if you ever did so. The other was a

Mexicano, and not as big as the white guy, but even meaner looking. Handsome in many

ways, he still gave me the impression he was half snake, and his family tree would prove

it. I didn't see the third guy, who was in the back, until they all got out and started in to

the beer store. The last one out was a large, muscular, bald-headed black guy. A really

dark black guy. Just as mean looking as the white guy, and possibly big enough to whip

the two of 'em at once.

        They were arguing and I heard it as soon as the doors opened. The dripping I saw

under the engine told me they'd been running the AC while they drove. The Mexicano

was the most vocal, probably because he was angry.

        "Man, we even gotta buy our own fuckin' beer? The Man ain't payin' fer this shit?

You sure, Rex? That flat ass sucks!"

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        "Chico, I already told ya, he ain't payin' fer yer fuckin' beer, so if you don't wanna

pony up the money, get yer ass back in the truck an' shut the fuck up!"

        "Even today?" asked the one Rex had called Chico. "We gotta do two in one day

… even though yer sayin' the las' one don't count as no fuckin' two … an' he ain't buyin'

us no fuckin' beer? You bein' serious with me, dude?"

        "Chico, I already told ya, pay up or shut the fuck up. That's all I'm sayin' on it an',

if ya don't like it, ya can kiss my fuckin' ass."

        The black guy made his way around them, his brow wrinkled and creased in a

sour expression, and headed into the store, pulling out a big wad of money from his pants

pocket as he walked. The other two followed in his wake, with Chico finding new ways

to bitch about the same thing, and Rex repeating the area he suggested Chico kiss.

        I decided this was probably an idiotic coincidence, but thought back on all I hadn't

accomplished today and made my decision. Getting to my feet faster than usual on knees

that didn't enjoy rapid movements these days, I went to the back of the truck, which had a

large Tonneau cover over the bed. I pulled the tailgate handle and it opened right up for

me, so I took it as a sign and got in the back with the tailgate pulled almost closed. Using

second thoughts to help me reason it out, I concluded it would reopen from the inside if I

did shut it again, so I pulled until it clicked.

        Now I'd get a ride to who knows where and, in all probability end up someplace I

didn't want to be, but there was a double escape provided for in that event. I still had my

cell phone, meaning I could call Fancy and have her come get me, once I figured out

where I was. That was option A. Then, in a surprise development, probably because the

Oceanside cop shop is right across the street, I had Wendell's radio. He'd been back ten

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minutes after our conversation and gave me one no larger than a cigarette pack, so I stuck

it in my pocket. Who knows? Maybe I'd use it if push came to shove.


       Unable to get in the right turn lane fast enough because of the traffic, Fancy had

to turn right on Mission and go 100 feet to enter the shopping center by the Starbucks on

the corner. She started her series of right turns, came to a stop sign, and halted. With no

cars coming, she went left, moving 75 yards north and around a small curve following a

boulevard that marked off a separate parking lot for a group of a dozen businesses on the

northeast corner of the shopping center. After waiting at the next stop sign for a car to go

by, she turned right, only another 75 yards from the Post Office.

       As she got going again, something she saw surprised her so much, she hit her

brakes, causing whomever was driving behind her to offer prove his horn still worked as

good as the day the car was built. She put her left arm out the window of her Mustang

convertible, top up today, and waved, hoping they'd take it as an apology. Man, that was

Ben! What the heck's he doin' gettin' in the back o' that truck?

       She moved ahead, coming to a crawl as she went past the truck, and saw the

tailgate move, then heard a clicking sound as it closed. He did it, Fancy told herself in

confusion. Why the heck's Ben lockin' hisself in some truck like that? I wonder if he

thinks he's gonna catch them guys that way?

       One more blast from the horn behind her convinced Fancy there was at least one

person who'd scratch her name off the Christmas card list, so she accelerated and went

left at the post office, then exited the parking lot twenty yards farther when she was past

the building. She turned right and came back, parking on the street by the curb so she'd

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be able to see when someone got in the truck.

          Wherever Ben's goin', I'm goin, too, but I can't call him an' say I saw him or he'll

think I'm checkin' up on 'im an' get mad, I bet.

          Guess that means I should just follow an' not say nothin' 'til I see what's goin' on.


          Sonya Charles was pissed. Really pissed. Assholes! she told herself. They not

only kidnap me … I'm sure as hell gonna enjoy watchin' their asses be hauled off to serve

a mandatory life sentence for that part, damn it! … but they left me tied up like a damned

dog! Oh, sure, I talked Clarence out of letting those morons tie my feet together, telling

him it'd be too uncomfortable, so then those dumb bastards put a freaking noose around

my damned neck! Sons-of-bitches! I, Sonya, will personally make every one of those

dirty bastards regret the day the fucked around with Sonya Charles! Assholes!

          She'd started the minute she heard their vehicle, whatever the hell it might be,

start in what she assumed was a garage. Looking around the room, desperately trying to

find something, anything, to cut the ropes binding her, her eyes scanned every square

inch of it seeking an answer. Then she remembered. I convinced Clarence to bring me a

glass of water and it was real glassy glass! Now, where the hell did he out the damned

thing? Twisting her neck so hard she worried she might've strained a muscle, she finally

saw it.

          Damn! He left it on this dresser at the head of this stupid bed, right next to the

damned bed, and my freaking hands are tied! Damn it! Okay, Sonya, think, girl. You

have to think. How in the world can you get that stupid glass … the one I notice is still

about a third full of water, which I assume is why he left it here … down here on the bed

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so I can break it? Oh, great! Another cozy thought. How the hell am I gonna break the

damned thing and still be able to get at it?

       With ideas, good and bad, but almost all seen to be bad as quickly as they popped

up, running through her head, Sonya had to screech her mind to a halt and back up a bit.

So, what was that? She moved slowly through the memory frames until she recognized

the goofy idea she'd considered and discarded in a couple seconds. Can I? she wondered.

Can I actually get my feet up there and grip it between them, then lower it back to the

bed? With all that water in it?

       Just as quickly, Sonya mentally slapped herself. What, girl? You're afraid they

might come back and see you tried to escape? Meaning what? They might kill you?

Hey, woman, get a damned grip, huh? They're gonna kill your dumb ass anyway! So, if

they see it and you're gone, who gives the north end of a southbound rat? Worse, if you

don't get your round little ass outa this hellhole, you're dog meat whether they see it, or

not. I say go for it, and I get to make all the damned decisions.

       She smirked at the blustery way she'd browbeaten her subconscious into letting

her win, dismissed it and concentrated on what she had to do. Thank God Flav isn't one

of those heathens who insists a woman always wears pantyhose. If I had nylons on, I'm

not sure I could do this thing. Okay, this stupid rope around my neck isn't all that tight,

so I can bend myself … hmmm, how far? How'm I gonna do this?

       After looking at it a while, she raised her feet straight up and started moving her

legs from that position to the bed, then back up. Gotta loosen up a little first. When she

felt some relief of tension in her legs, Sonya moved her feet closer and closer over to the

dresser, then burst into laughter as an odd thought crossed her mind. Man, if Flav ever

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saw me like this with my legs stretched so far back and my pussy aimed at the ceiling, I'd

never get that man calmed down without giving him a shot at it that way! Lordy!

       She smiled again at the next idea. Wonder if it'd hurt, or would it feel good that

way? Aw, to hell with it. I'll let him try it out if I can get my dumb ass self outa this

insane mess. More limber now, she tried bringing her feet all the way up, then over her

head, but off to her left where the dresser was located. About halfway to the dresser her

left thigh blocked her view, leaving her to finish from memory. With her butt aimed at

the ceiling, she brought her feet down and felt something, but didn't figure it out until her

big toe nudged it and made a hard noise.

       At the click she heard, Sonya realized what she'd done wrong even before her ears

were assaulted by the thump-thump-thump of loud rap music. Damn it, that's just nigger

noise, not music! Shit! Looking back to where she'd accidentally turned on Clarence's

boom box, she realized just as quickly she wouldn't be able to turn it off unless she got

her hands free. Positioning herself to bring her feet down about four inches closer to the

bed, she tried again. Felt her feet touch the glass, then a burning pain in her back made

her swing her legs back down.

       Son-of-a-bitch! I almost had it! Damn it all!

       Sonya laid quietly for about full two minutes, took a deep breath, and committed

herself to another stab at it. So what if it hurts, girl? You don't think it'll hurt when those

bastards kill you? Her feet went up, then back, which is when the hot, searing pain made

another visit. Ignoring it, fully committed to what had to be done, she got her feet again

to the glass and gripped it between them. Oh, damn! she told herself. That really hurts!

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       Shrugging it off, knowing this was too vital to quit now, she began bringing the

glass up. As her legs began to straighten out, the pain died down a little, but the glass

was tipped farther and farther forward with each inch she moved it. Trying as hard as she

could to manipulate her ankles, she had to concede they didn't bend as well as her wrists.

       The water began spilling out, making a track across the bed, then into her face,

making her blink. Worse, some ran into her upturned nose as she tried to follow it with

her eyes, and it made her gag. As soon as she retched, the glass fell straight down and hit

her right between the eyes, stunning the woman. From there it hit her right shoulder and

Sonya lost track of it. However, she couldn't stop gagging.

       Desperate for relief, Sonya rolled onto her left side and spat, clearing her sinuses

twice more, spitting each time. The relief she felt when the drowning sensation quit was

incredible, so she rolled onto her back again, grateful she'd survived without drowning

herself. As she flattened out on the bed, she broke the glass with her body weight and felt

a shard dig into the muscle along her spine. Son-of-a-bitch! That fucking hurts!

       Rolling onto her left side again, she sensed that piece was still jammed into her

and would present a small difficulty. Good one, Sonya, you dipshit! Maybe you'll fool

'em by bleeding to death before they get back so they can't kill you because you did it to

yourself! Girl, you can be so damned dumb!

       Realizing the pain wasn't going to get any better soon, and her very life hung in

the balance, she ignored that, too. The noose wasn't too tight for her to move up on the

bed, it was only toward the foot where it would tighten if she slid down. Shit! So the

damned glass broke too far up for my fingers to reach it, and this big piece in my back

really hurts like a bitch! Man, why me?

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       When the pain nearly overwhelmed her, Sonya reactively used her bound hands to

pull down on her blouse, hoping to do something to alleviate the agony. One sharp tug

and she accomplished two things at once. The shard was jerked out of her back, and she

felt it land on her left palm. Horrified she'd lose it, she clamped her hand shut and held

on for all she was worth. In a couple minutes the pain in her back began to ebb and she

still had the shard of class in her palm.

       Resolutely, she maneuvered it around so she could apply the tiniest pressure on

the ropes to the shard. Then she began moving her hands back and forth, back and forth,

over and over and over and over again. Eventually, desperate to succeed but fearful the

unbelievable burning in her arms would make her drop the piece, she started trying to tell

herself, Just once more, Sonya. C'mon, girl, just once more. That's the girl! C'mon, now

babe, just one more and … son-of-a-bitch! It broke! I'm free!

       Mentally scrambling now, ignoring the pain in her back muscles, the pain from

where the glass cut her, the pain in her arms from the repetitive motions, as well as all the

blood she felt on her hands, she got the right one free. Both burning arms were hauled

from behind her and she quickly fumbled with the noose on her neck. Seconds later, it

was history, too. She decided to ignore the stupid boom box. Let 'em get back here and

wonder why the hell it's playing. I won't be here to listen to 'em bitch!

       Yanking the door open, she sprinted out, turned left in the hallway, and ran smack

into Clarence's broad chest.

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                           CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 3:19 p.m.

       When Sonya collided with Clarence's chest, a wall of solid muscle, she hit nose

first. It stung like hell and brought an explosion of colors, yellow, orange and red, that all

spun in a large circle before her eyes, which reactively closed. She instinctively held her

nose in her palm, even realizing the tears it brought to her eyes would make her look a lot

more like a sissy girl than a tough cop they should fear. She backed up slowly, right hand

on her nose, hoping she wasn't bleeding there, too.

       "You goin' somewheres?" Clarence asked, a hint of anger in his tone.

       With her vision beginning to clear, left with ad libbing as her only out, Sonya told

him, "Thought I'd go outside for a cigarette, since you guys don't smoke."

       "You don't smoke, neither," Clarence countered.

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        "Yeah, well, I was getting bored," she explained, "so I figured I might as well

start smoking." She spun on the ball of her Nike and raced down the hall the other way.

About two feet. Repeating the experience she had with Clarence, Sonya slammed into

Rex, who wasn't as tall as Clarence, so her boobs rammed into the inverted vee of his rib


        Rex caught her throat in the viselike grip of his left hand, slammed her against the

wall on his right, then swatted her four times on the cheeks with his right hand, swinging

it back and forth. The squeeze on her throat was unrelenting, causing a momentary panic,

so she reacted by grabbing his wrist, not attacking as she'd been trained to do. By the time

her thought train was switching back to what she'd been taught to do, resist and attack,

her mind was beginning to dim from the lack of oxygen. Each blow to her face was very

painful, but was also easily ignored as it came in a distant second to the hurt she now felt

in her throat.

        The scene before her eyes, consisting mainly of the enraged Rex beating her,

began fading to black, but she felt a jarring jolt and filled her lungs at the same instant.

Her field of vision now contained a large, dark object she soon recognized as Clarence's

muscular right forearm. His huge hand was gripping Rex's left wrist, having yanked it

away from her windpipe. Her eyes flitted to her right and saw just as much anger on the

big black man's face as she'd seen on Rex's.

        "Don't you be hittin' her," Clarence growled, as meek as a hungry lion. Any air of

subservience she might've sensed before regarding Rex was now history. Clarence wasn't

asking, he was telling, and the tone indicated he didn't intend to say it twice. It advised

Rex to either listen to every word, and act on it accordingly, or be prepared to suffer.

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        "Bullshit!" Rex bellowed in reply. "This fuckin' nigger bitch was escapin', man!

Shit, she was almost out the fuckin' door when we got here!"

        "Almos' ain't shit," Clarence explained with no more timidity. "She didn't get her

ass away, an' she ain't goin' nowhere's now 'cept back t' my room." His left hand came to

the back of Sonya's neck and took a machine-like grip, but she chose not to resist, telling

herself, Better the devil I know than these other assholes.

        "Like hell she is!" Rex countered. "Me an' Chico ain't fucked 'er yet, but it won't

be much longer an' we will." He collected a fistful of her long curly hair and yanked her

in his direction. "An' I'm fuckin' the bitch first!"

        "No, ya ain't," Clarence ordered, treating Rex no better than as a peer, no longer

like a superior. "I ain't even done fuckin' 'er myself, an' I d'cided I'm gonna keep 'er as

my woman, so ain't neither o' ya gonna be gettin' no pussy off'n my woman."

        "You can't have no cop be yer woman, ya dumb fuck! Man, soon's we're all done

dickin' the bitch, we gotta kill 'er black ass an ya know it!"

        "This here's my woman now," Clarence told him, his brow furrowing and his eyes

squinted almost shut. "Ain't neither one o' ya gonna hit my woman, an' for damn sure

ain't neither one o' ya gonna fuck 'er. This here's my woman, an' that's that."

        As the two men argued in front of her, Rex twisting her hair in his hand, and that

huge paw of Clarence's gripping the back of her neck, Sonya's peripheral vision caught

Chico sneaking up to punch her only hero from behind. With Clarence's grip loosening

as he paid more attention to arguing with Rex, and Rex's hand pressure lessening as he

made ready to battle the bigger Clarence, Sonya saw her chance and took it.

        Using the bottom of her left fist, she swung sideways with all her might, landing

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the blow in Rex's stomach when he wasn't expecting it. At the same time, she whirled to

her right, slipping free from Clarence, who gawked at her in surprise. Lunging past him,

Sonya used her momentum to increase the force of her punch. Right hand held flat, palm

down, all four fingers folded at the second knuckle, she rammed her hand directly into

Chico's throat, hitting the bottom of his Adam's apple.

       Chico immediately halted the blow he'd already begun hurling at Clarence's right

kidney, grasped his throat with both hands, and fell to his knees, choking, sputtering and

gagging wildly.


       Fancy was nervous enough to begin with, having no experience at tailing anyone,

when she started following the crew cab. She began to regret her Mustang was painted

what Ben said was "cop caller red", so she stayed as far back as she dared, hoping they

wouldn't notice her. When the pickup left the main road and started driving on the open

roads outside of town with little traffic, she was even more fearful. She dropped back to

a quarter mile behind and prayed, being thankful they weren't driving too fast.

       I hate drivin' fast 'cause it ain't safe, darn it. But, even if them guys start goin' like

crazy, I'm gonna keep up. Dang it, they got my Ben in their stupid truck! Ain't no way

them guys is losin' me now!

       Her heart leapt into her throat when she lost sight of the truck, so she sped up and

saw the vehicle climbing a driveway on the side of a hill as she rounded a curve. Feeling

immense relief, she went another couple hundred yards, passing two curves, one left and

one right, then parked. Since it was still relatively warm in November, she quickly felt a

pang of regret she wore shorts and a sleeveless top today. The tan shorts, coming to two

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inches above her knees, would provide almost zero protection from the underbrush she

was walking into. The sleeveless brown top, although Ben liked it and said, "It gives me

a great view of your sexy boobies", also promised it would do nothing to protect her bare

arms in the thick bushes and brambles she'd be crossing. She moved by dead reckoning,

unable to see the house they stopped at for all the trees and thick bushes in her way as she

navigated across what seemed like three or four acres. Finally, scratched and bleeding in

a few places, but not as bad as she'd feared, Fancy caught sight of the residence.

       At first, she couldn't see anyone. Then, her side vision catching a movement, she

noticed Ben was out of the truck, running from tree to tree with an eye on the house, and

he had a gun in his hand. ¡Oh, Santo Padre, por favor, ayúdame! she prayed, asking God

to help her. Ben's got his gun, meanin' he thinks he might have to shoot somebody, an' it

means they might shoot him, too!

       Scared, becoming desperate, she moved quickly herself, darting from one tree to

another. Hoping to attract his attention, Fancy picked up a stick, perhaps three feet of a

small branch not more than an inch in diameter, and used it to smack an occasional tree

as she passed it. Each time she hit one she'd glance again at Ben, mentally begging him

to hear and recognize her.

       Darn it, I can't yell to 'im, or them guys'll hear me an' Ben'll get caught! C'mon,

hombre, ya gotta hear all this dang noise I'm makin'! Look at me, doggone it!

       Between whacks on the trees, and even when she was running through the brush,

causing a dozen more small cuts on her legs, with half as many on her shoulders and her

arms, Fancy was able to hear loud voices coming from the house. A screen door near the

back of the building, on a part of the house extending beyond the big two car garage, let

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her hear the voices of angry men. She got to about forty yards from the door and what

they said became much clearer.

        I don't know exactly who it is they're talkin' about fuckin', but I got me a hunch

it's Sonya, that lady cop who shot me on accident! Oh, man, now Ben's all the darn way

up t' that stupid house an' sneakin' over by the window. What the heck'm I gonna do t'

help him?

        She ground her teeth. Them guys think they can shoot my Ben an' get away with

it, they best be doin' some rethinkin' pretty darn quick, is all I got t' say! I ain't lettin'

nobody shoot my man, boy! Ain't no way I'm lettin' that happen!


        As we pulled into the driveway and I sensed they were slowing down, I decided

the trip was probably almost over, but I didn't dare pop open the tailgate right away. We

came to a dead stop and I heard three doors open. I could also hear some of that idiotic

rap music which gives me a partial insight why my old man used to get so pissed off if I

played what he called "that damned yeah, yeah, yeah bullshit!" from the Beatles back

when I was a kid. I glanced up, giving him the benefit of the doubt, since the dead leave

no forwarding address. I knew my Mom was up there so, even if he wasn't, I knew she'd

get a message to him. Mom wasn't all that easy to distract when she made up her mind to

do something.

        Yeah, Dad, I got it, I got it. This crap pisses me off, too. Points for your side.

        When they got out I heard them all start arguing about whether or not someone

named Clarence "left that fuckin' nigger noise blastin' away". I assumed Clarence was

the black guy I saw who was approximately the size of Del Mar, maybe El Cajon. He

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made the distinct instruction they both attempt self-impregnation, although I doubted

they'd take him up on it. However, when the one I assumed to be Chico started saying he

couldn't wait to "fuck that foxy nigger bitch", I was relatively sure I'd made a very wise

choice by stowing away back here. I had a very good idea who they were talking about,

and almost wished they'd each have a chance to say it out loud in front of Hawthorne. I

had a deep faith he'd correct their opinions about what Sonya is, and change the direction

of their thoughts on what they might do to, for, with, because of, and about her.

       None of it, I was absolutely certain, would involve sex. Beyond his figurative

directive to kiss both his and her asses, Hawthorne would have other ideas in mind for

each of them, I knew.

       I undid the tailgate, slithered out, and left it open rather than risk being heard if I

closed it again. Fishing out my .38 with the safety bullets, wishing I wasn't so damned

nice and considerate of others and had used regular .38 shells, I headed across the lawn in

a crouch. Periodically hearing the sound of wood smacking against wood, I could only

hope it was a damned clumsy deer. I didn't dare look away from the house. If one of the

bad guys saw me, I'd need to be ready to shoot, or might die in the lack of a response.

       Seconds later, I reached the window I was targeting, way around back behind the

garage. It was close to an aluminum screen door that let me hear very clearly there was

some disagreement over exactly who, and when, someone would enjoy Sonya's sexual

favors. The first window I came to let me see nothing but an empty bedroom with the

door to the hall closed. The second window was yet another bedroom, but the door was

open. I could see into the hallway and I really didn't like what I saw.

       The big black guy had his hand on someone standing against the wall next to the

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door. I assumed that person was Sonya. From what I saw in front of him, the one named

Rex was also apparently hanging on to her, and they were loudly arguing about who was

gonna get in her pants first. It seemed no one was even interested in Sonya's opinion, so I

knew it would be pissing her off, as well as scaring the crap out of her.

       That did it, as far as I was concerned. It told me the only choice now was to bring

in the cavalry. Where I'd bring 'em all to was a whole 'nother sort of question, but maybe

they'd be able to help me figure it out. I moved about ten feet farther from the window,

still sticking close to the back of the house, and got out my cell phone.


       After two rings I heard, "Benning".

       "Dar, it's Ben. Ben … Dover," I told him, very carefully leaving a clear pause in

between both my names. I was talking in barely above a whisper.

       "What?" he asked. "Hello? Anybody there?"

       "Yes, damn it!" I hissed. "It's me, Ben. I can't talk very loud right now or I'll get

my ass nailed."

       "Ben? Is that you?"

       "Yes, damn it! I'm calling—"

       "Speak up, man. I can barely hear you."

       "I can't, you dumb ass! I found the bastards!"

       "Why can't you … did you just say you found Sonya?"

       "I think so," I said a teeny bit louder, having pulled my earphone out of my ear

and holding it in front of my mouth when I spoke, cupping it in my hand, which also was

partially covering my mouth.

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        "I'm at a house maybe fifteen or twenty minutes outside of Oceanside."

        "Well, Jesus! Ben, give me the damned address!"

        "I don't know the fucking address, you idiot! I rode here in the back of their big

ass pickup. We're out on the country, somewhere, but I don't know where."

        "Did you just say you're out in the country and you don't know the address?"

        "Yes, I did."

        "Then how the hell are we going to find Sonya … oh, and you?"

        I sighed. "You're in a police station, Dar. If you look around, real hard, you may

just find an intelligent cop. Perhaps, if you do it that way, he or she will be able to help

you figure it out."

        "Ben, this is definitely no time for you to be a smart ass!" he shot back at me. "If

we don't get to her in a hurry, Sonya might die!"

        "Gee, ya think?" I asked sarcastically. I could hear the voices inside getting a lot

rowdier. It allowed me to talk a little louder, for which I was grateful. "Look, Dar, the

situation sounds like it's about to go hot. You're a cop, make Verizon track the GPS in

my cell phone and that'll tell you where to go."

        "No can do, Ben," he said sadly. "That'll take a court order, plus a shitload of

paperwork. Can't be done in a day, almost never. It's an involved process."

        "I see. Okay, Dar, these are your alternatives. You can do it the legal way, the

normal and customary way, and that'll get you here in plenty of time to find the dead

body of Sonya Charles, a damned good cop. Or, if that doesn't suit your tastes, you can

cut through all that fucking red tape and get here while she's still alive! Your fucking

choice, Dar, but I can't stay here jabbering with you. Like I said, it sounds as if things are

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going condition red in the house. I'll put the phone down here on the ground and you can

do whatever you think is right, depending on whether or not you want to see this woman

alive and well again, or serve as one of her pallbearers. Like I said, Dar, it seems to me

the choice is up to you guys."

       "Damn it, Ben, we can't just do any old fucking thing we want. And you oughta

know that by now. We have a lot of laws and rules, not to mention the attitude of all the

Brass, to deal with. We can't just—"

       "Here's an idea," I suggested. "Tell Hawthorne what I said and see if he lets all

those fucking rules get in his way. Oh, and remember, if you let Sonya die, you're gonna

have to face Hawthorne when he'll no longer have any really good reason to go on living.

Who knows, he might want to take a few souls with him on his way out, yours being one

of 'em."

       "Ben, damn it—"

       "It's going hot inside, Dar. Gotta go. Ciao, baby!"

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                           CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 3:21 p.m.

       Det. Dar Benning hung up the phone after talking with Ben Dover, looked at the

door to the squad room, and frowned. Wish to hell Wendell'd been here to take that call.

He's probably gonna bite my ass off 'cause he'll think of something I did wrong. No idea

what, but he'll think of something, I know he will.

       With a sigh, he came to his feet, knowing his partner had gone down the hall to

the restroom. Might as well get it over with, huh? He started walking to the door leading

to the hallway when Hawthorne reentered the room. "Hey, Wendell, good news, man!

Uh, at least, it might be, I mean."

       Lengthening his stride, Hawthorne hurried to reach him, an anguished look on his

face now tinged with a trace of hope. "What, Dar? What've ya got?"

       "Well, Ben Dover—"
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        "What the hell for? This ain't some kind o' fuckin' joke, is it, Dar?"

        "Huh? Joke? What're you talking about, Wendell?"

        "Whaddaya mean, what'm I talkin' about? Damn it, Dar, ya just told me t' bend

over, an' I asked ya if it was some kind o' bullshit joke."

        "Oh. That. No, I was telling you that Dover guy, Ben Dover—"

        "Oh. Him. Yeah. So, what's he got? What about 'im?"

        "I'm trying to tell you, man. He called."

        "Yeah? He see somethin'?"

        Benning took a deep breath. "He said he knows where she is."

        Suddenly, Hawthorne was a six-year-old at Christmas. "Fan-fuckin'-tastic! So,

let's haul ass!" he exclaimed, grabbing the windbreaker from the back of his swivel chair.

"Where the hell is she?" Three strides away as he asked the question, Hawthorne spun

back halfway. "C'mon, Dar! Ya can tell me in the fuckin' car! Just get the address and

we're outa here!" Instinctively, his hand went his belt to check the weapon that was there

at all times. He was ready for action.

        "Uh, I don't know the address, Wendell. He couldn't give it to me."

        Hawthorne walked back a bit slower, an aura of menace clouding him. "This sure

as shit ain't funny, Dar. What the fuck are you talkin' about?" He scowled. "Did Dover

really call, or is this part o' some bullshit act ya thought up?"

        "No. He called. Really, Wendell. I swear it. He said—"

        "He told ya he knows where Sonya is and ya didn't get the fuckin' address?"

        "Damn it, Wendell! He doesn't know it!"

        Hawthorne now seemed deflated. He let out a long, deep breath he probably had

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no idea he was holding, hung the jacket back on his chair, sat in it and pointed to the twin

at the adjacent desk. "Siddown an' tell me what the hell's goin' on, Dar, or I'm gonna do a

murder-suicide, but I'll keep it just between us." His finger jabbed violently again at the

other chair.

       Benning sat, nervously, took a deep breath, and got started. "Dover called and

said he knows where she is …" Benning held up his right hand, palm facing Hawthorne,

and continued, "… because he's there, too, but he doesn't know the address." Again he

held up his hand. "Damn it, Wendell, I'm getting to it as fast as I can! Cut me a little bit

of fucking slack here, okay? He was on his cell and said … I have no damned idea how,

but that's what he said … he was at the place they're holding her. It's fifteen or twenty

minutes from Oceanside, but he doesn't know how he got there."

       Now Benning shrugged. "The rest, I can't explain. However, he did tell me it's

'getting hot' there, which I assume means things are lookin' kinda dire. He told me he'd

leave his cell phone on so we can track it by the GPS, and I'm still connected up to his

phone," he said, pointing to where his lay opened on the desk, "but I told him—"

       "Then why the hell aren't you doing it?" Hawthorne slammed his big fist on the

desk. "Why didn't ya get that shit started the second ya finished the damned call?"

       "Because, as I told him, there are rules, and procedures, and—"

       "Oh, yeah? Dar, that's the woman I love those cocksuckers have as a prisoner!

Far as I'm concerned, fuck the rules, fuck the procedures, and, if ya ain't gonna help me

with this, fuck you, too! What damned company's he got his service with?" He glared at

the younger man, who actually thought for a moment he saw wisps of steam emanating

from Hawthorne's ears.

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       "Uh, he said Verizon, but—"

       "Write down his damned number off my cell phone while I get Verizon on the

fuckin' line!" he snapped, now in a controlling mood, handing his phone to Benning.

       Too afraid to do anything else that might piss off his partner, Benning looked up

the number, printed it very clearly, and gently handed it to Hawthorne, who was dialing

on his desk phone. Moments later Hawthorne said in a cool, collected voice, "Detective

Wendell Hawthorne, Oceanside Police Department. Get me a supervisor. Immediately."

       About two seconds later he said, still calmly, "What part of 'immediately' didn't

you understand? Get me a supervisor. Do it now."

       This wait was thirty seconds before Hawthorne spoke. "Detective Hawthorne of

the Oceanside PD. Write down my badge number." A pause. "I said, write down my

badge number." He then asked, "Your name? Spell it. Very well, Mr. Robert Appleby, I

now know who I'm talking to." A few seconds later, he gave the number and added, "We

have a police emergency at the moment. You will not argue with me, but will do as I tell

you. Understood?"

       Another pause. "Write down this number." He clearly enunciated Ben Dover's

cell phone number. "You will now, this very minute, while I'm on the line with you, get

me a GPS location for that cell phone." A slightly longer pause. "You may not have

noticed it, but I said 'you will', not 'will you'." He inhaled deeply, held it a moment, then

released it slowly. "Listen very carefully to every word I say." Another brief pause, one

he followed with, "Listen very … fucking … carefully … to every fucking word I say."

       Hawthorne came to his feet, his subconscious clearly utilizing every tool at hand

to maintain the mandatory control. "What you do in the next few minutes will determine

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whether one of our police officers lives or dies. You fucking got that?" After an interval,

"I need to know where that phone is … exactly where it is … and I need to know in the

next very few fucking minutes. If I don't get that number, that officer will die a very ugly

death. Because of that, you'll be incredibly lucky if all that happens to you is being put in

prison for obstruction of justice."

       Hawthorne held the phone away from his head for a moment and sneered at it. "I

said you'd be lucky because, if that officer dies, I will make it my personal responsibility,

Robert Appleby, to see to it yours is the very next death in this fucking city. If you allow

that officer to die, you'll also be sealing your own death warrant." One more pause was

followed by, "Because I love that woman with all my heart and all my soul. If she dies, I

haven't any reason to go on living. However, if you're the ultimate cause of her death, I

swear, man, I'll take every last bit of my revenge out on you." As he finished the last few

words of the sentence, Hawthorne slowly crumpled to his seat, then broke down, sobbing

silent tears, his shoulders shaking and his mouth moving, with no words coming out.

       Benning came to his feet, his own phone receiver at his ear, head bent to the side

to hold it in place. He punched the button for that line while leaning forward to take the

phone from Hawthorne's shoulder. "This is Detective Benning, his partner," he said as he

hung up the other line. "Everything Detective Hawthorne just said is true, and I'll add

any needed emphasis to what you may feel were threats on his part. Mr. Appleby, those

were not threats, they were promises. If that officer dies, and you could've prevented her

death, I will personally see those promises are kept. We honestly don't care if this means

any court will exclude anything, Mr. Appleby. We are not interested at the moment in

any evidence or anything that will stand up in court. The only thing we're interested in at

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the moment is saving the life of a damned good cop. Now, you do whatever you have to

do, but you get me a location on that phone, and you'd better do it right fucking now!"

       When Hawthorne looked up at him, no longer crumbling, but with a neon sign of

hope comprising his face, Benning patted him on the shoulder and smiled. "He'll have it

for us soon, Wendell."


       With Chico now bent forward, left hand on the floor to prop himself up, right at

his throat as he wheezed for breath, Rex returned to his original intent and purpose. He

went past Clarence, grabbed Sonya by all that long, curly hair, and yanked her back to

him. Using his right hand, still holding her hair with it, he slammed her against the wall

and pressed himself against her, his left leg slightly crossing his right. It prevented her

from kneeing him in the testicles, something she attempted immediately.

       His left hand came up and resumed the vicious lock on her throat as his face, with

a cloud of beer breath, was an inch from her own. "You an' me's gonna start fuckin' right

now, bitch, an' ain't nobody gonna stop me this time!" He pressed his face to hers and

filled her mouth with his tongue. His left hand fell from her throat to clamp tightly on

her right breast, squeezing it like an impassioned animal. For added emphasis, still with

his left leg partly in the way, he rammed his pelvis against hers.

       Struggling to get maneuvering space, Sonya was getting angrier by the moment.

I'm gonna find a way to de-nut this bastard if it's the last damned thing I ever do in this

life! Revulsed at the tongue in her mouth, she took immediate steps to remove it with a

strong bite, so strong she even tasted blood for a couple seconds.

       The scream was only beginning to emerge from Rex's mouth, blood dripping on

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his lower lip as he pulled his face away from her, when a semi truck the color of freshly

ground Brazilian coffee raced past Sonya's gaping eyes. Quickly realizing the assumed

truck was Clarence's right fist and forearm, she watched that huge balled hand collide

with the left side of Rex's head. Like a hot billiard shot with plenty of follow-through,

Clarence's hand kept moving when the blow landed, and so did Rex.

        He seemed to run sideways to his right, tripping over his own feet while trying to

maintain his balance, then tumbling to the floor and sliding on the carpet, incurring a rug

burn on his bare right arm. When he stopped sliding, Rex made a feeble attempt to sit up,

seeming all the more comical to Sonya when he fell the first two times he tried.

        "I said, ain't nobody fuckin' my woman, an' I meant it!" Clarence bellowed. "Ya

try it again, I'm gonna kill yer ass!"

        Finally able to sit up, a groggy Rex scooted even farther to his right until he made

it to the couch, where he lifted a cushion and tossed it aside. His right hand came away

from the couch holding the 10mm Glock liberated earlier from Sonya. "An' we'll just see

who gets killed an' who fuckin' don't!" he hollered as he released the safety and jacked a

round into the chamber. "We'll just fuckin' see, won't we?"

        Sonya saw the weapon swinging their way and thought, Aw, shit! The bastard's

going to kill us both anyway!

        As fast as she took it in and realized she was about to die, Sonya was once again

yanked away violently by Clarence. Holding her right hand in his, the big man raced

down the hallway toward the screen door. "C'mon, babe, we gotta haul us some serious

fuckin' ass, an' I ain't a shittin' ya one damned bit!"

        His big left hand hit the door and smashed it open, so hard the top hinge broke

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free and left the door sagging. As his hand hit the aluminum so violently, Sonya's gun

began to speak. It said "Boom, boom!" very loudly.


       The moment Benning was given the location of Ben's phone, hanging up in the

middle of Robert Appleby's admonition this wouldn't do them any good in a court of law,

and insisting the cell carrier wasn't responsible for pretty much any wrongdoing to take

place since the Civil War, he called SWAT. Assured they'd be rolling ASAP, he was

about to leave with Hawthorne in tow when he remembered his cell phone. He turned to

his desk to get it and heard the booming sounds of Sonya's weapon as it roared loudly and

did the work it was designed to do. Horrified at what he heard, he jammed the phone to

his ear. "What the hell was that? Dover? Damn it, Dover, what was all that? Hello?

Hello? Dover, you there?"

       He looked at Hawthorne, who also heard the shots. "Wendell, I have no idea in

the world what the hell that means."

       "It means some bastard's shootin' at Sonya!" Hawthorne yelled as he ran toward

the door.

       Hoping he could somehow keep up with a man he'd never once seen move that

fast, Benning raced after his partner. Hawthorne took the stairs, refusing to wait for the

elevator, so Benning wasn't able to catch him until Hawthorne had the car running and

was slamming it in gear. He was still closing his door when they left the garage.


       From what I could still see through the window, and everything I heard, I made

the assumption the situation was all shot to hell and heading downhill as fast as one of

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those Olympic bobsleds. Then, when I saw the monster I assumed was Clarence do his

relocation job on the one called Rex, it made sense someone would be leaving soon. I

hoped it would be Sonya, but decided I'd better be in place no matter who it was so I'd be

able to help. Somehow.

       I'd just made it to the door and was scrunched down next to it when I heard the

sounds of an escaped water buffalo charging down the hallway. Then the buffalo, our

man Clarence, made his departure announcement and a plan began coming together in

my head. Unwilling to risk my leg to further injury, having suffered multiple fractures in

my teens, I opted to use my hand, instead.

       When that door crashed open, I was in place, the .38 in my left hand, my right one

ready and able. A leg clad in blue denim came flying out the now open doorway, but I

grabbed it and held on tight. With his lengthy stride surprisingly interrupted, bringing a

halt to forward movement, Clarence's burly body never slowed a bit. He tumbled ahead

and landed face first on the dirt and grass outside the door, followed by the beautiful and

very pissed off Sonya Charles.

       Glancing my way as she sped by, Sonya launched herself into a dive and landed

on Clarence's massive shoulders. She even attempted to retrieve the handcuffs she wore

on the back of her belt most days, only to discover they weren't there anymore. Without

letting that hinder her, she wrestled her belt off and made an attempt to bind the big hands

she struggled to keep pulled behind Clarence.

       I didn't give her much hope of succeeding, but triage means determining the order

of priority. In my book, the a-hole shooting from inside the house took precedence. I put

the .38 in my right hand and brought it up. A short-barreled gun like my .38, only two

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inches, isn't accurate beyond 20-25 feet at the most. Much better distances are those a

man can safely convince a cop, and later a judge, are short ones where he can say he felt

his life was in danger. My .38 was best used within 15 feet, or so. Much beyond that it's

only good for effect, which is the way I used it.

       Keeping in mind it only holds five rounds, and not wanting to stand there with

only a mean look on my face for protection, I sighted down the hallway toward Rex and

let go two rounds. Thankfully, that's all it took. Bullies are usually afraid whenever any

potential victim stands up to them, be it fists with fists, or guns with guns. Knowing he

was also a target seemed to take all the wind out of Rex's sails.

       He didn't even bother to assist his associate, Chico, who'd made it to his feet but

was still wheezing and hacking. All he said was, "Chico, we gotta get the fuck outa here

now, man!" as he sped to what I would later learn was the garage.

       I heard the truck start up out front, but didn't bother to give chase. As memory

served me, Sonya Charles had her hands full at the moment and almost certainly needed

my help.

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                         CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 3:24 p.m.

       The truck was roaring away in escape when I turned and witnessed the final few

moments of Sonya's hard fought battle come to a bad ending. Clarence wrenched both

his hands free, spun a 180° from where he lay between her legs, then reached up to grab a

huge handful of all that gorgeous hair. With one mighty jerk to his right, she was yanked

from his chest and landed on her left side.

       Rising to his feet faster than a jack-in-the-box, still clenching a large fistful of her

hair, Clarence saw me coming his way. "Stay the fuck back!" he roared at me. Even as

he gave me the command I ignored, the black giant hauled Sonya to her feet, still groggy

from the way she was bucked off. He pulled her body in front of his with his right hand

as his left darted behind him. When it reappeared, not more than two seconds later, he

had a long, shiny switchblade knife clenched in it. The blade snapped open as he came
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around from behind his body with it, convincing me this wasn't the first time he'd ever

used the weapon. The man was a practiced veteran with the blade and, I was sure, knew

all the down and dirty rules of street fighting as well, if not better, than I did.

        His right arm released Sonya's hair, and she made a game effort to slip away from

his grasp, but it was doomed as soon as it began. His big arm, even faster than a striking

cobra, sped ahead of her, clasped her throat in a tight grip, and viciously slammed Sonya

back against his massive chest. When she tried to continue her struggles, he increased

the pressure by a tremendous amount with seemingly no effort at all. It cut off her breath

immediately, making her eyes bulge. "I tol' you t' stay the fuck back!" he bellowed.

        Ten feet away now, holding my .38 in a two-handed grip, I drew a bead on his

forehead, at least a foot higher than Sonya's. Keeping in mind the accuracy my little gun

is famous for not having, and balancing the stakes as I saw them, I decided I'd shoot as a

last resort only. However, I saw no reason to tell him what I'd concluded.

        "You're no longer in charge, big man," I explained. "I'm close enough to you

now to blow your ass away and not hit her," I lied as I moved a yard closer, using two

steps to do it. "Let her go and I won't kill you. How's that sound?"

        "Sounds like I'm gonna slice 'er fuckin' throat, ya take one more step," Clarence

told me as a counter offer.

        Well, at least we have communication, I told myself hopefully. Although, if I was

to give an unbiased opinion, my side wasn't doin' worth a shit so far. Still, why let him

see how bad the odds were tipped? "Aw, Clarence, Clarence, Clarence, you don't see it,

do you, big fella?"

        "How'd ya know my fuckin' name?"

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       Time for more of my inspired brilliance, I decided. "Heard it on the radio, my

man. They know all about you by now."

       "Yeah? Then, what's my las' name?"

       Okay, it was only semi-inspired. Can't win 'em all, although I'd better win this

one, or be prepared to kill Hawthorne in what was sure to be self-defense. "They said it,

but I can't remember. What the hell was it? Brown? Washington? White? Shit, man, I

can't seem to recall. Something like that."

