you-scratch-my-back by huangyuarong


									BILL CADY
Post Office Box 567
San Luis Rey, California 92068-0567
Tel: (760) 803-6690
Fax: (760) 637-2862

WORD COUNT: 75,160

   C C R y d e r , Y o u Sc r a t c h M y B a c k

                CC Ryder, You Scratch My Back
CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                       1

                                        CHAPTER ONE

                                       San Diego, California

                           Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 … 4:19 p.m.

        Just as I stepped out of my kitchen, I saw him. He was outside the sliding glass door of

the patio looking into the house. It's a little odd, I thought as I leaned against the door jamb to

take him in. He's both majestic looking, in a way, and scary as hell in another. Something on

the man's face promised someone, without mentioning any names, was in grave danger of dying

in the next few minutes.

        Oh, and another striking feature I caught was the size. Somehow I just knew, if anyone

ever declared a spot on his body to be the capitol, our government would probably make him the

51st state. His hands were massive, big enough to kill a man without any weapons but those fists,

or the strength in those powerful mitts. Because of his size I could tell he wasn't fast, at least, not

if it came to a footrace, but I sensed if he chose to strike someone in battle, the other guy would

be dead before he saw this man move.

        That face also indicated he'd be able to inflict excruciating pain on someone and never be

at all sorry for it. I sensed he'd left dead bodies behind him in the past, rather often, too.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                   2

       More than a foot taller than my five-four, he was also at least twice as large as my puny

120 pounds. Okay, if you're gonna nitpick, 122, but that's usually only after I eat, which I have

yet to do today. A hangover will do that to you, and watching the man you love die can also take

the edge off a girl's appetite. If that's not enough to turn a girl like me completely away from any

food for a while, I also put three 9mm bullets into the skull of an insane bitch who was trying to

kill me, my "kid", the man I loved and the giant I saw on my patio.

       She did manage to get a bullet off at the mountain of a man seated on the wooden ledge

surrounding the patio behind my condo in Scripps Ranch, a suburb of San Diego, California in a

way. It's off I-15, just north of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, perhaps 10 miles north of I-8,

between San Diego proper and Poway. That round hit him in the middle of the back, right on one

of the monstrous buttons on his cowboy belt. It knocked the wind out of him and left him unable

to breathe or move for a few short seconds, but he'll be fine. Knowing this man as I have come

to do recently, he'll never say a word about it. Won't even grunt over the pain or, if he does, it'll

go unnoticed. Half the time I talk with him, or maybe he's one of the few people I should say I

talk to, since it's often a one-sided conversation, a grunt is the only response I get from him.

       His name is Michael "Cool Wind" Running Bear, a Luiseño Indian, (he doesn't get all

hinky about that "Native American" thing), and he's already saved my danged life more times

than I can count. Being a Native American, the man couldn't wear a full beard unless he went to

a costume shop, but he has this eight-inch scraggly thing that dangles from his chin and he likes

it. I wouldn't laugh at it, and even think it's kind of unique, and I know I've never met anyone

brave or stupid enough to laugh at this guy. He's "big enough to hunt bear with a jack-knife", in

the words of the man I loved and had in my life until yesterday.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                   3

       That was Hug. Henderson Ulysses Gentry, the second man I've ever loved and, the way I

see it, the last, as well. He didn't like his real name, so the nickname stuck from childhood on. I

said I had him in my life until yesterday, and that's sadly accurate. He cheated on me, you see,

but it wasn't really all his fault. The demented woman I shot and killed this morning seduced

him. Funny as it may sound, in a non-humorous way, she did it to hurt me.

       Because I shot and killed the only man who, according to her, ever satisfied her in bed.

The terms she used were a tad more uncouth than what I just said, but you get the point, I'm sure.

       Before you start thinking I'm a homicidal maniac, something I've been jokingly accused

of by my new friend, Angela Dutton, a detective with the San Diego Police, let me explain.

Back in 2002 the first man I loved and I, along with a teenage girl I liked a lot, were attacked by

four lowlifes at a lake in northern Michigan, the state I was raised in. They emasculated the man

I so dearly loved, Baker Mann, raped Chelsea and me, killing her and leaving my female organs

so badly trashed the only periods I have any connection with now are on sentences.

       The ones I write or read, not the sentences I issue, since I'm now a sitting judge of the

Superior Court of the State of California, but I'll get to that in a minute.

       Baker and I finished law school and came here to sunny southern California. I went into

the law, as we'd planned, but he was sidetracked and became a San Diego cop with the idea he'd

do that a few years, then practice law. I started out as an assistant district attorney, an ADA, and

it seems I was a "rising star". Some fluky things happened and the governor appointed me to the

bench, getting waivers on some rules about being in practice ten for years first. It's a terrific job,

pays me almost $180,000 per year, and gives me a chance to administer some common sense law

instead of "the standard stuff". I keep that crap out of my courtroom as much as possible.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                  4

       In brief, we got a line on those four crudballs from the beach. Baker killed one during a

bank robbery and he'd also taught me to handle a gun by that point. With one down and three to

go, we thought we'd somehow get 'em all before too long, since all four were now in San Diego

county. Sadly, that wasn't to become true.

       Baker had an outstanding and busy last day in his life. He brought me my "kid", a cute

little Brittany, and that's her name, too. I call her Brittany Lance, named after Britney Spears,

but my kid, while about 25 years younger, is many times smarter and a million or so times better

behaved. Oh, and a cajillion times more loving, especially to me. They're supposedly bird dogs,

although she knows nothing about birds beyond the sparrows she chases off the patio when I let

her out on it without her leash. She's not a guard dog. Not really, although anyone who rings my

doorbell seems to think there's a 100 pound mutt barking from inside the house.