       "Shit," he said, hanging his head a moment, then bringing his eyes back on me to

keep me away. "Ya mus' be sayin' the truth. It's Thomas, Clarence Thomas, but how's all

them fuckin' radio stations s'posed t' know my name?"

       "Weren't you in prison once?" I asked in a hopeful gambit.

       "Fuck no!" he spat. "It was Wayne County Jail, an' I didn' even hafta do th' whole

year. I was out in eight months."

       "That's right. That's what it said on the news." Because it seemed he was buying

in on my line of crap, I decided to ad lib a little, hoping maybe Sonya could find a way to

distract him so I'd have a clean shot. "I think they even said something about you being a

model prisoner, or something like that."

       "I got out early for good time," he advised me. "Only had me one bad fight, an'

they never knowed it was me. Not fer sure."

       "Yeah. They never said anything on the radio about it, so it looks like you got

away clean that time. Which," I added as I began my segue, "may well be the case now,

if you play your cards right."

       "I ain't playin' no fuckin' cards," he retorted, suddenly being a spoilsport. "You

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gimme that fuckin' gun or I'm gonna kill her ass!" To add emphasis, he tightened his

arm on her throat for a moment, but loosened it again after a few seconds.

       "Nope," I told him, shaking my head, but keeping my eyes on him at all times.

"That ain't the way we're gonna play it, Clarence. See, here's how we do it. You let her

go, and I don't kill you where you stand. Doesn't that sound fair?"

       "Sounds like ya don't give a shit if she dies," he menaced.

       "Well, I kinda do," I replied, "but it's not all that important. I get paid either way,

so if I have to kill you after you stab her, it's the same thing. Just a little more paperwork

before I get my money."

       "What money?" he asked suspiciously.

       "I'm an undercover cop, Clarence. I'm assigned to prevent kidnappings or, if I

can't do that, I'm supposed to bring the kidnapper in, dead or alive. So, like I said, I'll get

paid, either way. The difference is, do you want to walk while you're in custody, or leave

here in a body bag? Your choice, pal."

       Clarence had eased up on the pressure right away, or I would've taken the risk and

shot him by now, but I didn't want to shoot him if I didn't have to. Those safety bullets, a

.38 caliber shotgun, in effect, probably weren't enough to stop a man this size. At least,

not right away. He could do a lot of damage before he went down.

       "I said gimme the gun," he repeated.

       "No chance," I said, shaking my head again. "Just let her go and you live."

       "Where?" he demanded. "In prison? No fuckin' way. I'd rather be dead."

       Aw, shit! There goes a huge bargaining point. He's heard stories and knows it's a

trip into the bowels of hell when a man goes to prison. So, if I can't use that ploy, what

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am I gonna do to convince him to let Sonya go? I suddenly realized I was acting like a

TV cop. What the hell difference did it make to me if this a-hole was in custody, or not?

What mattered most right now was getting Sonya free, unharmed.

       "Okay, Clarence, I give in. You're smarter than I thought you were."

       "Yeah? What's that mean?"

       "Well, I never thought you'd figure it out, but you did. My first priority is getting

her free. So, if you'll just let her go, you can take off. I won't chase after you, I promise."

       "Bullshit! Gimme the fuckin' gun, then I'll let 'er go."

       "Ahhh, I see. You want me to trust you, right?"

       "Yeah. Just gimme the gun an' I'll let 'er go, then take off."

       Again I shook my head. "Nope. It ain't playin' out that way, my man. You see, I

don't trust you. There's no way in hell I'm giving up this weapon, but I will shoot your

ass dead where you stand if you make me do it."

       "Maybe I bes' jus' kill 'er ass, then," he said resignedly.

       "Clarence, hold on!" I barked. "If you kill her now, you've got nothing to stop me

from killing you. Not a smart move, that."

       "So?" He shrugged. "Looks like I'm gonna die, anyways."

       "You think so?"

       He glared at me. "That's what ya said, ain't it?"

       "Yes, I said that," I told him, desperate for a way to talk myself, and Sonya, out of

a box that was getting too tight with my untrained negotiations. "However, you seem to

be overlooking the obvious point in your favor here."

       "Yeah? What's that?"

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         "If you let her go, meaning I don't have to be so careful with my aim and can take

all the time I need, you'll go out with one clean shot. Easy, just like that," I said to him in

a calmer voice than I really felt, snapping my fingers as I talked. "One shot, my man,

and it's all over and done with. This way, with her in between us, I have to shoot a bit

higher. So, I might just wound you with the first shot. Maybe have to shoot you three,

four times to make a legit kill." I shook my head, clearly showing him the senselessness

of it all by my attitude. "We can do it the easy way, Clarence, or the hard way. Your

choice. You let the woman go, I take you out with one shot. Make me do it the hard

way, you'll die the hard way. What's it gonna be, Clarence? You want to die easy, or


         "Thought ya said a minute ago ya'd lemme go?"

         "Well, I guess—"

         Sonya interrupted me. "Lieutenant, the prisoner qualifies for the 'no-fuck' clause

in this case."

         "Oh," I said with feigned knowledge, "the 'no-fuck' clause. I wasn't told that rule

applied here." I looked at Sonya, still pinned against the monster's chest, almost praying

she'd give me some leeway. Let me know what the hell was going on.

         She must've caught on in a hurry, or had it planned when she first spoke. "Yes, he

wasn't aware of it either, but I told him." She turned her head slightly, putting her in a

better position to talk directly to Clarence. "This man's my boss, Clarence. He's one of

the people who has to okay it for the DA." Sonya looked back at me, although she was

still pinned securely to his chest with that massive arm around her throat. It hid the lower

part of her face. "I explained to the prisoner … to Clarence, actually, who's been a real

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good guy, all along … about the 'no-fuck' clause. I told him, since I'm a female police

officer, as long as he didn't fuck me, and if he kept the others from fucking me, he'd get a

walk after he was arraigned in court."

       Clarence volunteered, "Yeah, man. That's what she tol' me."

       "Oh. Well, then," I said, lowering the .38, "if she told you that … as long as you

didn't force her to say it under duress—"

       "What? 'Force her'? Man, I didn' even know about no 'no-fuck' clause 'til she tol'

me about it! How'm I gonna force her if I ain't even knowin' no such fuckin' law was on

the books?"

       "Well, that's true enough." I looked at Sonya, who still hung a couple inches off

the ground and had to be feeling the pressure of his grip. "Officer Charles, is it true, and

will you thusly testify in court on his behalf, Clarence is entitled to all the benefits and

privileges of the 'no-fuck' clause?"

       "Of course I will," she responded, feet still dangling and having a little trouble

breathing. "This man didn't fuck me even once, and he stopped the others from doing it,

too. He qualifies completely."

       "And you'll recommend … in your written report, officer … he be granted a walk

in this matter?"

       "Of course, Lieutenant. It's the law, as we all know."

       Pleased with my instant promotion and escalation through the ranks, I made my

executive decision. "Very well, officer. Your prisoner, Clarence Thomas, qualifies for a

walk on all charges, after his arraignment." I focused now on Clarence. "I'll assume she

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also told you a mandatory part of the 'no-fuck' clause is you must turn the officer over to

me, completely unfucked and unharmed, to take advantage of it?"

        "She didn' say nothin' 'bout that part," he declared.

        Shaking my head again, I snapped, "Clarence, damn it, it's as clear as the paper

it's printed on. If I don't take custody of this officer, totally unfucked, we will not have a

deal. Do I make myself clear?"

        "Can't I jus' come in when it's time fer court an' git it then?"

        "Absolutely not," I ruled. "I must take custody of the officer, from you and while

she remains unfucked and unharmed, or you'll be considered a common criminal. Surely

all your jailhouse buddies have told you that, Clarence?"

        "Ain't nobody never tol' me nothin', not 'til she said it," he argued. "How's any o'

them gonna know 'bout it when we's all in jail?"

        "Prisoners talk amongst themselves, and you know it," I argued. "So, just let her

walk over to me and we'll consider it done. Plus, I'll throw in an added benny. I won't

even make you wear handcuffs until we get to the car. Fair enough?"

        "No," he insisted. "Yer gonna hafta lemme go an' I'll come in when they get t'

court so's they can lemme walk. That's what I want t' happen."

        Apparently sensing the tide of battle was southbound and not wanting to lose any

ground gained, Sonya began to struggle as hard as she could in an effort to break free of

her captor. She bent her head forward and bit as hard as she could on his forearm while

raking the front of it with her nails.

        Her efforts didn't do our side any good.

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       With his desperation rising, Clarence bellowed, "Stop fuckin' wit' me, girl!" He

squeezed that mighty arm a lot harder than he had so far and her face began darkening.

She relented as she began losing consciousness. Stopped biting and scratching and more

or less fell limp in his grasp. It didn't look as if she was faking it, not the way she put

a halt on what she was doing, meaning something had to be done quickly or all the

rest of it would be moot.

       My .38 was back in place, aimed at his head the best I could hope for, but he had

the knife point against the side of her neck. "I'll stick 'er, mothahfuckah!" he roared as he

backed away. "Ya bes' not be followin' my ass, neither. I'll let this girl go back there in

them woods an' I'll be there when it says in the newspapers 'bout the day I's s'posed t' be

in court!"

       By this time, Sonya had passed out. It seemed to me he reduced the pressure on

her throat, but he was still speedily backing away. "Okay!" I yelled. "But don't take her

too far into the woods. I'll give you to the count of ten, then I'm coming to get her and it

better not be very far!" I took a deep breath and began loud enough for Clarence to hear

every word. "One, one-thousand, two, one-thousand, …"

       "If ya come after me, I ain't got me no fuckin' reason t' live, an' I'll kill 'er ass jus'

deader'n hell! I'm warnin' ya!" he hollered as they disappeared into the trees.

       He was gone long before I finished counting.

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                          CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

                                   Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 3:32 p.m.

       Fancy started by wiping the little beads of blood away on her arms while she

watched Ben lying in wait, taking to someone on the phone, but gave it up as a stupid

idea, since she'd probably do some more running in the woods. She hesitated a couple

times, almost making herself known to him, then bit her lip each time.

       Sure as can be, if I say somethin', it'll get Ben killed. Just gotta keep my big

mouth shut an' wait, I guess.

       She was watching when Clarence came through the door and it reminded her of

an expression Ben used at times: "Hell bent for election". Hmmm? Guess I know what it

means now, don't I?

       A surge of hope came to her when the man went sprawling on his face, but it very

quickly disappeared when Ben fired his gun at someone inside the house. She felt better
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when she saw the two guys tear out of the open garage door, get in the truck, and race

away. That's two less enemies I gotta worry 'bout fer Ben.

        Any peace of mind that gave her went poof when the black giant started using

Sonya as a shield. Oh, God! I hope Ben don't hafta shoot that big sucker! He might

need t' reload 'bout four times jus' t' kill 'im! Seems he fits another o' Ben's sayin's, the

one where he says somethin's "Bigger'n a fisherman's lie". I love my Ben, an' I know he's

a tough guy, but there ain't no way he can win 'gainst a guy that big!

        Then, when the big guy was done arguing with Ben and took off, Fancy decided

there might be another way she could help Ben. Maybe, if I can keep up with 'im out

here in these woods, an' not make no noise so he don't know I'm here, I can help Ben

catch the guy an' get that girl free. She shrugged. Don't know what else I can do, but I

do know I gotta do somethin', so here goes.


        Before setting out to track Clarence and Sonya, as if I'm some modern day version

of Dan'l Boone, maybe, I headed for my cell phone, still lying there on the grass behind

the house. I picked it up, reinstalled my earphone, and heard what sounded to me like

Hawthorne chewing Benning's ass. I decided to interrupt.

        "Benning!" I yelled. "Benning! Can you hear me?"

        After the fourth time I yelled the same thing, I heard, "Dover? That you?"

        "Far as I know," I said, my eyes still on the section of woods where Clarence took

off with Sonya on his shoulder. "Listen up, 'cause I don't have too much time. There are

three guys, two now gone from the scene in a black Chevy crew cab, no idea what year,

and I don't have a plate number. Those two are a Cauc, early 30s, dressed in jeans and a

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sport shirt, brown or blond hair, and a Mex, maybe thirty, medium height, black hair and

all that, meaner'n a fuckin' snake, also in jeans and a shirt. They hit it and went down

who the hell knows what road going to I got no damned idea where."

       I took a moment to breathe. "There's a black guy … best I can tell you is the

man's darker than any part of my shaded history and big enough to sleep any damned

place he wants … and he's got Sonya with him." When Benning tried to say something I

added, "Shut the fuck up and listen!" I took another deep breath, somehow sensing I was

gonna need all I could get by the time this was over. "His name's Clarence Thomas, and

I'd say he's about thirty. He's armed with a switchblade knife and gave me the impression

he knows how to use it. Sonya's apparently convinced him he's covered by some special

law called 'the no-fuck clause' where, since he prevented anyone from throwing a bone to

her and didn't do it himself, he's gonna walk after arraignment. He said—"

       "Ben, there's no such thing as—"

       "I told you to shut the fuck up, so do it, damn it! She's somehow gotten this big

yum-yum believing he'll walk free of all charges after he's arraigned, and he decided he'll

turn himself in when the papers say he's supposed to appear in court. Yeah, I know it's a

crazy idea, but she sold it to him. I'm just reporting the news the way I heard it, Dar, so

don't shoot the fucking messenger, okay? Anyway, we were almost home free when he

told me he's not coming in until the day the court's supposed to set him free. He choked

her unconscious and they took off into the woods with Sonya slung over his shoulder like

a bag of feed. I'm about to go after him, and I'll have my phone, so you'd better use that

GPS crap and figure out how to find me."

       "We have the address and we're on our way," Benning advised, acting as if I'd tell

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him to shut up again with the first few words. "We're not in position now to get any more

GPS data, but Wendell said you have one of our radios. Still got it on you?"

       Fumbling in a pocket for a moment, I said, "Yeah. I have it."

       "Okay, use that, instead. You can at least try to tell us where you are when we get

to the scene."

       "Not good," I argued. "I'm gonna try to catch this guy, but I don't want your voice

coming over some radio when I'm trying to sneak up on the big, dumb bastard. You'll get

me killed, Dar."

       "Don't worry. There's a little switch on each radio to talk and listen. When I need

to talk with you, I'll click it. That's all you'll hear is a click. Whenever you want to talk

to me, just click it to 'talk' and start speaking." He cleared his throat. "You said he took

off with her over his shoulder?"

       It became difficult to communicate for a moment because Hawthorne then began

roaring in anger when he overheard his partner, until Benning told him to shut the fuck

up so he could hear me. "Yes," I replied, already heading for the trees. "I didn't want to

chance shooting him with this damned two-inch barrel, so I let him go, but I'm already in

the trees, so I gotta go, Dar. Dover out." I hung up and started looking for signs like I

used to do when I hunted rabbit years ago in Michigan.

       I really wished I had a beagle with me now who knew how to track criminals.


       Hawthorne went somewhat crazy after Benning disconnected, but had to focus on

where he was driving, so it died down quickly. Benning repeated everything he'd heard

from Ben, then called in the partial descriptions on the car's radio.

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        When he finished and put the mic back in place, Hawthorne picked up where he

left off. "Damn it, Dar, we can't be waitin' for that damned SWAT team! We gotta get

there an' save 'er ourselves!"

        "Yeah, we do, Wendell," Benning agreed, taking out his own Glock and making

sure the magazine was full before reinserting it in the butt of the weapon. "For right now,

you need to slow down a little and take it easier on the corners or Sonya's heroes are both

gonna be dead men. Either that, or let me drive."

        "Ya think so?" Hawthorne sneered. "Well, I ain't stoppin' t' let ya out, an' I ain't

lettin' ya drive, either. Best advice I got is ya put yer seat belt on real fuckin' tight, shut

the hell up, an' hang on!" With that, he pressed harder on the accelerator. "I wanna get

there b'fore SWAT. If they show up first an' there's any kind o' gunfight, somethin' tells

me Sonya's gonna get shot dead, an' I ain't ready to deal with that shit!"


        Rex swerved and spun when they left the property behind and got on the road,

then held the gas to the floor for as long as he dared. The curves in the road soon made

him slow a little, but not much. After a mile or so, Chico stopped gagging and choking.

He put his window down and began spitting every few seconds for another mile or more.

When he could finally breathe again, he asked, "Now what, man? Them cops is gonna

get Clarence an' he's gonna tell 'em who we are."

        "How?" Rex questioned. "He doesn't know my last name, or yers. He don't even

know if those are real names, or fakes. 'Sides, those cops'll more'n likely hafta kill 'im

when they catch his big black ass. Murder one, in California, gets ya the needle. He ain't

gonna wanna go along with that shit." Looking ahead on the road because he was still at

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a high speed, Rex added, "Neither am I. You ask me, man, I say it's 'bout time we haul

ass to Mexico. This shit's getting' too damned hot."

       "We can't," Chico argued. "The Man still owes us a lot o' money."

       "Yeah, I know. That's why we're gonna call his ass as soon as we get to the beach

and can sit down without wonderin' if a shitload o' cops is gonna nail our asses. I'll be at

the beach in about ten more minutes, and I'm callin' him as soon as we get there."

       His estimate wasn't off by much. Rex and Chico got to the big parking lot by the

beach on Harbor Drive, shut off the truck, and walked a couple hundred yards on the sand

before Rex was satisfied they were alone. He sat, crossed his legs, and dialed the prepaid

cell phone to reach the only number it had ever called.


       Only the first ten or fifteen feet they traveled into the woods were what would be

called easy. After that Clarence made slow progress, having only one arm to use fending

off the branches and sprigs that seemed to spring up with every step. He slipped and fell

a few times, always careful not to drop his passenger, suffering a horde of scratches and

cuts as he traversed the relatively dense woods. Pushing a thick branch out of the way,

his hand slipped loose and the limb sprang back, whacking him on the forehead. It made

a large lump and hurt like hell, but he ignored it and pushed ahead.

       Sonya reawakened to find herself being carried, then took a moment to acclimate

herself to what was going on. Jesus! I thought sure this big bastard was going to kill me

when he started choking me like that! Guess he didn't since I'm still here, but this old shit

is about to come to a screeching damned halt! First thing I've gotta do is make him let go

of me, then I'm gonna put my round little ass in the wind and outrun the bastard! My ol'

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Mama didn’t raise her no foolish children and this one doesn't like what's happening to

her at the moment. Her head was on Clarence's back, her waist and belly on his right

shoulder, the rest of her body dangling in front with her legs suffering scratches and cuts

from branches and brush.

       Following a deep breath to prepare herself, Sonya raised her right arm high and

slammed the elbow against the back of his neck. The blow apparently startled him more

than anything else and made him try to look back. As soon as he took his eyes off the

trail ahead of him, he stumbled and fell, briefly releasing his grip on her. Sonya had been

waiting for just that, so she stood and began to run away.

       Still in the middle of the first step to freedom, she felt his iron hand close on her

left ankle and jerk back. It put her flat on her face in the leaves and dirt. Before she

could even move, he was on top of her.

       "Why the fuck'd ya do that shit?" he asked angrily.

       "Because I changed my mind and decided to go back, you big asshole! Let me

go! I've had enough of this shit, Clarence! Let me go!" To add emphasis to her point,

she made a fist and swung at his face. It collided with his left cheek, but didn't even seem

to faze the man.

       "Knock that shit off er I'm gonna slug ya in the fuckin' head!" he countered.

       Afraid to even imagine how much that would hurt, and the damage a punch from

a man so big and strong could do to her, Sonya decided to calm down. She held up both

hands, palms facing him, and said, "Truce, Brother. Look, just let me lean against this

big tree behind me and we can talk this out, okay?"

       "Ain't got no time fer talkin'," he argued. "Yer boss is comin' after us."

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        Yeah, she thought, my boss. Right. An untrained civilian with a peashooter. It

oughta put the fear of The Lord in you, Clarence, you big dipshit. "Well, I don't hear him

yet, and these are some big woods. Give me a minute to collect myself, okay? We can

talk about what you're going to do … you'll notice I didn't say 'we', 'cause I don't plan on

going along as your squaw out here in the fucking wilderness … and make some plans,

okay? Think we can do that, Clarence?"

        He looked her over, eyed all the scratches and gouges on his own body, sighed

and said, "Ya try to move, I'm gonna knock ya on yer ass."

        "I'm not going anywhere, so take it easy." She watched him a moment, then said,

"You're in way over your head here, Clarence. You really need to think about giving up

and considering your own best interests here. Your buddies got in the wind as soon as it

got hot, leaving you all on your own."

        "So? I still got me that 'no-fuck clause', don't I? Them guys wasn't gonna get t' be

part o' that deal, anyways, so fuck 'em. Who needs 'em?"

        Sonya reflected on the fable she'd come up with and reminded herself, That's why

I never tell lies. Too damned hard remembering who you told what or when. "Yes, you

still have that deal, but it requires you let me go. I'll tell you what. Let me go now and

I'll go back and explain it to them myself. That way, you can just find a place to hole up

and wait until you appear in court. Come to think of it, that's probably the smartest way to

handle the whole thing. Once they see I'm safe, they'll stop looking for you because they

know you'll show up at the arraignment."

        "Yeah, long's ya make sure ya got the dumb niggah fooled inta thinkin' he's gonna

get a deal like that, it'd be best. Trouble is, ya been bullshittin' me all along, ain't ya?"

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       "I have not!" she defended. "You'll get your deal, Clarence, but it's precedented

on you letting me go. C'mon, man, fair's fair, you know?"

       "I'm thinkin' ya been feedin' me a line o' shit all along," he said sadly. "Too bad a

fine lookin' Sistah like you's gotta be shittin' a Brothah like me. Shit, if'n we ain't even

got each other in all this shit, Whitey's gonna win."

       "I haven't been lying to you, Clarence but, just for the sake of argument, let's say I

did lie. Let's assume when all this is over, you go to prison. Why is that so awful? You

already live with that kind of people, criminals, and you're a big, strong guy, so why are

you horrified at the idea? You must've considered it when you three started killing all

those people, didn't you?"

       "I'll get killed if I go t' prison. They find out I don't like women, them mothers'll

kill my black ass."

       "Oh, yeah? Tell me, Clarence, how's anyone gonna know you don't like girls?"

       "Easy. I don't go hittin' on Sistahs when I see 'em, that's how."

       "Really? So, you mean to tell me they'll know because you won't hit on any of

the women you see, and they'll all figure out you're gay, right? Then, when they decide

you're gay, they'll kill you?"

       "Pretty fuckin' obvious, ain't it?"

       Sonya couldn't keep the grin off her face, although she tried. "Clarence, that will

never happen." She watched the surprised look on his face. "There are no women … I

mean zero, big fella … in any prison in this country where the men are housed. Sure, you

may find an occasional female guard, but never inside with the men. She'll be working

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outside the cell areas. There's no way in this world anybody will ever see you around any

women as long as you're in prison."

        The look on his face was one of astonishment. "I never thought o' that."

        "As a matter of fact, the only sex those guys ever get in prison is from what they

call the 'sissies', Clarence. You know, the ones who were flaming queens before they got

sent up, anyway. Plus, there are those who decide, once they're in prison, they might as

well do it 'cause it's the only action they'll ever get. Then, a lot of the smaller, weaker

guys do it … become 'shes' in prison … for protection." She looked him over. "They

come to a big guy like you and ask you to keep 'em safe. In return, they'll provide you

with a sort of relief, if that's what you want to call it."

        "Ya mean, all the really tough guys is doin' it that way?"

        "Clarence, they're either doing it that way, or playing with themselves. I'm telling

you, pal, there are absolutely no women in any men's prison to be screwed! They either

do it amongst themselves, with all the sissies, or choke their own chickens, or do without.

Those are the only options. Plus, of course, you get three square meals a day and all the

time you want on the barbells."

        He began to smile. "Ya know, when ya put it that way, it don't sound so bad."

        "It shouldn't." Again, Sonya looked him over, taking in all his muscle and size.

"A guy like you, Clarence, would probably be the leader of one of the gangs before too

long in a place like that."

        "So, it wouldn't be no bad shit, me goin' t' prison?"

        "No, Clarence," she said, smiling and shaking her head, "it wouldn't be bad shit at

all. Not for a guy like you, it wouldn't."

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                             CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

                                    Oceanside, California

                           Thursday, November 19th, 3:46 p.m.

        The Crown Vic slowed when Benning indicated he thought they were getting

close, based on the last address numbers he'd seen. With houses a quarter mile apart in

this rural section of hills, trees, gullies, trees, arroyos, trees, ravines, trees, trees, and more

trees, he'd been watching them closely for the last mile. Fortunately, even with the speed

Hawthorne had been making, the numbers were painted on the mailbox sides, usually in a

bright or fluorescent color. Without appearing to look, using their peripheral vision only,

they looked the entire place over while cruising past at around 20 mph. A hundred yards

beyond the house, around the first curve but not close enough to spot Fancy's Mustang,

they came to a stop, got out and locked the car after opening the trunk.

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       Hawthorne quickly removed the riot gun, a pump shotgun with a 20" barrel able

to carry six rounds when fully loaded. He pressed six shells in place, starting with a .00

buckshot, then a slug, alternating that way until he'd loaded all six. A handful went into

the pockets of his windbreaker, these all .00 shells.

       Benning removed and loaded the Remington PST59, a bolt-action sniper rifle also

with a 20" barrel, but still capable of being accurate as close as fifty feet, or as far away

as 200 yards. He loaded it up quickly, one 175 grain Federal Gold Medal in the chamber,

safety on, and four more in the magazine box. Ready for bear now, putting a dozen more

rounds in his jacket pocket, he set out after Hawthorne, who was already twenty yards

away, skirting the tree line, heading in the direction of the house.

       When they arrived, Hawthorne assumed command, being the senior detective and

having more to lose than anyone except Sonya. Using hand signals, he directed Benning

to cover the rear, then ran in a crouch from tree to tree to reach the dwelling. Each had

the volume turned to mumble level on the radios attached to the collars of their jackets,

and was aware SWAT estimated an ETA of ten minutes. Hawthorne whispered on his

radio he was going in the front, so Benning took root near the door Clarence used in his

exit, as cops only enter a building from one direction in these conditions. No sense in a

cop getting shot by another cop who sees movement when his heart's in his throat.

       Two minutes later, with the residence cleared, they looked around out back and

found where all three people entered the forest. Armed to the teeth, both fully prepared

to kill anyone not recognized as a "friendly", they set off, scanning the trail in front of

them on the trot. Since Clarence was in a hurry and served as trailbreaker, and Ben had

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no reason to cover his tracks or preserve the flora, they made much better time than the

people who'd gone ahead of them.

       Two minutes into the journey, they heard a chopper appear overhead and halted.

       Benning got on his radio mic while Hawthorne stood guard, scanning the area all

around them, shotgun at the ready. "Air One, Unit 6-9, on the ground. Come in."

       "This is Air One. Go, 6-9," came the smooth voice of a man who sounded as if he

was in his 30s and could work as a DJ on any FM jazz station in the area.

       "We're in a clearing maybe 150 yards from your 20, nine o'clock. Confirm you

have our 20. Over."

       Three seconds later, "Air One. Confirmed. Two in plainclothes. Over."

       "Have you located the subjects yet? Over."

       "Negative. Just arrived on scene, 6-9. Over."

       "Keep an eye on us," Benning instructed. "We're heading north-northeast at the

moment, tracking suspect and prisoner. When you locate the suspect, coordinate so we

can get ahead and apprehend. Over."

       "Air One. Copy that. Over."

       "Make it quick. A cop's ass is on the line this time. 6-9, out." He clicked off the

radio talk feature, nodded to his partner, and they set off again, making good time.


       Even smiling once after Sonya's vote of encouragement, Clarence had gotten up

twice to look around, each time walking as far as twenty feet away from her before he

turned to come back. Each trip was a visual recon of the territory that showed him no

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one was even close. Finishing the second inspection, he sat about six feet away from her,

his brawny back propped against a large tree.

       Sonya knew better than to try running away. She was confident he'd overtake her

in twenty feet or less, telling herself, He'd also slap the pee out of me when he caught up,

which is not a pretty thought at all. No, sir, not a damned bit pretty. Think I'll sit tight

and wait for a chance to do something good for my side. With all those legs he has, and

his size, he'd cut me off in a hurry and I'd lose all the ground I've gained by now as far as

his confidence in me, which I sense will be very useful later.

       "We going to sit here and wait, Clarence?" I hope, I hope, I hope.

       Rubbing a big hand over a now sweaty face that was drying as he rested, a smile

appeared on it, as well. "Ain't sure," he admitted. "What ya was talkin' about, maybe it'd

be okay that way. I mean, if I c'n get me some action in there, an' three good meals a day,

plus maybe even leadin' a gang, it ain't soundin' bad, ya know?" Now he frowned. "I, uh,

ain't sure if ya was shittin' me 'bout that 'no-fuck clause', though. I'm thinkin', maybe if I

was t' git that, maybe I c'n find me some shit I wanna do an' not be in prison. Takes a lot

o' thought, ya know? Lot o' thought."

       Well, shit! Here I went and sold the damned idea to him and, with the way he's

leaning, I think I'm going to have to unsell it. In any other case, I'd keep it going, since

he bought in on it hook, line and sinker, but not if he's willing to settle this peaceably.

"Uh, Clarence, on that 'no-fuck clause', I've got to tell you—"

       "What the fuck's that?" Clarence hollered, springing to his feet. "Shit! I can hear

me a fuckin' helicopter! They's comin' t' nail my black ass! C'mon, girl! We gots to be

gettin' th' fuck outa here!" He raced to stand in front of Sonya and grabbed her arm when

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she didn't react fast enough, yanking her to her feet. Then he pointed through the one

break in the small clearing they'd been sitting next to as they rested. The other side of a

deep gulch, less than 200 yards away, Benning and Hawthorne were trying to locate some

means of crossing or circling it. "Them's fuckin' cops! C'mon, girl! Right fuckin' now!"

       Sonya decided to keep her situationally motivated confession to herself a while

longer and didn't resist when he made her start trotting to keep up as he dragged her by

the hand.


       Looking both ways after coming to a halt in front of the supply room door on the

base at Camp Pendleton, The Man inserted a key in the lock and opened it. Once inside,

he checked to make sure he was alone, then headed toward the back, past shelves lined

with clothing, canned food, boots, utility belts, binoculars, even parachutes in one area,

stacked four shelves high. At the back, in the far right corner, was a utility room and

toilet combination, barely big enough for an adult to turn around. Having been added

after the room was finished because there was extra space, it seldom got much use, and

that was part of the reason he selected it.

       In the corner, atop the wall of cinder blocks painted a light green that reminded

him of the vomit he often saw from green troops when he served a few years as a Drill

Instructor, was a niche. Right at the top, in the very corner, and hard to see if you didn't

know it was there. It was a small space, no more than six inches tall, three wide, maybe

four inches deep. Not much good for anything else, but a damned good place to hide a

cell phone a man didn't want to be caught carrying.

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       I get caught with this motherfucker, I might as well sign my name to a confession

and save 'em the cost of a trial, he told himself as he liberated the prepaid phone from the

hole. Flipping it open, he checked the list of calls and saw no one had tried to contact

him. Wonder if those shitheads did any good today?

       With a shrug, unable to know yet, he was putting it back in the hole when it rang.

       Warily, he stopped his hand, lowered it, flipped open the phone and looked. Saw

it was the other one he'd given to Rex. Let's hope this is legit, he mused as he popped it

open. "Speak."

       "It's me, A," Rex said, being careful to use no names, as instructed by a man who

had eyes that looked into, through and beyond his very soul.

       Automatically frowning, The Man repeated, "Speak."

       "We got two, but not the way ya said t' do it," Rex began.

       The Man said nothing. Only waited and used the intimidating personality he'd

etched in Rex's mind to urge the man to continue.

       "It was at that park. Guajome."

       The Man allowed only his breathing into the unit as a reply.

       "We found and, uh, 'serviced' a guy there, but his wife came along with us, so she

got 'serviced' at the same time. That's two, right? Like ya said?"

       "No. It's one. Only one."

       "She don't even fuckin' count? That what yer sayin'?"

       More breathing, but no answer.

       After a few seconds, Rex said, "I thought that'd be what ya'd say."


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       "We, uh, we went in there, like ya said, an' I had the other two, B an' C, wait in

the trees. Got this guy … can't remember his fuckin' name, but that don't matter, right?

… t' follow us. Made up a story 'bout my wife was stuck in the woods. Got her foot

caught in a hole, er some shit like that. We was gonna be okay, but his wife come, too."

       More breathing, and an unspoken threat. Implied wordlessly.

       "So, we, uh, we 'serviced' her at the same time."

       "What else?"

       Following a dramatic pause, a void that screamed it needed words to fill it but had

nothing beyond emptiness, Rex added, "Uh, B fucked 'er b'fore he, uh, 'serviced' the bitch

an' came back outa th' woods."

       His face engulfed in a sneering frown so evil it might've frightened the wall ahead

of him, The Man said, "Do another one."

       "Who? Anybody?"

       "Got to be homeless," The Man ordered.

       "Yeah, I fuckin' know that. I mean, no specific orders this time?"

       "Do another one."

       "Okay, got it. Uh, listen."

       More breathing.

       "We, uh, we had a minor, a minor fuckin' problem. Kinda, I mean."


       "Well, for starters, we had to, uh, take a prisoner."

       "Yes." No question mark, only acknowledgement.

       "It was a broad."

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       "I know."

       "The bitch was, uh, she was a cop."


       "Uh, yeah, Well, I mean, she still is a cop but, uh, there's a problem. Kinda."


       "We ain't got the bitch … that cop, I mean … no more."


       Another poignant pause. "I ain't, uh, I ain't sure. All's I know is, we ain't got her

ass no more."

       "Explain, Marine!"

       "There was this, uh, a hassle, kinda. See, we was all gonna fuck th' bitch—"

       "The cop?"

       "Uh, yeah. Anyways, we come back from makin' a beer run—"

       "What did I tell you about that?"

       "You, uh, ya said nobody was s'posed t' get drunk. Hey, all's we did's make us a

beer run an' snag a couple fuckin' cases o' beer. It ain't shit, ya know?"

       "Explain about the cop, Marine."

       "Uh, yeah. I was getting' t' that. There was kinda this, uh, this argument 'bout th'

bitch … I mean, she's sexier'n shit, ya know? … an' we all kinda had us this ol' bitchin'

match 'bout who was gonna fuck 'er next, 'cept Clar— … I mean, C, he told us he was

gonna keep th' bitch his damn self, ya know? Then, when we kinda had us this little tiff

… yeah, that's what it was, a tiff … things got a little out o' hand. Clar— … C, I mean,

he started throwin' hands an' shit. Then, some guy shows up—"

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        "What 'guy'? Name?"

        "I dunno, man! The motherfucker started shootin' at us! Almost killed me an' ol'

Chic— … B, I mean. So, we got the fuck outa there. Hauled ass an' come here t' the …

to that place where ya met us the first time, an' I called you."

        "Where is C?"

        "I don't, uh, I don't fuckin' know, man. We had t' haul ass, what with that bastard

shootin' at us, an' all, and C, he got, uh, left b'hind, kinda."

        "And the cop?"

        "Oh, her. She's with, uh, with C. See, he was already fuckin' 'er … 'least, he said

he was, but we didn't see that shit, ya know? … an' she's, uh, she's with, uh, with him."

        "Or, he's with her? In custody?"

        "Naw, I don't think no shit like that happened. Shit, she ain't even got no fuckin'

gun now."


        "She ain't got one 'cause I got the fucker, that's why. I took it from her ass when

Clar— … C knocked her fuckin' silly. I still got it, too. That bitch, she might fuck a guy

t' death, but she ain't gettin' out on C without no gun. Not with all them fuckin' muscles

he's got, she ain't."

        "So, you don't know where she is, or where C is, or if he still has her with him, or

if he's her prisoner, correct?"

        "Yeah, mostly."


        "Uh, yeah. That's it, alright."

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       "Do another one. Now. Within the hour."

       "Still? Ya want one more? Even with all this shit goin' on?"

       "Do another one. Bring the evidence with you and meet me at that same park at

17:30 hours. Use the trail and meet me back by where they cut fallen trees."

       "Yer sure on that shit?"

       "Do another and meet me, as ordered."

       "We can't go there again," Rex argued.

       "Why not, Marine?"

       "That's where we ki— … 'serviced' them other two."

       "Anyone else see you when you were there?"

       "No. Well, I don't think so. Sure, there was other people around, at campsites an'

shit, but I ain't thinkin' nobody saw my ass, er nothin'. Still, I don't wanna—"

       "Marine, I don't give a flyin' fuck what you want! Do you hear me, Marine?"

       "Yessir!" Rex shot back instinctively.

       "Meet me, as ordered, at 17:30 hours, where I instructed you to be, and bring the

'evidence' with you."

       "We, uh, we need t' get paid on this thing, too."

       "Don't worry about it, Marine."

       "Yer gonna pay us then? 'Cause, me an' Chic— … me an' B was thinkin' this is

all getting' too fuckin' hot, ya know? We was thinkin' maybe we oughta, uh, ya know,

kinda let it all cool down fer a while? Ya know?"

       "Don't worry about it, Marine. Be there, as ordered."

       "Okay, but we really do need t' get—"

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       "Dismissed!" said The Man, disconnecting the call. He frowned. "It's about that

time, it seems. Just about that time."


       That's what Rex thought, too. Shit, the motherfucker's gonna kill our asses when

we deliver this one! Fuck! Now what'm I gonna do?

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                            CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

                                   Oceanside, California

                           Thursday, November 19th, 3:54 p.m.

       Trained woodsman that I am, or at least as I was 25+ years ago, I stopped to take

a listen. See if there was anything worth noticing, since moving through dense brush is

too noisy to let you hear what's going on around you. Moments after I came to a halt I

was able to hear something up ahead, less than a hundred yards, by my guess. Either the

biggest bear found in California in more than a century was running from me, or I just got

a fix on Clarence and the Stolen Beauty.

       Electing option B, I listened a bit longer. I'd already heard the chopper, so I knew

the cavalry was here in one fashion or another. Beyond any question, Hawthorne and

Benning were in on the chase, somewhere off to my right. Guesstimating, based on my

less than bionic ears, I put the fleeing pair at one o'clock in relation to me, the chopper

was just past two, maybe two-fifteen, and the detective duo was right around four-thirty.

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       So, adding all those times together, dividing by three … remember to carry the

one … I concluded I should strike out for somewhere around eleven-thirty, twelve, in that

area. I heard something else moving without a lot of noise ahead and to my left a goodly

distance away, obviously too big to be a rabbit. Whatever it might be was moving along

steadily, which a rabbit only does in flight, so I wasn't sure what the hell was going on

there. Based on the few sounds I heard, although they were intermittent and very brief, I

assumed it had to be a deer. There aren't really any bears still living this close to us, are

there?, I thought prayerfully. That'd be all I needed, and more, way out here.

       With a shrug, I decided it was above my pay grade and quickly rechecked the load

in my snub nosed .38. Using one of the four speedloaders I'd jammed in my fanny pack,

I was now armed with regular .38 shells, all lead and no pellets. It made for a slightly

better chance of stopping a man, except a man as big as Clarence is, and desperate, might

easily require all five rounds.

       Plus a reload, perhaps.

       One more shrug and I set off for my new intended listening post. I concluded I'd

deal with what came up when I got there instead of imagining boogeymen in my head. It

was slower going, breaking my own path and not following the trail Clarence blazed into

the forest. I also still needed to maintain as much silence as possible, since I planned to

get set and wait for them somewhere along the trail ahead so I could pull off an ambush.

A small point in my favor was the knowledge of hearing them in their escape meant they

likely wouldn't hear me. It goes back to the way making your own noise inhibits hearing

the sounds of others.

       They were still too far away for me to see anything, since visibility in these woods

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was around twenty-five or thirty feet, unless someone was dressed in a bright red, which

would add maybe twenty more feet. However, my ears gave me a pretty decent fix.

       I found myself stopping to reassess about every twenty feet and it looked like I

called it pretty accurately. I came across a tall tree, no idea what kind beyond the fact it

wasn't a pine, with a dead branch hanging down in my way. There was no bark left on it,

a courtesy I assumed was provided by the local deer population, and it was almost fully

broken from the tree. Dead, dried, and very hard. Still anxious not to make any noise, I

twisted it four times and it came free. A wee touch longer than a yard, yet very solid and

hard, I decided it was the perfect tool, and this big, wide tree was certainly the best place


       The deer path I was traveling led off to where it would intersect the trail of my

targets, meaning there was a better than average chance they'd come this way. When

they came past this tree, where I'd be stealthily hiding, I'd jam it between his legs and

knock him down. Then I'd have the man at gunpoint where I could hope I didn't need to

put all five rounds in him and see him still coming at me. In that case, Clarence would

beat the living, screaming shit out of me, possibly gut me with that pig sticker he lugs

around, and I'd be forced to regroup.

       With my entrails dragging on the ground ahead of me so I could trip on 'em.

       Okay, it was a rough and tentative plan, I'll grant you that much. However, being

the master of the ad lib, I concluded I could certainly play it by ear. That's assuming he

didn't just cut the damned thing off for me, ala Vincent van Gogh. That's what makes life

fun, I guess. The unpredictability of it all.

       With all that firm in my mind, I scrunched down and prepared to kick some very

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serious ass. Or, as I mentioned, have my own kicked, instead. It's at times like this one

the details seem to become rather obscure.

        It was less than five minutes, probably closer to three, when I heard my guests

approaching. I could even see the tops of some bushes moving as they went through, so

it gave me a projected path. Peeking out when I dared, I finally saw they were getting

close to me and it was time to be ready.

        Sonya looked bad. My Mom would've said she looked like she'd been shot at and

missed, then shit at and hit. Clarence looked even more raggedy, but he also seemed to

be above it all. Beyond feeling pain at the moment. Desperation will do that to a man, I

knew from experience. He had his ass on the line and the winner would soon take all the

damned marbles, so he didn't have time to think about all his minor wounds and scrapes.

        Using intermittent peeks and reassessing every few seconds, I was sure at first my

plan would work. They'd come down this deer path, where I'd drop him like a bad habit,

and we'd wing it from that point. Then the dumb son-of-a-bitch decided to ad lib on his

own, apparently coming to a fork in the road and going right, while I waited on the one to

his left.