       However, she will bite, if necessary. Let her think you intend to harm her Mom, that's me,

and you'll have her teeth marks in a few places. We love each other to pieces and I'll also do all I

can to protect her, if I can. While I'd bite anyone who attacked my baby, I also have a concealed

weapons permit, and I always carry the danged thing. If biting works best, then I guess I'd bite

someone. If I can do a better job of it with a gun, however, I'm not afraid to use it, and I'm pretty

darned accurate, too.

       Back to Baker and his last day. He proposed and there was very little air space between

his question and my excited "yes". We went up to Las Vegas and were married that night. Our

"wedding chamber" was a cramped restroom potty on the way back to San Diego, where he and I

cooperated in him "molesting me" with a boatload of return vigor on my part while that brute I'd

married "had his way with me", if you will.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                 5

       Then he stopped for some champagne to celebrate and interrupted a liquor store robbery,

where he was killed.

       He'd left his off-duty weapon in the car and I was trying to take it into him there in the

store when the bad guys came tearing out the door and aimed those awful guns at me. Baker's

weapon, then in my less capable hand, got 'em both, but I was left a widow after six hours of a

marriage I once feared would never be mine. Then, a few nights later, three gang members of a

bunch that once included the ones I'd killed appeared in my bedroom late one night.

       Scratch three more crudballs, whom I might've allowed to rape and kill me to put me out

of all my misery, but I didn't. They announced they also planned to kill my kid, so Baker's other

9mm jumped out from under my pillow and explained my point of view to those dirtbags.

       Shortly afterward I made a close friend in a TV reporter named Hug. At the time, that's

all it was, although it grew to become something else later. He helped me track down another of

the rapists and was jumped while we were gathering info. Three guys were pounding the snot out

of him, so I shot one of those jerks. In the butt. It stopped him, so why do anything more?

       We soon tracked down that pig who'd raped me and did a "sting", of sorts, all designed to

get the evidence I needed. There was a gunfight where Hug shot and killed a drug-crazed felon

who tried to kill us when the sting went south, then we both had to shoot the girlfriend of the bag

of crud I was after when all hell broke loose. When that guy also tried to kill Hug a few seconds

later, I put one into his spine and paralyzed him from the chest down.

       That left him horrified he'd go back to Michigan, where they don't have a death penalty,

and he'd be abused for years by animals in a state prison, so he was fighting extradition any way

he could. He hoped to bargain for some sort of special deal, no idea what it might be, since he'd

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                 6

be going back no matter what, sooner or later. See, he knew who the other two guys were and

how to find 'em, I guess. No matter, Hug and I found 'em ourselves.

       Along the way, Hug was beaten within an inch of his life, so bad he ended up in a coma

and nearly died. By that time, however, he'd met Cool Wind, and that man can find anyone. If

he ever decides to look for Jimmy Hoffa's body, the family will have closure soon after. Cool

Wind can find anyone, and you don't even want to know what he's able to do to people when he

does pin 'em down. See, he's a tribal bounty hunter for many of the Indian bands in southern

California, and a convicted felon, himself. It seems he had to step in some years ago to rescue a

woman who is now his wife back on "The Rez" and killed a man with his care hands. That got

him a few years in prison, and now he can't own a firearm.

       Like he needs one, even?

       If I was shooting at the guy, I'd be worried he'd simply catch the danged bullets, put 'em

in his mouth, and spit 'em back at me faster than I shot those rounds in his direction. Jeez!

       Sorry, I went off track for a moment.

       He and I, much to the consternation of Angela Dutton, my new cop buddy, tracked down

the other two pieces of slime. Cool Wind managed to corner one of 'em in a sleazy motel room

and the cops found the guy's dead body with his testicles in his mouth. Perhaps a memoriam to

what they did to Baker, the first man I ever loved.

       By that time I was Hug's girl and, although he couldn't help us because he was still in the

hospital and near death, I managed to put a bullet into the last weasel's skull. Unknowingly, it

was killing that cretin that set Bunny Fargo on the warpath. That's the name of the eventually

demented babe who seduced Hug and tried to poison my baby, as well. She'd threatened to kill

Hug, my kid, and me the night I shot that slob she'd been sleeping with, but I pooh-poohed it all,

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                     7

telling Cool Wind he was imagining things. I changed my mind on that part after she buried a 9-

inch knife she stole from my kitchen in Hug's chest and left him for dead, evidently wanting to

set me up as the one who killed him. To her misfortune, Hug survived and made sure he told the

police who stabbed him, but I wasn't off the hook, even then. Since very few people even knew

she existed, and she had no record, meaning no prints on file, it still left a lot of hints I'd stabbed

him in an incident of domestic violence.

        Oh, puke! Domestic violence, my suntanned butt! The only thing I had going for me on

that part was my pal Angela Dutton, and she was sort of on the fence for a while, too. While she

wanted to buy in on what I said, she is still a cop, and there's only just so much she can do for a

friend, in any event.

        Sadly … and I can say it that way because of how it all ended … I got the proof I needed

after I visited Hug in the hospital. I broke up with him after she seduced him, the day before. I

guess I'm talking about yesterday, but this crap all seems to run together until last week seems

like 10 years ago, and yesterday is last year in many ways. I know, it sounds goofy, and maybe

it is, but that's how it feels when you're inside a snarled mess such as my life has become lately.

I didn't break up with him for having sex with her, as much as that hurt me. It was an agony for

me to know it ever happened, but I think I would've gotten past it.

        If he'd only told me about it. That day. When he saw me, not long after it happened.

        We'd've had some big problems with it, but I loved the guy and I really think we could've

gotten that crap behind us. Instead, he shut me out. Pouted the rest of the day and thought about

it, trying to think of a way to tell me, instead of trusting me to understand what happened and the

two of us getting past it as a couple. So, when I went up to the bedroom and tried my best to get

something going there with my guy, his "thingy" was off-duty.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                 8

        Talk about making a girl feel she's not very sexy? I mean! That'll sure as heck do it for

me, every danged time! Then, when we talked about it, he finally admitted he'd "let his fingers

do the walking", along with another body part I don't intend to name. Jarred down to the bottom

of my soul, I explained there was nothing between him and my front door but air and opportunity

and I insisted he make use of that opportunity and my door at the same time, while making sure

the door didn't hit him in the butt on his way out.

        After I visited him the next day, which was only this morning if you can believe it, I was

on my way to the car with Cool Wind, telling him I'd just finalized my breakup with Hug. That's

when that demon from hell, Bunny Fargo, shot Cool Wind and was taking aim at me. Plus, she

was going to kill me with Baker's other 9mm, a gun she'd stolen from me. I hadn't known Hug

was following me from the hospital for some reason, and I never did get a chance to ask him why

he was there. He jumped that maniac and she shot him four times in the chest from inches away

in the struggle.

        That's when I stepped in and used the .380 Beretta Baker bought me just before he left

me a widow with only six hours of married life under my belt. I popped that wench three slugs

in the head and it took all the fight out of her, only leaving me time enough to tell Hug I forgave

him for what happened the day before, then he died.

        From there, all I had to do was answer questions from what felt like all 2,000 officers

with the SDPD and somehow, perhaps with the assistance of my buddy Angela, I managed to

retain possession of my .380 Beretta. That brings me to yet another sort of screwy point.

        No matter what anyone will tell you, even if you talk to Angela, who half kiddingly will

say it's true, I am not a "pistol packin' mama" by any means. She even shoved it in my face and

said I shoot all my dates if things don't seem to be going that well when I'm with a guy. Yuck,

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                  9

yuck. Ha-ha. Very funny … not! Still, there was a very small grain of truth in what she said, as

is always true with any joke based on reality and real life.

       This is where you get to decide if I'm either an idiot bimbo who simply can't ever manage

to get it all together, or a girl who sometimes lets her heart and emotions take charge, even when

she shouldn't. You see, after Hug told me on Monday what happened, what he'd done to me and

to our relationship, I was in what you might call a bad mood. Okay, I was feeling bitchy as hell.

There, are you happy now? Sheesh!

       Plus, I was not exactly feeling like the sexiest babe to ever hit the sunny shores here in

San Diego, so I wanted … heck, I don't know, some proof, maybe? Deciding I'd get all dolled up

and at least get some guys to ogle me, I put on what I call a "slut suit" and went trolling for those

guys I'd normally only want to spit on any other time. Yeah, my bare butt was almost showing,

and what was covering my boobies didn't leave at lot to the imagination, either. What makes it

even worse, Angela went out of her way yesterday to bring back my Beretta, which had been in

police custody 'cause I killed that final piece of pond scum with it.

       I realize, if you take any of this out of context, I probably sound a bit bloodthirsty, but I'm

really not that way. It's more along the lines of saying, if you back me into a corner and I know

it's either my life or yours, if I have a gun, you then have a problem. I'm not going to leave my

kid without a Mom, and there are a few others who'd miss me, as well, so I don't just lie down

and let the world run over me.

       Well, that's what happened last night. Kinda-sorta.

       I moseyed into some high-dollar booze place in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego and

started swinging my nearly bare butt around, I guess hoping someone would tell me how great it

looked so I'd be in a position to tell him to go away. I mean, all I wanted to do was to hear I was

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                 10

gorgeous and sexy, you know? I wasn't out to give samples to anyone, I just wanted to be sure

all the guys in the place wanted to screw me, or something. Whatever, you know?

       Sure hope I don't start hearing you mumble words like "bimbo" and "slut" under your

breath, but I was only seeking reinforcement. I did not want to wind up in some guy's danged

bed getting my stupid brains screwed out. Of course, that's what happened, kinda, but that's not

what I had in mind when I got there. Really, it wasn't, and I hope you do believe me.

       So, I started in on a drink they call a Rusty Nail, which is incredibly delicious, but will

never pass my lips again, and wound up in bed at this unbelievable mansion with an attorney I'm

led to understand would have more money than God, except God has a better pension plan. Well,

it kinda-sorta went out of control and we were, um, sort of having sex, in a way. Yes, I know, I

already heard the full riot act on that part from Angela. Let's leave it at this; he got the danged

thing loaded by putting it in me a little … okay, he had the blasted thing buried right up to the

freaking hilt, but I never enjoyed it for even a second … but I stopped him from getting off a

shot when I threatened to shoot that part off his body.

       Yeah, I know that sounds as flimsy as Clinton's crap about how he never inhaled, but I'm

trying to explain it was all one-sided. As fast as he got that sucker installed, I wanted to reboot

and do an uninstall, if that makes any sense. So, I made him yank that stupid thing out of me and

I was trying to get the heck out of that place and go home. However, when he appeared in that

stupid doorway with his blasted kabonger hanging out, I fired in his direction with my .380 to let

him see I was no longer what he'd want to call a fan of any kind. I only hit the side of his stupid

door, and I guess we were both lucky I didn't hit him, since both of us were sloshed at the time.

As I understand it, he ran to his closet and slammed that massive oaken door, and it may not be

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                11

until the weekend before anyone can get him out. Oh, well, I told him to get that stupid thing out

of me, and I meant it. Guess he shouldn't've reminded me that way. That's all I can say on it.