        That move really pissed me off. Being this close, I'd be forced to catch up to him

again, but would be required to make nearly zero noise doing it. However, since my only

other choice was to head back home and nuke a TV dinner while forgetting about the idea

altogether, I was forced to follow them. Well, at least I had this deer path to walk on, so

it would help with the noise thing at first. That meant my next smart move would be …

who the hell knows? I determined. I'll figure it out when I get there.


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       As Clarence slogged along the branch of the woodland roadway he'd chosen, he

had an onlooker. Cut and scratched from knee to ankle on both legs, both upper arms

bare and itching slightly from nettles unnoticed until they'd been passed by, Fancy was

squatting behind a thick bush. Using her hands to push twigs aside or break them, she'd

cleared a small tunnel that allowed her to see what was coming her way. Minutes ago she

even knew a moment of fear as a deer came trotting her way, then veered into the brush

when it smelled her.

       This time, however, the traffic heading her way didn't walk on four legs. Well,

she thought, that's not exactly true. What I see's walking on four legs alright, but that's

only 'cause each of 'em has two legs.

       Glancing back over his left shoulder every few feet, repeatedly jerking on Sonya's

hand when she didn't seem to keep up the pace, Clarence and the prisoner were coming

right at Fancy's hiding place. Also equipped with a stick, not as big as the one Ben had

intended to use, but still very serviceable, she poised herself for action, even biting her lip

in anticipation. Just as Clarence strode past her, once more glancing behind him, Fancy

jammed it at an angle behind his right foot when it came to earth, the other end to the left

of a hardy bush two plus feet away, across the path.

       His left leg came forward, hit the obstruction, and he stumbled forward, hands in

front of him to break his fall. While Sonya exclaimed, "Holy shit!", her hand suddenly

free when her captor took his nosedive, Fancy enacted step two of a plan she hadn't yet

firmed up beyond step one. As fearlessly as anyone who hasn't thought out an action, her

goal being to help Ben in any way she could, the young Mexicana leapt atop the giant's

broad shoulders and began pummeling the back of his neck with tiny, misformed fists.

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       "Ya big bully, why doncha pick on somebody yer own darn size?" she screamed

as she futilely attempted to savage him. Pounding away as if she honestly had a chance,

Fancy was working up a sweat and bruising her own hands as badly as the muscles of the

big man's neck.


       The situation at hand blew the hell out of any master battle plan I may have had in

mind. When I heard the woman I love screeching in anger, I even stopped a moment to

do a reality check. What the hell would she be doing out here?

       Realizing the futility of wondering why fact was fact without having all the pieces

needed to arrive at an answer, I let the whole thing go and hauled ass in the direction of

what was a strange sounding conflict up ahead. As I rounded a curve in the trail, one of

what had to be a cajillion or more, I saw my girl beating on a guy who could've told Mike

Tyson, "Get outa my way, punk!" Without bothering to consider she didn't have as good

a chance as a snowball in a 500 lap race around the upper rim of hell, my girl was loudly

and savagely attempting to kick the man's ass beyond redemption.

       Adding to the chaos, Sonya jumped knees first onto the small of Clarence's back,

causing him to grunt in pain like a wounded grizzly. Then she began thrashing his ass to

a fare-thee-well, too, beating her fists against ribs encased in hard muscle.

       Howling, "What the fuck's up wi' this shit?" Clarence swung backward with his

monstrous left arm, swatting Sonya like a helpless schoolgirl and knocking her into the

brush. He had to come halfway to his feet to deal with Fancy, who locked her legs on his

upper torso, used her left hand to grip his left ear, and got back to her original project of

mass destruction, which was to beat the living shit out of the man who'd foolishly pissed

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her off. She was even screeching like a falsetto bronc rider as she lambasted him time

and time and time again with her little fist.

       Her attack was proceeding unruffled while I charged in that direction, hauling out

my .38 from the pocket of my jacket on almost a dead run. Then Clarence, first bending

to relieve the likely excruciating pain of his left ear, swung his elbow back at my girl. It

caught her in the left armpit and sent the lovely lass flying to the ground, still whooping

in anger when she landed.

       Without waiting for grass to grow under what I assumed were size 13 or 14 feet,

Clarence grabbed a handful of the still befuddled Sonya's hair and hauled her to her feet.

       I slid to a stop, again holding my peashooter in a two-handed grip, but wasn't fast

enough to do anything before Clarence's big left hand reappeared armed with that same

glistening blade. He held the point of the weapon against Sonya's throat and bellowed,

"Ya don't stop, this bitch's gonna bleed all fuckin' over yer ass!"

       "Damn it, Clarence," I seethed in boiling anger and disgust, "haven't we already

been through this shit? Let that woman go or I'm gonna blow your big, dumb ass all to

hell and gone! I've had about all of this shit I'm willing to take!"

       "I ain't lettin' ya take my ass in!" he shouted. "I'll jus' kill this bitch first! Leave

my ass alone, ya fuckin' cop!"

       Walking closer to him, firming up my grip, I said through clenched teeth, "I said

I've had enough of this shit, and I meant it, Clarence. Let that woman go or I'm gonna

put one right between your fucking eyes! I am not screwing around with you this time,

you big, dumb asshole! Let her go or I'm gonna take you out!"

       Evidently it got his attention seeing me with my back up like that, because he

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didn't take his turn in the volley of threats. He just gawked at me, undecided. Waiting to

be led, even, if someone he believed in would take charge.

        So, she did. Clearly understanding I wanted to change the tide somehow, Sonya

said, while glancing every few seconds at her captor, "Lieutenant, don't shoot him just

yet, okay? I think we can work with Clarence, sir. He's trying to be cooperative, as best

he can, but this is a difficult situation."

        "Yeah," Clarence added, turning to look at Sonya, "what she said. I ain't tryin' to

give nobody no hard time. I jus' wanna get my ass outa here so's I can show up later an'

get me that deal on that 'no-fuck clause' this li'l bitch tol' me about."

        "Damn you, Clarence, I am not a bitch!" Sonya spat angrily. "You just knock that

happy horseshit off right now, you hear me?"

        "Yeah," he said, momentarily hanging his head in apology. "It jus' slipped out. I

wasn't meanin' it, ya know?"

        "Just see it doesn't happen again!" she snapped. Turning to me, she went on. "If

we can defuse things a bit, Lieutenant, I think we can get Clarence to work with us now

on this mess. Maybe it's not a bad idea, what Clarence suggested … that we let him leave

and show up at the arraignment. Although you're certainly the man in charge here, sir, if

I might add an opinion, I don't think Clarence's getting all the recognition he has coming.

After all, he did earn all the rights and privileges accorded under the 'no-fuck clause', sir."

        Doing my best to work with her catch-as-catch-can routine, I was formulating a

reply when Clarence again broke ranks and screwed things up. "I ain't waitin' fer you t'

d'cide if I gets me no fair treatment shit, or not," he instructed me. "I'll let this Sistah go a

bit later, when I's knowin' ya ain't gonna blow my black ass away."

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       Still holding the switchblade to Sonya's throat, hoisting her up so she prevented

me from taking a shot at almost all parts of him, particularly his head and torso, he began

rapidly backing away.

       As a fallback position, I was using Mom's long time idea of wondering whether to

shit or go blind when it came to me. Okay, I can't have this big asshole be so mobile, so I

better take the wheels out from under him. I concluded my wisest move now would be to

shoot him in the leg and made an obvious show of what I had in mind, letting Sonya see

me line up the shot. Considering the woman was as mentally on top of her game as she

was beautiful, I hoped she'd take the hint and raise her legs out of the way.

       While I gave her a few seconds to act and help me avoid injuring her, since even a

wounded Sonya made safe was better than an unharmed Sonya dragged off again with a

murderer's knife at her throat, I took aim. That's when my reinforcements took over.

       From where she'd been sprawled aside the trail, Fancy scrambled her way over to

Clarence. She wrapped both her wiry arms around his left ankle as he stood facing me

with his human shield in the way, and began gnawing viciously on the tendon, like a rat

on a wire.

       "Goddamn!" roared Clarence as her teeth sunk hard into the meat and tendon at

his heel. He swung the knife downward in her direction and began to stoop, his intention

clearly to impale her back with the blade and stop all the hurt she was causing him.

       Sonya swung her feet high, an aerialist with the lower part of her body, while she

jerked her head backwards to give him a reverse butt with her skull. It cleared the path I

needed, and I knew this window of opportunity wouldn't last, so I took advantage of it.

The three loud cracks of my .38 preceded two wounds and a miss. One bullet hit his left

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thigh, just above the knee. One tore a hole through the blousy part of his pant leg at knee

level, and one shattered his left knee, permanently settling the question of Clarence being

able to leave under his own power. From this point, the only way he'd be moved would

be on a stretcher. The unknown part was whether it would be as a wounded prisoner, or

in a body bag.

         The big man hit the dirt hard, roaring in pain and anger, while Sonya scrambled

free and rolled away to his right, then came to her feet nimbly. It seemed Fancy was only

acting the terrier, not the pit bull, because she released the tooth hold she had on him as

soon as he careened clumsily to the ground. Deftly rolling to her left, she got more than a

yard away from him before she sprang to her feet. Still very cognizant she could either

be part of the problem or part of the answer, my girl skittered back my way until she was

near my side, but not in the line of fire. Then, like any good trooper, she stood silently by

her man, watching for yet another chance to do something helpful.

         With all the potential collateral damage personnel out of the way, it was my show


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                         CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

                                 Oceanside, California

                        Thursday, November 19th, 4:03 p.m.

       Some situations are like a brother-in-law with no job and a grating personality.

They won't go away, or stop tormenting you, no matter what you try to do about them.

Clarence was acting like that brother-in-law.

       His leg was very bloody, but not so bad I was worried I'd hit an artery. I could

tell any athletic career he might've aspired to was no longer gonna happen, based on the

damage showing through his pants, although that view wasn't much, along with the way

he wasn't able to move when he tried to get up. That was the unhinging part of it all.

Here the man has injuries such as most people will never suffer, and the pain would be

devastating to a degree few people could stand in only minutes, if it wasn't present now.

Still, he tried to get up. Avenge himself on me.

       Didn't even try to flee. No, this guy wanted to even things out, which actually

made me shudder when I realized what he had in mind. My second cause for concern
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arose from some fast mental arithmetic. I just shot the guy twice, using three rounds to

do it, which told me I only had two left. My only ace in the hole was knowing, while I

can no longer outrun that many people at my age, I still had an edge on Clarence. Yeah,

on him and any other one-legged guys I might need to outdistance.

        Then I was given a reminder I had backup. I wasn't in this thing alone.

        As he struggled to stand, crawling my way with murder in his eye, the lovely,

svelte, and tired-of-all-Clarence's-shit Sonya showed she might have an alternate career

in pro football as a punter. She planted a Reebok on the side of Clarence's skull with

lethal accuracy and a crushing impact, sending him careening to one side to land on his

face in the dirt.

        Since she'd temporarily waylaid my newest arch enemy, I used the recess to pull

another speedloader from my fanny pack and bring my revolver up to full strength again.

When I thought it over, considering he no longer had a human shield to defray my aim,

and was less than ten feet away, I arrived at a conclusion. If I couldn't take the man out

with five more rounds under these conditions, with him on one leg, I really didn't deserve

to live through the experience.

        "Clarence, I'm warning you," I promised him in front of witnesses, "stay down. If

you get up and come after me, pal, damaged or not, I'm gonna shoot to kill. Listen to me

on this one, I am not playing with you. Stay down, damn it!"

        While I suppose it would've made for good theater, Clarence wasn't interested.

He struggled to bring himself partially erect, looked at me with the glaring hatred of a

wounded bear, and began a three-point charge on his one good knee and two hands.

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        My semi-cowardly reaction was to back up a couple steps, which almost proved

to be my downfall. My right heel landed on a stick I would later learn was what Fancy

used to trip him up in the first place. Picking up speed the way I was, when my foot

landed on the stick and it rolled beneath me, I went down.

        Like a shark who smells blood in the water, that was all Clarence needed to begin

his charge. Three feet away from me he came upright, arms spread wide, intending to

take a grip on me and begin some up-close work I more than likely wouldn't survive.

        So, when he went up, lying flat on my back, I raised my pistol and put three in his

chest from around a yard away.


        Anxious to find the material they needed without wasting a lot of time, Rex and

Chico went back to the truck. They planned to head over to Mission Avenue where they

knew there'd be a more than adequate supply of homeless guys. However, as they got in

the truck and started out of the parking lot, a guy named Shep who'd been homeless the

last six years due to alcoholism came stumbling by. He was coming from what looked

like the marina area, staggering and reeling as he walked.

        Rex accelerated and came to a stop next to Shep as he careened off a light pole by

the sidewalk and swayed eerily as he regained his balance. As instructed, Chico crawled

over the seat into the back, reached across and opened the rear driver's side door. Rex

said, "You know, if the cops see you like that, pal, you're goin' t' jail."

        Shep shrugged helplessly. "Too fuckin' bad," he said, looking up at Rex with his

rheumy eyes, swaying from side to side until he steadied himself with a hand on the post.

"Gotta get t' the street up there," he said, pointing to PCH, "so's I c'n get me some sleep

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b'hind the dumpster at the café." He began turning to resume his walk. "Got no time t'

talk t' ya. Sorry." He took one step and fell flat on his face on the sidewalk.

        At Rex's bidding, Chico scrambled out of the rear seat and down to the prone

drunk trying once more to rise to his feet. "Here, lemme help ya, my man," Chico told

him with a smile. "Shit, we c'n give ya a ride over there."

        "Really?" Shep said with a surprised smile on his inebriated face. "You guys'll do

tha' shi' fer me?"

        "No sweat," Chico assured him. "C'mon, I'll help ya get in the truck."

        With some fumbling and scraping, needing three attempts to make it happen,

Shep was finally in the back seat. Chico got in and closed the door, moving Shep with

his hands until he was just past the middle of the seat, closer to the driver's side door than

the other rear door.

        Twisting in his seat from behind the wheel, Rex asked Shep, "Want a drink?"

        Shep brightened again. "Don' min' if I do. Gimme."

        "Okay, here ya go," said Rex with a smile as he brought his left hand up and back

toward Shep, who was leaning forward and reaching for what he clearly assumed would

be a bottle of booze or wine. Grinning ear to ear, Rex shot him twice in the chest from

two feet distant, creating a cacophony of deafening sound for a moment.

        Shep was slammed backward, dead before he hit the seat, with very little blood to

show for his passing. Wordlessly, Chico reached behind the back seat, pulled out two big

burlap bags, and spread them on the floor in front of the corpse, keeping both on the other

side of the hump in the floor covering the drive train. When Shep was secured, no longer

a problem or distraction for anyone, Chico scrambled back over the seat and put on his

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seat belt. Just like Rex always bitched about, there was no sense having some ticket

happy cop pull 'em over for a seat belt violation, even if they weren't supposed to stop

anyone just because of a seat belt infraction. Before he even had it snapped in place, Rex

was moving down the street to leave the harbor area.

                                 Guajome Regional Park

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 4:51 p.m.

       With both of them unduly concerned about the meeting with The Man, Rex and

Chico stopped at a minimart store and bought a twelve pack of Miller Genuine Draft,

then drove slowly across town on Mission until it ended at Frazee Road. From there they

got on Highway 76, maintaining the exact 55 mph speed limit to Guajome Lake Road,

where they turned right and drove slowly to the park. Rex made sure to pay the parking

fee and put the receipt on his dashboard. They drove through the main parking lot, each

with an open beer in hand, noting the signs said the park closed at five.

       Chico asked nervously, "Why'd the fucker tell us t' be here at five thirty if this

place closes at five? That's what he said, ain't it?"

       Just as edgy as Chico, if not more, Rex said, while scanning everywhere at once

as he drove, "He said seventeen-thirty hours, which is five-thirty, military time. Must be

he figgered we'd come in the back exit. The one they call the night gate for campers."

       A ranger had driven past them in a white full-size Chevy pickup with the county

seal on the door and a big green line running the full length of the truck with the word

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RANGER in large white letters. Using the megaphone on the roof, he was announcing

the park closed in ten minutes and all cars would be locked in.

        Swiveling his head furiously, Chico said, "Man, they're gonna lock our asses in

here so we can't even fuckin' get out!"

        "Don't be a dipshit," Rex sneered, his anger and fear now bubbling just below the

surface. "I already said there's a night gate for all them fuckin' campers." He pointed to

the campgrounds, the upper part of it visible behind the ranger shack they passed when

they turned into the secondary, smaller parking lot in the back. He stopped and watched

the ranger until the truck disappeared from view, heading toward the front gate. "He's

goin' t' lock it now, so we c'n haul ass back there where The Man wants t' meet us."

        "We're gonna be way early," Chico warned him.

        "No shit? Like I didn't fuckin' know that?" Rex scowled. "I wanna be early so's I

can get my ass all set up. 'Tween you an' me, I ain't so sure The Man's even plannin' on

payin' us t'night."

        "Yeah? Why? What's he gonna do, if he ain't payin' us?"

        "Gonna kill our asses, ya want my guess," Rex said sagely.

        "Ya think so? Then why the fuck're we even here? Why not just haul us some

ass somewheres an' not hafta worry 'bout that shit?"

        "The money, ya dipshit. He ain't paid us yet."

        "Think he's gonna have money on him?" Chico wondered. "I mean, if he's all set

t' kill our asses, why bring any money with 'im?"

        "In case anything goes wrong … which it's sure as fuck gonna … so's he don't

look like he had somethin' else planned. The Man's always got hisself a backup plan, ya

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know? He covers 'is own ass like a blanket, Chico. Always got a contingency plan, like

they teach ya in the service. He don't go no-fuckin'-where without some kinda backup

plan t' cover 'is ass."

        "Yeah? So, we got one? A backup plan?"

        "Bet yer ass," Rex said with a smile of feigned confidence. "Here's what we're

gonna do. First, we'll be in place when he gets here, so's it's him who's gotta come t' us,

not th' other way around. Then, when we meet up, I'm gonna remember somethin' I gotta

get outa the truck at the last second. I'll go back t' th' truck like I'm gonna get somethin',

but what I'll really be doin's gettin' out this piece we stole," he said, comfortably rubbing

the 10mm Glock in his waistband. "Yer gonna walk up to 'im on yer own at first."

        "Bull-fuckin'-shit!" Chico argued shrilly. "Ya expect me t' go handle that bastard

all by myself? Fuck you, man! Just double-duty fuck you!"

        "Naw, 'course not," Rex reassured him. "Ain't no way in hell you c'n handle a

dude we know's that bad. No way."

        His pride on the line now, Chico said, "Well, maybe I could, but I don't wanna.

No need, long's there's two of us, right?"

        Rex eyed Chico as if he was talking crazy. "Yer shittin' me, right? Ain't no way

I'm takin' that bastard on with just one other guy. Shit, I ain't crazy, dude."

        "Yeah? Then, what're we gonna do?"

        "You go up t' him an', unless he ponies up what 'e owes us, he's gonna start some

shit. You go at it with him … only fer a couple seconds, man, don't worry yerself … an'

I'll haul out this here piece an' blow 'is ass away. Then, after the prick ain't even movin'

no more, we'll get all the cash he's got on him, go ditch this fuckin' truck he give us, an'

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we're outa here, ya know? We'll be gone an' he'll be dead. Just slicker'n shit, we'll have

our loot an' I'll leave this gun on him, after I wipe it fer prints."

          "That's why ya shot that guy in we got there in the back with it, huh? So's ya c'n

blame all of 'em on him?"

          "Good one," Rex complimented Chico. "See? Ya ain't stupid."

          "Who the hell ever said I was?"

          "Never mind that shit," Rex countered as they arrived at the Y in the dirt road

where they were supposed to meet. "I'll park over here by the bushes an' we'll get our

asses all set up so's, when The Man gets here, we'll be ready an' waitin'. It'll be our turf,

that way, not his."

          They parked, shut off the engine, and got out. "Now we can scout th' place out a

bit an' be ready for 'is ass when he shows up." They started walking back in the direction

from which they came, heading toward where the wood had been cut and left in piles in a

small clearing beside the road.

          They were about a dozen feet past the back of their truck when The Man stepped

out from the bushes between them and the truck and said, "Nice to see you men are a bit


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                           CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

                                   Oceanside, California

                           Thursday, November 19th, 4:22 p.m.

        The first thing Sonya did when Ben shot Clarence was jump across the path and

embrace Fancy. "You okay, girl?"

        A confused look on her face, Fancy hugged her back briefly, then asked, "Why

wouldn't I be okay? Ben shot him, not me."

        "Oh. Well, I mean, with all the blood and such, I just worried … are you sure

you're okay? You don't need to sit down, or put your head between your knees?"

        Fancy said, "Only diff'rence 'tween this an' a drive-by shootin's there wasn't no

cars with this one. I seen a lot worse'n this, a lotta times."

        "Okay," Sonya told her, finishing with a hug using only her left arm. "I just want

to be sure you're okay."

        "I'm doin' a lot better'n him," Fancy told her, pointing at Clarence, who laid in a

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bloody heap in the middle of the deer trail. "He don't look so hot now, an' I ain't sure, but

maybe he's even dead."

         "Would that bother you?"

         "T' know some guy who's been killin' d'fenseless homeless guys is dead? Naw,

not so's ya'd notice. They never did nothin' t' him."

         Absorbing the thought, Sonya decided Fancy would be fine, and felt she should

spend a few of his last moments with Clarence, assuming he still had any moments left.

She smiled at Ben, who was getting to his feet and brushing himself off as she walked to

Clarence and knelt at his side. Cursorily feeling for a pulse, she announced, "Ben, he's

still alive."

         Ben rushed over, knelt on the man's left side, and also checked his pulse. "Shit,

we've gotta stop the bleeding." He got out the radio Hawthorne supplied and keyed it to

talk. "Benning, it's Dover. You read me?"

         "Five by five," Benning replied. "The chopper's guiding me to you as we speak.


         "Yeah? Well, if that chopper can carry wounded, we've got a prisoner here with

three in the chest and two in the leg. If he lives, the knee's gone and he'll walk funny the

rest of his days, but he might make it if we get him to an ER pronto. Over."

         "Our chopper can't, but I'll have 'em get a Life Flight bird in the air. Out."

         Jamming the radio in his pocket, Ben yanked off his belt and began forming a

tourniquet for the leg. "Fancy, come help me, Ángel."

         As she watched his eyelids flutter, Sonya decided he wouldn't make it.

         Clarence opened his eyes and groaned, his left hand coming up and landing in the

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pool of blood on his chest. "Mothafuckah done kilt my ass, right?" As if it would help,

he ran his hands across all the bloody area, then wiped them on the part of the shirt that

covered his belly.

       She watched his face, saw all the sadness and regret. Took in the hopes that were

lost before they ever really began. Concluded he was doing what would've happened to

him anywhere else because he was born getting ready to die. Guy like this, growing up

poor in the slums of Detroit, he never had a damned chance from day one. Nodding her

head, she said, "It looks that way, Clarence. I'd say you only have a very few minutes to

go. Would you like to make a dying declaration and get all this off your chest?"

       "Off my chest?" he asked, eyes widening. "Ya mean all these fuckin' bullet holes

he done put in me?"

       Sonya sustained the laughter it almost caused, a task made easier by the grim

view before her eyes. "No, I mean what you guys did. Want to tell me about it?"

       "Do me any good if I tell ya?"

       "In a way," she said truthfully. "If you tell me what happened, and the names of

the other two guys, as well as anything you can remember, it will help us catch them.

After all, they ran out on you, Clarence. The one that tried to screw me there in the

hallway … what was his name?"

       "Rex is all I knows," Clarence explain. "We never used no las' names, 'cept I'm

thinkin' him an' Chico … that's the beaner … they was friends from b'fore. Think them

two already knowed each other b'fore we started doin' all that shit." He sighed and his

eyes both went shut, giving her cause to think he might've just died, but he opened them

up as soon as she began wondering.

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       "Yer sayin' I'm dyin'? Ain't no chance I'll make it?"

       Unconsciously shaking her head, Sonya told him softly, "Clarence, there's always

a chance with anything. Plus, I'm no doctor, I'm a cop." She looked him over again so he

saw she was appraising the carnage. "Still, I've seen a lot of guys shot in my time. A lot

of 'em weren't messed up as badly as you are, and they still didn't make it."

       "So, yer sayin' I'm dyin'? That it?"

       "I think so," she said, nodding as she talked. "Look, Clarence, I wouldn't be so

damned brusque about it, but a dying declaration can be used in court. Meaning I can say

to the court, and a jury, everything you said and it'll be admissible evidence after you're

gone. However, that's only if you believe you're dying. If I tell you I think you're gonna

make it, anything you say is inadmissible. It'd be classified as hearsay testimony."

       He wrinkled his brow. "So, if I say I know I'm dyin', that's it, right? I be fucked

if I wanna not die, huh? Can't make it then, no ways?"

       "Not true," she said, smiling now despite the situation. "In that case, you'd be

able to offer the testimony yourself, since you'd be alive. However, if you refused, or if

you testified contrary to what you tell me now, my recantation of what you tell me could

be used by the DA to rebut whatever you said later, if it was different."

       "Oh. Okay. So, if I say I think I'm gonna die, but then I live anyways, I can still

be alive? I ain't gotta be dead jus' 'cause you an' me agreed I'd be dead?"

       "True, although I'd say you don't have a lot of time left, so I need to have you tell

me you think you're going to die if any of this will be admissible."

       Ben broke in with, "You're one helluva cheerleading section, woman," then went

back to trying to do something about all the damage.

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       "Yeah, okay. I know I'm dyin'," Clarence admitted. "What ya wanna know?"

       "Who set all this up? You three didn't decide on your own to just go out and kill

a bunch of homeless men, did you?"

       "Naw." He tried to shake his head in the negative, but the movement he managed

to accomplish was negligible. "Me an' Rex … don't know the mothahfuckah's las' name

… and Chico … don' got his name, neither, jus' know he's a nasty, mean, fuckin' beaner

… was hired by this dude we's callin' 'The Man', ya know?"

       "Who is 'The Man'?"

       "I don' fuckin' know. He wasn't never wearin' no uniform when we saw 'is ass …

we saw the mothahfuckah maybe three, four times … but I could tell 'e was in the fuckin'

army, or some shit. Rex … he was a Marine, he tol' me … he says 'The Man' was a real

tough guy in the Marines. Says he might still be one, jus' can't be sure, ya know?"

       "So, he was the one who wanted it done? Did he ever say why?"

       He tried again to shake his head, but didn't get much action. "Naw, 'cept one time

he fucked up an' says somethin' 'bout it'd make her happy t' see them mothahfuckahs all

be dead. He never said who she was, though." His face brightened, then immediately

went to a scowl. "Dude was payin' us five grand fer each one we kilt. We was s'posed t'

split it three ways, 'cept Rex was getting two grand an' me an' Chico was only gettin'

fifteen hunnert each." A shrug. "That was okay. Rex was our leader, kinda."

       "How many of them did you kill, personally, Clarence?"

       He looked at Sonya as if she was talking in riddles, or speaking in tongues. "Me?

None. I never touched me a single one of 'em." Now when he looked up at her his eyes

were a lie detector, of sorts. They attested he was being truthful in every word.

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       Shocked, confused, she said, "Why would you say that, Clarence? If this is to be

a dying declaration, you have to speak only the truth."

       "I is," he insisted. "I tol' 'em I wasn't never gonna hurt none of them poor fucks.

Ain't none of 'em never did nothin' t' me, ya know? They said, if I was along with 'em,

an' if anybody started fuckin' with us when they was doin' they shit, I was s'posed t' whip

they asses so's we could all be gettin' away. Tha's all I was doin'. Ain't no fuckin' way I's

ever gonna beat on them dudes, or kill me one of 'em, neither."

       Stunned, Sonya found herself unconsciously holding his hand. Perhaps even

wishing he would survive, now that she saw him in such a new light. "You're telling me

you never harmed any of them?"

       "Shit, no. I jus' went along an' listened t' them assholes arguin' with each other all

th' fuckin' time, like they's married, or some shit." Again, he wrinkled his brow and his

dark brown eyes seemed to focus on her more intently. "If you's sayin' I gots to be sayin'

the truth, zat mean you gotta do it, too?"

       Slightly startled at the question, Sonya nodded. "Yes, of course. Why do you ask

me that, Clarence?"

       "I s'pose it don't matter none, since ya already said I's gonna be dead, but I wanna

know. Was ya tellin' me the truth 'bout the 'no-fuck clause'? If it wasn't 'cause I's gonna

be dead, would I still be gettin' my ass a walk, or was ya lyin' t' my black ass?"

       Aw, shit! Sonya remonstrated herself. If this isn't one helluva fix! Do I tell this

poor guy the truth, when he's dying? Let him go out of this world thinking one of the last

people he thought was sort of a friend lied to him? Or, so he can feel good these last few

minutes of his life by knowing I "told him the truth", do I lie to the man now? Shit!

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       The flicker of hope she saw in his eyes swayed her decision. "I told you the truth

on that one, Clarence. You would've gotten a walk at the arraignment." Fighting to keep

the tears from welling up in her eyes, she leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.

"Thank you for being my hero and not letting those assholes fuck me, Clarence. In my

opinion, you showed yourself to be a man among men with what you did."

       "Might's well," he told her, a surprising smile appearing on his ebony face. "Ya

know I couldn't fuck ya, so they wasn't no sense me lettin' them guys fuck ya, neither."

       She was about to lean forward and kiss his forehead again when his eyelids began

to flutter. He sighed once and his chest seemed to stop rising and falling. "Clarence?

Aw, Damn it, Clarence? Talk to me, damn it!" She tried to feel for a pulse, but Ben was

still working on him to stop the bleeding and there was too much commotion for her to be

sure if he was or wasn't breathing.

       Then she heard a very familiar voice. "Sonya? Baby? Oh, thank God!"

       Turning to look, she was just in time to see it was Hawthorne before he swept her

off her feet and applied an almost bone crushing hug. "Oh, Jesus! Thank You, God! I

was so damned afraid I'd never see you again, Baby!" Alternately squeezing her to his

chest and kissing her so hard she wondered if he might bruise her lips, with her deciding

at the same time she really didn't give a damn if he did, Hawthorne danced her around in

a circle, the beam of happiness on his face immeasurable.

       After a while, Benning pulled them apart, saying, "Wendell, someone's going to

tell you two to get a damned room if you don't dial it down a little."

       "Fuck 'em!" Hawthorne decreed. "We damned sure are gonna get a room! May

get one an' not even leave it for a week! Fuck that, a month!" He resumed whirling her in

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circles, kissing her with a near insane fervor. Caught up in the moment, Sonya reacted in

kind and helped prolong the moment.

       Then, thinking back on her escape attempt, at all the gyrations she had to do to get

the glass of water, she said girlishly, "I may've even discovered a new treat for you, Flav.

A kinda kinky way you can do it to me. It's something I found out about today when I

was trying to escape these guys."

       "I can't wait!" he exclaimed. "That's a perfect idea!"

       "Flav, I haven't even told you what it is yet."

       "So, who gives a shit? I love it anyway! It's fuckin' perfect!"

       Pressing close to him, putting her mouth up by his ear, Sonya suggested, "It may

even be perfect fucking, Baby!"

       Benning stood next to them with a smile. "I think you two can safely assume

your secret is now out with the department. I'd say almost everybody knows about you

two by now."

       "Maybe not all of 'em," Hawthorne said with a wisp of hope.

       "No, not all," Benning agreed. "But, the ones who don't know can probably all

carpool to work in one Toyota."

       The sound and all the blowing wind of a chopper setting down in a clearing fifty

feet from the trail they were on disrupted any conversation. They were still quiet when

Ben Dover walked over to stand by them. "What the hell'd you tell that guy, Sonya?" he

questioned. "He told me he wasn't allowed to live now because of something he said to

you. What's up with that?"

       "He's not dead?" she asked in pleasant surprise, and with a resurgence of hope.

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       "Not as far as I could see," Ben told her. "Not sure, but maybe all that muscle had

more stopping power than my bullets. I know Fancy and I pretty much got the bleeding

stopped so, who knows? He might make it. Did you tell him he had to die?"

       Thinking back on the conversation, she said, "No, not exactly."

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                           CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 4:57 p.m.

       Rex didn't like the current situation. Any part of it. Not one damned bit of it did

he enjoy. Shit! The bastard done bushwhacked our asses! Now, instead o' gettin' all set

up t' take 'is ass out the easy way, we're standin' here with our dicks in our hands and he's

got the drop on us! Fuck! Quelling an instinctive urge to raise his hands, glad the 10mm

he swiped from that slut cop was in the belt at the back, with his sport shirt hanging over

it to keep it hidden, he turned around.

       Chico rotated at the same time. Rex almost laughed when he saw his cohort begin

to raise his hands, as if he was being arrested. Same damn thing I almos' did. Well, if it

comes down t' my ass, or it means the taco bender's ass is gonna be made inta dog meat,

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ol' fuckin' Chico's got him a big ass surprise comin'. It comes down t' me or him, his ass

ain't got a chance in hell! "Thought ya said seventeen-thirty hours," Rex queried.

       "I did, which sort of makes me wonder why you're here so early," The Man asked

in response, although it was actually a statement.

       "Didn't want ya t' have t' wait."

       "Very considerate of you," The Man said without even a hint of a smile. "What if

I don't think that's why you're here early?"

       "Ya callin' me a liar?"

       The Man shook his head, but never once took his eyes away.

       Rex wondered, even as he realized he'd never know the reason, how it could feel

like he was watching both of them at the same time, although they were standing six feet

apart, maybe more.

       "No, I only asked a hypothetical question … which you haven't answered," said

The Man.

       "Man, I tol ya, we didn't want ya t' hafta wait. We know yer a busy guy."

       "True. I am. Still, it helps at times to be a step ahead of the other guy."

       Not liking the sound of that at all, Rex asked, "Ya sayin' me an' Chico's now 'the

other guy'? Like we ain't all friends no more, er some shit like that?"

       His face steely, eyes hidden behind those dark glasses, The Man burned Rex, and

Chico, too, it seemed, with what felt like a hot, scornful glare. Unable to see it behind the

black glasses, Rex was forced to admit the aura of The Man made it become fact.

       The Man said quietly, but with steel in the words and tone he used, "I never said

we were friends. What gave you that idea?"

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       Stuck for an answer, Rex shrugged and said nothing. He realized he was truly

outmatched in a battle of words, and there was no question in his mind what would be the

result of any physical conflict. He preferred not having The Man prove his point, since

he was convinced he wouldn't survive the event.

       "Are you going to answer me?" inquired The Man.

       "No, ya never said we was friends, I guess. It's an expression, ya know?"

       "I'm not sure I do." Using his thumb to point over his right shoulder, The Man

asked, "You bring what I told you to bring?"

       Rex nodded, then managed to gulp, realizing his throat had gone dry with a fear

no other man had ever instilled in him. "He's … it's in the truck."

       "Get it." The words bore an implication. The understanding if Rex and Chico

didn't do what they were just ordered to do, they'd end up in that condition, too.

       After a look at Chico, one that convinced him there was no way his partner in

crime would ever initiate an attack on what was definitely feeling like their nemesis at the

moment, Rex headed toward the passenger side of the truck. He moved at an angle of

sorts, keeping his back out of The Man's view, ushering Chico along as he moved. When

they got to the rear door, he told Chico, "Open it."

       Chico looked at him, the implication saying he wanted to refuse. Then he glanced

toward The Man and evidently made the decision he didn't want to alienate anyone right

at the moment, with no true indication of his motive for feeling that way. He hesitated,

then put a hand on the door and opened it. When Rex said, "Get 'is shoulders, I'll get th'

feet," it was one more occasion of clearly conflicted wishes in the mean little thug, but

Chico got a grip on the guy's shoulders and pulled steadily.

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       In position, next to the door, Rex caught the corpse's lower legs as they came out

and carried his part of the body out past the rear end of the truck. When Chico looked up

at him, as if for directions, Rex spoke before The Man could veto his idea. "Carry 'is ass

t' the other side o' the road an' put 'im down in them fuckin' bushes in case some ranger or

any other dumb fuck comes along."

       They made it to the other side, where Rex kept moving, which left Chico and the

dead man's head closer to The Man than Rex was when they quit moving. He dropped

the legs in the weeds, leaving Chico to his own devices as far as positioning the torso.

Like I need t' concentrate on that shit right now? When I suspect this motherfucker's

gonna do our asses in? I don't fuckin' think so.

       From their new temporary location, The Man was now at least twenty feet away,

maybe more, which Rex felt gave him more of an advantage than when they stood close

enough to be reached in a single bound. He looked at The Man. "Ya bring our money?"

       "I said I would, didn't I?"

       "Yeah, but ya ain't done nothin' so far 'bout payin' us, so I was wonderin' on it."

       "In due time. All in due time."

       When Chico began meandering back toward the general area where they'd been

standing moments earlier, Rex saw his chance. He waited until Chico, still looking as if

he'd be loyal to whomever prevailed in a battle no one had announced, but even a fool

would sense brimming, was around ten feet from their seeming adversary. "I don't think

ya plan on payin' us, an' neither does Chico." He pointed at his compatriot.

       "Hey, I ain't said shit!" Chico said, defending himself and looking exclusively at

The Man as he spoke.

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        "Matter o' fact," Rex prodded, seeing his opportunity beginning to expand, "he

was tellin' me he thinks yer gonna kill us here, 'stead o' payin' us."

        Flipping his gaze back and forth from Rex to The Man, finally ending up looking

at The Man, Chico insisted, "I never said that shit, man! It was you said he was gonna

kill our asses, not me!" Unconsciously taking a half step closer to The Man, Chico even

added, "That's why Rex wanted t' be here early, man. So's he could off yer ass when ya

wasn't 'spectin' it!" His eyes returned to the rotation between The Man and Rex.

        Sensing the situation was about to go hot, feeling the odds of a successful escape

climbing by the second, Rex even said, "That's why I ain't even got that fuckin' cop's gun

no more, man. Chico took it from me an' said he ain't givin' it back 'cause he might need

t' use it t' blow yer ass away."

        "Oh, man," said Chico, shaking his head in disgust as he glared at the ground in

between The Man and himself, "that's such pure, fuckin' bullshit! I ain't got no fuckin'

gun! Rex has it, an' he was the one said he was gonna blow yer ass away! Dude, I never

said shit 'bout none o' this bullshit! Never, man! Cross my fuckin' heart!" Maybe from a

Catholic upbringing, or some other instinctive reaction, Chico quickly made the sign of

the cross, then used his right index finger to paint an imaginary X across his chest.

        "Who has it?" The Man demanded, now holding his hands loose, at waist level, as

he scanned them alternately, no longer able to even appear he was watching both of them

at one time.

        "He does!" screamed Chico, his mindset undoubtedly now placing him as a direct

ally of The Man and in outright conflict with and against Rex. He pointed his left index

finger at Rex and reactively began jabbing in that direction. "He's fuckin' got it!"

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        "Chico has it," Rex said in a more collected and rational tone of voice. "He's had

it all afternoon."

        "Man, I ain't got no fuckin' gun!" screech Chico, raising the tails of his own shirt,

but not turning around.

        "I think I'll just check to be sure," The Man informed Chico as he took a step in

his direction.

        "No, man, I ain't fuckin' got it!" Chico howled, still jabbing his finger at Rex.

        "Chico, he's gonna kill you first, man!" Rex informed the former partner to whom

he had zero loyalty.

        "No fuckin' way!" Chico denied, his hands forming into fists. "Dude, ya c'n jus'

stay the fuck back!"

        "Don't move!" bellowed The Man, taking another stride toward Chico.

        "Fuck you!" Chico yelled almost hysterically. He started to take a step back, then

seemed to feel it put him at a disadvantage and lunged toward the advancing non-com.

        After The Man took yet another pace, Chico threw caution to the winds and took a

swing at him.

        As The Man stepped in even closer, indubitably bent on dispatching Chico in only

seconds, Rex saw his chance and leapt at it. The Man grabbed Chico's fist when it flew

at him in a blur, twisted it over and down, yanked it toward him and pressed his other arm

around it with the speed of light.

        Rex discerned the sickening snap of bone in Chico's arm as he sped past a combat

scene he had no doubt would be concluded in only a few scant seconds now. Too afraid

to risk everything by drawing the 10mm and making it into a do or die standoff with The

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Man, he hustled to the truck, jumped in, fired it up, and hauled the gearshift into drive all

in one fell swoop. While he floored the accelerator to commence what he knew was an

express trip out of the Valley of Death, Rex cast his eyes on the rearview mirror outside

his door to follow what was happening in the short-lived battle.

        He witnessed Chico grimacing in tremendous pain and attempting to hold up his

right arm with his left hand as The Man went about mopping up the matter. The Man's

left hand shot at Chico in a blur, coming to a stop at the top of his head and taking an iron

grip on his hair. Holding Chico in a fixed position, The Man shot his right hand in the

same general direction.

        Although he couldn't be positive, since it happened so fast, Rex was pretty sure

The Man just crushed the Mexican's throat into rubble.

        Following through as if with practiced ease, The Man released the hair he'd held

so firmly and used his hands to finish the fight. His left darted straight past to the back of

Chico's skull, but it came to a halt and took a grip as his right assumed a viselike hold on

the chin. Like a machine snapping something into position, The Man gave one final yank

and shove combination. Suddenly, although his body was still directly facing The Man,

Chico's head had done a 180° and he was looking directly behind himself.

        Only able to force his gaze back to the road ahead at the last moment, blessed in a

way as the macabre scene he just took in was over so fast he could barely even believe it

just happened, Rex was still not completely in time. He saw what he was about to collide

with and spun the wheel left, but not quite fast enough. The truck's big right front fender

grazed a tree at the side of the dirt road.

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       He did manage to extricate the vehicle and himself from what could've been a far

worse crash than it became, and the mirror that hit the tree was self-collapsing under such

force, so the damage was well contained. With his focus on the road ahead of him now,

Rex put his foot to the floor until he had to brake for a curve, which he slid into and then


       Swiveling his head in all directions in search of whatever The Man drove to get

here, he decided it must be parked out front, near the night gate the campers were all

supposed to use after closing. Too terrified by this juncture to try going around the park

and exiting from the east side, where he entered, Rex stayed to the right at each split or

turn in the road.

       He eventually came to where he could see the much smaller playground and

picnic area on the west side of the park, paralleling North Santa Fe Road, and went that

way in a cloud of dust. At the park exit, still being cautious, he turned left, knowing it

would eventually lead him to Vista Way, the long service road that ran alongside 78, the

main route from I-5 to Escondido and beyond, also connecting Vista and Oceanside, as

they were abutted cities.

       Fuck him! he decided when he was far enough away to dare experiencing any

anger. That's the last fuckin' straw, man! Now I know what I gotta do, an' ya can bet yer

sweet ass I'm fuckin' gonna do it! Prick pulls that shit with me, it means it's time ol' Rex

took hisself a fuckin' hostage! He smiled at the idea. "An' I know exactly where t' go so

I can get me a fuckin' hostage! Fuck with me, will he? I'll show his ass!"

       The plan began forming in his mind as he raced south on North Santa Fe. "This,"

he promised himself, "is gonna be sweeter'n shit!"

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                               CHAPTER THIRTY

                                 Oceanside, California

                        Thursday, November 19th, 5:21 p.m.

       As he watched Rex tear away down the Guajome Park back road, The Man took it

in along with the scene around him. Contain it, he reminded himself. Minimize any and

all damage to myself and take advantage of the situation, instead.

       With a swiveling glance to be sure there was no one close by, prepared to do what

was needed to eliminate any witnesses, he dragged Chico's corpse up on his left shoulder

and walked it across the road to the other one. Very carefully, making sure to do no more

damage to the plant life than he had to, he undid the very worn belt on the homeless guy's

pants and pulled them down to the knees. He turned the body over, leaving it lying face

down, then lowered Chico's pants the same way and slowly laid that body atop the other

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one. The impression it created was of two males who'd encountered coitus interruptus,

even if the withdrawal was caused by death.

       Although he didn't expect the implication to thoroughly withstand the tests of a

forensic exam, it would at least create some confusion. Cause a delay.

       The added benefit came from the additional "evidence" he attached to the scene.

Safe from discovery because he'd again worn clear plastic surgical gloves, he tucked a

picture of Rex into Chico's pants pocket, leaving only the corner of it visible to anyone

who came upon the bodies. Secure in knowing he still had nine more of the same photo,

a picture Rex didn't know he had, he stood and looked around again.

       Finding no one, he took off at a leisurely jog, stripping the gloves away, but kept

them in his pants pocket. No sense leaving contrary evidence anywhere in the park when

it could be pitched a million other places.


       As he wended his way to his destination, carefully maintaining the speed limit to

avoid complications, Rex began assembling a battle plan. He thought back on the day he

was away from the house where he temporarily resided with Clarence and Chico. It was

a trip taken to get a cheap haircut at one of the barbershops in downtown Oceanside used

primarily by the military. Like many other Marines, while he wanted his hair short, he

didn't want that "trim it to the skin" bullshit available on the base. Since he had a lot of

time and very little to do that day, he'd cruised over by the main gate of Camp Pendleton.

       After passing by the gate, not interested in going through all the bullshit needed to

access the camp, he did a double take. Man, that's one hot lookin' piece o' pussy! he'd

told himself when that sexy bitch with all the long dark hair came tooling out of the base

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in the Mercedes Roadster. Still with very little to do and a lot of time to do it, he opted to

follow her a while. He was already annoyed with all the waiting by that time, since The

Man had essentially ordered them to stay in the house until he gave instructions letting

them go anywhere.

       An element of surprise came in when he saw the Mercedes stop by the curb a

couple blocks away to take on a passenger. Rex saw The Man get in the car on the

passenger side, lean across and kiss the foxy bitch who was driving. Being even more

careful after that point, he hung back a quarter mile to be safe, glad he'd stopped to leave

the truck and use his own car, since it needed to be driven every few days to keep the

battery well charged.

       The neighborhood he traced them to made him even more nervous. The only way

anyone would expect a guy like him to be in here was with a landscaping truck. Still, he

stayed with them until the car turned into a driveway leading to a house so big the one he

grew up in would probably fit in any single room. They got out, with The Man coming

around in back to open her door. Then they swapped spit for a while in the long curved

driveway, with The Man groping some decent size tits before they went inside, their arms

around each other's waists.

       A couple days later the connection firmed up in his mind when he was reading a

copy of the local newspaper and saw her picture. Local Councilwoman Helena Salazar

was featured on the first page of the local section and she was worth looking at, he told

himself. Even better, he thought with a smile, she's worth fucking. At the time, he put

that idea way back in the lower recesses of his brain. Uh-huh, I fuck the bitch once, and

he kills my ass three or four times? Fuck that shit!

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       Today, he decided, is different. If I don't get me some fuckin' leverage, that mean

bastard's gonna grind my ass into dog meat now that he ain't got no fuckin' use for any of

us no more. Well, that foxy piece o' pussy looks like as good a piece o' leverage, or

pussy, as I'm gonna find.

       Easily remembering the route, Rex never missed a turn as he drove to the house

he'd seen her enter with The Man. The area was so large and rolling there were stands of

woods between the houses, most of them a hundred yards or more wide. Cruising past

one time and slowing to verify the Mercedes was in the driveway, he parked in front of a

wooded section and made his way back through the trees. Scoping it out from the forest,

he got lucky and noticed she was lying in a bikini on a long piece of lawn furniture by the

pool. The bitch was even facing the other way, which made it all that much easier.

       With a long, slow look to examine the windows facing him and make sure he

wouldn't be seen, Rex sprinted over the fifty yards of lawn to some tall bushes next to the

house. He got to the corner of this sprawling adobe mansion and peeked around in time

to see the slut get up, stand and stretch. The bra of her iridescent blue bikini was in one

hand, leaving those succulent tits to perk up and smile at him.

       Oh, man, Rex promised himself, this is gonna be even better'n I fuckin' hoped!

That sexy ass bounced side to side like the slut was doin' the fuckin' mamba or somethin'

all the way across the patio! This shit's gonna be sweet!

       He darted alongside the house when she stepped in through a sliding glass door

and left it open. Noting she had an empty thermal plastic glass in the other hand, Rex

assumed she'd gone inside to get another drink. Peeking inside the house, he realized he

was looking at a kitchen that would shame any restaurant where he'd ever bussed dishes.

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She'd opened the door to a refrigerator Rex decided was almost big enough to live in if it

wasn't so fuckin' cold and removed one of those tall plastic pitchers. She poured what he

concluded was probably ice tea into the thermal cup before replacing the pitcher and idly

shutting the door with a bump of one sexy fuckin' hip. She raised the glass to her mouth

and was enjoying a drink when he slunk up behind her unheard.

       Rex's right hand went inside the back of the tight blue panties that were all she

had on as his left snaked around her front and squeezed viciously on her right breast. He

rammed his pelvis up against her round little ass and slammed the woman face first into

the stainless steel refrigerator door. When she screamed at the top of her lungs he took

her full lips in a pinch between his thumb and finger hard enough to cause yet another

scream if he hadn't rammed her face against the door with his right hand now on the back

of her head.

       "One more fuckin' noise, bitch, an' you fuckin' die! Shut the fuck up!"

       The venom in his words seemed to have meaning to her. She fell quiet and stood

unmoving as Rex returned his hand to her breasts, squeezing each in turn with no effort

to be gentle. Still grinding his pelvis against her butt, he shoved his right hand down the

front of her panties. "What've we got here, bitch?" he asked lustily.

       Saying nothing, Helena only shook her head.

       His hand still in the front of her panties, Rex began toying with her maidenhead.

"Who else is in this fuckin' house?"

       Again, she shook her head, her face still pressed against the steel door.

       "That ain't no fuckin' answer, bitch. Who's in this fuckin' house?"

       "No one," she muttered. "Just … just me." She shivered.

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        "If yer lyin', slut, I'm gonna kill ya."

        Now she shook her head. "No one. Just me. No one else."

        Rex released the grip he held on her breast, dropping his arm a little so it was

across her flat belly. "Pull down them fuckin' panties," he ordered.

        Following a two or three second delay, she asked, "W-w-w-why?"

        He first smashed her face against the door again, and put his face into all her thick

hair until his mouth was pressed against her right ear. "So I don't hafta do that again."

        Her head slowly came back an inch or so from the door and she nodded. Then, in

almost slow motion, she tugged her panties as low as her knees. "I can't pull them down

any farther unless I can bend over," she explained.

        Using the toe of his shoe to push her panties to the floor, he said, "That's okay, I

got it." He unzipped his pants, but didn't undo the button or belt to avoid having them

fall to his ankles and incapacitate him. With his mouth still pressed to her ear he said, "I

want ya t' ask me t' fuck ya, slut."

        "I will no—!"

        She wasn't finished refusing when he smashed her face against the door, doing it

even harder this time. "Ask me, bitch!"

        "No! I won—!"

        This time it was even harder, leaving a smear of blood on the door. "I jus' told ya

t' ask me, bitch! I ain't gonna give ya another fuckin' chance!"

        "Fuck me," she said in a hollow voice.

        "What's the 'magic word', slut?"

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       "Huh? Mag—"

       Her face hit the door again, smearing even more blood. "What're ya s'posed t' say

when ya ask somebody somethin' and ya do it nice, bitch? Ya better get with the fuckin'

program pretty fuckin' soon or yer mouth's gonna get too beat up t' suck my cock. Ask

me nice, slut!"

       It took her a moment, then Helena said, "Fuck me, please."

       "Thought ya'd never ask," he chuckled, inserting himself when she was still very

dry. He had to lunge four times to get what he wanted.

       Helena cried "Ouch!" the first time, but stopped when it caused him to jam her

face against the door again. She blurted out a sound, but managed not to utter an entire

word, when he used his foot to spread her legs farther apart.

       As soon as he established a rhythm Rex mumbled into her ear, "Start tellin' me ya

love me an' how I got a big fuckin' dick. Ya don't say it, slut, yer gonna kiss that fuckin'

door a few more times. Yer choice."

       "I love you," she told him in a flat voice. "You have a big dick."

       "Yeah?" he asked lustily. "What kinda big dick?"

       Being rammed against the door each time he thrust, her words were somewhat

jagged. "A bi-i-g-g one?"

       "I got a big fuckin' dick!" he laughed. "It's what I'm usin' t' fuck ya with, so say it

that way. C'mon, bitch. I wanna hear it b'fore I come in yer pussy. Say it."

       "You have a big, fucking dick."

       "Ya like it? Do ya, bitch? Ya like it?"

       She nodded, which got her face slammed again.

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       "I like it!" she wailed, "I like it!"

       "What? Ya don't love me no more, slut?"

       "I love you! You have a big fucking dick!"

       "Keep sayin' it, good an' loud, 'til I come in ya, bitch!"

       " I love you! You have a big fucking dick! I love you! You have a big fucking

dick! I love you! You have a big fucking dick!"

       "Yes I dooooooooooooooooooooo!" he roared as he finished. Drained, weakened

by what just happened, Rex pressed her body against the door as he took a long series of

deep breaths. "Don't fuckin' move 'til I tell ya," he rasped, his mouth still against her ear.

"Soon's I get my breath, I'll tell ya what we're gonna do next."

       Helena nodded, then added, "Yes. Okay," before he could ram her face against

the door again.

       Rex stayed inside her, waiting for his body to relax and withdraw without any

effort on his part. Got a lot t' do, soon's this boner goes away, he told himself. Shit, this's

gonna be even sweeter'n I thought it'd be.

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                             CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Thursday, November 19th, 6:34 p.m.

       Two Crown Vics wended their way along Guajome Lake Road, with Benning

following Hawthorne about a hundred feet back. Driving the gray unit, Benning first saw

Hawthorne's blue one a mile back on Highway 76, moving at around sixty. He kicked his

in the rear and tried to catch up, but the timing of the lights kept them apart until they

were almost ready to cross North Santa Fe, the last road before Guajome Lake Road, a

quarter mile west of it.

       Hawthorne raised his right hand and waved absently when Benning veered into

the right lane to get behind him, never turning his head to look. He turned, catching the

light green, and accelerated easily, with Benning staying comfortably back until they

again turned right, this time into the night gate. The sign said it was for campers only,

adding the park closed at five.
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       Both cops kept an eye out for a ranger, but stopped after the road curved right in a

Y, with the turn to the left a one-way coming out at them, the road that circled the lower

campground. As he passed the adobe restroom building on his left, Hawthorne noticed a

somewhat raggedy looking man in his 60s with a grizzled gray beard about four inches

long, dirty jogging shoes, a red and blue flannel shirt, and bib overalls waving at him. He

stood at a right turn off the road Hawthorne was on, which was about to curve left where

it split fifty yards later into another Y. At that juncture, another immediate left would put

the car in a circle of the upper campground. Going straight would soon begin the curve

around the lower campground, passing the site where Rex lured Bobby and Lucy into the

woods and killed them.

       When Hawthorne slowed, about to lower the passenger window because the man

was on that side, the guy waving at him skittered across in front of the big Ford and came

to the driver's door. Seeing no reason to be alarmed, Hawthorne didn't move his hand

anywhere in the vicinity of his weapon. Pressing the button, he lowered the window and

asked, "Can I help you?"

       "Yer the cops, right?"

       "Yes, sir," he said politely, figuring out why the man was attracting his attention

before he was told.

       "Ranger asked me t' wait here for ya," he said, spitting on the blacktop pavement

at his feet. "Said I was s'posed t' show ya where them bodies is."

       Gesturing to the other side, Hawthorne said, "Get in."

       The man backed up two steps, holding both hands in front of him, the palms now

facing the cop. "Uh-uh. No way." Looking the car over front to back, then shaking his

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head, he added, "Even if it ain't no black an' white, I ain't hankerin' t' ride in no fuckin'

cop car." He spat again. "Nothin' 'gainst you, an' all, but I ain't too anxious t' get my

scrawny ass in no fuckin' cop car ever again. No, sir, I flat ain't."

        "Got warrants?" Hawthorne, asked, his hand meandering to his lap, putting it a bit

closer to his weapon.

        "No fuckin' way, officer. Not since '96. Ain't had me nothin' alcoholic t' drink

since June o' '96, an' ain't had me no fuckin' trouble since then, neither. Still, th' idea o'

bein' in that damn car jus' don't sit good with me, officer. It sure fuckin' don't."

        Hawthorne said easily, "It's detective, and that's okay. Just tell me how to get

there and I'll find it."

        "Ain't no big thing," the man informed him, facing the car and extending his left

arm. "Ya goes through that li'l parkin' lot an' there's a dirt road at the end."

        "Yes, I've been down it."

        "Then yer mostly there. Go down that there road an' stay t' th' right when it splits

like a woman's pussy. Ya keep on goin', oh, maybe a quarter mile … ain't no more'n that,

if it's that far … an' yer gonna see where them rangers cuts up a shitload o' trees. Soon's

ya get t' that spot, slow 'er down good 'cause they ain't but maybe fifty, sixty feet past it,

on a curve. There's two rangers there, Lauren an' Adam. They ain't lettin' nobody get 'is

mangy ass nowheres close t' nothin'. Jus' keepin' it tidy fer you guys."

        "That's what I wanted to hear," Hawthorne said, giving the man a rare smile as he

put the window back up and took off with Benning following him. He motored along the

dirt road at around twenty and stopped before the crime scene, where he saw three patrol

cars, one of which was marked as a Supervisor. He and Benning got out and walked to

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the crime scene, where they met the uniformed lieutenant who was overseeing matters as

two other cops strung lots of yellow tape to indicate it was a crime scene and forbidding

entrance. After he spoke with the lieutenant and the sergeant who was in one of the other

cars, learning the little bit anyone knew, he spoke to both rangers.

        They told him the male ranger, Adam, spotted the bodies as he made a patrol of

the park and called Lauren, his senior ranger, to come see the carnage. She immediately

used her cell phone to call the police and summoned a uniform in a patrol car, which then

brought three more uniforms, the sergeant, then the lieutenant. Two uniformed officers

had helped, too, as they first secured the scene, but left on other calls at the sergeant's


        The Medical Examiner's office had been called and were en route, according to

the lieutenant, with an ETA of fifteen minutes. Hawthorne nodded as he and Benning got

out plastic gloves and put them on, then slipped plastic boots over their shoes to avoid

leaving any contaminating evidence as they looked things over. Realizing only too well

the more people who traversed a crime scene, the greater the likelihood there'd be a dumb

mistake made, all the others stayed clear of the bodies and their general locale.

        Since this was their crime scene, Hawthorne and Benning were expected to make

an assessment, which they proceeded to do. Benning went under the tape, while his long

legs allowed Hawthorne to swing one over, straddle it, then bring the other across. Both

sets of eyes scanning the entire area for clues or obvious disruption, they walked over to

the bodies, staying in the grass on the left side of the road. The sergeant said, "Looks like

there was a vehicle … my guess, a pickup … parked on the right." He pointed ahead and

to the right. "It was stopped right there at the side of the road and the AC leaked a little,

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making some mud that's almost gone by now. By the tracks, it looks like he tore ass out

of here in a big hurry. Probably wasn't an hour ago."

       Hawthorne nodded and waved the same way he had with Benning, not turning to

look back. They made it to the bodies and stood looking a few moments, then circled

them and saw the scene from several angles, even going into the shrubbery to see if they

might notice anything different. Back next to the bodies, squatting beside them on the

grass at the road's edge, Hawthorne carefully went over the corpses, feeling Chico's arms,

then touching his skull, but not moving it.

       Slightly raising the homeless guy's right shoulder, he looked at the chest, then let

the corpse ease back in place. Benning came back from examining the tire tracks and the

wet spot the sergeant mentioned. He said, with his eyes on all the butchery in the weeds,

"I'd say the sergeant's on the money. My guess is it's a truck, too, or an SUV. Big, wide

tires. The turn the driver made when he pulled out says it was probably long enough to

be a pickup, but the lab can screw around with that crap."

       Hawthorne nodded. "This thing's been staged, Dar."

       "Yeah? Why's that?" Benning asked, leaning over and scrutinizing the bodies.

       "One on the bottom's been shot, couple-three times, likely. Died pretty quick an'

didn't bleed out too bad." He shook his head. "We're also s'posed to think the Mex was

maybe dickin' the homeless guy, but he wasn't."

       "I'm all ears, Wendell."

       "Well, for starters, ain't nobody … not man an' woman, or a couple o' queers …

gonna get it on in all this bramble and bullshit, Dar. The Mex, he's got an arm broken all

t' hell an' gone, so I know damned well, queer or not, he wasn't about to give anybody a

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ride on Clyde, the one-eyed worm. Not when his arm was hurtin' him so bad. Then, the

homeless guy's a drunk. Prob'ly a wino. Ya can smell it on 'im. Most homeless guys

who've been out there a few years can't even make the damned thing straight anymore

unless they tie a popsicle stick to it. Plus, he was shot someplace else. Nobody heard

any gunfire, an' there's no blood t' speak of, so he was killed somewhere else an' they

brought him here." He chuckled as he evidently thought of something.

       "I s'pose ya could try t' say somebody caught 'em and startled the Mex so bad he

swung his head around too fast, but I'd say somebody who really knows what he's doin'

as far as hand-to-hand combat spun his head around like that an' broke his neck for 'im."

       Then Hawthorne pointed at the dirt road between the bodies and where the truck

or SUV had been parked. "See how those tracks look deeper comin' over here, then not

as deep when whoever it was left and started walkin' back toward the main gate? Tells

me somebody carried a dead body over here two times. Three guys, the way it looks t'

me from the tracks."

       Benning shook his head. "You just lost me, Wendell."

       "Those," he said, aiming his finger at some messy tracks, "they got one guy goin'

backwards, the other forward. Two guys carried the homeless guy over here. My guess

is it was this Mex an' somebody else. Then, somebody … a real bad ass, unless I miss

my guess … turned the Mex inta hamburger an' put 'im on top o' the other guy. Why, I

ain't got a fuckin' clue, Dar, but that's how I see it. Then, somebody else … got different

shoes … hauls ass in the vehicle that was parked there. But, ya notice these tracks ain't

as deep goin' away as they were bringin' the body over?"

       Hawthorne stood, looked the area over again, and sighed. "That tells me there

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were four guys here. The homeless guy, he was dead when he got here. Two other guys

were in the vehicle, an' one of 'em was this Mex. Somebody else was waitin' for 'em in

the bushes an' trees, an' they apparently had a disagreement of some kind. So, two guys

carry the DB over here an' dump it, then the guy who was waitin' kills the Mex, an' his

buddy … tried an' true loyal as all these assholes are t' each other … jumps behind the

wheel an' hauls some serious ass."

        Benning looked up at Hawthorne, then shook his head in disgust. "It's times like

these, Wendell, when you really piss me off."

        "Yeah?" asked Hawthorne, cocking his right eyebrow. "Why's that, Dar?"

        "Because you're going to make me ask for their names, aren't you?"

        "Meaning?" Hawthorne questioned, both eyebrows notched now.

        "It means, since you've already put all that together, I'm sure you also have the

names, but you're gonna make me dig, right, Wendell?"

        "Oh, those names," he said with an ironic smile. "Gimme a few minutes, Dar.

I'm still workin' on that part."

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                           CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 7:02 p.m.

       Driving home after a full day, enjoying the moments of freedom in her Lexus

hardtop convertible and changing lanes almost with abandon, Sonya Charles decided

she'd better slow down a little. First thing you know, if I keep diddling around like I am,

some rookie's going to stop me. It'll be one of the very few who doesn't yet know about

Flav and me, and he'll start making a bunch of snide hints about ways I can get out of a

ticket. Each one will involve me losing my panties, and it'll finally all boil down to me

telling the kid I'll make myself a sundae when I get home and sprinkle it with his crushed

nuts if he doesn't watch his damned mouth!

       Then Flav'll hear about it and, if I know my guy at all … which I damned sure do,

thank you very much … he'll go mention it to the kid a little less gently than I did. If the

kid gets lippy, Flav's gonna pin the boy's ears up the side of his damned head up there in
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the workout room, and I'll be doing backrubs for a week 'cause he won't even tell me how

sore he is by that time.

       Gnawing her lower lip as she considered the wisdom and prudence of all these

ever so timely second thoughts, Sonya remembered Flav called a while ago and said he

wouldn't be there when she got to his place. Another DB has been found, a pair of 'em,

actually, and it smells like at least one's homeless. That's what he said, and he also didn't

know when he'd be able to wrap it up. Meaning this ravishing beauty will get to sit in

front of that damned boob tube with a Lean Cuisine. Ewwwwwwwwww! If I wanted a

reason to barf, the idea of waiting that way for Flav until way after ten at his place, even

worse, going home to my place to be as lonely as a whore in church, would make me gag

myself to death.

       No, she thought, I have a better idea. I think I'll do something "dutiful" that I can

also put in my daily report. Shit, who knows? I may even get to put in some OT for it.

I'll swing by the hospital, bebop into the prison ward, and check on ol' Clarence. With a

goal in mind, and an evening in Dullsville, USA avoided, Sonya pasted a sincere smile on

her face and downshifted again. No sense wasting time on this one, and if a rookie stops

me, they're his nuts, not mine. With one shapely leg riding herd on the accelerator, the

other sublime limb deftly working the clutch of her six-speed, Sonya made very good

time in her cross-town jaunt.

       She put the placard indicating police business on her dashboard and took a spot

where the physicians are supposedly the only ones allowed to park. I doubt anyone in

security at this place wants a local cop pissed at him, so I'm not worried about a tow.

       Badge in place on her belt, a two incher of shiny black that complemented her

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black free flowing skirt and muted yellow long-sleeved blouse and black sweater, her

weapon secured in the purse only big enough to hold that and a small wallet, she entered

the hospital. Minutes later she was at the nurse's station and had identified herself. The

nurse she was talking with, a tired looking slightly pudgy blonde in her late 30s with

loose wisps of hair on both sides that occasionally fell on her face, shook her head. "No,

officer, he sure didn't die. As a matter of fact, he's doing much better than we expected."

She glanced at the chart in her hand and winked at Sonya. "I'm not supposed to say that,

of course, but I figure you can keep it just between us girls."

        "Amen to that," Sonya vowed. "But, he's still in a coma?"

        "That's not actually the best word for it," said the nurse, D. Withers, "but it'll do

for the moment. He's expected … oh, God, don't try to hold me to that, or tell anyone I

said it out loud … to improve any day now." She waved her hand dismissively. "We're

not supposed to 'predict' these things," she volunteered, using the "air quotes" that always

pissed Sonya off when she saw them, "but sixteen years in this work sort of gives you a

'feel' for it, if you get my drift."

        "Absolutely," Sonya concurred, stilling her wish to slap Withers' hands for the air

quotes in order to help develop a hot source inside the hospital system. "So, you think …

with zero guarantees, I understand all that … Clarence will be awake soon, hmmm?"

        Eyes back on the chart, D. Withers smiled. "Mr. Thomas is making what I'd call a

remarkable recovery, considering how bad all those damned cops … oops! I'm sorry!

Was it you who—?"

        "Uh-uh," Sonya told her, shaking her head and creating a mini-tsunami of all that

golden brown hair on her shoulders and back. "Actually, it was an undercover guy called

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in from another department. Not even an OPD cop, to tell you the truth. However, dear,

sweet Clarence was getting himself ready to do the guy down, so he shot him in total self-

defense. It was a righteous shoot."

        She looked down the hallway to the barred area, bulletproof windows and locks

on everything, with an armed cop at the door. Never mind the cop at the door had in his

thirty years and was only still working because his fifth divorce gave him no reason to go

home and be alone. He was still a cop, and that was still a loaded semiautomatic on his

Sam Browne belt. If the wrong person or persons tried to go into or out of the prisoner

area, someone would soon O.D. on lead. "Think I'll stop in and see him, anyway. Will

he know it's me if I talk to him?"

        D. Withers' eyes brightened noticeably. "There are differing schools of thought

on that concept," she said with interest bubbling in her words, "and I happen to be among

those who truly believe they can hear us. I think whatever you say to the patient, good or

bad, will get through loud and clear."

        Nodding and adding a wink, Sonya said, "Well, I believe I'll just go put your li'l

theory to the test." Turning, she assessed the cop at the door, who she knew should be

spending his day fishing off a pier at the beach, or playing cards at an old folks center, or

almost anything but what he was doing, and fine tuned her assessment. However, she

told herself, no matter how old they get, they all still think right straight out of their damn

Johnson rod! So, since I have a tool that works on these sort of fellows, I think I'd be a

total idiot not to use it. I do believe I'll put a little hitch in my git along and see how it

goes over with him. Just wish to hell I could remember his damned name.

        Sashaying up to where the now somewhat beer-bellied old cop with almost white

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hair sat at a desk, his uniform shirt somewhat stretched over a gut that more than likely

demanded 10-12 beers after every shift, Sonya let her smile go free. It flourished as she

knew it would, since she liked retired cops like this one. They always make the same

noises about getting in my pants I hear from the younger guys, but there's no way in hell

they'd ever follow up on it. With these guys, it's all show and no go.

       "Officer Galloway," she said when she was close enough to read the shiny ID pin

above his shirt pocket. It said T. Galloway.

       "Bet you forgot my first name's Tom, didn't you, darlin'?"

       Covering her own with her left hand, she admitted, "Yes, you old devil, you sure

have caught me, but I'll bet you can't recall even my last name, so there!" She notched up

the smile about two degrees. Maybe if I give him "wet dream material", he'll forgive me

for the memory lapse.

       Galloway grinned back, ear to ear, a superb yet pudgy dental ad in the making.

"Sonya Charles, detective second grade, formerly with vice, now working robbery, auto,

and sometimes crimes of violence. Got a thing goin' with Wendell Hawthorne, detective

first grade, and hardly anybody knows his real name's Flavian. How'm I doin'?"

       She kept the smile at full blast, praying it would save her butt. "You're doin' just

fine, Tom, darling. You just embarrassed the pee out of a detective second."

       He grinned. "I may be old, and I can't run worth a shit these days, but I still ain't

near so stupid as all those stories goin' around town about me. A guy puts in thirty-two

years with this department, he hears a couple things now and then."

       "I'll try to walk the straight and narrow, then, Tom," she said pertly. "I'd hate to

have you get any dirt on me."

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       "Pretty little thing like you?" he bantered. "Hell, first thing I'd do would be to

misdirect anybody trying to soil your good name." He winked at her. "If anybody's

gonna do sinful things with you, I'll handle them personally."

       "Oh? The doers, or the sinful things?" she shot back at him with a smile.

       "Why, both, you little angel. I'm already goin' t' hell fer some of the crap I've

pulled over the years. Might's well take a little dolly like you with me if I'm headin' to

that big ol' bachelor party in the sky, although I guess it won't be held in the sky, come to

think of it," he finished, looking down at the floor.

       "Maybe so, Tom, but I'm sure as hell not going to dance for you at that party."

       "Long as ya dance with me, little darlin', it'll be okay."

       Because she was working to keep the smile lit after that "little dolly" remark,

Sonya decided to proceed with business. "Do I need any paperwork to see the prisoner

named Clarence Thomas?"

       "No paperwork," Galloway attested, shaking his head, "but a stethoscope's gonna

be required, more than likely. Only thing you'll hear outa that one's a heartbeat, and that's

assumin' he don't croak on ya while yer in the room."

       "That bad? I'd heard things were improving?"

       "Fat chance of that," Galloway denied. "Whichever one of us shot the bastard …

I still can't get a name, no matter who I ask … did one helluva job on the son-of-a-bitch.

Half an inch either way with a couple o' those rounds, we'd've shipped his big black ass to

the morgue." Then, somehow correlating the fact, even if her skin was barely any darker

than his, Sonya was black, Galloway turned bright red. "Damn, sweety, I am so sorry! I

never meant anything like—"

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        "Not a problem, Tom," she told him, keeping her voice sweet and sultry, her smile

at the "draw-'em-in" redline level, while thinking, I'd love to use a big nutcracker on your

bigoted balls! "I have a black ass of my own, but mine's smaller and rounder than his."

I'll let the son-of-a-bitch think about what he's missing out on, damn him! "Oh, and the

reason you can't get a name, the officer who shot him is a deep undercover." I'll let the

s.o.b. have a reason to stop digging, which will help Ben Dover.

        "Oh," he said sagely. "That's why. Well, with all the risk those guys face every

damned day, I'll keep my big nose out of it. No sense gettin' another cop in any deeper

than he's gotta be."

        "What've I gotta do to see the prisoner?" she asked sweetly, tired of his bullshit by

now, but not ready to say it if he could still be helpful.

        "Just turn your piece over to me," he replied, red-faced but pointing at her purse,

"and sign in here, with your badge number. Look, honey, on the other—"

        "We cool, Tom," she said, still smiling, telling herself, Girl, it 's all part of the

damned J.O.B., so live with it. Sonya removed her Glock 10mm, took the magazine out,

handed them to him separately, and signed in. Three minutes later she was in a yellow

plastic chair in a one-patient room, seated next to a bed fully occupied by Clarence. He

hasn't gotten a damned bit smaller than the last time I saw him, she decided.

        She sat in silence for a good ten minutes, looking at him and thinking a list of

things a mile long. Then, on a whim, she spoke to him softly. "Clarence, I really wish

you could hear me. This is Sonya, sweety, and I am so very sorry it had to come out this

way for—"

        "I hears ya, Sistah," he said in that deep voice that sounded as if he'd just finished

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a soul song and was tuning up for another number, where he'd again sing bass. "I jus'

was wonderin' if ya was gonna talk t' my ass, er not."

       With the first word he spoke a startled Sonya yelped, "Oooo!" and flinched back,

her right hand coming up to cover her mouth. "Clarence, you big shit-for-brains dummy!

You just scared the pee out of me!"

       "Why should I scare yer ass?" he asked, trying in vain to move hands that were

strapped to the bed, as were his ankles. "Think I'm gonna fuckin' spit on ya, er what?"

       Collecting herself, she replied, "Well, I did not come here to talk to your ass, big

boy, but I'm happy being able to talk with you. How long have you been awake?"

       "How long ya been here?" he asked.

       "I don't know. Ten minutes, maybe? Why?"

       "Guess I waked up ten minutes ago, then. I was like, comin' outa this bad fuckin'

dream, ya know, an' there ya was, openin' the door." He grinned, displaying a wide and

gleaming mouthful of snow white teeth. "I thought ya was comin' back t' grab me right

on my big ol' joint, ya know? Figgered I was gonna hafta 'splain to ya how I don't never

bang me no pussy, then I 'membered I already tol' ya. So, after that, I was jus' waitin' fer

ya t' say somethin' so's I could talk back."

       "Well, now that you've scared the pee out of me, how are you feeling?"

       "Don't know, fer sure. I think my chest hurts some, but I's also thinkin' these here

tubes they got goin' inta my ass is doin' me some serious fuckin' dope, too."

       "Clarence, they're going into your arms, you big dipshit, not your ass. You seem

to think everything is focused on your ass."

       He grinned again. "Well, if'n I goes t' prison, if'n ya was shittin' me 'bout that 'no-

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fuck clause', might be somebody'll be focusin' on ol' Clarence's ass sooner er later. They

all does that shit in prison, like ya was sayin' t' me."

        "Oh, that," she said, wondering what she could say to explain it away. "I was

going to tell you—"

        "Yeah, I knowed ya was shittin' me," Clarence said forgivingly. "Ain't no way I's

ever getting' my black ass off with no fuckin' walk, even if'n it wasn't me what killed any

o' them dudes."

        "Hold on," Sonya said, her hand up, palm facing him. "I need to give you your

Miranda warning before we say anything at all. First, you have the right to reamin silent.

If you give up that right …" and she went through the full procedure, all of which he said

was okay and he waived his right to say nothing. Even signed for it when she held it on

the bed so he could scribble. When he finished telling her and signing, she bent closer,

looking deep into his eyes. "Clarence, I had to lie to you," she confessed. "You and

those two a-holes were holding me prisoner. Would've killed me, for all I knew. As far

as I was concerned, it was every woman for herself."

        "Yeah, I know," he said with his eyes closing again. "I was sure of it, but it was

nice t' think I might get my ass out." He shrugged. "Ya got my ass thinkin', though, with

all that shit ya tol' me 'bout what I c'n have in prison. Might not be too bad, ya know?"

        "Well … and I am not lying to you this time … I may be able to do you some

good at this point. I've talked with the people in the DA's office and explained what you

said to me. Told them you were never actually part of the ones who did the killing, even

if you were an accomplice. Nothing's written in stone yet, Clarence, but they may very

well offer you a deal. Maybe something like twenty to life, where you can possibly get

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out in fifteen years, or so." She watched his face for a reaction, knowing they all seemed

to feel better when they got "a deal", even if it was a bad deal.

        "Think they might?" he asked, opening his eyes again.

        "No promises, Clarence, but they might. They're thinking on it. So, have you got

any more information I can give them? Really, it might help you."

        "Naw, but maybe it's 'cause I jus' woke th' fuck up, ya know? Maybe, if I gets me

a li'l sleep, I'll 'member more shit later."

        "Okay. Well, maybe I should let you get some rest then. Is it okay if I come back

and visit with you again? Keeping in mind I am a cop?"

        "Yeah, that'd be okay," he said almost sleepily. "Ya can even bring that cute li'l

beaner bitch what bit my fuckin' ankle half off, if ya wanna. She was a sweet li'l thing,

wasn't she?"

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                          CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 7:22 p.m.

       When Rex finished with Helena in the kitchen, after making her sit on a wooden

chair next to him in the breakfast nook until he resumed breathing normally, he walked

her to her bedroom on the second floor. Eyes on her every minute, he first made her strip

out of the now stained and ragged garments she'd been wearing, then dress again so she

could go with him. Between the time she finished doffing the bikini and putting on some

black slacks and a gray sweater, he decided to try her out when she was facing him.

       Helena put up substantially less resistance this time and Rex was finished even

faster than the first occasion. However, doing it this way entailed a lot of kissing, but she

didn't resist that, either, although it hurt her bruised mouth. When he was done he almost

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leapt from the bed, pulling his pants and underwear back on so quickly she wouldn't've

been able to escape if she'd thought of it.

       What gave her pause for thought was the fact she didn't think about it. Call me

crazy, since I should be mad as hell at this guy, but I'm not. Why is that, I wonder?

       "C'mon, bitch. Put some clothes on," was what he told her, interrupting her train

of thought, and the mood.

       Casting sidelong glances his way every few seconds, Helena donned fresh panties

and a bra she was proud to say she really didn't need, her slacks and sweater, then began

looking through her shoe tree containing at least twenty pairs. After a full minute or so,

he grabbed her shoulder and spun her halfway around in the walk-in closet, twelve feet

wide, four feet deep.

       "Now what the fuck're ya doin?"

       "Just trying to decide which shoes to wear. It'll only take another—"

       "Ain't gonna take shit," he said without any venom as he slapped her face. His

hand dropped and pointed to a pair of black Nike jogging shoes with a white streak up the

side from the white sole. "Put them fuckers on so's we can haul us some ass."

       "If I do that, I'll look like—"

       This time he backhanded her on the right cheek, but she noticed he didn't hit her

as hard as he did earlier. "Yer gonna look like somebody beat th' fuck outa ya if ya don't

put them pricks on so's we can fuckin' get outa here." His hand shot to her throat, fingers

clamping hard, but not enough to choke off her breathing. Then he kissed her, his tongue

working its way into her mouth. When he took his mouth away and released her throat,

Rex asked, "I gonna get any more shit outa you, or you gonna do what I tell ya?"

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        Nodding, she said, "I'll do what you say. Don't, um, don't worry." Carrying the

shoes, Helena hurried to the bed, put them on quickly, tied each one and stood. "Okay,

I'm ready." She watched his face for an indication of what he might want her to do next,

somehow not wanting to be the cause of unnecessary delay.

        Rex filled his hand with her curly, long brown hair and began pushing her ahead

of him as he headed to the stairs. She stayed an arm's length in front all the way to the

first floor, then through the dining room and out the sliding glass door. Before they

began the journey across the yard, Rex pulled her forcibly against him and kissed her

once more. Hard. Letting his tongue gambol and romp lustily.

        Surprising herself again, Helena did nothing to resist him. When he shoved her in

front of him, still holding her hair, then marched her across the yard to the road, she made

no effort to resist. The only car around was a big pickup truck, a four-door with bigger

than normal wheels. Jerking Helena's hair to force her in that direction, his head a swivel

as he scanned for witnesses, he yanked open the unlocked door. "Get yer ass in there an'

don't try no funny shit. Ya do, I'll kill ya."

        "I won't do anything you don't want me to," she promised, shaking her head and

putting a tidal wave of hair in motion. A dark gray, the truck looked like the last vehicle

she'd ever imagine herself riding in, but being raped, slapped, knocked around and even

kidnapped weren't things she ever figured would happen, either. Helena slid across the

seat toward the passenger door, but stopped when he jerked hard on her hair again.

        "Git yer ass down there on the floor," he ordered, pointing to the large carpeted

area in front of the passenger side. "On yer knees, like yer givin' me head."

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       As she obeyed, getting in position quickly to avoid another slap, Helena asked,

"Are you going to make me do that? Give you a blow job?"

       Smiling luridly as he got in and closed his door, Rex told her, "Not right now, but

prob'ly later. Yeah, I'll prob'ly have ya do it fer me later." Now caressing her cheek and

lower jaw with his hand, surprisingly much gentler this time, he asked in a throaty voice,

"Ya gonna gimme any shit about it when I make ya suck me off?"

       Again surprising herself, she shook her head. "No, I'll do it. When you say."

       "Dy-no-fuckin'-mite!" he cheered, continuing to caress her jaw and cheek another

few moments. Then he started the truck, put it in drive, and took off.

       She watched the best she could during a trip she estimated took around fifteen or

so minutes, but never even caught a street sign. When they stopped, he left the big diesel

engine running and looked down at her. "I'm gonna park this thing so's I don't get my ass

nabbed by that prick an' go get my own car. Sorry, bitch, but I'm gonna hafta knock ya

the fuck out so's ya don't do no shit while I'm gettin' it." He doubled up his fist and began

to cock his arm.

       "Wait!" she wailed, a pleading tone to her voice. "I won't do anything wrong, I

mean it! Promise, I won't!"

       Rex hesitated, clearly mulling the idea. "Yeah, ya say that shit now, but—"

       "No! I won't do anything bad. Look, take me with you. That way, you can keep

an eye on me and you'll know what I'm doing."

       "Uh-huh. Ya think I'm fuckin' stupid, er what? Soon's I get yer pussy outside o'

the truck, yer gonna start screamin' yer fuckin' head off an' I'm gonna hafta kill yer foxy

ass. Then ya won't be no fuckin' good t' me at all."

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       Helena shook her head again, surfer's waves coming in on her shoulders as all that

hair went into motion again. "Then put something in my mouth to gag me so I can't. A

rag, or whatever. I've got all this long hair and you can just put your arm around me like

we're in love, maybe. I'll walk by your side with a gag in my mouth and won't be able to

make a sound. If I do, I know you'll kill me, so no one will have any idea what's going


       "Ya want me t' do that?"

       "It's better than being knocked out," she argued. "Yes, I want you to do that."

       Rex sat behind the wheel, looking at her, watching her face, apparently doing all

he could to decipher an enigma. Soon, acting as though he'd arrived at a solution, he

gave a long sigh and opened the door. He got out, opened the rear door, and rummaged

behind the back seat, coming up with a reddish-pink shop rag. He returned to the truck,

reached in and grabbed her wrist. With one hard jerk he pulled her over to where she was

behind the steering wheel.

       Helena noticed the keys were still in the ignition and the noisy diesel continued

growling, but she made no effort to escape. Didn't put it in gear. Just waited while Rex

also noticed his mistake. At a loss for anything else to do, she simpered, even adding a

giggle at the end.

       Far less vigorously, Rex guided her out of the truck, then helped her step down

from the truck. Impulsively, after getting the keys and closing the door, he pressed hard

against her body, his entire length pushing her back into the door. This time he kissed

her with a passion different than before. Every bit as heated but somehow, she noticed,

without any brutality. Grinding his pelvis against her, his tongue working overtime to

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course her entire mouth, hands feverishly roaming her body, what was happening felt

every bit as ardent to Helena as any time in her life she'd made love.