       So, that left the Honorable CC Ryder, a sitting judge of the dadblasted Superior Court of

California, stumbling around half naked and drunk in a neighborhood where half a million bucks

is no more than a down payment on any house. Just when I thought all was lost and I'd end up

walking all the way home, (which may've been the best thing that could've happened to me), I

was given a ride by someone who lived in that area.

       Don't put a lot of faith in that "given a ride" part, yet. What happened is this horny old

Jewish guy stopped me and made it his mission in life to fondle my danged boobies! Oh, puke!

       Let's set the record straight while we're on that part, just so you'll know, okay? As I said,

I'm five-four, 120 … okay, okay, okay, sometimes 122! Jeez! … and I have nice light brown

hair I let grow long enough to cover my danged boobies most of the freaking time. At least that

way I don't get anyone ogling the darned things. Baker, and even Hug, always said my hair was

some "golden chestnut" crap, and things like that. I do have light brown hair, dang it, and brown

eyes. Not all that dark brown, I guess, on the eyes, but "golden"? C'mon, give me a break.

       My bra is a 32C meaning, if I'd ever had kids, which is now impossible, they'd've started

out well fed and that's about it. Before yesterday I always thought, if my guy loves 'em on me,

then they're great. However, since I no longer have a guy in my life, and don't see how that ever

again will be the case, they're just my boobs, okay? I'd maybe even take the danged things off

now, since I'll never need 'em again, but then none of my freaking clothes would ever fit the way

they should. Who needs the grief, right? Plus, Hug always said I have a bubble butt, whatever

the heck that might mean. The way I see it, I can sit on a wooden seat for an hour and I won't be

in agony, so there's enough padding to make the danged thing useful and nothing more. If I take

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a peek over my shoulder, I can't see my rear end, so it's probably not too big, either. Let's face it,

what I have behind me is a butt and nothing more than that, okay?

       Anyway, this old Jewish guy just happened to also be a muckety-muck of some kind with

the local Democratic Party. Like I care? Those are all the nitwits who brought us that "Clinton

duo", something this country is still trying to shake and, in my danged opinion, we can't get rid

of 'em fast enough. However, I'm getting sidetracked again. So, he's decided there's nothing he

wants more than my knockers, except for this long list of porno movie things he said he had in

mind for us to explore, and I said, "Oh, puke!"

       Regrettably, he didn't pick up on that part. So, when I threatened to jump out of his stupid

car, (we were only going about 20 by then, and I'd've survived, I'm sure), he goosed it up over 50

and seemed to think that'd make me feel more loving. Not! His car, I should mention, was one of

those big old Cadillacs, maybe even from the Reagan era, the kind that'd need maybe even a pair

of parking spots at Wal-Mart. So, with no other choice, and not wanting to die in a wreck, or let

the old creep touch me again, I yanked out my danged .380 and showed it to him.

       Keep in mind, my good buddy Angela had just returned it to me that day from the police

property room, meaning she sort of had a stake in all that would eventually happen.

       When the old crudball tried to take my freaking gun away, still hauling butt at something

above 50 per, it went off and I shot the old fool in the chest. Of course, we crashed into a car at

the dadratted curb! That's when the old fart got really serious! He said he was going to kill me,

for Pete's sake! Quite obviously, I immediately thought that was a bad idea and I decided to nix

his plans even before they got off the danged ground. Call me what you will, but when a totally

lecherous old cretin says he's going to kill me, then reaches for my freaking throat, I take the guy

at his word. Consequently, I put three rounds directly into his kisser from a few inches away.

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CC Ryder, It's Not Over Yet … by Bill Cady                                                13

        While that managed to repress his wildly out of control libido, it brought about a whole

new set of problems for CC Ryder. And, of course, Detective Angela Dutton, brand-new buddy

of the inebriated sitting judge who just sprayed the brains and a few pieces of skull from this old

pervert bigwig all over the blasted car. Are you beginning to see where this could just possibly

be a bit problematic?

        Yet, I also felt, and heard, someone trying to get me out of that freaking car which had by

then knocked me senseless with its stupid air bags. In all the confusion, I didn't get a good look

at whomever it was, beyond a glimpse of what I think was a red skirt. A very short red skirt. The

kind one of those "ladies of the night" might be wearing. Like I should talk? I mean, all done up

in my "slut suit" the way I was, I'm sure I probably looked like she and I might've even worked

on the same corner a time or two.

        What I'm getting at is all this left me looking pretty darned bad, possibly even guilty of

one degree or another of manslaughter, and Angela was too strongly linked to it by having been

the nitwit cop who returned the gun to me that very day. Things were not looking too hot for us

at the moment.

        Then Angela stumbled on a great discovery, she thought, just in the nick of time. While

she did her normal cop work, she came across a woman she knew who was reluctantly working

as a prostitute in San Diego. The very same woman who tried to get me out of that danged car

after I blew away the old pervert. A woman, I found out during all those hours of questioning

this afternoon, who tried to save me because she thought I was "one of the girls". I guess when I

dubbed that outfit a "slut suit", I wasn't too far off the mark.

        However, that only brings us to yet another problem. A snag, if you will. It seems this

girl, whose name is Brenda Dalworth, has two problems of her own. Angela laid all these tidbits

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on me this afternoon. Brenda's pimp, a sleaze named Julio Mendez, has a recreational pastime of

beating the living bejesus out of Brenda when she does something really bad. Like breathe. He

knocks the snot out of her for anything and everything, so whatever happens in her life always

has to either be okayed by Julio, or done behind his back.