       With both panting heavily, his hands resting on the door on each side of her, Rex

leaned forward and kissed her yet again. Softer, more gently. With feeling. When he

took his mouth away, still breathing as if he'd run a mile in the hot sun, he put the rag in

her mouth, but didn't shove it in. "Keep that in yer mouth 'til I say diff'ernt. I mean it."

       Bobbing her head in agreement, with most of the cloth hanging outside on her

chin and below, she mumbled, "Okay". It was almost discernible. Unbidden, she eased

in next to him, hips touching, and slipped her left arm around his waist.

       He put an arm around her shoulders, then filled his fist with her hair, but stopped

and looked at her. "Think I need t' hold onta yer hair like that?"

       As she watched his face, her hazel eyes almost glittering, Helena shook her head

no. She tightened her arm on his waist and waited.

       Rex dropped the keys on the street beside the driver's door and, tightening his arm

on her shoulders, started walking them down the sidewalk. They were in a residential

area, mostly Hispanic. He told her, "With all these fuckin' taco benders livin' 'round here,

this truck'll be gone bigger'n shit in a hour, maybe two."

       Helena nodded, still looking up at him, never breaking pace as they walked.

       He dropped his left hand down to his waist and said, almost as if embarrassed at

the discovery, "Yer givin' me a huge hard-on, bitch. Ya know that?"

       After looking down at the bulge, smiling despite the rag in her mouth, Helena

only nodded.

       "I'm gonna hafta fuck yer brains out when we get where we're goin', ya know?"

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        She nodded again.

        "Ya gonna try t' fight my ass off, or are you just gonna let me fuck ya?"

        Using her right hand, Helena removed the rag from her mouth. "I'm going to let

you do it to me." Looking down to his waist, seeing the very noticeable erection jutting a

big lump in his pants, she giggled again.

        He grinned wolfishly. "Ya gonna help me fuck ya, or are ya jus' gonna lay there

an' take it?"

        Surprising herself yet again, Helena reached around in front of Rex and fondled

his rigid erection through his pants. Following a couple squeezes, she again removed the

rag and said, "I'll help you." Still smiling, she put the rag back into her mouth and again

increased her grip on his waist.

        By the time they reached a 1993 gold Toyota Camry two blocks from where they

left the truck, Rex was having difficulty walking. He opened the driver's door, helped her

into the car instead of shoving her, then got in beside her. "Bitch, I wanna fuck ya again

so damn bad, I ain't sure I can wait 'til we get where we're goin'!"

        "I know you do," Helena said huskily as she moved around to kneel again on the

passenger side. "Maybe this will hold you until then." Keeping her eyes on his face, she

unzipped his pants and pulled the erection out. "Just watch to make sure nobody catches

us and I'll make you feel all better."

        Then she lowered her face to his lap and followed through on her promise.

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                          CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

                                 Oceanside, California

                        Thursday, November 19th, 4:39 p.m.

       Remember those Bozo punching bag dummies we had when we were kids? (Go

ask your Dad if that's creating a wrinkled eyebrow frown for you. I'm not here today as a

history teacher). Even with the bottom filled with sand, you still had to blow the damned

thing up manually. Then, if some idiot, such as a troublesome kid brother, opened up the

plug there at the bottom, you could watch the sucker speedily deflate and know you had

some huffing and puffing to do before you could beat the snot out of Bozo again.

       That's how I felt when they got Clarence, or what was left of him, in the chopper

and headed for the ER at Tri-City Hospital. Like someone had pulled my plug. I knew if

I didn't get somewhere and log some sleep time, I wouldn’t be any good to the rest of the

world for a couple days. I did reconsider it slightly when I saw one of the most beautiful

women ever born standing there looking at me with blood on the lower left corner of her
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lip. She had a happy smile on her face, glad everything apparently came out right in the

end. As she walked toward me, the smile enlarging, I sensed she had it in mind to kiss

me. Yet, to her surprise, I held up my hand, the palm facing her.

        Fancy stopped and looked at me with her expression that asks if I've somehow

gotten off my meds and might need supervision for a while. "What's up, Ben? Ya ain't

even gonna let me kiss ya no more?"

        My belly was bared when I pulled up the bottom of my shirt with my right hand,

slipping my left around behind her head. Guiding it downward a little, I was surprised

when she resisted and stood straight again. "Ben, what heck're ya doin' now? I love ya,

Ben, an' I'll admit we're way the heck out here in the woods, but I ain't givin' ya no darn

blowjob out here with all these people still around. Can't ya wait a couple minutes 'til

they leave?" She scowled. "I mean, it ain't like I don't wanna, Querido, but with all these

people still here, I'm afraid they'll think I'm some kinda slut."

        Unable to stifle the laugh, I said, "That's not why I was moving your head, Ángel.

I just don't want to kiss the hungry lioness until I've cleaned up the results of her latest

kill. I'm sure that's probably just some extra gazelle blood on your mouth, but—"

        "Aw, crap! Ya mean I still got blood on me from bitin' 'is ankle like that?" she

asked, drawing the back of her wrist across her mouth. She glanced at it and frowned.

"Jeez! I mus' look like some kinda weirdo!" Without worrying over modesty concerns,

fancy tugged the bottom of her shirt up and cleaned her mouth vigorously. Then she

turned her face up to me. "That get it, hombre?"

        I answered her by taking her into my arms and kissing the woman I loved as if she

was the woman I loved. Not bothered about who may or may not see us, and grateful for

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her courage in the battle with Clarence she just helped me win, I initiated a quick bout of

tongue wrestling. She fought back the same way and we had a wild and chaotic fray in

each mouth for almost a minute.

        When our faces separated, breathing hard by now, Fancy again used the back of

her wrist to brush away a couple tresses dangling across her forehead. With a sigh, she

added, "'Kay, I'll do it, but c'n we at least step back in them bushes a little bit?"

        Laughing again, I said, "Or, we could go home, where I can get some sleep … at

least, afterward."

        Fancy smiled lovingly. "Yeah, that'd work, too."

        Hand in hand, stopping to kiss very hundred yards or so, we headed back to where

she'd left her Mustang. Rather than take all the time we'd waste if she was driving, (keep

in mind what I mentioned about how Mexicans drive), I took the wheel and had us back

home in half the time she'd've needed. Now kissing about every fifty feet, we made it to

the condo, wasted a couple more minutes in passion on the porch before I forced myself

to unlock the door, and went inside.

        The distance from the front door to our bedroom, counting zigzags around our

furniture and hallway turns, is a little more than forty feet. There was no danger of us not

finding the front door again as there was a trail of clothing, hers and mine, between the

front and bedroom doors. When we got into the room there was a hint of "Who let the

dogs out?" in the fierce and passionate sounds we made, and a whole lot of grappling as

we explored each other. An onlooker, if we'd ever been willing to allow such, would've

thought it was the first time we ever made love, considering all the frenetic fumbling and

steaming ardor. Of course, that was a long, long way from true but, in yet another very

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honest perspective, it was dead-on. Fancy and I have yet to reach that second occasion of

making love. With us, every time we come together as man and woman, it's always the

very first time.

        She tells me she'll never let that change. I try to do the same and, between us,

we've made it happen that way so far. The only way that same fictional bystander would

be able to know it wasn’t rape … by either of us against the other … was the fact neither

of us said "no". Not for a moment.

        To our continuing surprise, when we finished, all the walls were still standing and

not shattered. Somehow Fancy ended up on top of me in all the tussling, so I tenderly

pulled her mouth to mine for a kiss, then muttered in her ear, "Don't move right away,

okay, Princesa?"

        Clearly not a helluva lot more energetic than I was at the moment, but always

with an eye on my welfare, she murmured in my right ear, which was next to her mouth,

"But, hombre, ya always want a cigarette right after."

        "Screw it," I said exhaustedly. "That can wait a minute."

        She giggled now. "I don't think ya can, hombre. I don't think ya got any screwin'

left in ya right now!"

        Squeezing her and holding the most coveted naked female on earth tight to me, I

agreed. "Nope, you got all of it, Baby. Just let me hold you for a minute or so, then you

can lie on your side. Maybe we can talk a little?"

        All I got was a nod, but my girl stayed in place, unmoving. Somewhere around

the once mentioned minute, Fancy raised her head and told me, "I love you, Ben, so very

much." Then she kissed me again. If she hadn't been dead right about having taken it all

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out of me not too long ago, that one would've started another feral passion battle, but I

had no troops to summon for that war. I kissed her back. Our tongues toyed with each

other a moment, neither serious about another HD romp, and she finally rolled to her

right, disconnecting our bodies.

       "Aw, crap!" she said with a giggle. "It came out!"

       I looked to my right with a smile. "Girl, you give me way too much credit."

       "Not the way it feels t' me, I don't," she chortled.

       Laughing quietly, I reached for my cigarettes, only to find they weren't on the

nightstand. I hadn't even managed to spit out a cuss word before my agile little angel, her

nudity a threat to rekindle a battle just fought to a draw, bounced quickly out of bed and

fell to her knees. She scurried across the room, first to my shirt, then out the door on all

fours, and came back the same way, my cigarettes and lighter tucked in her left hand.

       Once she was back on the bed, she handed them to me, laid down again, and

sighed. "Now ya don't gotta do nothin', hombre. Ya c'n jus' relax."

       After I got one lit and set the ashtray on my left, on the edge of the bed, I said,

"You used proper English a couple minutes ago when you said you love me, Ángel."

       "Yeah," she said with a murmuring sigh, "sometimes I wanna make sure I don't

get misunderstood."

       We let that ride, each assured it was a mutual feeling, and then she added, "Think

ol' Clarence's gonna make it?"

       "No idea, Baby. He didn't look so good when they put him in the chopper, but I'm

not the guy to ask on that one. He is," I told her, pointing to the ceiling.

       "Yeah, if He wants it t' happen, it'll happen."

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       "I had no choice but to shoot him," I explained unnecessarily.

       "'Course ya didn't. The dude was gonna do ya down, Ben. Ya had t' do it."

       "You know, Baby, it's funny, but that's about the only good I've been able to do so

far for the homeless guys, and that's not much, considering the other two got away. I bet

they'll keep on killing homeless people until we … until the cops catch 'em."

       "Yer prob'ly right about them guys still doin' it, but ya saved Sonya's life an' ya

led them other cops t' where they was hidin', Ben. I'd say that's a lot."

       "Yeah, maybe," I agreed haltingly. "They might be able to gather a few clues at

the house and figure out who these guys are. Which reminds me, my little Mexicana

sleuth, what the hell were you doing there? How'd you find the place?"

       "Oh, that," she said wistfully, looking at the ceiling now, no longer training those

beautiful brown eyes filled with love on me.

       "Yeah, that," I insisted. "Why were you there, Baby?"

       "Well, jeez, Ben, ya kinda needed some help there, at th' end, ya know?"

       "True, but you didn't know that. Not until everything went all to hell. How'd you

know where I was?"

       "Well, ya see, I found out somethin' 'bout a guy named Chico." She went on to

tell me of her old neighborhood connections, including a reminder of her skinny cousin

whom I thought might be able to lift the front end of a car if he had to. She gave me all

she'd learned, and her hunch this might be one of the guys.

       I promised I'd pass it on to Hawthorne tomorrow.

       Then she explained she'd been coming to tell me what she knew when she saw me

get in the back of the pickup. "Ben, I ain't never gonna try t' tell ya what t' do, an' ya

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know I ain't, but you ain't no young vaquero no more, ya know? Ya go getting' yerself all

mixed up with them bad guys that way when ya ain't got nobody t' have yer back fer ya,

I'm gonna end up a widow who never even got married." She watched my face a minute,

then asked, "What the heck would they even call me if that happened? I wouldn't be no

widow, not if we ain't married, an' I'd hate to jus' be listed as a 'companion' if somethin'

ever happened t' ya, Ben."

       "I don't know, Princesa." Now I was the one who sighed. "Do you want to get

married, Baby?"

       "Gee, ya sound so excited 'bout it."

       "Honey, I didn't mean—"

       "No sweat," she interrupted. "We already talked about that stuff. I know ya hate

bein' married, an' I don't wanna be part o' nothin' that ends in no divorce, like all yer other

marriages did, but I do have a idea. That is, if ya wanna hear it."

       "Of course I do, Fancy. Spit it out."

       "I can't," she giggled. "We didn't do it that way, although I already said I would.

That is, unless yer ready again, in which case I can—"

       "Whoa! Don't even go there," I told her. "I'm all set for the night. I mean, tell me

your idea."

       "Okay. I already talked t' my Poppy an' my Mom. They said it's okay with them,

if that's what we want."

       "Said what's okay?" I asked with rising trepidations.

       "Um, they said it'd be okay if ya wanted t' adopt me, hombre."

       "To adopt you? Fancy, you're an adult!"

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        I swatted myself on the cheek. "Sure, just barely, but—"

        "That way I can be yer next o' kin, an' sign papers for ya if they say yer gonna be

a basket case, er somethin' like that."

        I looked at her. "Yeah? What about inheritance laws?"

        "Same as if I was yer real kid. Ya c'n name all yer kids in yer will, or jus' me, if

ya want. The law says ya gotta be at least ten years older, which ya are—"

        "Princesa, I'm thirty-five years older than you are."

        "Yeah, but even in Mexicano math, that's more'n ten, Ben. So, in that case, my

Mom an' Poppy don't even get no say in it, but I asked 'em anyways 'cause I didn't wanna

hurt nobody's feelin's, er nothin'.'

        "And you're okay with that?"

        Fancy giggled again. "Plus, I already checked on the other. They can't get us fer

no incest charges, neither, since we ain't related by blood."

        "Aw, jeez!" I told her, rolling left to flick my ashes in the tray. "That sounds a bit


        With another giggle Fancy told me, "Them wasn't sounds o' disgust ya was makin'

when we was goin' at it, Ben. I thought ya sounded pretty happy at the time."

        "Well, of course I was, but—"

        "Never mind, hombre, if ya don't wanna. I was jus' tryin' t' help."

        "No, that's not what I meant. Actually, if it's okay with you, I think I'd like to do

it that way."

        "Then we'll call th' lawyer t'morrow, hombre. That way, I can have the rights I'd

have if I was yer wife, but there ain't never gonna be no divorce."

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       She shook her head. "Not if we do it that way, there ain't."

       "You checked? I mean, not that I'd ever want to, because you're the woman I love

and I always will, but that's it? There's no way it can ever be changed?"

       "Well, yeah, there's one way," she admitted.

       "Oh? What's that, Princesa?"

       "If one of us dies. That'd clear it off'n the books."

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                            CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 7:53 p.m.

       When Helena finished resolving Rex's most recent and troubling difficulty and

went back to sitting in the seat, he looked at her for a moment as if astonished, leaned her

way and kissed her. She didn't resist at all, even joined in and took part. Pulling his face

away from her, Rex said, "That was so fuckin' good, I even felt like kissin' ya after ya did

it, an' I did." With a smug but satisfied smile, he started the engine, put it in gear and got


       Helena watched him a moment, slowly shook her head in puzzlement, and said,

"Gee, thanks."

       "No problem, bitch. That was some primo shit."

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        "Are you going to keep calling me bitch? Even after I did that?" Unconsciously,

Helena pointed at his crotch.

        Keeping his eyes on the road, Rex asked, "Fuck, I dunno. Whaddaya want me t'

call ya?"

        Jesus! This silly s.o.b. doesn't even know who I am! Well, I guess there's no

sense telling him. Not at this stage of the game. "Bitch is fine with me. Nobody's ever

called me that before." Nor would they, she told herself, unless they wanted me to set

fire to the damned bed while they were sleeping!

        "Okay," he said with a grin, glancing her way quickly, then returning his eyes to

the road. "Bitch it is, then, Bitch."

        "What's your name?" Helena inquired without stressing any words.


        "Yeah? Rex what?"

        "Jus' Rex. Ya don't need t' know no more'n that." A couple seconds later he

added, "Bitch" and grinned at her.

        "Where are we going?"

        "A place I know. Guy owes me, ya know? I think we can stay there a couple

days, maybe longer." He glanced at Helena again. "Ya already know who I am, don't

ya? I mean, he told ya already, right?"

        "Who is 'he'?"

        "Ya know, 'The Man'."

        "Who is 'The Man'?" she questioned.

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        Rex looked her way again, a fraction of a second longer, before he put his eyes

back on the road. "Ya know who I'm talkin' about, Bitch. Real mean motherfucker who

looks like he was in the service a whole lotta years. Marine, maybe. Shit, he prob'ly still

is a Marine, or some shit like that, jus' never tol' us anything 'bout hisself, is all." His

head nodding, Rex added, "Mean motherfucker, whoever he really is."

        "You're losing me. Do you mean Bod?"

        "Huh?" he asked, another speedy glance at her. "What the fuck's a 'Bod'? Ya

mean like that foxy fuckin' bod o' yers?"

        "No," she told him, shaking her head and putting 150,000 – 200,000 curly dark

hairs into an impromptu samba. "I'm talking about Bod. Bod Crane. Is that who you

mean when you say he looks like a Marine?"

        "Ya got me by the ass. Who's Bod Crane?"

        Man, this guy doesn't know Bod, so I wonder who in the world he's talking about.

"Why would I already know who you are … Rex?"

        "Well, 'cause o' what we did, ya know? The Man once said somethin' 'bout how

'she'd like it' er some shit when we was talkin' 'bout what we was doin' fer him."

        "Who is the 'we' you're referring to?"

        "Just a coupla guys. Chico an' Clarence. Me an' them's the ones who did it."

        "You've still got me at a loss," Helena told him, putting all those dancers back on

the floor that was her shoulders and making them gyrate excitedly. "Did what?"

        Rex looked at her so long he began to veer toward the side of the road, causing

Helena to reach over and straighten the wheel. "Watch the road, please?" she asked.

        "Ya ask me 'did what' like ya ain't got a fuckin' clue, Bitch."

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       "That's because I don't have one. What did you do?"

       "We was the guys who killed all them homeless motherfuckers. Ya tryin' t' say

The Man never tol' ya shit about it?"

       The shock was jarring. For a moment Helena found herself unable to speak. It

washed over her like a tidal wave. "You? It was you? Are you saying Bod arranged for

you and your friends to kill them? All of them?"

       "Fuck, yes. They ain't my friends, neither, Bitch. Well, Chico, he was kinda, but

only 'cause I knew 'is ass from some places where we both drank an' chased pussy. But

Clarence, that big nigger bastard, he wasn't never no friend o' mine. I jus' hired his black

ass t' help us." He shook his head. "Lyin' fuckin' nigger, he wouldn't even kill none o'

them bastards. All he'd do was kinda cover our asses, ya know? He'd sorta stand guard

while me an' Chico was beatin' them bastards t' death."

       He glanced at her again. "That's how The Man said t' do 'em. Wanted us t' beat

'em t' death. Make it look bad." Another glance. "Ya sayin' ya didn't know 'bout all that

shit, Bitch?"

       This time Helena shook her head slowly. "No, Bod never said anything like that

to me. Are you sure we're talking about the same man?"

       "Fuck, I dunno. I mean, I know what The Man looks like, but he never tol' me his

real name, er nothin'."

       "Just a moment," she responded, digging into her purse and coming up with her

wallet. She fished out a picture, extracted it from the plastic slot, and showed it to him.

"Is this the person you're calling 'The Man'?"

       After peeking at it only a second or two, Rex nodded. "Sure as shit is."

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       Helena was stunned. "He … what? Paid you?"

       A shrug. "Yeah. But not enough. Not really. It was only five grand a pop, an' I

only got t' keep two thou. I split the rest with them other two guys."

       Surprised at her own serenity, Helena asked, "And you'd kill a man, take the life

of another human being, for two thousand dollars?"

       Rex laughed, then shrugged. "Fuck, yes. I've done it b'fore for a whole lot less'n

that. Shit, things get tight enough, there's been times two hunnert'd be enough. A dude's

gotta eat an' shit, ya know?"

       "And Bod told you to kill them? Why?"

       "Yeah, that's what he said. That's 'is name? Bod?"

       "Yes," she said, nodding, thinking, slowly trying to take it all in. "Bod Crane is

his name. He's … well, never mind. I, um, I know him."

       "He fuckin' you, Bitch?"

       Helena looked up at him very quickly, now trying even that much harder to put it

all together even faster. This guy knows even less about me and Bod than I know about

him and the guys he had helping him. Or what they were doing. I've got the feeling it

wouldn't set too well with him if I said we were lovers. "No. I just said I know him."

       "Yeah? Well, I followed The Man … this Bod yer talkin' about … one day when

I saw ya pick 'is ass up there at Camp Pendleton. The way you two was kissin' an' shit,

with him gropin' them nice tits o' yers, I'd'a sure thought he was fuckin' ya."

       Damn it! How much does this guy know? "Uh, if you saw him kissing … was it

a woman with hair like mine?"

       "Huh? Hair like yers? Ya sayin' it wasn't you?"

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       "No," she told him, the tsunami crashing on the beach of her shoulders again. "If

you saw what you say you saw … I'm not doubting you, Rex, I'm just clarifying it to be

certain … and it was at that house, it would've been my sister. She stays there with me

once in a while. Just off and on, because she has a house of her own, up the coast a way,

in Malibu. Bod is, um, her, um, boyfriend."

       "Ya ain't shittin' me on that, Bitch?"

       "No, that's the truth. Honest."

       Rex drove on a moment longer, then asked his question without looking at her.

"If ya ain't fuckin' The Man, Bitch, then who are ya fuckin' lately?"

       "You," she purred, putting her left hand on his crotch and rubbing gently back and

forth. "I'm fucking you, Rex. I thought that’s what we decided?"

       With an ear to ear grin, Rex replied, "Yeah, Bitch, we did. That's exactly what we

came up with." He reached over to cup her left breast and squeezed it, again looking at

the road.

       Helena felt him beginning to get excited again.

       Minutes later they arrived at a house on the outskirts of Oceanside. Helena felt

sure they were now very close to the boundary with Camp Pendleton, but she couldn't see

anything to confirm it. When he pulled on her hand, she slid under the wheel and out, his

hand coming around from her left side to clamp on her right breast. Squeezing it as they

walked, he took her to the front door of a house that looked as if it had seen better days,

and saw those days many years ago.

       Made of wooden boards and painted what she assumed was at one time a light

gray, it had wood rot showing at the corners and boards closest to ground level above the

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concrete blocks that were an apparent base. From what Helena could tell that meant it

had a crawl space underneath, which made her shudder when she thought of the rats and

other vermin that might well reside under the building.

       Rex pushed the doorbell button, but there was no sound, so he pounded with the

bottom edge of his fist on an aluminum screen door that didn't have a storm window in it,

even this late in the year. Turning his head to look at her, Rex said, "Ol' Barney, he don't

move so fuckin' fast no more, ya know?"

       Asking herself, How in the world would I know that?, Helena only said, "Oh."

       Soon afterward the inner wooden door was slowly unlocked from the inside and

pulled open, while Rex dragged open the battered screen door. Helena saw a very old

man appear, somewhere in his 80s, at least. He still had about two thirds of his hair, she

guessed, but it was only about an inch long, tufted and tousled, as if he'd just gotten out

of bed. Except he was dressed, wearing old gray slacks with baggy knees and cuffs at the

bottom. A gray and darker gray sleeveless sweater with diamond patterns, along with a

black and white long sleeved button down shirt in a small checkered pattern. If he had

any of his real teeth remaining, Helena couldn't see them when he smiled, a wide grin of


       His voice was rough and raspy, sounding almost like it would break in two if he

ever spoke too loud. His hands, bony and mottled with liver spots, shook as he extended

both to Rex. "Hey, boy, how the hell ya been?"

       "Not bad, Barney. Look, c'n we come in?" Rex asked, swiveling his head in all

directions. "I ain't really wantin' t' stand out here all fuckin' day, ya know?"

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        "Sure. Get yer ass in here, then," he rasped, turning his head to look at Helena as

he backed out of the way, wearing some badly worn red slippers that looked ready to fall

off his feet. "Who's yer li'l girly?" His eyes ran up and down her body, making Helena

think of someone considering the purchase of a race horse.

        Rex glanced at her again, moving his hand around on her right breast to make sure

Barney saw he was groping her. "This is Bitch. Bitch, this here's Barney."

        "Hello, Barney," she responded, holding out her hand to shake.

        "Hello yerself," Barney said, gumming the words as his jaw moved up and down.

"Nice set o' tits ya got on ya, too," he complimented her as he reached out and groped the

left one, being careful not to disturb or dislodge Rex's grip on the right. "Rex fuckin' ya,

Bitch?" Another ear to ear smile, his lips spread to show there was nothing enamel in his

mouth. "I'd flat ass love t' be fuckin' a sweet li'l piece o' ass like you, baby."

        Too shocked to react right away, Helena did nothing for a moment, which seemed

to encourage Barney. "Care if'n I take off this here sweater o' yers an' get me a good look

at them fuckin' tits o' yers, baby?" He reached for the bottom of it, clearly intending to

get it off, or at least raise it for a closer appraisal.

        As she was still taking it all in, extrapolating the odds and wondering just exactly

how far all this might go, where it might lead, Rex interceded. He grabbed Barney's wrist

and moved it away, but not forcefully. "Man, Barney, ya can't be feelin' Bitch up, dude.

This's the woman I'm fuckin' right now, which means ya gotta keep yer horny damned

hands off'n her tits, dude."

        He looked down at Helena with a smile. "Don't take no offense at ol' Barney.

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Shit, even if I said he could fuck ya, ain't no way he'd ever get hisself a hard-on." He

faced Barney again. "Ain't that right, ya old fuck?" He grinned at Barney.

       Helena stopped herself from saying, And I have no say in it? Gee, that's nice.

       "Hard tellin'," Barney partially conceded. "Sexy lookin' piece o' ass like this one,

ya never know, man. Ya jus' never know. So, what ya been up to lately?"

       "Me an' some guys I know was the ones killin' them homeless fucks lately here in


       "Yeah," Barney said, nodding. "I figgered that'd be you." He smacked his lips,

his eyes again roving across Helena's chest. "Jus' as sure as shit, I figgered it'd be you."

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                             CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 8:11 p.m.

       Barney shuffled back into the living room, a collection of worn furniture Helena

felt was quite possibly older than she was, and she wasn't ashamed of her age. Still, 34 is

one thing if it's the age of a woman and another if it's the age of a couch or chair, she told

herself. She knew she'd kept herself in far better condition than any of these living room

pieces … and most women her age, as well.

       The couch was a badly faded dark burgundy with some sort of Florentine pattern

woven in gold, green and blue, which she was confident looked gauche when it was new.

It certainly wasn't presentable any longer. The chairs, all high-backed with dark wooden

frames etched with what seemed something almost serpentine, were uniform with the

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couch, except one mismatch was a solid dark blue. It looked much newer than the rest,

perhaps only twenty years old, but almost as badly beaten and worn.

        It even took her a moment to recall the name of what was underfoot when she

looked down. Good Lord, shag carpeting! I don't think they even make that stuff any

longer. If they do, I can't imagine who'd want it. Oh, this is pitiful! The color was hard

to discern at first. Yet, after staring at it a few seconds and scuffing it with the toe of her

jogging shoe, she decided it was a mixture of a once bright medium green and a dark blue

that never coordinated even when new, in her opinion.

        The draperies, a somewhat different shade of what must've once been a gaudy

grape color, indicated they hadn't been cleaned since the early 80s, maybe longer. Her

best determination of the wall paint was an original lime green that had faded and maybe

even morphed into a dismal yellowish gray in most places, but revealed itself when she

lifted the edge of a picture on the wall. The pictures, which no one she'd ever met would

even think of designating as artwork, were of fruit and bowls, each badly faded and even

worn to the point she could see peeling paint.

        Cobwebs and dust webs occupied every corner of the ceiling, draping down on

the walls simply because they'd acquired mass from being around so long. Clearly it had

been years since anyone had even swiped a broom along the juncture of wall and ceiling.

A closer look at the lamps, the shades so dusty and dirty they were brittle, let her see little

clouds of dust swirling in the rays of the light when she cocked her head at the proper

angle. Helena somehow knew, if she looked in enough closets, she'd find a vacuum that

was at least forty years old and no longer worked. She also sensed she'd have to find it,

assuming she had any such desire, because Barney undoubtedly had no idea where it

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might be located.

        A glance down the hallway of once dark wood boards, now worn and polished

from years of slippers sliding on them, showed a kitchen in much the same shape. There

was little doubt the wiring in this ramshackle dwelling wouldn't even support any modern

appliances, and the newest of such had to be twenty years old, or even more. It made her

shudder once to imagine living in this dungeon. More dust particles swirled busily in the

air next to a shadow by the wall where it was grazed by the rays of a dim kitchen ceiling


        Barney stopped in front of the seediest looking chair, put his hands on his knees to

brace himself, and lowered his ancient rear end to the chair. Using his left foot, taking

two shots to do it, he nudged a battered ottoman out of the way and said, "C'mere, girly."

        She glanced let at Rex, who nodded and said, "I'm goin' back t' the car a minute t'

get my shavin' bag an' shit." He started to leave, stopped, quickly grabbed Helena by

both shoulders and kissed her, his tongue in her mouth almost before their lips met. Ten

seconds later, roughly caressing her breast and adding a wink, he went back outside to the


        Helena was still watching him exit when she heard Barney rasp, "Girly, I jus' tol'

ya t' c'mere, an' ya better fuckin' do it!"

        Last thing I need is two of them all over my butt, yelling at me, she decided as she

headed his way. As she approached him, having crossed a living room spanning perhaps

twenty feet by fifteen, Barney held out a dingy couch pillow and said, "Yer gonna need

this, girly."

        Taking it without another thought, she looked at the man quizzically. "Why?"

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        "So's ya c'n get yerse'f down on the floor an' suck my dick!" he said with a cackle.

"Shit, I know who ya are, girly! Yer that li'l bitch on the city council with all that there

bad attitude. Stands t' reason ya'd be with ol' Rex, I guess, but if'n ya don't drop down

now an' suck it fer me, I'm gonna jump on the damn phone an' call the po-lice! Wonder

how yer ever gonna explain 'bout bein' here with ol' Rexie?" He pointed again toward the

floor between his baggy pant legs which, Helena was very sure, covered a pair of knobby

knees. She all too soon understood she was about to see for herself what they looked like

since Barney had already undone his belt and was starting to pull his pants under his rear

end. He planned to drop them to the floor and give her plenty of room to work, she saw.

        In Helena's mind it was as instinctive a reaction as honking the horn if another

driver drifted into her lane without seeing her car. Holding the pillow with two hands,

she skirted around the chair to stand behind it, slammed the pillow against the old man's

face, and hauled his head back against the high padded chair.

        Scrawny old hands darted to the pillow and tried to wrest it out of her grip, but

she only pressed it harder against his face, exerting all her strength to hold his head hard

on the chair as she smothered him. Helena heard the muffled yells and screams, glad at

the attempts he made, since each quieted word cost him a little more oxygen and made

the time it took to kill him a little bit shorter.

        Barney was still writhing in the chair, losing the final battle of his life, when she

heard Rex come back in through the front door and yell, "Just gonna run this shit upstairs,

Barney. I'll put it there in the room ya had me use last time I was here." With that said,

he clambered noisily up the stairs and Helena redoubled her efforts to finish Barney off

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as fast as she could. Less than a minute later, he stopped moving at all, but she still held

on, pressing the pillow over his entire face.

       When the floorboards upstairs creaked in a way that told her Rex was coming

back to the stairs, she took the pillow away and tossed it on the floor next to the chair.

Her hand went to the side of his neck to check for a pulse and found nothing. Helena

pulled his pants back in place and buckled the belt as she heard Rex come clomping

down the stairs. Thinking quickly, she hollered, "Rex, you'd better get in here right now!

There's a problem!"

       He hurried into the room, then stopped. "Aw, fuck! What happened?"

       "I think he had a heart attack," she explained. "He was grabbing at his chest and

making some very strange noises, then he just slumped there in his chair. I checked and I

couldn't find a pulse." She stood straight, fingers spread wide, both hands covering her

mouth. "Rex, I hate to say it, but your friend Barney is dead."

       "He wasn't that good a friend," Rex told her as he started out of the room.

       "Where are you going?"

       "I think I know where ol' Barney hid 'is loot. If he's dead … ya sure on that?"

       "Quite sure," she told him, nodding. "He's gone."

       "Cool. Well, if 'e's dead, he ain't gonna need 'is cash, an' I think I know where he

hid it. Be right back." Just passing the archway, Rex stopped and stepped back into the

room. "Maybe I oughta have ya come in there with me. Don't want yer ass runnin' off."

       She sighed, an indication of disappointment. "Okay, if you don't trust me." She

started walking toward him.

       "Ya think I should?" he asked. "Trust ya, I mean?"

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        "Have I given you any reason not to trust me so far, Rex?"

        He paused for thought, wiping his hand over his face, forehead to chin. "Naw, not

really, ya ain't. Okay, stay here then."

        Helena smiled at him and pulled the sweater up over her head. "I'll tell you what.

We'll compromise. You can take my clothes so you know I won't leave." She undid her

bra, tossed it aside, then removed the black slacks.

        Eyeing her like a kid in a candy store, Rex suggested, "Go ahead an' take 'em all

off, Bitch. I'm gonna want some pussy after I find the money."

        She smiled before he turned to leave the room, then finished undressing.

        Less than ten minutes later, Rex was back, a locked metal box in his hand. It had

a small padlock on the front looped between two thin metal tabs. In his other hand was a

hammer. "Found this in the garage," he said, putting the box on the floor and smashing

the padlock with the hammer. The third blow sent the lock skittering along on the thick

shag, where it stopped after only a couple feet. Rex upended the box with the top flopped

loose and piles of money wrapped in old rubber bands fell on the floor. The rubber bands

were so old and rotted, a few broke when the wads of money landed, splaying them wide.

        "Yahoo!" he yelled, dropping to his knees and gathering up the loose bills, which

she quickly saw were all hundreds. "I'm fuckin' rich!"

        "You've got another treasure, even better than that one," Helena told him when

she came to a halt next to the box, her bare feet the only thing he'd see as he shuffled all

the bills together.

        "Yeah, what's that?" he asked.

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        Helena reached down, cupped his chin, and raised his head with her left hand, her

right caressing her trimmed and shaped pubic hair. "This," she cooed.

        "Oh, yeah!" he exclaimed as he reached up and pulled her down to the carpet and

began pulling his belt loose. "Forgot about that shit!"

        "I'm not shit," she purred, helping him undress. "Don't ever forget it again."

        When they finished, with Rex now spread naked on the rug, trying to catch his

breath, he said, "I gotta call The Man on the phone he gimme an' tell 'is ass I got me a

real hostage." Glancing her way, he added, "I c'n still tell 'im that, right? I mean, even if

ya are givin' me pussy an' all, I c'n still say it, right?"

        "Sure," she told him, not sure where this was going, but creating a couple of good

alternative plans on the fly. "I won't say anything to tip him off." She reached way over

by Barney's chair where his corpse was slumped to one side and grabbed a newspaper off

the floor next to the chair. "Good, this is today's issue and this is a local paper."

        "Why's that good?" he wondered aloud.

        "So he knows what day it is and you still have me. Oh, and that I'm still alive."

        "Good idea," he told her, pulling her head over and kissing her wetly.

        Helena handed him the paper and said, "Stand up."

        When he did, she took the prepaid cell phone from the right front pocket of his

pants, where he always carried it. "Take a picture of me with the cell phone and make

sure the newspaper gets included in the shot." She took the paper back from him, spread

open the front section, and laid it out next to where she knelt on the carpet, the top of the

page closest to her, the fold nearest Rex.

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        "Oh, yeah!" he said with a laugh. "Get a picture o' yer ass naked! That'll piss 'im

off, sure as shit!"

        "Especially when he sees I'm doing this," Helena said throatily as she seized his

penis and put it into her mouth.

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                          CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

                                  Oceanside, California

                         Thursday, November 19th, 8:42 p.m.

       With Helena busily conducting her newfound voluntary duty, Rex almost lost

track of what he intended until she stopped long enough to tell him, "You'd better take the

picture before I finish what I'm doing for you."

       "Oh, yeah," he almost gasped, attempting to focus on the phone while also trying

to enjoy her ministration. Fumbling his way through it, his concentration repeatedly

distracted, he finally figured it out and snapped a picture. Then another, and another, and

yet one more were taken before she concluded her duties and left him a weakened pile of

flesh on the weird looking, dirty old carpet.

       Following a few minutes of grateful kisses from him and the standard amount of

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groping on his part, Rex made it to one of the chairs and sat. He dialed the number with

the speed dial, the only one in the directory, and let it ring until he heard voice mail.

        The message he heard was brief. "Speak."

        Accustomed to it by now, but feeling a little smug over the new "relationship" it

seemed he'd found, his attitude was akin to someone who's quit a job and collected that

final paycheque. His former employer no longer had any hold on him. "Yeah, well, it's

me. Ya know damn well who I am. Listen up, 'cause I don't want ya even tryin' t' come

after my ass. I got me a hostage, somebody important t' you, an' I know it. Matter o' fact,

I'm gonna be sendin' ya a picture soon's I hang up this call jus' t' show ya."

        He looked up at the naked woman standing to the right of the chair he was in and

winked at her, then began fondling her body. "Plus, as far's that other money ya still owe

my ass, ya c'n—"

        Helena pressed a finger to his lips, then bent down and whispered in his ear, "You

shouldn't say anything about this money you found. There's no reason for him to know

you have it. He'll just see it as one more tool you can use, so I wouldn't mention it, if I

was you." Standing again, legs spread slightly, right hip cocked with her palm placed on

it, the fingers aimed behind her, Helena shook her head in the negative.

        Rex continued, "Ya c'n hold on to it fer me, 'cause I'll be back someday an' I'm

gonna want it. Remember, Bod ol' boy, ya owe it t' my ass!" Cackling into the phone, he

closed it and cut off the call. "Good thing I got ya 'round t' advise an' shit," he told her.

"I ain't used t' doin' shit like this, ya know?"

        "Yes, I do know," she said, nodding half a dozen times. "I also know you should

not have used his name. Now that you have, it will add to the reasons he feels he'll need

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to kill you. By saying that, you admitted you have his name." She shook her head again.

"Not a good idea. Not a good idea at all."

        "Shit! I never thought o' that! Damn, now what'm I gonna do?"

        "We'll think of something," she told him as she gathered up her clothing and got

ready to get dressed again. "In the meantime, you'd better go through this house with a

rag and make sure you wipe anyplace either of us might've touched anything. Then, after

you finish, we have to get out of here."

        "Why, Bitch? This place is safe. That's why we came here."

        "I am not," she told him, automatically taking command in part, "staying here in a

place this filthy and with a dead body that will soon begin to smell. We'll just have to

find another place to stay."

        "Oh, yeah? What makes ya think I'm gonna do that?"

        She stroked her pubic hair again and said with a smile, "This."

        Grinning, Rex nodded twice. "Right. That. Shit, I forgot again."

        "Don't ever forget me," she admonished. "It's not allowed."

        When Helena was dressed, and Rex had selected the picture he most wanted to

send and gotten it e-mailed from his phone, they set out to find another hiding place.

                                  Oceanside, California

                          Thursday, November 19th, 9:07 p.m.

        The Man arrived at the location where he always stashed the cell phone frustrated

at the day's results. Damn it, I only killed Chico. That dumb ass Rex got away and I'll

play hell finding him, I'm sure. I also better find him fast. That man's a loose cannon and

I don't need the grief.

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       Ascertaining he was alone, he entered the room and walked back to where he left

the phone. Worse yet, I can't find Helena. Disgruntled and unsure, he chewed his lower

lip as he walked. No answer on her cell, or at the house, and no message from her on my

cell, either. Not good, damn it, not good at all.

       When he reached the phone he called in for the voice mail, but noticed after he'd

pressed to have it automatically dial the voice mail number, there was also a picture or a

text waiting to be reviewed. The computer voice answered and asked for his password,

so he keyed it in. Astonished at what he heard, he replayed it twice, just to be sure, then

hung up.

       The prick says he has a hostage, and I can't find Helena. I don’t like any part of

what I'm starting to imagine. His mindset going into battle mode, all senses alerted far

beyond normal, The Man's brain was running faster than a mile a minute. Using just his

thumb, he brought the picture onto the small screen. What he saw immediately filled him

with a cold rage. I will make the bastard pay, he promised himself. He'll die, that's more

than a given, but he won't die fast. No, he'll die very painfully, apologizing until he spits

out the last word he'll ever say. His ass is mine!

       Resolute in every respect now, he put the phone away and left the building.

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 9:14 a.m.

       Standing a few feet away from the desk of the Lance Corporal to whom she'd

been ushered after making her request, Sonya Charles looked around the area she felt was

best called a reception room, although it was starker and less comfortable looking than

any she'd ever seen. The corporal had taken her request, made a phone call, and told her

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to wait a few minutes. He'd be with her as soon as possible.

       Dressed more like a woman today than a cop, primarily because she felt the need

to celebrate the recovery of freedom she hadn't even had time to assess losing, Sonya felt

it was probably a good idea this way. If I'm talking with a man the age of the guy I'm

about to meet, I might as well give him something to distract his attention. I don't like

the idea I had to speak with six people before I found out she has a thing going with this

guy. However, what I don't like the most is the fact I had to look him up, instead of it

being the other way around. Someone is damned sure going to explain that to me in

words I think make sense, or it's going to be someone's ass.

       She heard fast moving footsteps coming down a linoleum hallway, a rapid beat

but somehow in a measured cadence. The door to the room she was in was open, so she

heard anything and everything outside in the hallway. What she didn't get was any kind

of preparation for the man she'd encounter until he swung through the door and halted.

       Sonya pegged him at 5-8" or 5-9", 180-190, all of it solid muscle. A two-legged

jungle cat in a uniform. He even moves like a damned cat! Yikes! I feel the sense of

being at the zoo outside the tiger exhibit, damned awfully glad there's a four-inch glass

barrier between me and Tony the Tiger … but there's no freaking glass! I have a feeling,

enhanced by what I call "killer eyes", this bastard's still trying to decide whether or not to

kill me and drag my round little ass home for dinner!

       The ID tag in his tan uniform blouse said M. Sgt I. Crane, zeroing in an identity

for her. "Sergeant Crane?" she asked, extending her hand to shake.