        Her other complication has to do with a trick she was servicing recently. It seems the guy

said her boobies weren't big enough … I mean, so what, the jerk was buying a danged blowjob

off the woman, for Pete's sake! … so he refused to pay her. Oh, but he wanted her to finish him

up while she was at it. Unable to see the common sense in his way of doing things, Brenda was

on her way out the door when the guy took over for Julio, who wasn't even there, and began to

pound the pee out of Brenda.

        Evidently Brenda's as antagonistic as I am on occasion and she took exception to the way

he wanted to handle the issue. Instead of being meek and taking a beating, she stabbed the jerk. I

don't know where, but I'm told she stuck him pretty good. Now the guy's out of the hospital and

he has it in mind to finish giving Brenda the whipping he got started but didn't finish up with. To

make matters worse, Brenda was arrested for stabbing the crudball. She was bailed out by Julio,

who promptly pounded the heck out of her again to teach her a lesson. Or, maybe just to make

himself feel better. That part's still all up in the air at this point. Still, she stands to possibly go

to prison for stabbing that jerk, plus he's looking for her with blood in his eye, and Julio doesn't

even need a reason to start swinging in her direction.

        Brenda, a major player in that skit and in my own life, and Angela's by proxy, wants a

few things out of the deal for herself. She wants those charges kicked, taking that prison part off

the table. She'd like someone to get that slimeball off her tail so he doesn't sneak up on her one

day and ring the bell for round two. She's hoping someone will find a way to convince Julio to

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stop treating her like an Everlast punching bag, if at all possible and, if it's not totally beyond the

realm of possibility, she'd like to get a real job and a decent place to live so she can stop all the

kneeling and being on her back she does so danged much in her daily trade.

        In turn, she's willing to tell an ADA what she learned when I blew away that old puke.

        Doing it through channels as a cop, that's a rather large bite Angela's expected to take in

and chew. While she can't officially condone what she's now convinced Cool Wind and I have

in mind, she announced her position on the matter to me this afternoon.

        "I don't want to hear one damned thing about any of this happy horseshit you and that big

Indian have in mind because it's fucking illegal! Plus, you two better make damned sure neither

of you gets caught doing it!"

        Therefore, with Angela's modified blessing, Cool Wind and I need to come up with a

plan that will accomplish what we all need to do and not get caught. Heck, it'll be a piece of


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                                      CHAPTER TWO

                                      San Diego, California

                          Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 … 4:37 p.m.

       The sun was still shining all over San Diego and the surrounding area for many miles,

and would be for another two or three hours. Still, an afternoon that had been hot enough to be

uncomfortable for someone standing out in the sun since noontime was losing the heat and even

making a promise to become cool, if not almost chilly, before much longer. It was the middle of

the week and nothing at all exciting for Brenda Dalworth, although she couldn't recall any day in

the last few years that had been all that exciting, to be completely honest about it.

       As memory served her, the days before she kicked her meth habit, a lousy seven months

ago and it seemed like a shitload of years, were the closest things that ever came to mind when

she imagined a nice day. Thinking back to her childhood, she was able to bring up memories she

also didn't recall as overwhelmingly fun. Beatings by a drunken mother who also liked to party

and occasionally do some premier dope. Other beatings, always harsher and delivered with more

strength by a long line of slobs who lived with that drunken mother. Her first sexual experience,

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courtesy of one of those guys when she was eight years old, followed by at least six others who

lived with them over the years. Oh, and that teacher who said he liked her and wanted to help as

she was starting seventh grade. Yeah, he wanted to help, alright. However, help involved using

his damned dick and inserting it in more than one of her bodily openings.

        That fit in nicely on the memory list, for sure.

        Of course, there was the truant officer who could only manage to find a way to avoid her

being turned over to the cops for ditching school when she had her clothes off, or was kneeling,

or any of a few other things he had her do. Thinking about that shit still made her want to barf.

        Even the middle school principal had to get in on the act, finally reassuring her she'd be

able to avoid being expelled if she'd just get naked and crawl under his fucking desk. Yeah, that

was another good one, Brenda recalled.

        Then there was high school. Going out on dates. As if. Shit, she could recall one of those

bastards telling her he wanted a hummer about two minutes after he picked her up or he would

drop her skinny ass off on the corner and she could walk home. So, after she'd popped the prick

a freebie while he was driving her to the fucking school dance, the asshole deserts her after that

first song and spends the rest of the evening with that slut Sylvia, who later became homecoming

queen in her junior year. Leaving Brenda to walk home alone after that shithead said he'd be tied

up all evening and he'd maybe see her around.

        Cocksucker! Well, she thought, I bet he didn't get home much faster'n I did. Not with all

his damned tires cut t' shit like I left 'em. Dirty bastard!

        Plus, it wasn't all that much longer, Brenda remembered, when she'd finally turned 16 and

was able to haul ass outa that damned school, a place where at least seven of her male teachers

probably still recalled who she was. Might's well remember me, she'd often told herself, since I

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was already so damned good at doin' all the shit they pressured me inta doin'. Like I wanna get

balled by some potbellied old fuck a couple times a week? Just so's the asshole can gimme a C

in his damned class?

       She still somewhat fondly remembered how Mr. Koenig … like it's okay I call the prick

John when he's jammin' his dick inta me, but I gotta say "Mr. Koenig" if anybody's around? …

was so unhappy when she showed up at his house one night right after suppertime. How she was

so happy to tell his wife about that purple birthmark on the inside of the old fat fuck's right leg.

The one I noticed, she remembered only too well telling Mrs. Koenig, the first time I sucked 'im

off after school was over for the day.