       "Master Sergeant Crane," he said without a hint of apology. "The corporal tells

me you're a police officer. Is that correct?" His hands were still behind his back, which

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Sonya assumed meant he was holding one wrist with the other hand.

        I see, she mused. The a-hole's not even going to shake my hand. Bigoted, or just

an a-hole? "It's Detective Charles, Master Sergeant," she said civilly, but with the normal

injected air of authority of a cop bent on intimidating someone. She glanced at her hand

and added, "I suppose I should put this away before someone gets hurt."

        He notched his right eyebrow.

        Just one, she noted. I've never been able to figure out how some people can move

just one at a time. I gotta go with both at once or skip the whole damned project.

        "How would anyone be hurt?" he asked, evidently curious.

        "By this?" Sonya asked, holding up her hand again, displaying the long, slender

fingers with her nails again painted that brownish pink Flav loved so much. "Heck, it's

all loaded with sharp nails. I have to be careful not to lay it on a chair and forget it. If I

did, God knows what injuries might result." She purposely treated him to the smile she

knew was capable of bringing most men mentally to their knees.

        He never even flinched.

        Shit, looks like I've got a cold-blooded bastard to deal with. Okay, if that didn't

work, we'll try something else. "Can we go somewhere private and talk for a moment,

Master Sergeant? It will only take a few minutes."

        "Just sergeant will do, Detective, and this is fine. What can I do for you?" He

still had his hands behind his back.

        Uh-huh, she told herself. Those hands wouldn't need the proverbial nanosecond

to be on my throat. Damned glad I'm one of the best shots in the department. This guy's

making me nervous. "The questions are rather personal in nature, sergeant."

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       "There's nothing 'personal' about me, Detective. I'm a Marine. That's what I am,

and all I am. A Marine, first, last, and always. I have no personal life. Fire away."

       "Very well. My questions are about Helena Salazar—"

       "The local councilwoman? Interesting. I've met the lady. Why would you have

any questions for me regarding her?"

       "I'm told you have a personal relationship with Councilwoman Salazar. I was—"

       "You were told wrong. She's a widow, as I understand it. Her late husband was a

Marine stationed here at this base. She's young, pretty, personable, and, if I'm not badly

mistaken, rather good at her work. In a nutshell, Detective, that's all I know about the

lady and all I can tell you. Furthermore, that's all I intend to say."

       "Are you aware she's missing, sergeant? That certain of her friends … friends, I

might add, with substantial pull here in Oceanside … have reported her missing and I've

been assigned to investigate the matter?"

       "I have no knowledge of such, Detective, nor any interest in same, if I might be so

blunt and bold. I barely know the woman."

       "Perhaps it would be better if we went to the station to discuss the matter," Sonya

told him, looking at the corporal who was making an unmistakable production of the fact

he wasn't listening. It was unmistakable because he was clearly glued to every word.

       "That's not your decision to make, Detective."

       "Oh? And why would you say that, sergeant?"

       "Because we're not in Oceanside. We're out of your jurisdiction."

       "I beg your pardon?"

       "We are on a Marine base, Detective. Camp Pendleton. Any decision whether or

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not I leave this base, either accompanying you or in your custody, will be made only by

my commanding officer. In lieu of that, should my C.O. opt not to make said decision,

the next rung in my chain of command is my Commander-in-Chief, the sitting President

of the United States of America. Barring word from either of them, as I have a pressing

day of business, I won't have time to accompany you to any other location. With that

idea in mind, this interview is over, Detective."

       He slashed her once with his eyes, made a perfect robotic turn where Sonya could

almost swear she heard his heels click together, and left the room at the same cadenced

pace. He never looked back.

       Sonya decided not to say anything. She kept to herself the one pounding thought

in her mind. This is some weird shit!

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                           CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 9:22 a.m.

       After he left Sonya in the reception area, The Man moved quickly. He headed to

his office and instructed the Marine handling his clerical duties to show him as out of the

office on personal errands the next couple hours. Leaving his military jacket on a hanger,

he strode out of the office, around the building, and made it to the parking lot in time to

see her get in the Crown Vic she'd driven today.

       He nodded in agreement with himself as he concluded, She may be a nigger, but

that is one incredibly beautiful woman. Then he snarled silently. She's also too damned

nosy for her own good. Or mine. When her car started, backed out and began leaving, he

moved even quicker to locate his own car, an orange-gold 2007 Chevy Cobalt, jumped in

and fired it up. The air conditioner hadn't even begun doing any cooling yet, but he didn't

see a need for it this early in the day, so he turned it off. Three minutes later he was at his
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private housing, parked the car and went inside. Just over four minutes after that, with an

envelope in hand, he was back in his car wearing civvies and headed quickly down the

street. Roughly obeying all posted speed limits, since this was definitely not the time to

get stopped by a nosy cop, he set off on a long planned contingency mission.

       Always prepare, he reminded himself. No matter what the other side does, you

must always have a plan of action. A grim smile appeared on his face. Well, I have one,

and I'm about to execute it.

       Still keeping to the speed limits, he left the camp's main gate and headed for

Mission Avenue, the surest feeding ground. He cruised through the shopping center at

Mission and El Camino Real and, although he saw more than a few that would do, each

was either with someone else, or too close to some other homeless guys to make it worth

the risk. Mildly frustrated, he left the shopping center and stayed on Mission, heading

east toward the mega shopping center with the Lowe's Store, a Mickey D's, Starbucks, a

Ralph's Grocery, and a dozen or more small businesses.

       Turning in at the light next to the big building he knew housed all the homeless

guys, he again saw at least half a dozen, but each was either with his buddies, or stood

too close to the others to risk it. He drove slowly past the side of the big Lowe's Store,

stopped at the stop sign, then started toward the end, where a right turn would take him

past Mickey D's. Halfway there, he turned and drove over three parking rows with hardly

any cars in them. The Cobalt came to a halt next to an obvious homeless guy wearing a

heavy tan colored coat, even though it was a comfortable temp by this time of day.

       The Man leaned out the window. "Hey, how you doing?"

       The guy looked up, squinting to see closer, although he was barely six feet away

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from the Chevy. He wore a variation of a baseball cap and had what The Man could see

were glasses at one time, but were somewhat altered by now. The lens and frame for the

right side were still attached, a light grayish plastic, but the left side was broken off and

gone. Diminished vision seemed at least reasonable.

        "Who wants t' know?" the guy asked, clutching the top of a large black plastic

trash bag with a few dozen plastic bottles in it, some peeking out of the top before he

gripped it.

        "An employer," The Man told him. "I've got fifty bucks for you if you can get my

wife's cat out of a tree. You game?"

        "Shit, I dunno. How far up the tree is it?"

        "Not far. Maybe ten feet. Oh, and I've got an aluminum ladder, so it shouldn't be

any trouble reaching the cat."

        The homeless guy scratched his head. "Hate t' turn down easy work, but how's

come ya don't get it yerself, if it's that simple?"

        "I'm allergic to cats. They make me sneeze like hell and break out in a rash."

        "Yeah? How's come yer wife's even got the damned cat, then?"

        The Man grinned, a ribald leer. "My wife gives great head. I compromised."

        The homeless guy smiled knowingly. "That's be a good 'nuff reason, I guess. Ya

say it pays fifty bucks? Where is it, an' how'm I s'posed t' get there?"

        "Not far," The Man told him. He eyed the battered ten-speed leaning against a tall

light pole. "You can ride your bike behind me, I guess, but that'd take too long, or you

can ride over with me if you've got some way to lock up your bike."

        "Oh, I got a lock," the homeless guy assured him, "but what about all these here

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bottles? I spent a couple-three hours collectin' em. Don't wanna have somebody come

by an' swipe 'em b'fore I c'n turn 'em in."

       "Lock up your bike and toss 'em in the back seat," The Man suggested. "I can

have you back here in half an hour with fifty bucks in your pocket." Then he looked at

his watch. "But, I don't have a lot of time. You in or out? If you're not going to help me,

I've still got to find—"

       "No, I'm yer man," he insisted, fishing a padlock and plastic coated link chain

from his backpack. He very quickly locked his bike to the pole, grabbed his trash bag,

circled the car and opened the passenger door. Pushing the bucket seat back forward, he

stuck the bag on the back seat, repositioned the seat back and got in. "I'm Ken. What's

yer name?"

       "Dudney," said the man. He stuck out his hand to shake.

       Ken shook it, a confused look on his face. "That yer first name, er last?"

       "First. Dudney is my first name."

       "Yeah? What's yer last one?"

       "You don't need to know that right now." He grinned. "You see, if it ever got out

I couldn't even get my wife's cat out of a tree, considering my line of business, it would

look very bad for me."

       "Yeah? What kinda business ya in?"

       "I'm an exterminator," The Man said jovially. He got on Highway 76, turned

right, and was soon doing sixty. They chitchatted about meaningless nothings for a few

minutes, then Ken shut up and watched the scenery. After The Man made two turns and

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entered Guajome Park, Ken said, "This is the park. Thought ya said yer wife's cat got

stuck in a tree?"

       "I did," The Man assured him, gesturing at the park as they entered it. "There are

at least a million trees in this place." He shook his head in resignation. "I should've

known that damned cat would do this if she let it out of the cage."

       Ken chuckled. "Well, I'm glad it did, since it makes me fifty bucks." Again, he

turned and looked out the window.

       Watching carefully for rangers, or anyone else who might interfere with what he

had in mind, The Man saw there was no one in the ranger station, so he cut across the

rear parking lot and started down the dirt road. As he approached the place where he'd

killed Chico, with some of the yellow police tape still draped off branches in places, he

saw something he truly didn't like.

       A Park Ranger truck came around the curve. When the driver saw The Man's car

approaching, he turned slightly left, at an angle, stopped the truck and put it in park, then

opened the door and got out.

       The Man also came to a stop, killed the engine, and made it out of his car even

faster than the ranger did. He instructed Ken, "Come with me. Quickly!" he snapped

when Ken didn't move as fast as he wanted.

       Mumbling something unintelligible, Ken undid the seat belt, opened his door, got

out and followed, at least fifteen feet behind when he got started.

       "You can't be back here," said the ranger, a pot-bellied guy in his fifties with an

odd shade of reddish hair. His uniform was rumpled and messy looking as he walked

past the front of the truck with his thumbs notched in a belt that strained to keep his fat

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belly in place. "This is for rangers and park employees only," he explained, sweeping his

hand in a broad gesture along the road behind him. "You'll hafta turn around."

       "This man's going to get my wife's cat out of a tree back here," The Man told him

as he turned halfway to face Ken. "Isn't that right, Ken?"

       "Yeah, it is," Ken agreed, stepping past The Man so he could explain it to the

ranger, since he had the "protection" of a job to do and someone else to take the flack if it

came down to that. "Can't be leavin' the guy's wife's cat out here t' feed the coyotes."

       The ranger said pompously, "Well, that's not important. The first thing you two

have to do is turn that car arou—"

       He never finished the directive because The Man's left hand shot out in a blur to

crush his larynx in one devastating blow. He spun on the balls of his feet, interrupting

Ken in the middle of an astonished question.

       Ken exclaimed, "What th' fu—?"

       The Man drove his right hand, holding it sideways with the four fingers curled in

the middle, into Ken's sternum, driving almost all the oxygen from his lungs in one blow.

He brought up his right knee as Ken reflexively bent forward, crushing the man's face in

an instant. Before his victim could even moan, The Man grabbed his head, twisted it as

viciously as possible, and snapped Ken's neck.

       Dropping him to the ground, he reversed himself and swung a devastating karate

chop to the side of the ranger's neck, just under the left ear, killing a man who was busy

dying at the moment and offered zero resistance. He glanced at Ken's dead body and

added, "I said my name was Dudney. What I meant, shithead, was dudney just seem to

slay you?" Chuckling at his own joke, he started for the ranger's truck.

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       After a fast 360° look to be sure he was alone and no one saw him, The Man got

the envelope from the rear pocket of his jeans and pried it open, sprinkling the hairs in it

on the ranger's dead body. This is even better, The Man decided. I'll leave that asshole

Rex's hairs on someone they'll care more about than a homeless guy. Then Rex can come

up with whatever explanation he wants to make to swear he never killed these two losers.

       Stuffing the envelope back in his rear pocket, taking one more look to be sure,

The Man got in his car, started it up, and backed away. Two down, one to go.

                                  Oceanside, California

                            Friday, November 20th, 9:41 a.m.

       The day was warming nicely. So nicely, I left my jacket on the handle bars of the

used bike I acquired in exchange for an ungodly expensive new one and leaned it against

the wall at Mickey D's. I headed toward Benjy, the friend of Sam's, the first homeless

guy killed in this string of atrocities. I hadn't seen him when I started my day at the city

library, since he doesn't get that far west. I expected he might be around when I made it

to the shopping center at Mission and El Camino Real, but he wasn't. Of course, I talked

with a few guys there, asked a few prying questions, and learned exactly nothing.

       I cruised the next shopping center, the smaller one east of the Oceanside Police

Station, cater-corner from the one I just left, spoke to a few more guys, and came up with

the same surprising news. Zilch. Persistent as a used car salesman who's behind in his

rent and faces eviction, I continued east on Mission and entered the parking lot next to

My Friend's Place, where I only looked as I rode by. No sense in talking to any of the

guys still there. Being in that location meant they were late getting up and around and

hadn't yet seen anything.

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       Continuing my journey, I made it over to Mickey D's, looking forward to a good

hot cup of coffee. With a sneer, I peered to my right after I parked the bike to glance at

the Starbucks in the next set of buildings. Gotta wonder why you guys can charge so

much more for a cup of coffee when Mickey D's makes it better, I mused. Shrugging it

off as a problem beyond my pay grade, I walked over to where Benjy was sitting on the

sidewalk, coffee in one hand, a mostly smoked cigarette in the other.

       "What's goin' on, Benjy?"

       "Not shit," he said, shaking his bearded head. "Jus' gettin' a cup o' coffee. I'm

workin' t'night, Ben. Six t' ten."

       I nodded, pretending I remembered the schedule of who was on duty and what

hours each person worked. Never dare let my cloak of infallibility be tarnished, do I?

       Benjy was one of the managers now at My Friend's Place who kept an eye on the

place and the residents. I could trust him, and knew he'd call my security people before

anything could get out of hand. "Yeah, I remembered that, as soon as I saw you sitting

here. I knew you weren't goofin' off, pal."

       We smiled at each other like the practiced bullshitters we both were. Then I saw

something that caught my attention. "Is that Ken over there talking to some guy in a car?

Over there in the parking lot?" I pointed to the car, an orange-gold colored Chevy Cobalt

parked next to what was obviously a homeless guy, apparently talking about something.

       "Yeah," Benjy told me. "He went an' got a shitload o' plastic bottles somewheres.

Said he was gonna go turn 'em in an' get some cash."

       "Who's he talking with, I wonder?"

       "Got no idea," Benjy replied, still not interested enough to climb to his feet. "Ya

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think he's about t' get picked up an' killed, maybe?" He chuckled. "I don't like 'im all

that much, an' I heard you don't, neither."

        "No, I'm not that nuts about him, if it is Ken, 'cause he's a know-it-all with a big

mouth. Still, I wouldn't wish anything bad on him."

        "Ya think it might be them guys?" Benjy asked, now getting to his feet so he

could see what I saw.

        "No, probably not," I assured him, shaking my head. "I've never seen that car

before and the guy, although I can't really make out his face at this distance, isn't one of

the two I saw that day when we got the other one."

        "The nigger, ya mean?"

        "I'm surprised at you, Benjy? I didn't think you were bigoted."

        "Some bastard starts killin' homeless guys, I'm as bigoted as I can be," he swore in

an oath. "Shit, if them's the bastards who got Sam—"

        "No, I'm sure it's someone else. Like I said, I've never seen that car, or that guy,

before. C'mon," I told him, clapping Benjy on the shoulder, which was still covered by a

light brown winter coat. "Let's get inside and I'll buy you a coffee and a breakfast meal,


        "C'n I get a apple pie, too?" he asked, some excitement in his eyes. "I skipped th'

breakfast we was puttin' out this mornin' 'cause my stomach was upset."

        Because Benjy has a bleeding ulcer we're all still trying to convince him to see a

doctor about, I smiled and said, "You betcha, man. Let's go do it." Smiling at each other,

we went inside to get some food and coffee.

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                           CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

                                 Oceanside, California

                          Friday, November 20th, 9:48 a.m.

       Driving back to the station, disgruntled over the abruptly terminated meeting with

Master Sergeant I. Crane … I've simply got to find out what that damned I stands for! …

Sonya Charles began ruminating. You know what, girl? You are not paying even close

to enough attention to Flav. That poor man went through six kinds of hell when those

yahoos had you captive, and no one's said diddly-squat about his suffering when all that

happened, nor has anyone done one damned thing to make him feel better. Feel special

in some way. Well, this ol' crap's coming to a screeching damned halt as of now!

       She stayed on 76, going right past the Douglas exit she'd normally use to go to the

station and on to Old Grove Road where the Ralph's was located. Remembering they had

a huge display table just the other day over by the bakery section with different flavored

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scones, she smiled as she wheeled in the parking lot and left the Crown Vic forty yards

from the north door. Flav just loves the damned heebie-jeebies out of those things! So,

as the woman who loves the heebie-jeebies out of Flav, I think it's my job to buy him a


       As she walked through the automatically opened door, her smile brightened. Now

what am I thinking? A package? Piss on that line of thinking! I'll get him three of 'em

and Flav can pig out 'til his belly's hanging over his boxer shorts! She went on a beeline

to the display and found them right where she remembered. There were lemon, coffee,

and blueberry flavors. Still holding the coffee flavor, musing, I don’t think I've ever seen

these and I have no idea what they taste like, Sonya threw caution to the winds.

       Piss on it! I know Flav loves the blueberry, so I'll get two of them and one each

of the others. As she slipped them into the black plastic shopping basket she snagged as

she came through the door, Sonya reflected on something else. Well, if there's all those

poor, starving children in China, and some of these go to waste 'cause Flav doesn't get to

'em in time, TFB! TFB, man! Too freaking bad!

       Marching proudly and happily to the checkout line, she was stopped when a tall

guy in his mid forties, not at all bad looking in her opinion, stepped in front of her. "Hey,

baby, where've you been all my life?" asked the debonair looking white guy with black,

curly hair and a toothpaste ad smile.

       The rude and trite pickup line replaced Sonya's happy smile with a frown. She

shifted the shopping basket a bit so the guy could see the badge hanging off the belt of

her brown pleated skirt and answered, "Trying to hide from you, I think." She patted her

purse with her right hand, as it hung from a strap on that shoulder. "I even promised

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myself a long time ago if you, or anyone like you, ever tried to hit on me in public the

way you just did, I'd shoot you once in each knee, on the count of three. So, here we go,

lover boy. One … two …"

       Wearing a horrified facial expression, the lounge lizard spun on the ball of his

right foot and walked away grumbling, "Well, excuuuuuuuuse the hell outa me!"

       The idiocy of it all brought the smile back, so Sonya was happy again. She paid

for Flav's "treats" and, forgetting she'd come in the door on the north end of the store,

walked toward the other one, seventy yards to the south. Almost to the door, she heard,

"Sonya, wait up a second!"

       Turning in place, now standing directly between the automatic doors, she looked

back and saw an incredibly gorgeous young woman heading her way. It put another big

smile on her face. "Fancy! Hey, girl, how ya doin'?" She spread her arms, the two bags

with the scones draped over her left wrist, and welcomed Fancy with a big hug.

       Hugging her in return, then leaning back a step, Fancy said, "Well, I'm doing very

well, Detective Charles. Thank you for asking. And you? I trust all is well?"

       Sonya dramatically stepped back a full yard and looked the other woman over

from head to toes. "You know something, sweety? You're probably as gorgeous as the

little angel named Fancy Martinez I was with yesterday, but you don't really sound all

that much like her."

       Fancy tipped back her head and laughed, the long hair swaying as she did it. "I

always try to speak like a civilized woman when I'm around Ben's friends and his other

acquaintances so I don't make my man ashamed of me." When both Sonya's eyebrows

went up in a confused notch, Fancy added, "Normally, I speak a great deal of slang and

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talk in a relaxed manner, but I never want to be detrimental to Ben by my image, so I'm

on my toes around people he deems to be important, such as you, Detective. Ben thinks

very highly of you and, as a result, so do I."

       Now Sonya laughed. "Well, suppose you knock that crap off and talk like the

sweet little lady I met yesterday when we were doin' down all the bad guys?"

       "I c'n sure as heck do that with no problem," Fancy retorted. "Ain't no sweat to

talk like I always do." She laughed again, then pointed at the bags. "I see yer doin' a li'l

bit o' shoppin', too." She held up a plastic bag of her own. "I hadda stop an' get me some

more yogurt. I was runnin' out."

       "Oh? You like yogurt, huh?"

       "Not really. 'Least, not as much as I eat it these days, I don't."

       Sonya knitted her brow in confusion. "Then, why in the world do you buy it?"

       Still grinning, Fancy said, "'Cause Ben don't like no girls with a fat butt."

       "Pardon me?"

       Fancy laughed. "See, I'm a Mexicana. We get fat jus' walkin' past a picture of a

piece o' cake. All goes right here, first thing." She chuckled as she patted her rump. "So,

t' keep my guy happy, I eat a lot o' yogurt. Don't wanna lose th' man I love jus' 'cause o'

my fat butt."

       Chuckling, Sonya said, "From what I saw yesterday, you couldn't lose that man

even if you turned around and started swinging a big stick with nails jutting out of one

end. That guy worships the ground you walk on."

       "Yeah, I think 'e does, too, but I ain't never takin' me no chances an' lettin' a fat

girl be the one walkin' on that ground. Ben's too good a man t' lose." She brightened even

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more. "'Sides, I like the way it makes me look. Heck, when I go t' some family function,

all they ever try t' do is get me t' eat, but I always tell 'em no. Ya know, I got me some

cousins who are all prettier'n I am, 'cept they went an' got fat an' Ben says it makes me

even that much prettier'n them. No way am I ever gonna do nothin' that makes my guy

stop sayin' things like that t' me, ya know?"

       With a chuckle in her voice, Sonya said, "I'd say you've got a very long way to go

before anything like that happens. Say, there's a Starbucks right over there," she said, her

index finger aimed to the northwest out the door. "Let's stop and get something, okay?

It's on me."

       Looking at her purse, Fancy said, "No sweat. I got plenty o' money, an' Ben gives

me a debit card so's I can—"

       "Nonsense! It's on me. Meet you there in a minute or two?"

       "I'll be there," Fancy said with a smile that would stop a charging lion. "I'm on

my way right now."

       When both had parked in the lot next to the Starbucks, they came back outside.

Fancy led their mini conga line, both swaying seductively, not by intention, but because

that's how each woman walked. Sonya remarked as they headed to the side nearest the

street with all the tables, "Not that I mind, because it's pretty nice out today, but I always

seem to take a seat inside when I come to Starbucks. You don't, huh?"

       Pulling out a chair and sitting in it, Fancy said, "You kiddin' me? With my Ben?

Girl, that dude smokes! If I ever got him t' sit inside, I'd never see 'is eyes. They'd be

fixed on someplace outside where he could be smokin' while we talked." She shrugged.

"Guess it just got t' be a habit, ya know?"

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        Nodding because she understood, Sonya said, "Yeah, when you start doing new

things with your guy, it can become a habit pretty quick." She laughed as a memory

came to her. "I remember for a while I was using something I picked up from Flav, since

I'd never done it before we got together. It was kind of funny, actually, but I knew I had

to stop it, all the same."

        "What was it?"

        Laughing again, Sonya said, "I'd begun calling the people I didn't like all that well

'shit-for-brains' because Flav said it so often."

        They both laughed a moment and Fancy asked, "So, how'd ya stop?"

        "I made him quit saying it!" They laughed again. "That got me out of the habit,

since I was reminding Flav a dozen times per day. So, tell me about you and Ben." She

took a deep breath. "He's a little older than you are, isn't he?"

        Fancy laughed quietly. "Ya might say so. Ben's always almost apologizin' 'cause

he's almos' three times my age … he says. I don't never think about it like that. I jus' see

'im as a man who's a lot smarter'n me 'cause he's seen more outa life. But, he's a really

great guy. A great friend, an' he loves me a lot. I c'n tell 'cause he's always doing such

nice stuff for me. Plus," she added with a giggle, "there's them hickeys!"

        "What hickeys? What're you talking about, girl?"

        It took Fancy a moment to settle down. "It's what Ben calls 'brandin' me'," she

said, then started giggling again. "At least once a day, sometimes more, Ben puts a big

ol' hickey on my butt. Says it's 'our special thing' an' it shows he loves me." Her smile

enlarged. "T' be honest, if I ever saw my butt in the bathroom mirror an' I didn't have me

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no fresh hickey on it, I'd think my Ben didn't love me no more." She patted the side of

her rump and grinned. "It's almos' like I can feel it, an' his love, when I touch the spot."

       Laughing herself, Sonya finally calmed down enough to say, "You're not kidding

me, are you? Ben really does that for you? Every day?"

       Nodding, and with a big smile, Fancy said proudly, "At least once. Sometimes

more'n that … plus, you know, some other stuff." Whatever she was thinking made her

laugh again. "But I ain't gonna tell ya 'bout that!" She took a sip of her drink. "Does yer

guy ever do anything like that fer you?"

       "Not until tomorrow," Sonya told her with her eyes twinkling.

       "Why's that? 'Til t'morrow, I mean?"

       "Because that's when he's going to start putting a hickey on my butt! Flav just

doesn't know it yet!" She chuckled a minute. "Actually, that sounds way cool."

       "Yeah, it is. There's somethin' pretty special 'bout havin' a good man love ya. It

makes me feel special and important." Another shrug. "I ain't never felt like that b'fore,

an' I don't think I ever would again if I lost my Ben, so I'm enjoyin' life while I got all the

good parts of it with me." She had a thought. "Say, ya got any idea how ol' Clarence is

doin'? The guy Ben shot all t' pieces?"

       "Actually, yes. Yes, I do. I spoke with him last night."

       "Yeah? How's 'e doin'? Think 'e's gonna live?"

       Nodding, "Yes, it seems that way. I spoke with him and told him I've already

talked with the people at the DA's office, trying to help him." When she saw confusion

swarming in Fancy's eyes, Sonya added, "He never killed anyone … or so he says … in

all those beatings. Said he didn't want to hurt them because they'd never done anything to

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him. Clarence said he just went along as a bodyguard, of sorts, for the others. He was

there to help if someone was going to hurt them, or arrest them, things like that, he tells

me." Sonya smiled. "He said I can come back to talk with him again. I even gave him

his Miranda warning, but he said it's okay. Oh, and he mentioned you, too."

       "Yeah? How? What'd he say 'bout me?"

       "He said I could bring that lovely Mexicana with me who bit him if I wanted."

       Shaking her head as she brought the drink to her mouth, Fancy countered, "Bet he

never said it that nice, though, did he?"

       "No, but I wouldn't—"

       "Naw, that's cool," Fancy chuckled. "You c'n tell me. If it was him talkin', I bet

he called me a spic, right?"

       "Actually, no. He said I could bring 'that cute li'l beaner bitch what bit my fuckin'

ankle half off' if I wanted, but he did call you a 'sweet little thing', Fancy. He did."

       "Aw, that's nice. Say, ya think it'd be okay if I went t' see 'im? I actually started t'

feel kinda bad fer the guy, an' now ya tell me he wasn't doin' nothin' t' any o' them guys, I

do feel bad for 'im. Would it be okay if I went an' saw 'im?"

       "I don't know, Fancy. I can't say, either way. It would be up to the people at the

DA's office, or maybe Flav, come to think of it, since he's in charge of that case and they

haven't finished interrogating the suspect."

       "Would you mind if I asked 'im? Flav, I mean?"

       "No, but you'd better not slip up and call him that. As far as I know, I'm the only

one not in danger of getting the snot smacked out of me for calling him Flav. You'll be a

lot safer calling him Wendell."

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       "So, you don't mind if I talk t' yer guy?"

       Now Sonya smiled proudly. "No, not a bit. Not even you."

       "Huh? 'Not even me'? What's that mean?"

       "Well, you're an incredibly beautiful young woman, and most women wouldn't

want you within a mile of their man, but my Flav loves only me. I trust that man."

       After watching the dreamy look in Sonya's eyes a moment, Fancy told her, "Yeah,

I know what ya mean. That's why I never get jealous when some other girl's around my

Ben. They can't never take Ben away from me 'cause Ben loves me from his heart, not

from that second brain almost all other guys carry behind their zipper."

       The remark made Sonya chuckle, but she nodded in agreement. "Yes, it works a

lot better when a man loves you with his first brain."

       Fancy grinned at her. "Yeah, but not 100% o' the time. Sometimes the second

brain's got some good things in mind, too."

       After laughing a moment, Sonya placed the fingers of her right hand on Fancy's

forearm and said, "Girl, when you're right, you're right." She winked. "Go ahead and

talk with Flav. Who knows what he'll tell you?"

       "Naw," Fancy relied, shaking her head, "I'll ask Wendell. Safer that way."

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                                CHAPTER FORTY

                                 Oceanside, California

                          Friday, November 20th, 11:26 a.m.

       Rex came back to the living room where Helena was finishing up polishing her

nails in a glossy bright red. She rose from her chair, pointed to where she'd been sitting,

and told him, "Have a seat." Smiling then, she added, "All finished?"

       "Yeah, I think so," he told her, taking a seat and acting as if he didn't understand

why, primarily because he didn't understand why. "Think I got every damned place we

mighta touched, either of us, so we're 'bout ready t' go." He looked up at her, his eyes

resting a moment longer than normal on her breasts. "What's up, Bitch?"

       Helena sat on his lap, squiggled her butt a little to seal the contact and perhaps

even get him slightly aroused, then put her mouth on his. Her tongue explored deep in
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his mouth, wrestled with his tongue, then made a couple laps for emphasis. Her hand

went to his lap, crowded up beside her thigh, and rubbed against where she knew it would

feel best for him. "You make me horny, Baby," she cooed, even letting her tongue flick

out and brush the tip of his nose. "That's a great feeling and I like it. A lot."

         Cupping her left breast with his right hand, then squeezing it, Rex gasped, "I

thought you said we was haulin' ass, Bitch? Ya keep this shit up, I'm gonna need me

some more o' yer primo pussy 'fore we take off."

         "Maybe," she cooed, turning sideways on his lap to face him more directly, also

positioning herself so she could rub the center of his lap. "But, not right away. I have an


         "Yeah?" he asked, still groping and beginning to make small thrusting moves with

his midsection against her rump. "Like what?"

         Eyes locked on his, Selena reflected, Like having you be the man in my bed now

instead of Bod because sex with you is a whole lot better! She smiled and said, "What

we need to do … to keep him away from us, that is … is get him mad, Baby. Really

mad. So mad he wants to drop whatever he's doing and come kill you."

         At mention of the idea of a killing machine like The Man coming after him in

anger, he flinched, his eyes taking on a scared look. "Why the hell'm I ever gonna wanna

do some shit like that?"

         "So we can kill him first," she said smoothly. "When he's dead, we don't need to

worry about him." Glancing at her left hand, they last one she polished, and seeing it was

dry, Helena used it to stroke his chest through the shirt. "If he's mad … I mean furious,

not just a 'regular mad' … he won't be as in control as he usually is, so we'll have a better

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chance of killing him."

       "We? Like … you an' me? Yer gonna be a part o' it?"

       "Of course. A man like Bod won't be easy, and we'll only get one chance."

       He looked away a few seconds, then back to her, although his hand never made

any change in the groping. "What's yer idea? How're we gonna piss 'is ass off so bad?"

       "Simple," she sighed, her right hand now squeezing him, bringing him back to a

state of readiness again. "You'll beat me up. Then you'll take some pictures with the cell

phone and send them to him."

       "Yer shittin' me?"

       "No, not at all. With Bod, that's what it'll take, but that will definitely do the job."

       Rex's left hand automatically came up and scratched his head. "How'm I gonna

make it look like I beat yer ass so's he'll believe it without … you know … actually hittin'

ya an' knockin' yer ass around?"

       "You can't, and you won't," she said huskily, starting to get excited as the idea

took place in her mind. Darn it, although I know it's probably going to hurt like crazy,

I'm getting horny as hell just thinking about it! "He'd see through it if it was a fake. You

won't have any choice, Baby. You'll just have to beat me up."

       As the words left her mouth Helena felt a sudden burning flush of heat in her face

and involuntarily shivered with excitement. Unpredictably, she smiled and unzipped his

pants, taking him into her hand.

       "But … I don't … wanna … hit ya," he gushed, his right hand now shoved under

her sweater and exploring her breasts with a rising frenzy as he made it to his feet.

       "But, you must!" she squealed, springing to her feet, still gripping him, moving

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her hand up and down slowly. "If you don't," she added throatily, her tongue taking two

fast laps around her glistening red lips, "you'll never be allowed to put this thing into me

again. Never, and I mean it, Baby. You're going to have to beat me up and that's all

there is to it." Standing almost straight up, tightening her grip, Helena drew Rex even

nearer to her.

        "Bitch, ya can't really mean—"

        "Oh, yes! Yes, I can!" she howled, an eerie sense of lust overcoming her as she

tugged him even closer. Switching so she gripped him with her left hand and closer to

his body, Helena swung her right hand down, clipping the end of his erection with the

inner parts of all her fingers.

        He bellowed in pain and tried to step back, his hands flitting to where she'd hit

him as his eyes bloomed large in pain and surprise. "Jesus X. Christ, Bitch, ya went an'

broke my fuckin' dick!"

        "Not yet!" she panted, a brand-new fire swarming over her entire body as she felt

the heatedly rising excitement engulf her in the entirety. "But I will destroy the darned

thing if you don't get started! Now, damn it, Baby, now! Hit me! Hit me, Baby, or I'll

bite that thing off you and spit it out!"

        Enraged and befuddled at the same time, Rex's right hand came up from where it

rested near his groin, balling into a fist while it traveled. He connected with her jaw on

the left underside and followed through, the force listing her two inches off the floor and

spilling her against the wall.

        Inexplicably, acting only on her own feral motivations, Helena struggled to her

feet, ripping off her sweater as she rose. Swaying slightly from the force of the blow but,

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at the same moment reveling in the glorious pain that aroused deep, never before known

passion, she tore off her slacks, then her underwear. She stood nearly naked before him

with only her bra and jewelry. "That's a start, Baby, but it's going to take more than that.

Remember, you'll have to take pictures of me afterward." She shivered again, astounded

she could actually want something like this. A beating. No, she decided, it's not that I

want it, it's that I'll go crazy if I don't get it!

        Reaching behind her back, she undid the bra, yanked it free of her body, then

swung it in a wide arc while holding onto one end. The part with the little metal hooks

hit squarely on his left cheek. "I said you need to beat me, you fairy eunuch, or I'll never

let you stick that thing in me again!"

        A split second after his left palm touched his cheek, coming away with spots of

blood on it, Rex launched a roundhouse right that collided with Helena's chin on the side.

She fell as if poleaxed, her vision dimming momentarily from a blow that would fell any

man, and sensed an incredible fantasy heat. It was so overwhelming she climaxed as she

crawled to her knees and gawked at him. "Not enough," she derided him, now shaking

her head and sneering. "No more pussy for you, I guess. At least, not from me."

        Further enraged, Rex tossed a vicious left, catching her on the mouth, spraying

blood to the sides immediately. He followed up with a right that landed exactly on her

left eye, knocking her backward, but from a kneeling position.

        The added pain of stretching her legs so hard, falling back so her shoulders hit the

floor while her knees were still fully bent and ahead of her, only added to the fiery sense

of exhilaration overtaking her every thought. "More, you dirty bastard, more!" Helena

gushed in a passionate cry. "More!"

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       His left fist crashed against her right eye, sending blinding lights flashing through

her mind as a savage pain engulfed her, bringing her to another groaning climax. "Baby,

that was wonderful!" she squealed, reaching up to grab the erection he surprisingly still

had on display. "Now, Baby! Now! Screw me, Baby! Screw me! Screw my darned

brains out right here, right now!"

       Sitting astraddle of her chest, shaking his head at the not at all understandable

situation he was in or the bloody, battered woman squirming beneath him on the floor,

Rex muttered, "How th' hell c'n ya want—"

       "Get this thing into me or I'll cut it off and do it myself!" she screeched, her hand

tightening on him. "I said now, Baby, and I meant right now!"

       Never lowering his pants beyond his knees, Rex complied without another word.

He took on the same air of excitement as a reaction to all the feelings she appeared to be

enjoying, even if he wasn’t sure why. There was an overwhelming contagion about her,

about the moment, about the event, and an incredible attraction at all the naughtiness she

demanded that left him with no other choice.

       He took her brutally, even sensing a satisfaction from Helena when he gripped

different parts of her body and pinched her hard. It only drove her to greater heights and

sent her into a frenzy of biting and slapping him. Caught up in the moment, Rex raised

himself up with his left hand, palm flat on the floor, and began pummeling her face, neck

and shoulders with his right fist as he thrusted himself inside her.

       By reaction Helena squealed, "Oh, yes, Baby! Yes, yes, yes, yes! Oh, yes! I want

more! Beat me more! Screw me more!"

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       Unstoppable by now, Rex swung harder and harder, beating Helena until her face

was a mask of blood. He came to a climactic eruption inside her at the same instant she

exploded inside again. Seconds later, Helena was unconscious, but with a contented

smile on her pummeled face well beyond deciphering.

       When he was able to breathe again with some regularity, Rex withdrew from her,

retrieved the cell phone, and snapped half a dozen pictures. Then, still following a plot

he wasn't sure he understood, but where he knew his role, he sent a text message to The

Man saying there'd be pictures to follow. He instructed The Man to call as soon as he

saw them to make some arrangements.

       Grinning morbidly at the cell phone, he saved the pictures, then sent them to The

Man's phone. It took almost ten minutes, start to finish.

       Then he sat and looked at the unconscious Helena, battered and bloody, as gory a

mess as he'd seen in some time. After a few minutes, arousal overtook him again and he

made his way back inside her. "Ya know what'd be nice, Bitch?" he questioned a woman

incapable of speaking at the time. "What'd be nice'd be if ya fuckin' woke yer ass up an'

helped me finish dickin' ya again."

       Once more involved in the matter at hand, Rex shut up and resumed what he'd

been enjoying before he spoke.

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                             CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 12:03 p.m.

         Rex was sitting in the chair where it all started when Helena came around. Her

head hurt, her jaw hurt, her lips throbbed where he'd mashed and split them with a large

fist, her neck ached, her ears were ringing, and she even noticed a raw tenderness in her

pubic area. As her vision cleared, she asked herself, Why in the world did I ask for that?

For a beating? Worse, why did I seem to actually enjoy it? Even worse yet, why is it, as

I lay here in pain wondering if I'll be able to get up, or walk once I do, I'm glad he did it

to me?

         Then she scratched her head. I wonder if I'm crazy?

         Rex smiled at her when she turned her face toward him enough that he noticed

she was watching. His expression showed confusion and, unless she was mistaken by a

large margin, embarrassment. And something else.

         What? she asked herself. What's going on in his head?
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        After viewing him at least thirty seconds, with neither saying a word, it came to

Helena. My God! I'll bet that's what Adam looked like after the first time he got it on

with Eve! He's tasted the "forbidden fruit" and he liked it! He's going to want more!

Although she tried lifting her head while she was coming to that conclusion, it was more

than she was capable of at the moment. She lowered her aching head to the floor again

and continued musing.

        Soooooooooo, it seems we both liked it. Her face reddened, then flushed with a

new heat for a moment, but it dissipated when she realized he had no idea what she was

thinking about. Well, I guess that means it'll happen again. Running her left hand across

her ravaged features, she frowned, causing a sudden new pain in her face, but she ignored

it. Not right away, however. I may love what happened, for who knows what reason, but

my body can't stand too much of it. Not like this.

        Another thought hit her. Without thinking, she spoke it aloud. "You can't be

doing this to my face, Baby. It—"

        "Yeah, I was thinkin' that," he said, cutting her off. "Ya prob'ly work somewhere

an' ya can't be goin' t' work where ever'body sees ya all beat t' shit, and stuff."

        Again without thinking, "You don't know where I work?"

        Rex screwed up his face. "How the hell'm I s'posed t' know that?"

        "For God's sake, I'm a City Councilman! You don't know that?"

        Now his face tightened. "That like a cop, er some shit?"

        Still not thinking, aghast and appalled he had no idea, Helena managed to sit up a

moment, but was immediately woozy. Placing her hands behind her, palms flat and her

fingers aimed out at an angle, she shook her head no, regretting it before she finished the

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first flip. "No, it's … I'm not sure," she finished, wondering what she could say that he'd

comprehend. Seems I'm not exactly being diddled by someone in my peer group, doesn't

it? "It's a political office. I'm like a … like a city congressman. Yes, congresswoman is

more accurate. Yeah, that's what I am."

       "Zat important shit? Ya make a lot o' money at it?"

       Before she could say she didn't need the money, suddenly remembering who she

was talking with and the probable impermanence he had in her life, she shook her head,

but only long enough to see stars before her eyes. Looking directly, then discovering it

was more painful to angle her glance upward, Helena dropped her eyes to her lap. "My

income is … it's okay. Not a lot, but I do alright." Chancing a glance his way without

raising her eyes, she asked, "What about you? How much money do you make?"

       He reddened slightly. "Much as I need. I get it when I need it. Don't never go

without shit jus' 'cause I ain't got no coin." He looked away again, telling her a great deal

without saying much at all.

       "Look, you've got to call him," she said, veering in another direction. "Tell him to

meet you someplace … tell him the southbound rest area out there on Five … and pick a

time. Make sure he knows he's to be waiting for you up there by the, uh, the bathrooms.

You know where it is, right?"


       "Tell him a time … you'll want it when there are people around, so make it three

in the afternoon … and say you'll contact him. Tell him he must wait for you right there,

not to go anywhere else."

       "We're gonna kill 'is ass in a rest area with a shitload o' people around us?"

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       "No," she said, angry at herself when she forgot and shook her head again, "you'll

call him on the pay phones there, but don't tell him you're going to call. Surprise him."

       "Yeah? An' then what?"

       "Then you drive out there and write down that phone number." Helena began to

crawl out of the room, toward the hall.