       Shit, she reminded herself, in a way them was the good ol' days. Shit, least back then I

was only gettin' dicked a few times every week an' maybe doin' me a half dozen blowjobs, max.

Now I get that much action mos' days b'fore it even gets dark outside. Like I want all these apes

gettin' their damned rocks off in me?

       She snorted derisively. Like I got me any fuckin' choice? I don't do it, Julio's gonna find

my ass an' beat th' livin' shit outa me fer not bringin' 'im enough action. Too bad that prick don't

never go t' sleep where I can see 'im. I'd stick my damned knife in one o' the bastard's eyes an'

keep on pushin' 'til I hit bone on the back of 'is head, that's what I'd do. That'd sure stop the big

prick from whalin' on my ass, that's fer sure.

       One more hit on the cigarette and she dropped it to the sidewalk, paying no attention to

where it went after that. In streets as dirty and cluttered as these, there was no sense in being the

only one to use the trash baskets. Hell, they were practically empty all the time, since most of

the people around here just dropped whatever they were done with and walked away. Why be a

clean freak and stand out from the damned crowd? Wouldn't do any damned good, and it might

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even cause more troubles for her. No damned sense in any o' that shit, Brenda advised herself.

Not the way I see it, there ain't.

        Okay, Brenda, pay attention, she advised herself when her ears forewarned her eyes there

was someone pulling in by the curb in front of her. As always, she sized up the potential trick by

the car first before she walked over to the passenger window, which would always be put down

when she got to it. Big burgundy colored SUV, she noticed, never bothering to look, or even try

to figure out which make and model. Like it matters? she asked herself. Like I give a shit? Man,

a car's a damned car. I'm either gonna get dicked, or go down on the asshole, an' 15 minutes

after that, I'm back here waitin' for th' next som'bitch to pull over an' expect I got me a fuckin'

fire sale goin' on blowjobs this week. Fuckin' as if!

        A dozen feet from the vehicle she mustered up her manufactured smile. No sense in not

bein' halfways nice t' the bastard b'fore we get t' talkin' money. Get the prick in a good mood, it

can mean a li'l more cash, sometimes. Blonde hair hanging four inches past her shoulders, with

barely a spark of life in her lighter brown eyes and not even a trace of happiness in the fake smile

she always wore, Brenda sauntered closer at a leisurely pace. Fishnet black stockings she'd heard

most guys found sexy were more of a pain in the ass than they were anything else, but who ever

said a whore's supposed to be comfortable when she's working, Brenda constantly reminded her

rebellious attitude.

        The high heels Julio insisted she wear were something she'd gotten accustomed to over

the years and no longer bothered her much. The tight short skirt barely four inches beneath the

cheeks of her ass were a sore point, especially in the winter months, but anything much longer

was out of the question. While not appreciably warmer, even if a skirt hung to her knees, it'd be

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all Julio needed as a reason to start kickin' ass, she sagely remembered. Mine. That ol' shit don't

sit so well with me no more.

        Plus, this blouse, she'd remarked to herself only a few minutes ago, ain't no improvement

far's I can see. Fuckin' Julio won't ever let me wear no damned jacket or coat, an' these blouses're

such a great way fer some asshole t' get hisself a peek at my damned tits when I'm leanin' into his

damn car t' discuss suckin' the prick off. What a great fuckin' life I got goin' fer me, huh?

        When she got to the car, Brenda leaned forward just enough so he'd see her tits and asked

him, "What's up, baby?" One more amp on the phony smile, all for show. "Ya lookin' fer a date

t'day, maybe? Got somethin' in mind, do ya?"

        "Might be," said the guy, early 40s, pudgy, the brown hair fast becoming a dying species

atop a head with a fat face and glasses that didn't let her see his eyes too well in the semidarkness

of his car. "How much?"

        "Why ya askin' me that, baby? I ain't sellin' me no used cars out here."

        "I dunno," he said, parrying badly, indicating to her someone being this far from suave

probably wasn't a cop. "Don't wanna spend a lot. Not if I don't hafta, ya know?"

        "Oh, I see. So, whatcha lookin' t' buy, anyways?"

        "I was thinkin' both ways fer thirty bucks," her offered.

        Brenda smiled. "Maybe yer wife, or yer girlfriend if at got one, will do it fer that. Me? I

ain't interested."

        "So, how much, then?" he said adroitly.

        "Fer all that shit? We ain't doin' all that in this car, ya know? Ya got a room?"

        "No, I ain't got a room. You got one?"

        "Down th' street," she remarked, gesturing with her right thumb. "Cost ya twenny."

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       "That comin' outa the thirty bucks?" he asked.

       Brenda tamped down the smile a little. "Dude, fer that kinda money, best yer gonna get's

we pull inta that alley, I get in th' car, ya get unzipped an' I'm on my way a few minutes later. Ya

thinkin' this here's Wal-Mart, or some shit, an' we got us them blue light specials all fuckin' day,


       "Ain't that at K-Mart?"

       "Like I give a flyin' fuck?" Brenda responded. "Dude, ya gotta either pony up a whole

lot more cash than ya been talkin' about, er ya gotta be pr'pared fer me suckin' ya off an' yer on

yer way home. What's it gonna be, baby?"

       "How's about a blowjob fer ten bucks?"

       "Sure, long's ya give it t' yerself. Ya ain't even gonna get me in this fuckin' car so's ya

can sing me a song fer no ten dollars. Dude, ya gotta get real 'bout this shit, ya know?"

       He leaned a little closer, his right elbow on the armrest extending from the seat. "I can't

be spendin' all my money on this shit, ya know what I mean, woman?"

       "Yeah? Well, I can't be spendin' all my time on this shit if ya ain't gonna get real. Best I'm

gonna do here's pop ya a hummer fer twenny, dude. Take it er leave it." She leaned her head in

an inch or two trying to see his eyes.

       "Or," he said with a half strange smile on his face as he reached out and clamped a hand

with a strength she hadn't foreseen on her left wrist, "maybe you can just suck me off for free an'

we’ll call it even!" Pulling harder than she'd've imagined possible, the asshole had her halfway

in the car, both shoulders inside the window, before Brenda could react. With both hands now in

the car, she dropped them palm first on the seat to brace herself, turned her head slightly to the

left to reach his forearm, and bit into the soft flesh as hard as she could.

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        "Motherfucker!" he screamed, releasing her when she drew blood.

        Jerking herself back through the window, Brenda yelled, "Good idea, ya dirty bastard!

Maybe she'll go along with yer shit, ya fuckin' cheapskate prick, but I ain't gonna!" Taking this

last shot to get even, not giving a damn if it trashed her cheap high heel shoes, Brenda delivered

a vicious kick into the side of the door, leaving a substantial dent.

        The man's eyes went wide in fury as he fumbled for the door handle on his side to get out

of the car. "I'll kill you, ya dirty bitch!"

        Right hand already in her purse, Brenda screamed, "I'll cut yer nuts off, you even get near

me, ya dumb bastard!" When he hesitated, she took the knife from her purse so he could see it.

"Think I'm shittin' ya, asshole? Come an' get it if ya got th' balls!"

        Ashamed now, clearly in pain by the way he looked at his bloody arm, the guy yelled at

her, saying something she never quite understood, threw it in drive and tore off down the street.

        Turning around, feeling slightly victorious for a change, even if she now hadn't made any

more money for the day this way, Brenda felt the burning pain of being yanked by her hair and

dragged toward the mouth of a nearby alley. "No, Julio, no!" she wailed. "That bastard was after

my ass to go both ways fer thirty damned dollars! I can't be doin' that shit! C'mon, dude, ya know

yer hurtin' me, man! Stop this shit! Ow!"

        "Got a mouth on ya, don't ya, ya li'l bitch?" Still yanking and jerking, he hauled her into

the alley and slammed Brenda up against the wall. Before she could speak, he hit her. Hard.

        That first blow landed in her soft belly, just as she expected, and just as she was still not

able to shield herself from. It always pissed her off when he began by yanking on her hair, as her

natural reaction was to grab his wrist with one hand and her hair with the other, trying to ease the

pressure on her scalp. Then, just as he always did, he'd get her off balance and position her to be

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worked over while she still had both hands occupied. The end result was always that first punch

to her belly that'd knock all the wind from her in one blow.

       She knew, after that, it was all downhill. Only able to hunch over and gasp for the air she

wouldn't be able to take in for a while, he'd start in with the rest, which he did right now. Brenda

felt his fists hammering her ribs on both sides, sending flashes of pain across her eyes and a heat

she found searingly hot through her torso. Each time a fist rammed into her was like being hit by

a baseball bat, she recollected from a hundred other beatings over the years. What made it worse

was the fact, being out of breath like this, she couldn't even beg him to stop.

       That was the only thing that'd do it, she knew only too well, but he was still going to keep

pounding until she was able to start begging him to stop hitting her. Then he did another one she

didn't even expect, slamming an uppercut into her abdomen instead of the shots to her belly she

was now guarding by pressing her elbows up against herself. The pain was a glaring red agony

swarming over her eyes and burning all the way down to her feet and up to her shoulders. Then,

when Brenda sensed she was about to pass out, knowing that wouldn't end it, either, but would

allow her to endure the remainder of the beating without knowing it, she was finally able to suck

in some air.

       Not enough, but it'd have to do at this point. "Please, Julio, please, dude! Stop whalin'

on me! Please, man, please! Don't beat on me no fuckin' more!"

       Evidently finished for the moment, Julio released the one-handed grip on her hair, which

let Brenda fall to her knees, gasping in pain and still barely able to breathe. She sucked in all the

air she could get, trying desperately to regain the ability to stand before … too late, damn it! She

felt his shoe collide with her ribs again, perhaps even breaking one or two. Brenda knew, as hard

as he could hit her with his fists, he kicked a whole lot worse.

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         "No, man! Please! Don't kick me, Julio! I'm beggin' ya, dude! Dude, don't be kickin' me

no more, okay? Please, Julio! Please!"

         He jammed his hand into the front of her blouse, yanking out the small roll of bills she'd

stashed, and stuck it in his pocket. "Ya best have twice this much when ya get yer ass done fer

th' fuckin' day, ya no-good bitch!"

         "I will, Julio! I will! I promise ya, dude! Jus' don't beat on me no more! Please! Please,

Julio, don't pound on my ass no more!"

         "Ya bes' remember what I tol' ya, bitch!" he said as he administered one final slap to the

side of her head that left a ringing in her ears. Satisfied for the moment, Julio stomped away in


         "I won't forget, ya dirty bastard," Brenda said to his retreating back and under her breath.

"All I c'n hope for's I catch yer rotten ass sometime when yer sleepin' an' I got my damned knife

in my hand. Then we'll see who's such a tough shit, ya dirty, rotten prick."

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                                       CHAPTER THREE

                                       San Diego, California

                           Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 … 7:29 p.m.

       Before you get the idea I'm some kind of "excitement junkie", as is true with most cops

and almost all wannabes as far as the police and firefighting people, I'm not. There are a whole

lot of things I can be called, but that's not on the list. Oh, and I really hope the words "bimbo"

and "slut" aren't applicable to me in your eyes, 'cause I'm really nothing like that, either.