       "Then I come back here, or what?"

       "Yes," she said, crawling faster now. "You can pick me up when you get back."

       "How's come ya don't jus' go with me, Bitch? I thought ya wanted t' git yer ass

outa this here place?"

       "I will, when you get back here," she said with a degree of urgency and kept up

her pace, now entering the hallway.

       "Hey, Bitch! Where ya goin'?"

       "To throw up … if I can make it that far!" She crawled faster, barely making it

into the room and getting her head over the toilet bowl rim in time.

       Rex shook his head, went outside and started the engine. This would take at least

half an hour. He wondered if she'd be horny when he got back.

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 12:09 p.m.

       "Hawthorne," said the lanky detective after pressing SEND on his cell phone.

       "Good afternoon, Detective. I hope you're having a nice day?" said a rather sultry

feminine voice.

       Hawthorne took the phone from his ear and looked at it. "Huh?" he muttered.

He put it back to his ear and asked cautiously, "Who is this?"

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       "It's me, sir. Fancy Martinez. Sonya said I could call you—"

       "Wait a minute. Is this a joke?" He cleared his throat. "Or a setup?"

       "Pardon me?"

       He reddened. Hawthorne, get yer freakin' mind outa the damned gutter, huh? Ya

ain't no big, macho stud no more, if ya ever were at all, so get a freakin' grip, huh? "I, uh,

I just … never mind. What can I do for you, Ma'am? I mean Miss." He gulped. "Maybe

I should say Señora?"

       Fancy chuckled, a throaty sound that made him flash again on a beautiful young

woman hitting on him, a grumpy older guy. She added, "No, sir, you should not. I'm not

married, for one thing, and I'm also probably not old enough to feel comfortable hearing

myself addressed that way."

       "Oh, shi—, I mean, crap, that's right. It's s'posed t' be Señorita, right?"

       "Yes, if we're going to be formal, Detective. Are we?"

       "Are we what?"

       "Going to be formal?"

       His throat felt dry all of a sudden. "Uh, look, Miss Fancy," he began, pleased

with himself for suddenly remembering, and just as quickly annoyed with himself since

he forgot in the first place, "I ain't exactly married … not yet, anyway … but I'm kinda

what ya'd call in a relationship, see? So, if yer—"

       "Oh, Detective, that's cute. It really is. And touching, as well. Thank you, sir. I

am flattered you'd even pretend I stood a chance with a man like you, particularly since

you've already won the heart of Sonya Charles. Yes, Detective, I'm flattered just to think

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you'd pretend I was making a play for you." Another chuckle. "Perhaps that's why

Sonya loves you as she does, because of your clever wit."

        Swarmed in relief, his face red as he looked around the squad room to be sure no

one overheard, Hawthorne let out a breath. "Yeah, I was just playin' around with ya right

from the start, Miss Fancy. I knew it was you but, since you an' Ben are kinda special

folks, I was just joshin' ya a little."

        "And with a very clever wit, I might add," she tossed in with yet another vibrant


        The sound made Hawthorne at least flit back to his initial frame of mind, but he

slapped his face quietly and let it go. "What can I do for you, Miss Fancy?"

        "Yes. Well, I'm actually calling about Clarence. You remember? The black man

who was—"

        "Yeah, I know." He took another deep breath, remembering the talk with Sonya

of no more than ten minutes ago. "Uh, Sonya called an' told me ya'd be callin'."

        "Did she say what I wanted, sir?"

        He thought to himself, Uh-huh, an' she left it 'tween the lines how if I ever plan t'

get laid again in this lifetime, I'd pull a coupla strings an' tell ya it was okay. Oh, well. In

for a fuckin' penny, in for a pound o' shit, I guess. "Yeah, she said you was askin' about

maybe visitin' the man. You an' Ben gonna go an' get 'im a lawyer, a big, expensive one,

maybe? Help 'im beat th' rap, somehow?"

        "Oh, goodness, no! Actually … and I think Sonya knows this, so I'm uncertain

why she wouldn't've told you, sir … I merely want to thank him for not hurting my Ben,

and to tell him I'm sorry for all the trouble he's in now. Would that be okay with you?"

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        Scratching his head, realizing if the wrong person found out about it, he'd have a

lot of explaining to do, Hawthorne looked down at his lap. So, he reflected as he peered

at his zipper area, do I want to take a chance I'll have to explain it all to my captain, or do

I wanna explain to you why you're suddenly in retirement? He shook his head to clear it,

appalled at the very idea of what it would be like. "I'll call over to the jail an' okay it. So,

when ya wanna go over there? Ya know it'll be a telephone an' a video screen, right?"

        "Well, I didn't know that, sir, but it's irrelevant. I only want to speak with the

gentleman a few minutes." She inhaled slowly, flooding Hawthorne's mind with thoughts

he was positive he shouldn't have even for a second. "It won't make any trouble for you,

will it, Detective?"

        Slapping his face again, he said, "No, 'course not. I'll take care of it. So, when

d'ya wanna go see this dude?"

        "Is right now okay, Detective? I'm not that far from Vista."

        "Yeah, that'll work out. I'll make the call right now."

        "Oh, thank you, sir!" she seemed to gush. "I really appreciate it. Bye-bye."

        As Fancy disconnected, Hawthorne mumbled, "Well, fuck me. Scratch that! I

mean, I'll be damned!"

                                    Oceanside, California

                            Friday, November 20th, 12:14 p.m.

        As Sonya Charles approached the main gate at Camp Pendleton driving the same

Crown Vic she'd used before, she saw a gold Chevy Cobalt pull out of the marine base

with Master Sergeant Crane at the wheel. He was talking on a cell phone, holding it to

his ear. She smiled. Good! I'll call for a marked unit and have 'em ticket his mangy ass!

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       The Man turned and headed for Harbor Drive. Sonya was a good two or more

blocks back, with four cars between them, by the time she got turned around and left the

approach to the gate. The mic was in her hand and she was about to call in when she saw

him throw the cell phone angrily to the passenger seat and floor his accelerator. With this

new development, she held off on calling for a marked unit.

       Shit, even if he gets on Five, I can still get one of our guys, or get patched in to

the CHP. Let's see where this thing is going first. She tromped on the gas and the big

Ford roared, fully prepared to do battle with the little Chevy and eat it alive, if it came to

that. The Chevy took corners better than her bigger car, even if hers did have a police

suspension and handling system, but her smile returned. Dude, I don't give a brown rat's

ass what kind of motor you've got in that thing, your friggin' car cannot compete with my

freakin' radio! Guess I'll just hang my leg in ol' Betsy here and keep up with you.

       She did, staying a few hundred yards back, and noticed him peering to his right as

he flew past the rest area on the northbound side of I-5. Wonder what the hell that's all

about? Two miles later, not bothering with a turn signal and only hitting the brake at the

last moment, The Man exited and stayed to the left side of the single lane ramp, which

told Sonya he planned to go left. Hmmm? That'll take him under the freeway and he'll

turn around. What the hell is this Bozo doing?

       Also skipping the turn signal, she didn't brake, but let off on the gas. She saw the

Chevy slow to around 30, watched him check both ways and see no nearby traffic, then

roar around the corner. Sonya did the same thing, goosing the big Ford engine just as the

Chevy turned left again onto the ramp entering the freeway southbound. It looked to her

as if The Man glanced in her direction a moment, but she was concentrating on keeping

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her unit under control and didn't see that much of his face. Ramming the pedal to the

floor, she soon squealed into her own left turn and charged up the ramp. Okay, sucker, if

you don't stop at the rest area on this side a couple miles back, this girl's gettin' on her

damned radio and starting a party! And your mangy ass will be the guest of honor!

        Still hanging back, she let him get a quarter mile ahead, then paced the Ford with

his car. Using a turn signal this time, the Chevy exited at the rest area, so she slowed

from 90 to 75 and stayed in the right lane as soon as she was past the big semi. At the

exit, using her turn signal, she left the highway and was down to 20 mph when she came

into the area where cars parked.

        To her surprise, it wasn't very crowded. Maybe it's 'cause they're all at lunch, I

bet. Oh, well, I'll just … shit! He pulled over way back here at the end! Now what?

        The Man was standing outside his car, wearing camouflage BDUs, arms crossed

on his massive chest, glaring at her. When their eyes met, Sonya could feel a power hit

her. Sense it almost burning into her brain. Pervaded with the feeling this thing could be

southbound very quickly, she opened her purse and took a reassuring moment to caress

the Glock 10mm as she parked on the passenger side of the Chevy. She got out, using

her left hand on the door, the right partway in the purse.

        "Why the hell are you following me?" he snapped, his eyes boring into hers again.

        Sensing the need to assume control, Sonya shifted her hand from the Glock to the

small wallet with her badge. Took it out, flipped it open, and displayed it. "I'm a police

officer, Master Sergeant, and we're not in your jurisdiction now, mister, we're in mine. In

my jurisdiction, I—"

        "We're outside the city limits of Oceanside … officer … so I don't think we're 'in

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your jurisdiction' any longer." He shifted in place, adjusting his stance, his body now at

an angle to her.

       Sonya frowned, considered putting the badge away, then decided to keep holding

it on display as a prop while she established control. Don't want to haul out my piece if I

don't need to, but this prick's being just a little too damned belligerent for my tastes. "My

jurisdiction extends all the way to every border in the state when I see a crime in progress

or when I'm in pursuit. Furthermore, Master Sergeant, I ask the questions, I don't answer

them. That's your part. Now, I—"

       "No!" he barked with authority. "I'm busy and I don't have the time, nor do I have

any intention, to answer your questions. Leave me the fuck alone!" He took a step in her


       "Halt!" she ordered, dropping the badge back into her purse, but catching it on the

flap and hearing it plop to the ground. "You will answer my questions," she instructed

him as she fumbled with her fingers on the flap, desperately trying to reopen her purse,

"or I'll take your sorry ass to the station and you can answer them there. Your choice."

       "I think I'll try 'Door Number Three', instead," he countered as he moved toward

her at a speed she didn't think possible.

       Sonya's fingers had just entered the purse, not all of them yet touching the Glock,

but she still had a lot of hope she'd be able to arm herself and control the situation with no

actual physical contact.

       He proved her wrong when his left hand, not even closed in a fist, streaked into

and past her field of vision so fast it was only a blur. Skyrockets exploded behind her

soft eyes a nanosecond before a truck collided with her belly at high speed. With 100%

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of the wind knocked out of her, Sonya doubled over, leaning forward, learning she'd

somehow gotten onto a railroad track when a fast moving train slammed into the back of

her neck. A crystal clear vision of all the flames in hell dancing in a gigantic bonfire took

up residence in her eyes, obliterating any other sight. Falling into a deep, dark abyss with

evidently no bottom, she felt herself swirl and twirl, forced to wait until her body would

hit the ground a couple miles down and she'd die.

       But she never landed. Blissfully, someone turned out the lights, everything in the

universe went black, and nothing mattered any longer.

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                           CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

                                 Oceanside, California

                         Friday, November 20th, 12:24 p.m.

       As she tooled her hot little red Mustang convertible around a corner to College

Road, Fancy was on her way to Highway 78 and the trip to Vista, the next city over. It

was noticeable only if watching for a sign, but she knew the way well by now.

       Her cell phone rang. Not interested in a $97 ticket for using a cell while driving,

she had a Bluetooth earpiece concealed under long hair hanging six inches below her

shoulders. Unconsciously, she swept a wave of golden brown locks to the side, as if she

needed the earpiece free to hear. Then she pressed SEND without looking to see who

was calling.

       The voice of her cell identified the caller as "not available", causing Fancy to

scratch her head. "Hope it's not somebody tryin' t' get me t' take some dumb survey."

Instead of speaking her name, she said only, "Hello?"
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       "Miss Fancy?" A male voice. Strong. Familiar. Authoritative.

       Fer Pete's sake, askin' for "Miss Fancy", this ain't no dumb survey. "Yeah?"

Then it clicked. "Oh, I'm sorry. This you, Detective Hawthorne?"

       "Yes, Ma'— Miss Fancy, it's me. I had a thought."

       Aw, crud! Now I can't go see Clarence! Ding-dang it! "What's wrong, sir … I

mean, Detective? Ya callin' t' say I can't go see 'im?" She just as quickly swatted herself

on the forehead. Jeez! I'm talkin' like some kinda valley girl! "Um, is there a problem of

some kind, sir?"

       He never caught it. "Oh, no, but I almost made a stupid mistake. Only caught on

when I was dialing the jail."

       "Uh-huh?" she answered, totally clueless.

       "You see, Miss Fancy, he's not in the jail. Not yet. 'Course, he will be in a couple

days, but—"

       "He's not … oh, jeez! Dummy me! He's still in the hospital, right?"

       "Yes, Ma— Miss Fancy, he is." Hawthorne sighed, releasing tension as far as she

saw it. "But, don't worry. I called the hospital and talked with our man. He'll let you in

to see the prisoner as soon as you show him some ID. Of course, as pretty as you are, I'm

sure I could've just—"

       "Why, thank you, Detective! How chivalrous and kind of you, saving me a trip

when I 'blonded out' on you that way. Thank you, sir. By golly, if I didn't have my Ben

… perish the thought and God love the man … I might be inclined to give my new friend

Sonya some competition, sir. This is very, very kind of you, saving me all that time."

       "Huh? Did you just say … Miss Fancy, you can't possibly mean—"

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        Her laugh was a gurgle of happy mischief. "Heck, no! If I didn't have my Ben, I

doubt I'd be fit company for anyone, Detective. Plus, even if I was, there's no way a girl

like me could ever compete with a woman of Sonya's caliber. Then, in consideration of

the fact you pretty much worship her, it was only a fanciful idea. None of that, however,"

she added in a dignified tone, "can diminish my gratitude for the time you've saved me. I

am, as I said, very grateful, sir."

        Hawthorne took a moment, evidently digesting her words. "Uh, yeah, what you

just said. Uh, anyway, no problem. I should've been thinking when we talked, but my

mind was … it was, uh, somewhere else."

        "I'm sure it was," Fancy purred. "More than likely on Sonya," she added with a

soft chuckle.

        "Uh, sure was. You bet. That's it, exactly." Following a moment of dead air, he

added, "Um, gotta go, Miss Fancy. Lots to do here."

        "Oh, I'm sure there is, and thank you again, sir. Bye-bye." She hung up. "Jeez! I

almost wasted a lot 'o time an' gas! Dummy broad!" She swatted herself again, then got

in the right lane as she neared the freeway. "Cool. This'll work out jus' fine. I'll take a

right here on Vista Lane, head over to the hospital, an' be there even quicker."

        The "quicker" part proved somewhat illusory as she moved quickly after parking,

then ground to a crawl once inside. Nurses had questions, the man she wanted had been

moved to another area, and the cop at the desk had just been relieved, so she almost had

to start from scratch.

        The cop was finally convinced to call Hawthorne, who Fancy could hear was

chewing some part of the man's body over the phone. With a somewhat red face and a

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barely concealed snarl, the officer eventually allowed her to proceed, albeit minus her

purse, her ink pen, and even her pierced earrings. Persistently wearing a smile she no

longer really felt belonged on her face, Fancy finally made it in to see Clarence, only to

find him snoring, dead asleep. She screwed up her face in frustration, then took a few

deep breaths and calmed down. Okay, girl, all ya gotta do is take a seat in th' dang chair

an' wait. He ain't gonna sleep forever an' ya ain't got a heckuva lotta things t' be doin' at

the moment anyhow. Jeez! Chill, Fancy, jus' chill!

       After about ten minutes, when the quietude had her nodding slightly, Clarence's

eyes opened. He saw her, blinked, smiled, and tugged his hands once against the canvas

restraints. "How 'bout that shit," he mumbled. "The li'l fox done come back t' see me."

       "Yeah," she told him, coquettishly tipping her head left, allowing a sea of hair to

sway gently at her side, "it's me, Clarence, yer friend Fancy. How ya doin', guy?"

       "I's okay," he said, frowning once and giving up when he forgot and pulled for a

moment against the restraints. "I hate this shit," he told her, looking at his wrists and

scowling. "Makes a dude feel like a fuckin' dawg." Then he wrinkled his face a brief flit,

adding, "Sorry. Guess that wasn't nice, huh?"

       She waved it off with a smile. "No problemo, Señor," she grinned. "So, other'n

them straps, how th' heck they been treatin' ya 'round here?"

       The next few minutes were devoted to Fancy asking things about the hospital stay

and what the nurses did for him, as well as any prognosis they may have given him, with

Clarence explaining it all in some detail. Then his facial expression changed and he told

her, "I 'membered somethin' I was wantin' t' tell ya."

       "Yeah? About what?"

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        "It's 'bout The Man, th' dude was in charge o' all that shit, them killin's."

        "Ya sure ya wanna tell me anything, Clarence? I ain't no lawyer, an' if they ask

me in court if ya ever said anything, I'd hafta tell 'em."

        "Don' mean shit," he said with a smile. "The Sistah says she's got 'em workin' on

a deal fer ol' Clarence." He raised his eyebrows once, then dropped them again. "Never

know 'bout that shit. It might all work out." His eyes broke from hers and roamed the

room a moment, but were soon back on her face. "That's 'cordin' t' the Sistah."

        "Ya sure, 'cause I don't want ya gettin' in no more trouble jus' 'cause—?"

        "No sweat, girl. Ain't no big deal. It ain't." He screwed up his face concentrating

a moment, clearly digging into the deep recesses of his mind. "It was one day when 'e

was talkin' t' Chico, the other dude, an' Rex. Said somethin' 'bout how he didn't never

hafta fight city hall 'cause he was already doin' things fer city hall." His eyes closed as if

he was summoning something from even deeper.

        "Wasn't me 'e was talkin' to, ya unnerstan', but Chico axed him what kinda work 'e

was doin' fer 'em. The Man kinda laughed 'n' said it was all in bed. Then Chico axed him

was it getting' pussy from somebody at city hall an' 'e said it was. Don' know if'n that's

ever gonna help with no shit yer doin', but that's what 'e tol' Chico."

        Fancy let the idea linger in the back of her mind as they talked a bit more about

the hospital room and staff, how long he'd be a patient, and what he expected when they

charged him with the crimes. Clarence kept returning to "The Sistah, she cuttin' mah ass

a deal, like I said," and didn't seem all that worried.

        When the cop peered in and said that was long enough, Fancy stood, leaned over

the rail, and kissed his cheek.

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       "You do what they tell ya an' take care o' yerself," she sagely advised.

       Clarence tilted his head left, as if he wanted to press his cheek to his shoulder and

preserve the imprint of her kiss. Then he looked up at her with watery eyes and added, "I

don' nevah take me no pussy, girl, but I mighta done it that way if'n I ever met yer sweet

ass b'fore all this here shit come down on my ass."

       "Ya never know," she replied with a smile, only guessing at what he meant by it

all. "Coulda been."

       They said good-bye and she left. When she'd made it out of the room, Fancy

almost ran to get to her car. Once inside, she fired it up and tore out of the lot. Ben's

gotta hear 'bout this in a big ol' hurry, boy! A big ol' hurry!

       Once onto the streets, she drove a lot faster than normal, her eyes flicking every

few seconds to all three mirrors, worried about a ticket. Well, if I gotta, I gotta, but Ben's

gonna wanna know what he said. Th' heck with a stupid ol' ticket!

       She had to cruise the areas he said he'd be in to find him, but it only took around

fifteen minutes. When she found him, she parked a hundred yards away and walked until

she was close enough to talk where he could hear her but not appear to be in conversation

with him.

       Ben was back down near Foussat Road, talking to some homeless guys in the strip

mall on the south side of the street. After making sure he saw her, she took a seat on a

wide concrete bench and looked the other way. A couple minutes later she heard him sit,

knowing he'd be looking away from her. "What's up, Princesa?" he asked curiously.

       Fighting the urge to look at him, she kept her eyes averted to the other end of the

strip, as they'd agreed. "I was at the hospital, Querido, talkin' t' Clarence. He says he

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heard th' dude in charge of it all, some Rex guy, was talkin' t' someone he was callin' 'The

Man' an' the guy said he was screwin' somebody at city hall. That mean anything good to

ya, Ben? Maybe be somethin' that'll help ya?"

        Ben waited a moment to reply, taking time to let her words sink in. "Only in a

very crazy kind of way."

        "Whaddaya mean, hombre?"

        "I mean what I'm thinking is impossible … probably." He stopped, lit a Winston,

took a drag and let it out noisily. "Except, if it's not impossible, it would explain a couple

things and answer some goofy questions." He snorted. "Yeah, Ángel, it may very well

be a lot of help."

        She sighed. "Yeah? 'Nuff so's I can get my guy back with me 'stead o' havin' 'im

out scroungin' around all day?"

        "Let me think on it, Baby."

        She stood. "Okay, hombre, but don't think too long. I miss my guy." Flashing

him a quick glance, Fancy mouthed, "I love you," then winked, smiled, and walked back

to her car.

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                          CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

                                 Oceanside, California

                          Friday, November 20th, 1:17 p.m.

       Detective Dar Benning had been off most of the morning for a dental appointment

and went straight to his pharmacy to fill the Vicodin prescription from his dentist, who'd

warned him in advance. I probably won't be much use to Wendell, he decided, but I'll at

least be there. We've got two or three shitloads of work and it wouldn't be fair to dump it

all on him, even if I am gonna be an airhead the rest of the day. He slowly massaged his

jaw, which was still sort of numb. And most of tomorrow, maybe, if I have to stay doped

up just to cope.

       A shrug. C'mon, Dar, you owe the guy and you know it. Resolute, determined,

he went to the station and signed in. When he heard what Hawthorne allegedly was told,

however, his blood ran cold. "Holy shit!" was what the others caught as he raced from

the room with no thought beyond his partner, and of what the man had been informed.
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       He'd taken a department car home last night to be sure he had a radio today, and

that's what he drove now to the hospital. It made him glad all those pills were still in his

pants pocket when he realized how fast he was taking the corners, running Code Two,

lights and flashers but no siren. Having horrified at least half a dozen citizens when he

came up on them at intersections and used a single siren whoop to move those not all that

quick on the uptake, he got to Tri-City Hospital.

       Not paying attention to how he might look running into the ER with his left hand

on his jaw, his sport shirt hiked up in all the excitement enough to show the holstered

Glock stuck inside his waistband, he made himself clear immediately when he charged

into the admissions area. "An OPD officer was brought in here by ambulance. There's at

least one detective with her now. Tell me where to find them."

       When the woman at the desk wearing a dark blue smock top with a floral pattern

wasn't answering fast enough, Dar added, "Now, damn it! Where are they?"

       Mouth puckered in a circle, eyes even bigger and yet more startled, her hand came

up and she pointed off to her right.

       Thinking enough to pull the shirt over his weapon again, Dar took off through the

door. When he reached the security guard at a roadblock comprised of another computer

controlled door, he whipped out his badge for display. Dar's eyes said everything that

needed to be said. The guard, a slim black man of medium height, in his fifties, snapped

to his feet, coded a number, and the doorway drew open.

       Dar charged like an NFL running back handed the ball on the two yard line into

the busy ER treatment area, badge still in his fist. An RN, chart in hand, took one look at

him and pointed to a treatment cubicle. Thanking her with his eyes, he raced into the

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room and slid to a halt. It appeared to him there were two doctors and three nurses at

work on the unconscious Sonya Charles. Standing about midway to the right of the table

she was on was Wendell Hawthorne. On each side of him was a big uniformed security

guard. Both seemed to be praying they wouldn't be charged with removing the tall cop

from the room.

       His every nuance testified a mere two guards weren't enough personnel.

       He was standing back a yard, which Dar thought was a near miracle. Man, I'm

not sure how they're keeping Wendell off that table, because I know all he wants to do is

hold Sonya, so it looks like I got here just in time. "Wendell, let's step out of the room

for a sec, okay?"

       Hawthorne didn't even acknowledge hearing him.

       "Wendell, you hear me, pal? C'mon. Let's step out."

       Hawthorne shook his head, almost imperceptibly.

       "Yes, Wendell. They need room to work in here. C'mon, man."

       Dar took the scarcely noticeable twitch as a refusal. Felt an electricity in the room

that stirred a dim memory. In it, he was twelve years old, on his uncle's farm. The uncle

had horses. Two of those horses were stallions, and older one who'd serviced the herd of

mares for a good ten years, and a newcomer his uncle had in mind as a replacement.

       The older stud was in a box stall with a Dutch door. The top half of the door was

hanging open, but the bottom half was closed and bolted shut. It rose over four feet up,

cresting high on the older animal's muscular chest.

       The younger stud, now released from his lead, approached the dozen mares idly

milling around and snorted. It was an excited sound as he began assessing the group of

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females he intended to service individually and collectively. He was, in effect, stating his

claim of ownership on the herd.

       A protest was made.

       The older stallion never even backed up. He simply scrunched on his haunches

and dove skyward, clearing the Dutch door by half a foot or more with every part of his

big, muscular body. He left that stall with the crystal clear intention there would soon be

only one male left living to service those mares and his every intention was he would be

that horse.

       The electricity that filled the air just before that animal charged and made short

work of the younger stud now permeated the air around Wendell Hawthorne. Just as that

older horse stomped, bit and kicked the younger one to death in the space of a mere two

minutes, Dar realized what his partner would do if he reacted wrongly now to anyone.

       Son-of-a-bitch, someone could die if Wendell's hair trigger goes off now! He

eyed both guards, who nodded in gratitude, then drew nearer to his friend. Just as his

hand neared Hawthorne's shoulder, Sonya's eyes opened.

       They took in everyone around her, brushed across Dar's face and came back to it,

scanned the medical people, then settled on the man who stood at her side. Even a blind

man would know he was encased in a quiet time of worship and a tidal wave of gratitude.

       Sonya assessed the personnel, the location, and the man at her side again, all in a

split second. Eyes catching Dar's, she nodded, then smiled at Hawthorne. "I'm going to

be okay, Baby. Let Dar take you out of here so these folks can work, okay? They've all

gotta do their thing."

       "No!" he bellowed. "I'm not leavin' until—"

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        "I think she'll be fine, Detective," said a white haired doctor in his 60s, "but I'm

not so sure about you. Take the lady's advice and get out of our way, son. I'm pretty

good at what I do, and can help her, but not until you get your butt out of my way." Then

he smiled, taking all the sting out of it.

        "But, I—"

        Having shooed away the security guards, Dar caught Hawthorne's left elbow and

told the physician, "I'll take him out of here, Doc. If I have to shoot him to do it, can you

still patch him up?"

        The medico smiled again. "Sure, but not until I'm finished here." He glanced at

Sonya, who was smiling somewhat, but had a concerned expression as she watched the

man at her side. "Because," he added, "this one's much better looking." A shrug. "Get

him out of here or I'll stick a needle into the man."

        It was all an ordered procession after that. Hawthorne, disregarding everyone

until he got what he needed, bent and kissed the woman he loved. Then, surrendering to

the pressure of Dar pulling on his elbow, eyes still locked on Sonya, he allowed himself

to be guided from the cubicle. Once outside, he took a deep breath, then turned his face

to his partner. "Thanks, Dar. I was on the edge o' losin' it in there."

        "Yeah, I saw that," Dar said with a somber expression. He patted the Glock in his

waistband. "I thought about shooting you, but with ammo costing so much per round, I

didn't want to explain the expense when I get home." As both men smiled briefly, then

went back to looking stoic, Dar guided him down the hall and out the door.

        The pair of security guards rushed to close the self-locking metal door.

        "What happened, Wendell? All I heard was she was unconscious and bloody."

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       "I don't have it all, Dar, but I got this much. She was headin' out t' interview a

marine, some asshole named Master Sergeant I. Crane, at Pendleton. The CHP report, as

much as we got so far, says a witness told 'em some marine went an' whipped her ass to a

fare-thee-well." He tightened his muscles, unconsciously flexing both arms once, then

crossing them on his chest a moment before dropping them to his side. "So, I'm headin' t'

Pendleton right now, an' anywhere's else I gotta go, an' I'm gonna find that dumb fuck.

When I do, I'm gonna talk t' his sorry fuckin' ass, an' he's gonna tell me some things."

       "Wendell, I'm going with you. Damn it, you can't kill the man. You don't even

know it was him yet."

       "If yer with me, Dar, that might be the only reason I don't kill the bastard. I ain't

gonna have my cell turned on, an' there's gonna be some kinda problem with the radio in

my unit, so ain't nobody gonna reach me." His eyes burned on Dar's now. "An', if yer

gonna be with me, yer cell ain't gonna be turned on, either."

       Nodding his tacit agreement and semi-approval, Dar said, "Okay. I'll drive."

       "Dar, I ain't—"

       "Wendell, I'll drive." Dar squared off to settle any disagreement wordlessly.

       After a few seconds, Hawthorne nodded and fell in step on the way to Dar's unit.

                                  Oceanside, California

                            Friday, November 20th, 1:29 p.m.

       After he overcame Sonya and left her an inert pile of flesh on the ground beside

her unit, The Man moved slowly but directly back to his car, got in, started it, and made

his way out of the rest area. He moved at normal speeds, not wanting to attract attention.

His hand was on his face as if scratching, reducing the view anyone might've had of him

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if someone was watching. He noticed someone in a reflective vest with what looked like

a roll of trash bags come to a stop and follow him with his eyes. Probably an employee

who sweeps up, he determined. Well, nothing I can do about it now, I guess. I'll just

have to hope he hasn't seen enough to catch my plate number.

       As soon as he was back on the freeway, he headed for the house where he'd had

them stay. Seeing as how everything went to hell yesterday out there, and half the cops

in the world showed up, I'll need to do a recon first, he concluded. When he was within a

half mile of the dwelling, Crane parked his Chevy twenty yards in on a worn and badly

overgrown trail, locked it and took off into the woods. Armed with the standard .45 in

the back of his shirt, but not expecting to use it, he made his way to the house.

       Once at the scene, he circled the entire area, stopping to listen and scan at half a

dozen locations around the property. Satisfied he was alone, he entered and searched

each room hastily but with a practiced eye, missing nothing. While looking around in the

area where Rex slept he found an old letter from some woman named Doreen behind a

dresser. In it she told Rex she was living with Kyle again, but insisted things didn't need

to stay that way. She went out of her way, using a few lewd, graphic descriptions, to

assure him he wouldn't regret it if he came to live with her again. She said things with

Kyle weren't working out and promised she'd tell him to leave the minute Rex showed


       Because she applied one of those stick on labels supplied by the Disabled Vets to

anyone with a mailbox, he knew where to find Doreen. He had every hope he'd also find

Rex on the premises, or get a strong suggestion how to find him. Keeping to not more

than ten mph above posted limits, he was in her neighborhood in only twenty minutes.

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       When he made a drive-by to investigate, Crane saw a woman in her forties with a

lined face, cheap dyed blonde hair, an exceptional ass and body, and breasts that would

grab the attention of any man younger than eighty. Granted, she's pretty damned ugly, he

conceded, but I'm sure she looks great in the dark, especially to someone like Rex.

       His mind flipped back to the pictures he saw on the cell phone of Helena, beaten

and bloody. Well, if he's there with her now, she'll be able to see the man die, and it sure

won't be quick. I promise that. It won't be quick at all.

       When he reached the house, coming along the sidewalk and in front of a hedge

maybe four feet tall, he was looking for the woman again. His ears told him before his

eyes had a chance she was down on the ground on the other side of the hedge. "Are you

Doreen?" Crane asked casually.

       "D'pends," she replied, still unseen. "Who wants t' know?"

       "A friend of Rex's," he answered quietly, preparing his lie as he unfolded it.

       Doreen stood, wearing the cream colored shorts he saw when he came by, the end

of each leg no more than an inch beneath her crotch. The navy blue halter top strained to

contain firm breasts so full he couldn't help but wonder if they were the result of surgery.

As if she'd been asked the question a thousand times, Doreen took a deep breath, raised

her chest high by straightening her spine, and grinned. "These're as real as it gets. Home

grown titties, ya might say. Yer a friend o' Rex's, ya say? What's yer name?"

       "Glen. Rex around?"

       "Not so's ya'd notice. I ain't seen—"

       "We ain't seen the prick, an' we ain't gonna see 'im," announced a burly guy Crane

thought was just around forty who skirted the hedge and marched toward him. The guy

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was at least six-four, 250 or better, and built like he lived in a gym except for the big beer

belly. He had muscles on his muscles, thick arms, a neck like a bear, and a chest so wide

Crane knew the man had trouble finding decent shirts. He wasn't wearing one now, and

it only served to advertise what an animal he could be if annoyed or angry.

       His demeanor suggested a little of both.

       "You sayin' yer a friend o' that prick?" He came closer, only stopping when he

was a yard plus away.

       "I'm trying to find him. Have you seen him recently?"

       "You fuckin' deaf, or what? I said we ain't seen the bastard. He comes 'round

here, he's gonna get 'is ass kicked." A deep breath was followed with, "By me."

       "Ya ain't doin' no such thing, Kyle, so shut yer damn mouth," Doreen cautioned.

       He glared at the woman, then faced Crane again. "The bitch starts gettin' mouthy

whenever somebody new shows up, but yer leavin', anyhow, an' she's gonna get herself a

lesson on keepin' 'er yap shut."

       Crane faced Doreen. "Any idea where I might find him?"

       "If I did, I'd'a looked there already," she barked, a scathing look branding Kyle as

an idiot not worth knowing. "An', if ya think yer layin' yer damned hands on me again …

either t' kick my ass er play with my tits … ya got yerself another damned think comin',

ya big shithead! I'll call so damned many cops it'll take a crane, a bulldozer an' a backhoe

t' dig yer mangy ass out from under the damn jail!"

       "Git yer slut ass back in th' house," Kyle ordered. "I'm gonna kick the shit outa

yer new boyfriend here, then after I whack yer slut ass 'round the house, I'm gonna get me

some pussy, bitch." He glared at her again. "I know ya heard me, bitch, so git yer ass in

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the house an' wait fer me." Now he sneered. "I'll be the guy with the great big dick who

beats yer ass, then plays with it." Drastically over-appreciating his own sense of humor,

Kyle erupted into laughter. Then he faced Crane again. "Ya got t' the count o' three, then

yer ass is history. One, two—"

       Crane stepped in so fast he was a blur. His right hand shot up in a lethal jab, his

fingers bent double at the second knuckle. If he'd departed at that very moment, Kyle

would've died in minutes from a larynx and windpipe too badly crushed to be repaired.

Leaving it a deed undone, Crane shot his right foot to land on Kyle's knee, meaning if the

man should manage to survive, he'd never use that leg again.

       Spinning in a 360° circle, his left hand came around moving sideways, spread in a

flat weapon, crushing ribs and driving the splinters into Kyle's heart. Dead even before

he began to fall, he suffered one more assault. Crane's palm slammed into the point of

Kyle's nose, driving the cartilage back and shards of bone directly into his brain.

       With only a scant glance at the dead man toppling to the sidewalk in front of him,

Crane turned and jog trotted down the sidewalk, around the corner, and back to his car.

       Doreen looked on a moment, gawking with eyes like saucers, and gulped, trying

to inhale. When her shocked system finally managed to secure oxygen, she commenced

a shrill, bleating scream sufficient to wake the dead.

       At least, figuratively.

       In fact, Kyle took no notice of the noise she made.

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                            CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 2:08 p.m.

       When something makes no sense, but you know you've looked at it from every

possible angle, it's time to reassess. In my experience, it means I only think I've tried

every angle. Somehow, logic tells me, there must be something I've missed. It tells me

I've made a wrong assumption.

       It's like looking all over the house for your car keys, then searching every inch of

the car's interior for them, only to later see those very same keys hanging from the trunk

lock. Just waiting to be collected again.

       Or grabbed by a car thief more observant than you are.

       There's also the next step up in the process of elimination. First I try to rule out

the impossible answers, focusing only on the ones that make sense. However, once I've

proven to myself none of the "real answers" is possible, I'm left to conclude the solution
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is among the impossible remedies. Of course, it means a reassessment, since in that case,

I've erroneously placed a long shot among the impossible.

       The info I received from Fancy told me that was more than likely where I messed

up. It meant, for someone with my limited ability to reason these things out, I needed to

mentally go back to the start and begin again. Cast out all the certainties I'd catalogued

earlier and go over all aspects again, one at a time.

       After around an hour of rethinking, with less than 100% concentration because I

was still interviewing anyone and everyone I hadn't already spoken to, I'd only been able

to come up with one answer. The problem with my answer was its inanity. It was stupid

to even play with an idea like that, but nothing else would take its place.

       Helena Salazar was somehow mixed up with the person who was either doing all

these killings now, and had evidently hired three people to do the earlier murders. That,

in and of itself, was kaka. Pure and simple. Straight bullshit from the get-go. Yet, it was

the only thing that made any sense, at least, when I viewed the matter in the new light of

what I'd learned.

       And why? What the hell motive could there be? Why would a respected and well

known city official be involved in something so cold-blooded and senseless? Whatever

the reason, I knew it was above my pay grade by a wide margin. So, in the interest of

getting something accomplished, I continued rolling the idea around in my mind as I met

with more and more homeless people.

       This part, too, was depressing as hell. To date, by my guesstimate, I'd talked with

at least three hundred homeless people, mostly guys, with probably thirty or forty women

on the list. What made it more appalling was the fact I hadn't contacted even a fifth of

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them living just in Oceanside. Counting Vista, the next city to the east, (there's nothing

but salt water to the west), San Marcos and Escondido, then going south down through

Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, and even La Jolla and Del Mar, ending in the city of

San Diego itself, there were an estimated 10,000 homeless people. That doesn't count the

people on a short string of bad luck who stay with relatives or friends, moving every few

weeks when they've finally come to hate each other. It doesn't count the people staying

in cheap motels until they're back on their feet. Nor does it include those temporarily out

of a residence but with something in their sights.

       Among them are the hard-core group, the "chronically homeless". Those are the

people I still can't understand. Can't believe they do what they do. Some of them have

been homeless, living 100% outdoors, for twenty years. Twenty-five, thirty years, or

even longer for a rare few. They age up to 85 years old, among those I've met.

       And they sleep in storm drains. Junk bins and dumpsters. Against a wall in an

alley, or behind a church, maybe in an abandoned building. Some scrunch up in sleeping

bags under a tree or bush in an overgrown area not trod by any human feet in many years,

with two exceptions. They've been trodden by homeless people desperate for a location

to rest a weary head, and by cops looking to arrest same.

       They're among the saddest in that community, accompanied in part by the ones in

wheel chairs who're left to beg for food and money each day. A poem written by Emma

Lazarus on our Statue of Liberty says, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled

masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these,

the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

       When and why did someone change the damned script?

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       Yeah, I'd spoken with a few hundred, and there were probably still that many to

go in this area. I hadn't yet made a serious dent in their population, just in Oceanside.

Yet, on the plus side, the killers only seemed to work this sector, so far. The four or five

miles from the beach to the area somewhat more than halfway to Vista. I shuddered to

think of the havoc they'd wreak if they expanded their territory.

       Of those I'd contacted, none had seen anything worth seeing, and very few of

them even knew who was on the city council. Even less knew a council member was

now missing. Of the few who knew it, not a one cared.

       Why is she missing? I wondered. Is she missing, or has she gone underground for

some reason?

       Better, is Helena Salazar the "connection" this bastard was screwing? Maybe is

screwing? Could she be a part of all this senseless violence? It's for damned sure none

of 'em have anything worth taking, I concluded, so why the hell is someone killing them?

       Once again, I was between interviews. I'd spoken with everyone I could see in

the area I was now searching, the smaller strip mall on the north side of Mission, to the

west of El Camino Real. Unlocking my expensive used bike again, I was about to cross

El Camino Real and start in on the two longer strip malls on the east side, where so many

homeless hung out all day, then tried to sleep in the weeds out back at night.

       As I waited for the traffic light to allow pedestrians to walk, standing next to my

bike and ready to move as fast as I could before the Indy 500 resumed as soon as the light

changed, I heard my name.

       "Hey, Ben. I think I got somethin' fer ya."

       It was Jesse, a younger guy in his late twenties, trotting my way with a grin.

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        I pointed at the crosswalk light and said, "Come with me, man. I don't wanna

miss the light."

        "No shit," he agreed, stopping in place to my right. My bike was on the left of

me. "Ya'd hafta wait 'nother fuckin' hour if ya miss it." He grinned, showing me he still

had at least a dozen of the 32 teeth most adults have until they lose their wisdom teeth.

        I asked him once when he became a drunk. As best he could recall it was around

age twelve, but he wasn't sure. He'd been out here on the streets now for fifteen or more

years. To the credit side, with all the alcohol he consumed, and the food he didn't eat,

since that would take away his booze money, he had maybe ten years to go. He'd die by

then and be put out of his misery by the same booze that put him into it all those years


        When the light changed, I started hoofing it. I'm not stupid enough to be caught

out there with all those homicidal drivers taking off without looking even in front of the

car. As I legged it across to the side, easily a hundred feet after four traffic lanes, a right

turn lane on each side, and a concrete divider boulevard, Jesse easily loped at my side. "I

been lookin' fer yer ass fer a hour, Ben," he explained, getting ahead of me, then turning

around to jog backward so he could see me as he spoke.

        Damned kids!

        "I think I seen what ya want," he added, glancing over his shoulder in time to

avoid tripping on the curb. I knew, if it had been me going in reverse like he did, I'd be

awaiting an ambulance right now with my skull cracked open.

        "Yeah? What's that?"

        Jesse screwed up his face. "Ain't ya lookin' fer that bitch with them nice tits?"

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        I passed up the macho retort of "Like, who isn't?" and delved deeper. "Care to get

into a little more detail, guy?"

        Jesse looked me over, possibly examining me for signs of CRS, meaning Can't

Remember Shit, then asked, "Ain't ya lookin' fer that spic bitch with them primo titties?

The one works fer city hall, an' shit?"

        "You mean Helena Salazar?"

        He shrugged. "I don' know 'er fuckin' name, dude, an' I don' give a shit 'bout it,

neither. I'm talkin' 'bout this." He took the picture I'd passed out this morning from a

pocket of his sweatshirt. "This here spic bitch. That's what ya was wantin', ain't it?"

        "You saw her? Helena? You saw her, Jesse?"

        Now he looked at me as if I had a hearing problem, or didn't speak English and he

didn't know my language. "Ain't that what I jus' fuckin' said?"

        "Uh, yeah. I guess so. This woman," I began, pointing at the picture, "you've

seen her? Actually her, not just this picture?"

        The homeless people seem to treat me with an unusual form of respect, plus a

degree of familiarity. As if I'm trustworthy because I was one of them not that long ago.

Now that I'm "rehabbed" I'm "on the other side" again, but I'm still good people because

I've been there. I understand them, their world, and their plight. I'm one of the guys.

        So, instead of telling me how stupid he was beginning to think I might be, he took

another stab at it. Slowly. Giving me extra time to catch on if I needed it. "Ain't … that

… what … I … just … fuckin' … said … Ben?"

        Time to move on. "Yeah. Okay, where? Where did you see her?"

        "At CVS," he told me, turning to point off to the east. There was a pharmacy

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about two miles or so that way, on Frazee Road and Highway 76. It's the one I use.

"They was trying t' git some bandages an' shit." He shook his head. "Man, I tell ya,

somebody beat the livin' shit outa that bitch." He whistled. "Fucked 'er over big time,

Ben. Like Tyson did it, 'cept she's still got 'er ears, I guess." He grinned.

       Then it hit me. "You said it was an hour ago, right?"

       Jesse nodded, one eye notched, as if asking, That make a difference?

       "So they're gone by now. Shit. That's no help."

       "It might be," he argued passively.

       "Why? If they … by the way, who is 'they', anyway?"

       Another shrug. "Her an' some guy. Mean lookin' prick. Maybe he's the one who

stomped 'er ass like that."

       "But, if it was an hour ago, they're long gone by now."

       "That's why I been bustin' my ass tryin' t' catch ya, Ben. She's gonna be back

there pretty soon."

       "Yeah? Why?"

       "Well, I heard 'em talkin'. Ya know how ever'body fuckin' ignores us all, right?

Acts like we ain't even there all th' damn time? I was sittin' in th' shade in front o' the

store, havin' me a smoke, an' this bad ass prick parks right by the door, then trots 'is ass

inside, all big an' fuckin' important, an' shit." Another grin. "Then I sees this spic bitch

in the car with them nice titties." He blew out some air for emphasis. "Yeah, she was

showin' me them titties, but she was all beat t' shit, Ben. Serious like."


       "Well, I guess this dude was goin' in t' get 'er some pain dope, an' shit. He comes

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back out an' says they ain't got it ready. Says 'er doctor was late phonin' it in. Says they

ain't gonna have it ready 'til three." He glanced toward my left wrist. "I ain't had me no

watch for years. What time is it now?"

       I peeked at my watch. "Quarter after two."

       Jesse beamed. "Shit, I c'n ride my bike that far in ten minutes." He looked me

over slowly. "Not sure you can, bein' old an' all, but—"

       "Kiss my ass," I suggested with a mild grin on my face. "I'm sure I can do it in

fifteen, easy. Here," I added, digging into my money stash. I peeled off a $100 dollar

bill and handed it to him. "Don't spend it all in one place."

       Already jogging across the street, ignoring the traffic as he danced through and

around oncoming cars, Jesse hollered, "Bullshit! There's a liquor store right over here!"

       With no time left to try to convince Jesse there were better ways to spend his new

wealth, I got out my trusty cell phone. First I dialed Hawthorne, but it went straight to

his voicemail. Then I tried Benning and got the same result. With those options now all

spent, it looked like there was only one thing to do. I'd need to take 'em on by myself.

Only half a mile from my place, I jumped on the bike and left to fetch my car.

       And my weapon.

       It seemed things were starting to heat up a bit.

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                             CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

                                  Oceanside, California

                           Friday, November 20th, 2:31 p.m.

       Sometimes there's just no damned justice. That's what I told myself when I made

it to my house and collected what I felt were "the necessarys" for my upcoming escapade.

I hauled out my trusty S&W .357 with a four-inch barrel, loaded with Hydra-Shok rounds

that spread out after they hit. They make a big old hole inside the target, especially if it's

flesh and bones. Then I snagged a KA-BAR, a military knife given to me as a gesture of

respect by a guy I once took in as a roommate. It was when I was post-divorce the last

time and needed economic assistance. The seven-inch blade was sharp enough to cut a

man pretty deep and wide, and would do untold harm if I stuck it into anyone.

       I shoved 'em both into my pants, the KA-BAR on my right hip, the Smith in the

back of my jeans. Armed to the teeth, I headed out to make war.

       Maybe. Probably.
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       That's where the injustice comes in, as far as I was concerned. If I was the hero in

some great novel, I'd've reached Hawthorne and Benning when I called. They'd be there

at the CVS parking lot, with maybe ninety-two plain clothes cops meandering around the

area, and they'd nail the bastard. Then, like good ol' Perry Mason, the lawyer in any Erle

Stanley Gardner mystery, I'd've stepped in after the arrest and popped off eleventy-nine

very clever questions. The perp, or perps if Salazar was in cahoots with this big asshole,

would then spill their guts and I'd be lookin' good.

       Unfortunately, my calls went to voicemail. That meant I was left to "do the hero

thing" all on my own with a pair of knees just too old for this crap. My back was already

starting to ache, and I was tired from all the walking and bike riding. Feeling as stiff as a

new board, I used the Escalade again and set out to find the CVS parking lot. It wasn't all

coming down the way I wanted it but, as is often said, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta

do. Ergo, I'd do it. Sheesh!

       Of course, I arrived in plenty of time. With almost half an hour to go, I had time

to get set up. With every second parking spot occupied on the side facing Frazee Road, I

pulled around the corner of the store to the spots facing Highway 76, where there were no

cars parked at all. I took the fifth spot west of the corner, backed in, put down all the

windows, and scrunched in my seat. With a San Diego Padres cap to help conceal my

identity a bit, and the shadows of being in my SUV, I didn't think anyone would spot me.

After all, neither of 'em had ever seen me before, as far as I knew.

       Now I had to count on them parking on this side, too, just to make things easier. I

realized I couldn't rely on it, not with all the natural stupidity most people display and the

fact so few ever pay attention to what's going on around them. Still, the odds were better

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than average, and I could adjust on the fly if they disappointed me. But, they didn't. I

saw a gold Toyota Camry come tooling into the lot at ten to three with a mean looking

guy at the wheel and, just as promised, an otherwise very good looking Oceanside city

councilwoman in the passenger seat. Also as promised, I was relatively certain she had

no snot left inside, since someone had apparently beaten it all out of her.

        Her face looked as if she'd taken on a heavyweight fighter with her hands tied

behind her back. Score one for the bad guys, I concluded. No matter to what degree

she's involved in this mess, I do not hold with smacking a woman around. Somehow, it

just doesn't sit right with me.

        Cripes, maybe this is a decent novel, I told myself when they took the second spot

away to the west, leaving only an empty parking spot between us. Ten seconds later I

decided this wasn't one of those stories when a white Kia pulled in and took that spot.

An Asian girl, very early 20s at the oldest, got out, locked it remotely, and headed into

the store. While it was tremendous fun seeing her pretty face when she stepped out, and

just about as good watching her designer jeans from the rear as she moved away, it didn't

fit my perfect script.

        Then, altering my thought pattern when I heard conversation from the Camry, yet

had the Kia as a cover of sorts, I changed my mind once again. Turning my eyes upward,

I winked and muttered, "Man, You're really good at this stuff!" Averting my gaze so it

seemed I was merely watching the store, which might well normally be true as I awaited

the return of the Asian beauty, I listened with my hand casually resting against my face.

My fingertips were on my temple and the hand left very little of me to be seen.

        "Ain't no guarantee them pills is ready yet," said the guy.

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        "We'll see," she countered.

        "Places like this, they c'n take all damned day, ya know?"

        "I'm not worried," said the battered councilwoman. "I called my doctor's office

again, then called the pharmacy before we left. She said they'd be ready when we got

here." She moaned softly. "I'm not so sure I'm going to want to do it like that right away

soon," she added. "Not if it's going to hurt like this afterward."

        "No problem, Bitch. I c'n … ya know … not beat yer ass quite that bad nex' time.

Just, ya know, punch yer ass out a little, but not do no fuckin' kayo on ya. Maybe that'd

be better?"

        "Maybe," she sighed, "but not for a few days, okay? This really hurts." After a

gap, maybe when she touched her face reflexively, she added, "Ouch!"

        "Look at it this way," he said reassuringly. "Soon's we get us them pills an' get

yer ass all doped up so's it ain't so painful no more, we're gonna go kill that bastard."

        "Mmm-hmm," she concurred. "That will be nice." Another pause. I sensed she

might've stopped to look him over. "You do have a gun, right? If you don't, even as big

and tough as you are, we won't have a chance. Bod will kill you in seconds. Then, when

he figures out I was part of it, plus with the pictures you sent of me giving you a blowjob,

he'll kill me, too."

        "Yeah, I got it. Right here." I heard something rustling, perhaps his clothes and

brushing against the seat, and risked a sidelong glance at the car. I saw a 9mm pistol, not

a brand I'd recognize, but definitely lethal in every respect. A 9mm is, essentially, a hard

shooting .38 that can fire a lot faster and usually quite a few more times. Added in with

the fact this guy looked like no one I'd want to screw around with, I self-consciously put

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a hand on my .357 and rubbed it a couple times. I made up my mind to have it in my

hand early and use it before he could use his if he drew the nine. I think we've already

been through the fact my Mom didn't raise no foolish children 'til she got to my younger

brother, where she then went at it big-time.

       "Well," she volunteered, "since you say you were in on every one of the killings

of those homeless bastards, I guess I won't worry about whether or not you'll be able to

make yourself shoot Bod."

       Bod? I asked myself. Who the hell is that? Maybe I'll learn something here.

       "How's come ya call 'is ass 'Bod'?" the guy asked her.

       "It's a nickname. His name is Ichabod Crane. Recognize it?"

       A pause. I sneaked a look and saw the guy, who sat closest to me so I saw all of

his upper body, although I only saw her legs and mid body except when she leaned ahead

to say something to him. "Why'n the hell'm I gonna recognize it? Am I s'posed t' know

the dude, er what?"

       "Ichabod Crane was in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He taught school and used

to spank and slap the children. He was tall and ugly, and supposedly reminded people of

a scarecrow."

       "That don't look nothin' like The Man."

       "No, of course it doesn't, but that's why he's called Bod. He hates his name."

       "Well," he chuckled, "he ain't gonna hate it too fuckin' long." I heard the metallic

sound of a round being jacked into the chamber. "Not when I blow 'is ass away, he ain't.

When he gets outa his car at that closed up drive-in there on Mission at four, it's gonna be

about time he stopped feelin' bad 'bout anything."

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       Well, shit! They plan to do this guy down right in front of where I live! It came

back in a flash. There are two exits to the retirement community where I live, a very nice

place that actually bans kids. Doesn't just frown on 'em, but prohibits kids except for day

visits with grandparents. Heck, you've gotta be 55, minimum, to live there, which is why

I worry someone will turn me in as far as Fancy goes. I don't use the main exit, which

has a traffic light, unless I'm turning left to head south. A block farther north is one with

no light and things move faster, unless some old fogy is in front of me. They always

want to wait for some reason, but it does give me a chance to field test my horn.

       Each time I pull up to the stop before turning right on El Camino Real, I look out

across the huge valley in front of me. A hill rises on a sharp slant about 500 feet to end at

El Camino Real, which provides a fantastic ramp for the ocean breeze when it gets to us.

Across the valley I can see where Mission runs at an angle toward downtown. Right in

front of me, maybe a third of a mile away, is what was once a drive-in movie theater.

       Like most others, it closed up many years ago. Maybe my generation, which

found drive-ins a great place for beer drinking and teen sex, was the cause. In any event,

like most others, it had been the location for a big swap meet for many years now. Any

given Saturday or Sunday, from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon, it's like

being in downtown Tijuana. The entire location teems with 'em. Men, women, children,

all there to socialize, show off new clothing, make new friends, and get ready for a night

of hard drinking. There appear to be more Mexicans on hand than their army had at the

Battle of the Alamo in February, 1936. There's an old joke that asks why the Mexicans

only sent 1,500 soldiers to attack the fort when they had 8,000 men available. Of course,

everyone knows they limited it to 1,500 men because they only had two cars.

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       If they waited until tomorrow, there'd be no privacy. Today, however, or even

this evening, the only people they'd likely encounter would be a few homeless people,

mostly guys. It would be a decent killing ground. The occasional cop might cruise on

through, maybe once every hour or two, but that'd be about it. Even having their cars in

the area wouldn't arouse much suspicion. There might be a visitor or two getting ready to

set up a booth for the weekend, but even those people would have a key to get inside and

wouldn't hang around in the parking area.

       As I wondered what to do next, still formulating my attack plan, the guy she was

with made up my mind. He opened the driver's side door and started getting out.

       "Don't leave that thing here," she ordered. "Guns scare the pee out of me."

       "No sweat, Bitch," he replied, reaching into the car and coming back with the

weapon, which he parked under his loose hanging shirt in the back. As I ruminated on

his term of endearment, relatively certain it wouldn't make my Fancy feel amorous, he

headed for the front door.

       Okay, my man, I prompted myself, it’s show time. Let's get it underway. I got

out, made sure the shirt and coat hung over my armaments, and walked past the rear of

the Toyota. I stopped, like a cop does, at the rear of the passenger door. It left her at a

disadvantage in that I was behind where she sat. She was looking back over her right

shoulder to see me when I spoke to her. "Are you okay, Miss Salazar?"

       As if scripted, she turned to face me. "Yes, I'm … who are you?"

       "No one, really. A formerly homeless guy, I guess. It seems that'll keep me out

of danger now from you and your friend, huh?" As I spoke, I looked over my own left

shoulder to see if her thug was returning yet. I knew, as long as he supplied the green

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they'd want, CVS would allow him to pick up her dope. A cash transaction wouldn't take

much time.

       "Whatever do you mean?" she asked, fingertips now on her chin to display all the

confusion she feigned.

       "I mean, for reasons I can't even imagine, you and the guy you're with, along with

a couple other assholes, have been killing homeless people lately. For whatever reason

you've been doing it, I'm here to let you know this old shit's comin' to a screechin' halt

right now." I pulled out the S&W and pointed it at her chest from just outside the door.

In order to reach it, if she was that bold, she'd need to lean right and stick her arm outside

the car. I'd have plenty of time to move it away or, if needed, put a round between what

looked like larger than normal boobs.

       I wasn't worried about her and, at this angle, her accomplice wouldn't see my gun

until he was too close to do anything about it. If he tried anything, since there was a brief

angle to the door after walking past the back of the car, I'd be shielded a little bit by the

Toyota and he'd be out in the open. I'd be able to drop him like a bad habit.

       "You have a gun!" she screeched.

       I shook my head, feigning awe. "Damn! Nothin' gets past you, does it?"

       "Why … I mean, I didn't do … why in the world are you aiming a gun at me?"

       "Because you're going to stay right where you are when that asshole gets back out

here or I'll shoot you deader'n hell. That clear it up for you any?"

       "But, why … why would … why would you shoot me, mister? I haven't done

anything to you … or anybody. I just—"

       "That's not the way I heard it."

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        Mouth hanging agape at first, she stammered, "Wh-wh-what did you hear?"

        "I heard you're rather cozy with the bastard leading this crew of yum-yums, and

were also snugglin' up with the prick who got 'em started. Care to comment?"

        "That's absurd! I'd never do anything like that!"

        "Isn't that what 'Tricky Dick' Nixon said? Save it, lady. Tell it to the judge. In

the meanwhile, we're going to wait right here, my gun pointed at your boobies to keep

you in line, and I'm going to take your current sweetie into custody when he gets back out

here with your dope." I leaned down a little and peered at her ravaged face. "While I'm

at it, is this asshole the one who beat the bejesus out of you?"

        "I don't see what business … never mind," she said defeatedly, her eyes flitting to

the rearview mirror.

        "If you try to warn him, I'll help let him know what's going on by putting a bullet

in your chest. Just keep your damned mouth shut, you hear me?"

        Her eyes were squinting in anger now. "You're going to be in a whole lot of

trouble when I tell the police about this, mister."

        "Yeah? Well, I'll take my chances." I saw the guy get to the door of the store.

"You just be sure to keep your damned yap shut and you'll probably survive this ordeal."

Movement in the corner of my eye made me glance that way again. He was on his way

out, his head turned to the right first, looking for traffic, then left.

        On the second step after he resumed heading for the car, he noticed me standing

by the door. His pace slowed a bit, and he seemed to lean ahead slightly, as if to zero in

on whomever I might be. I saw his eyes move somewhat to catch sight of his passenger,

but then they came back over to me again.

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       He kept walking, but it was slower. "Who're you?" he questioned me. "What the

hell are ya doin' by my car?"

       "That's not very friendly," I suggested. Risking a glance at the Salazar woman, I

said quietly, "Like I told you, don't you dare move." Turning my gaze back toward him, I

added, "Step around to this side of the car, if you will."

       "I ain't so sure that's a good idea," he told me, his hand jumping around behind

him where I knew he stashed the nine.

       My .357 came up as I took a step to my left and half a step back, away from the

car and out of reach of the door in case she swung it open to hit me. "So, here's the deal,

asshole. You can die right there where you stand, or you can turn around and walk this

way backward. On a personal basis, I don't give a rat's ass which way you do it but, if

you haven't started by the count of three, I'm gonna blow your ass away. One …"

       He moved the hands to his side and took another step.

       "Hey, stupid, I said walk backward! Two …"

       He turned around and followed my instructions. When he was near the car's rear

bumper, I made my next big mistake. I started walking toward him, adding, "That's close

enough. Stop right where you are." I'd made it as far back as the bumper and taken the

nine out of the back of his pants, shoving it into mine in front, when I heard the car door

being opened.

       The asshole heard it, too. I had to do something about her, without any doubt, but

it didn't seem all that wise to leave him unfettered to cause me untold grief while I dealt

with her. Realizing it also wasn't a smart move to give her any more lead time than I had

to, I still recognized him as the bigger threat. Moving a half step closer to him, I planted

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my left foot after turning 90° and used my right one to stomp on his left heel. He let out

a howl immediately and went into a half squat, whereupon I swung the .357 sideways to

give him a courtesy tap on his left ear.

        It increased his howl to a shrill yelp, made him grab his left ear, and he tried to

turn left to face me, still in the partial squat. Off balance like that, he fell toward his left,

sort of in my direction, but was now unarmed and on the ground.

        I felt her hands grabbing my clothing from behind me, but I didn't give her any

additional time to do whatever she might've had in mind. My right elbow shot back in

her general direction, angling inward as I spun to my right. It collided with the right side

of her face, eliciting a screech on her part.

        "Eeeeeek!" she wailed as I continued my turn. With her right hand clinging to her

already savaged face, pretty much all the fight had gone out of her by that point, but my

new worry was how soon it would return.

        Being raised in the streets, I knew "the rules" to street fighting. In brief, there are

no rules. Do whatever you've got to do to win and you're "in compliance". Yet, another

pearl of wisdom in that arena, as I learned it, was the other guy is still dangerous if he can

move at all. It's only when the other guy is dead as can be, totally disabled for the time or

permanently, or unconscious that I can be sure I'm safe.

        I didn't want to shoot the woman if I didn't have to, and I considered parking my

S&W upside her head to get my point across, but in the end I substituted another method

I'd seen work many times in the past. Lowering the .357, which was in my right hand, I

swung a savage left cross her way. It had dropped its share of opponents in the days I

was a boxer, although the left rarely was strong enough to knock a man out. On his ass,

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yeah. My left would knock a guy that way, very often, but knocking him out was a real

rarity. Can't say I remember it ever happened with the left.

        Plus, I'm quite a few years older now. Don't pack the punch I once had. Like that

doesn't hold true for anything or anyone who's used up so much of the shelf life we get at

birth? Still, my target was a woman. Smaller than most of the men I fought, counting the

ring and street fights, definitely smaller than anyone I ever fought with boxing gloves on

my hands. Almost certainly unaccustomed to taking a punch, without regard to the fact

she recently absorbed more than her fair share from someone.

        Perhaps that was it, I concluded. Somebody already pounded the piss out of this

bimbo, so maybe her resistance is down. Whatever the applicable factors might be, she

took my left on the base of her jaw, right side, and dropped like a sack of potatoes to the


        Memories of my days in the ring, along with intuitions formed in those days of

hard fought battles, assured me she'd never hear the ten count. This broad would be in

La-la land for a while. That left me free to deal with her paramour, and I suddenly felt an

urge to even the score. This big prick, along with his buddies, had killed some homeless

people, people I knew. In the case of Sam, the first one they got, he was a friend of mine,

a guy I liked and felt sorry for.

        Momentarily forgetting the meaning of "leniency", to the point I wouldn't've even

been able to spell it if asked, I replaced the .357 in the back of my pants and turned to the

guy on the ground. He was just now getting in position to stand again.

        Still not included among the foolish children my Mom once raised, I realized it

was a bad idea for a guy my age to take on a guy like this in a fair fight. He was younger.

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He was stronger. He was probably ex-military and trained in hand-to-hand combat. He

was more than likely capable of handing me my ass in a basket in a fair fight.

       Well, in a rambling search of my memory, going all the way back to my age six

when Tommy and I had my first fight, which I won, I couldn't recall ever being in "a fair

fight". I'm not sure such an animal exists for anyone not in a ring with gloves on and a

ref standing off to the side. Hell, a large part of those encounters don't end up as "fair"

when all the shoutin's over with.

       Nope, that ain't me, not by a long shot. I had no intention of following what's

known as the Marquess de Queensbury rules, or the American Fair Play Rules, either,

which were purportedly designed for amateur boxing. Allegedly, they'd also pertain to

semipro fighting, but those rules never covered me when I was out there taking punches

from guys so damned big they beeped while backing up. Nope, whomever this guy was,

he wasn't about to be protected by my sense of fair play.

       The only thing that part of my moral code told me was the fact I couldn't feel I

was safe while this monkey could still move. If he had any mobility, my keester was in

jeopardy. The memory popped up to remind me of another lifelong adage I'd listened to

many times in the past. If you arrange things so I'm facing a "you or me" situation, your

ass is in deep doo-doo if I've got anything to say about it.

       So, adhering to what I'd been taught in hard earned lessons, I practiced punting on

his chin, just in case the San Diego Chargers had an opening this season. My Reebok hit

on the point of his chin as he began to stand, causing him to change direction and angle in

a hurry. He lost all the juice in his legs, which had been in the process of straightening so

he could stand, and accelerated his backward movement while still in a semi-crouch. The

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end result put him flat on his back, groggy as hell, both hands darting up to his damaged


        Unfortunately for him, that meant he could still move. At least, in my eyes it did.

        As previously discussed, that was a no-no for him.

        Jumping with both feet, knowing I'd land and be off balance, I targeted his left

knee, the one closest to me. With nothing under his foot to raise it high enough to bust

the kneecap beyond repair, there was no fracture. Still, unbroken or not, this guy would

not walk normally on that leg for at least a week or more.

        Coming down on him the way I did, I tumbled to the pavement, as I expected, but

rolled to my left and scrambled to my feet. In a combat situation like this, the agility I'd

otherwise not have at hand is available, probably from all the adrenaline. The difference

is, I'll be as sore later on as if I'd been in a train wreck. The blessing is the guy I just had

to "do down" will be in worse shape than I am, both now and later. Standing again off to

his left, I decided to try a kickoff instead of a punt, which gave me added versatility if the

Chargers came calling with a job offer.

        I put a Reebok into his ribs so hard, if he'd been a 55-gallon oil drum, I'd've struck

"black gold". The whoosh that came billowing out from his lungs might've knocked me

down if I'd been standing in its path.

        Then I looked around to see how much attention this little melee might've drawn

and saw no one. Nothing. It was as if nothing happened. If anyone saw us, it would've

been only the cars driving by on 76. In that case, unless some concerned citizen got on a

cell phone and pushed 9-1-1, I wouldn't get any law enforcement assistance here at the

scene of battle.

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       While the guy squirmed and moaned on the pavement, I dragged the unconscious

woman to the Escalade and managed to shove her into the back seat. I snagged a spare

choke chain I keep in the glovebox for my wolfhound. Cinching it tightly on her wrists, I

got a piece of twine out of my fannypack and tied the collar so it wouldn't loosen up.

       And people wonder why a homeless guy seems to save everything he comes upon

for future use. Sheesh!

       Dumping her still unconscious body onto the floor, I scurried over to the a-hole

I'd left sprawled and whining behind the Toyota. As I suspected when I left him there to

moan and groan, he wasn't any threat to anyone at the moment. He also was a lot of time

away from standing erect, judging by the way he acted and was rubbing his knee.

       Since this was definitely not a time for arguing or making deals, I chose not to

mess around with this big jerk any longer. Who knows when some silly ass concerned

citizen might pull in and ask what was wrong? So, with a "Not sorry!", I clubbed the big

bastard in the head with the handgun and knocked his silly ass out cold. Then I dragged

him to the Escalade, stuffed him in the very rear where I carried my big dog and had the

area partitioned with squares of canvas webbing, then used my twine again.

       I tied his wrists snugly, then used some more of it to bind his ankles. That "fair

fight" theory took quite a savage drubbing today on my behalf.

       After another futile attempt to reach Hawthorne or Benning, I made up my mind.

I want to be there at four when they're supposedly going to kill that other asshole so I can

see how well he reacts to a .357. This prick can stand there when the guy arrives, bad leg

and all and, if anybody's ass gets stomped into the dirt, it'll be his. Damn it to hell, these

bastards killed my friend. I'm not gonna stand for any more of their silly horseshit!

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                             CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

                                   Oceanside, California

                          Friday, November 20th, 3:24 p.m.

       Sometimes things just don't feel right. It's a lot like being on a roll and, despite

your own admonitions, wondering when something's going to go wrong. I've heard it's a

bad idea to think that way. I've been told God doesn't work that way, that being on a roll

may well mean the next "bad thing" to happen will be nothing more than the "roll" stops

and everything's back to normal.

       As much as I wanted to believe that, as much as I wanted the upcoming events to

turn out that way, I couldn't stop playing the "what if" game. What if I don't see him?

What if he has an ace up his sleeve? What if he doesn't believe any of the horseshit he

must've gotten from the woman with the hamburger face in my back seat? What if he

shows up here determined to kill anyone he sees without asking questions first … and I'm

the one he sees? What if, what if, what if … aw, shit!
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       It didn't take long for me to grow tired of all that negativity. To offset it, I began

to look at the things in my favor. For starters, he doesn't know about me. He'd need to

have one helluva crystal ball to even know I'm alive. He probably suspects the dirtbag in

my SUV has it in mind to kill him, but I bet doubts the dirtbag has the balls or the smarts

to pull it off. He's probably still at the coin tossing stage with Ms. Burgerface and will

hesitate a moment before killing her, just in case he still has her allegiance.

       He won't likely have factored me into his plans, since he doesn't know I'm alive,

as is mentioned above. Maybe, just maybe, that'll give me an edge. Surprise is on my

side. Maybe.

       We got there with a touch over a half hour to spare, except I couldn't dare count

on that as a fact. Being who and what he is, the guy we're waiting for has almost surely

killed more people than I have, (one at last count), and is trained to kill people far better

than I am. My background in that area is novels, TV shows, and a movie or twelve.

Yup, I think he'll have the edge on me there.

       The alleged half hour could well be fiction, too. His training more than likely

tells him to arrive early and do a recon. Get the lay of the land. Find out who's who and

what's what. Assess what and who he'll be facing and make a battle plan. Hell, with that

in mind, he may've already been here and seen us pull in. If so, all my other guesses and

potential plans are shot already. If so, this will be "Operation Wing It" for good ol' Ben

& Company. I'll be going into battle on the fly, relying entirely on my experience and all

my ingenuity.

       Of course, that asset package will consist entirely of ingenuity, as the experience

doesn't exist. There's a comforting thought. Plus, I was already working "on the fly"

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when I got here. The guy, who I recently learned is called Rex, threw a wrench in my

plan at the very onset. I was going to have him approach this heinous killer he called The

Man, the guy Salazar referred to as Bod, and I'd get the drop on everyone all over again.

Then, with all the bad guys in custody, shall we say, I'd try Hawthorne and Benning once

again. If I didn't reach them, while I stood there holding a gun on all of 'em with a pair of

bullets allocated to each, I'd call 9-1-1 and see if anyone was home. If so, I'd ask 'em to

drop by for coffee and to collect some assholes badly in need of a prison cell.


       Damn, I sometimes hate that word!

       Except Rex, as he explained, can't cooperate. It's not even that he doesn't want to

do what I tell him, it's that he can't. Seems some loco citizen recently jumped with both

feet on his damned knee and it's so swollen and sore he can't stand on it. I checked it out,

since I didn't personally care how much discomfort he might encounter. I was a lot more

concerned with taking the supreme dirtbag into custody and turning his mangy ass over to

cops much better trained in these things. Such as two detectives I know or, in lieu of that

if they stayed unreachable, pretty much anyone with a black uniform, a badge and a gun.

I wasn't being picky about it. Even a cop or two I'd never met would work just fine.

       Of course, it was all contingent on the dirtbag in hand being able to walk out there

so I could make a prisoner of the dirtbag in the bush. Which, I now accepted, was posted

on the "ain't gonna happen" list. Shit!

       Rex was up front now, both hands tied with some of that twine, (I saved a whole

lot of it in my fannypack while I was homeless and still haven't cleaned the thing out), to

his right ankle. After ten minutes of sitting in my front passenger seat he complained of

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the pain and discomfort because he couldn't move his legs. Said his circulation was

getting bad. Not wanting to hear it, and not wanting to bother with his crap while I was

busy thinking, I backhanded him in the mouth while telling him to shut the hell up. I'll

say this for him, he learns quickly.

       I think the order of events did fall in my favor. Not long after I swatted this Rex

guy, Ms. Burgerface declared her own displeasure with being chain collar bound in my

back seat. All I had to do was act as if I was going to backhand her and she cried out for

mercy and promised to keep quiet. Thus far, she'd kept her word.

       It pleased me, since I wasn't sure I could really make myself belt her again. After

all, she is a woman and someone did recently use her face for some very serious sparring

practice, so I wasn't positive I could make Ben add to her misery. Not for merely running

her mouth, since she would by no means be the first woman to ever do that.

       These developments indicated, however, I was under the gun to construct what

anyone would call a "Plan B", and I'd better do it ASAP or it would arise as a reaction

instead of an initiative. There's a whale of a difference in the two, primarily the control,

or lack of same.

       The scene, minus the tent I assumed would be erected tomorrow if they even used

one, or perhaps just some fencing, was just a great big, empty lot. So, inexperienced and

untrained, I started winging it when we arrived. I pulled over near the west end of the lot

where there was the only stand of trees to be found, backed in and parked. Rex said they

hadn't worked out any specific place to meet, which told me he was either lying to me or

was as stupid as he looked and sounded. Another coin tosser.

       Keeping an eye out for cops, or even nosy security guards, I began implementing

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a plan. On the fly, as I feared earlier. I instructed Rex to leave his door open and sit

facing outward. The Man would probably enter at the other end but, if he came in this

way, down at our end, I'd cue the idiot next to me and have him wave. If it was the other

end, just a wave would suffice. At the same time, Ms. Burgerface was to exit the vehicle

and stand by the open door. I cautioned her the impediments she'd encounter if I put a

.357 magnum bullet in her spine and accepted she took me at my word. The expression

on her mangled face testified she believed me totally.

        In that event, I, with my trusty pistola in hand, would already be standing next to

the SUV, and would have it as a shield of sorts. If the conflict escalated, I knew I'd be

better than the average California cop in a combat shoot. Under those conditions a cop

will hit his target only 3% of the time with his first round. Call it the jitters, I guess.

        From fifty feet or less, I was confident my average would be three digits. That

sucker would be going down if things got tight, but I'd have a ton and a half of vehicle to

deflect anything he might fire back at me. Yup, it all looked mighty nice on paper, so to

speak. That's not how it came down, but if I'd known beforehand how it was going to

come about, I may have soiled my boxers, which is never advisable.

        Consequently, as I stood beside my truck about ten seconds after I looked back

among the trees behind us for the eleventy-ninth time and saw nothing, I heard a voice at

my rear. "That handgun isn't going to do you any good. Put it gently on the ground and

put your hands on the door."

        Well, I thought to myself, isn't this a fine kettle of fish? Somehow I just knew the

voice didn't come from a cop who was outstanding at sneaking up behind someone. It

was more than likely some damned marine with years of training in doing what he'd just

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done to make me look and feel incredibly stupid. Following that train of thought, I didn't

see favorable odds for me if I tried to spin around and blast away. Something told me I'd

take a round or two in the chest, or maybe the head, for my trouble. With no alternative,

I complied with his instructions and squatted to place my weapon at my feet.

        Then I stood before he could change my mind and have me toss it away. Might as

well keep it as close as possible, even if the odds for my team no longer looked as stellar

as they did twenty seconds ago.

        "Now you, Rex, get out of the vehicle, but come across the console and use this

door. Make it quick."

        "I can't," he said in a whiny voice that made me hope the guy standing behind me,

whomever he might be, would shoot Rex first.


        "No, he can't," I added, seeking anything as a diversion. "I, uh, stomped on his

knee a while back. He can't walk. Honest. Plus, if he didn't already have a bent wheel, I

tied his wrists to his right ankle. He can't, uh, can't move. Can't even get out of the SUV,

as a matter of fact."

        "Your choice," said the voice of the guy I still hadn't seen, since he was behind

me and off to the east a few feet. "You can come out feet first, in a body bag, or figure

out how to do it now. Either way is fine, but you'll either do it yourself now, or I'll see to

it on my own." A pause. "You won't like it the way I'll do it."

        Rex's face showed me, beyond any question, what a man looks like when he feels

someone walk over his grave while he's still alive. He was unintelligibly muttering some

sort of words as he tried a couple different ideas. He finally settled on raising his left leg

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and sticking it across the console, then scooting his rump a couple inches at a time over

the console, then over my seat. Once, clearly in pain, he howled, "Man, this hurts like

hell! I can't—"

       "So does a round from a .45," came the advice from behind me. "As I said, it's

your choice."

       "I'm comin', I'm comin', I'm comin'," he squeaked, any bravado he might've once

had obviously tucked away in a hip pocket. When he was at the door, he looked at the

guy behind me over my shoulder. "How'm I gonna get out?"

       "On your own, or with a bullet in you. Again, your choice."

       "Man, how'd ya put a silencer on that fuckin' thing?" he asked as he gawked at

whomever was threatening to kill him.

       "Get out of the truck," was what he heard as his inquiry went ignored.

       Perhaps instinctively, I turned my head and glanced over my right shoulder to see

who this was who'd just commandeered all my authority. As fast as I did it, I somehow

wished I hadn't. While what I saw didn't have a label that said KILLING MACHINE, it

wasn't necessary to enable a bystander to figure it out.

       The guy wore what's called BDUs, the desert camouflage the military puts on all

their people these days, and even though they were loose fitting, there was no doubt his

body was muscle tacked onto muscle. Shit! I advised myself. This bastard could go bear

hunting with a damned Boy Scout knife!

       The weapon I saw in his hand in my scant peek was just as scary. A bulbous end

with little openings in the side as the silencer Rex just noticed, and the piece itself looked

as big as an elephant. Scanning my memory, it came to me he'd have seven rounds, one

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more than my handgun, and his was in his fist, while mine was at my feet. I knew with

no help from anyone the Vegas odds makers weren't tilting in my favor on this one as

they made their projections.

        That's when a small opportunity opened, or at least began to blossom for me. It

was in the form of something I'd had bite me in the ass more times than I could count in

the past, but could possibly turn to my favor this time. A lying woman.

        There'd been so damned many women who'd lied to me in my life I couldn't count

'em. I was certain there were far too many for the fabled Noah to ever fit into his ark, and

that's assuming he could get 'em to cooperate enough to board in the first place. Yup, the

"new country heard from" here was Ms. Burgerface, aka Helena Salazar, Oceanside city

councilwoman. The two biggest plusses I saw right away were the fact she had no reason

to expect I'd believe her under any conditions, and she wouldn't be lying to me. Hell,

why would she? I had no prior connection to her, but I was pretty damned sure the nasty

killing machine at my rear quarter did.

        So, after considering all my current options, with her as the only one available, I

opted to make use of the opportunity.

        "Oh, Bod, thank God you're here!" she exclaimed. "Get me out of here, Baby! I

beg you, please, get me out of here!" She scooted across the seat and opened the door

with her hands still bound together. As she started to jump out, the voice behind me told

her to stop.

        "Don't move," he ordered. "Stay right where you are."

        "What? Bod, you can't mean that? Baby, I love you! I'm yours and you're mine!

That's what we decided, and these nasty bastards have done horrible things to me, Baby!

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You've got to save me! Please, Bod, please? These two no-goods are going to kill me,

Baby! Help me, Baby! Help me!"

        "Maybe the guy whose dick was in your mouth would be a better choice", came

the words in a steely voice. "Ask him."

        "No, Baby! He made me do that! At the point of a gun! Honey, I only did that to

save my life! Rex was going to kill me if I refused!"

        "Yer ass, Bitch! Shit, it was yer idea! Jus' like it was yer idea t' come here t'day

an' kill The Man! Ya rotten whore, why're ya tellin' 'im all this bullshit when you was the

one who set it all up in the first fuckin' place?"

        "Bod, he's lying!" she howled forlornly and with a newborn surge of anger. "He

made me do that, and these two bastards together brought me here so they could kill you!

If you don't save me, Bod, they'll kill both of us!"

        "I don't believe you, Helena," he countered in an even, steady voice.

        "Baby, it's true! I'd never do those things for any man but you, Bod! Damn it, I

love you, and I'm going to prove it right now!"

        Without another word, Helena Salazar leapt to the ground from the raised door of

the SUV, scooped up my .357 from the cracked asphalt at my feet, then turned to face

Rex in the front seat. He sat facing her, left leg dangling, right leg crossed on his other

knee, and gawked.

        "The dirty bitch is lyin', dude!" he roared in his defense. "This road whore was

jus' beggin' t' get my dick in 'er mouth, man! She even—"

        The deafening boom of my .357 magnum served as a strong reminder of why I

wore earmuffs whenever I took it to the shooting range at Iron Sites here in Oceanside. I

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heard it three times in just about that many seconds. The first two times were the shots

she put into Rex's chest from a yard away. Both Hydra-Shok shells slammed into him

and, at that range, slammed right back out. Due to the angle she was firing, slightly up,

the badly mashed projectiles carried through his torso and transferred large amounts of

his flesh and organs somewhere outside my vehicle. On their way those bullets took out

my front windshield in large part, leaving two fist-sized holes in it.

       It's safe to say the first two shots came about faster than two seconds, as it takes

very little time to squeeze that trigger and it only has an eight ounce pull, even on double

action. The third volley was made after she whirled in place and let one go in the general

direction of the guy with the .45 in his hand.

       Untrained, possibly firing a handgun for the first time in her life, she popped out

the shot before she was directly facing him. To her credit, more than likely realizing her

low skill level, she tried to get even closer, perhaps anticipating the fourth bullet would

be the magic number. What she failed to recognize was the fact she faced a trained killer,

a man who'd easily forgotten more about taking lives than she'd ever learn.

       Maybe it was the fact they'd shared what sounded like a love relationship, or at

least a sex life. Maybe he read more into it than what he was, or maybe she was just a

lying bitch, as I'd thought of certain women myself in years past, primarily because it was

true in those cases. In any event, he didn't do what he was so clearly trained to do right

away. He waited a split second before he acted.

       It all came back to me as a resounding memory of my days in the ring when I was

a semipro heavyweight in the middle of the last century. Times where my opponent was

in shock, or otherwise overwhelmed, and lost track of what was happening.

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        Not long, but long enough. Two seconds, three, maybe. Didn't matter. Maybe in

"real life" that's not much time. In the ring, however, it can be damned near forever. It

can be, and had been many times in my past, long enough to spell doom for the other guy

in big, bold capital letters.

        The guy with the .45 let her take two steps before his thinking cleared and he put

a jacketed round through her chest, directly into her sternum. His interim of inattention

while she took those steps allowed me to take the same number, but mine were longer

than hers because I'm much taller. In addition, I knew my life would be over if I didn't

get to him in time. I don't think she had time to think that far ahead.

        That's not to say I wasn't busy as I crossed about eight feet of macadam covered

real estate. I was busily extracting the KA-BAR from my pants and lunging forward with

it. Right at his chest, with my slightly more than two-hundred pounds 100% behind what

I was doing.

        Holding the .45 in his right hand, he had to push her dead body away with his left

as it fell to the earth and then get it out of the way as he turned in place to put a bullet or

two into me. I never gave him the opportunity. My left hand shot out to grab his right,

which held the lethal .45 he'd use to kill me, and I missed getting a solid grip. However,

my hand collided with his wrist and shoved his hand down and to his right. As a result ,

his shot went into the door Helena just exited, through the one on the far side, and made

its way somewhere into the surrounding neighborhood.

        My only concern at the moment was appreciation that bullet didn't find its way

into my upper body. My KA-BAR, however, found its way into his chest, all the way to

the hilt. When it ceased making more headway at entry, as my hand was tilted sideways

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to make an easier entry in case I found a rib, I jerked right as hard as I could, slicing

through more tissue and widening the wound.

       "Arrgh!" he bellowed in sudden pain and what I was certain was the shock of his

life. Unwilling to trust he'd be frail enough to fall after being stabbed once, I jerked the

blade back out and rammed it home in his chest again. And again. And again. And

again. And again. And again.

       At that point, I was so exhausted from stabbing this sucker, he could've killed me

with no trouble if he had any juice left in his body. The way he gurgled twice and slowly

crumpled to the asphalt convinced me this fight was mine.

       When I staggered back and leaned against the rear side panel of the Escalade, my

cell phone started to ring. Too spent to even look at who was calling, too revved up to

hear the voice announcement to tell me who was calling, I just put it to my ear and said,


       Hawthorne asked, "Ya been tryin' to reach me, Ben? My phone says ya called me

a couple times."

       I took the cell away from my ear and stared at it before saying, "Let me get back

to you, pal. It just wears me out these days to kill a man." Then I clicked my phone shut.

                              Leviticus, Limited 33-0505963

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