       It's a lot more fair to say I'm a girl who likes to help people. Heck, that's a very big part

of what I enjoy about my job as a judge. I very frequently get to assist others and I find it to be

truly rewarding. So, after Cool Wind and I hatched a plan, knowing we were stepping way out of

bounds and still not giving a hoot, I sprang the "surprise" on him I have absolutely no doubt he'd

been expecting since we sat to talk.

       "I'm going with you," I told him, stopping to light a cigarette to provide a distraction so I

wouldn't be forced to look at him as I spoke.

       "You cannot," he denied. "It would be unsafe."

       "My suntanned butt! I'm going with you, Cool Wind, and that's that!"

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       Of course, I anticipated the denial as well as he was waiting for me to say I was going so

he could shut me down. It's sort of a ritual between us, and exposes something else I seem to be

very adept at doing. I can go up nose-to-nose with a guy twice my size, the man who can pretty

much always whip anyone in the place and, via my wits and guile, push him around like a herd

of sheep. Sometimes the man is practically putty in my hands. It helps the ego to know you've

got a unique talent like that one.

       We were still sitting on my patio behind the condo, a small area maybe twenty feet wide

by a dozen feet deep, with a small yard area around it, just enough to serve as my kid's potty, as

long as it isn't left uncleaned too long. My chaise longue was closer to the sliding door, with his

a yard away on my left. I turned back to watch that granite mug of his, wondering for a moment

if maybe he actually enjoys these little conflicts we have on occasion.

       Again, he shook his head. "The areas where we will seek to find this woman, and all the

people to be encountered in these places, are not as I would prefer you associate with. It would

be unsafe to take you to such places. I regret to say you cannot accompany me."

       To me, that was only a meaningless shot across my bow. I had yet to bring out my big

guns, but was prepared for it, if necessary. "Look, my friend, this is my fight, not yours. I'm the

one who has so much riding on how this comes out, not you. For that reason, if no other, I'll be

there when you meet her. At least, I want to see what's coming down so I'll know what's going

on. That's important, and you know it." I kept my eyes trained on him now. If the guy wanted

to make me bring out the HD weapons, I was ready.

       "But it is Cool Wind you have hired to do these things on your behalf. It would not be

proper that you be involved, and to think of exposing you to the risk is unacceptable."

       Alright, sucker, I told myself, you asked for it, you're gonna get it. "Well, my friend, I

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don't want to make you feel bad, but I understand the female mind far better than you can ever

even hope to do. If any of this goes south on you, my advice on scene may be crucial."

       There! I thought rather proudly. I can hit as hard as the best of 'em!

       "That may be true, but you do not know the mind of someone accustomed to such a life

and are not familiar with a woman who has been hardened, as has she."

       Hmmm? Well, it's not like the man's defenseless. After all, he is remarkably intelligent.

Still, a battle lost does not mean a war foregone. "I'll give you that but, at the end of the day, she

is still a woman. Be honest with yourself, Cool Wind, and with me. You still don't understand the

ways a woman thinks, and you know it. You need me there."

       "You have a valid point, but my thinking is very versatile and can be adapted quickly in a

time of conflict. Further," he added with a direct look from his penetrating eyes I'll admit I was

unprepared for, "it is a matter of great significance to me that the female of the species is always

protected. I intend to punish this Mendez person for his misdeeds and do not feel you are well

prepared to see what I am willing to do to the man. It will not set well with you to see all I have

in mind for his punishment."

       Okay, I concluded, this old crap's starting to get serious. I'm beginning to get the idea he

really doesn't want me to tag along with him, but I am going, dang it, no matter what he says! "I

know you must sleep at some time, since you are a human being, even if you probably are awake

at what seems like all hours. Still, have you ever heard me scream or cry out in my sleep? Do I

have terrors in the middle of the night as far as you know?"

       Hah! He had to give me that one! Unless I'm cheated on, I sleep like a darned log.

       "No," he said slowly, "I have not."

       "Well, Mr. Smarty-pants, I'll remind you I have, by this point, shot and killed two men

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and a truly deranged woman, not to mention having put bullets into almost more people than I

can count, as Angela so kindly ribs me about. If I can live through those experiences, I'm quite

sure I can deal with whatever you might do to a guy who sounds like someone where I'd almost

enjoy the moment if I ever had to shoot him." There! I congratulated myself after dropping some

of my bigger missiles on the guy. Get past that one, sucker!

       With a drawn out sigh, Cool Wind advised me, "I have no choice but to display this new

weakness I have encountered. During these brief times we have been together, I have now come

to love you very deeply as a friend, and bear the utmost admiration for your strength and all the

true courage you display. Should you lose your life, or suffer irreparable harm at any time in a

manner such as I might have avoided, I would bear extreme difficulty in finding forgiveness for

myself in my own heart."

       Well, son-of-a-gun! This guy is good in the danged clinches! Suddenly, I found myself

on the ropes, wavering a little, but I knew better than to let him see that as an opening. A man

such as Cool Wind would speed in to make the kill without hesitation. "Then you're forced to

accept the fact I've placed my trust in you and feel safe, so you'll accept this is something that

will be done better by the two of us than if only one of us goes on this mission." I let that sink in

a moment and added, "Plus, there's one other factor to be considered."

       "And that would be?" he inquired, showing me I'd now caught him off guard, as well.

       "I'm still a girl, no matter what else you might think about me, and if you don't let me go

with you, my lower lip's gonna be sticking out and I promise you, Cool Wind, I will show you a

woman pouting such as you've never seen before in your entire life. When CC Ryder doesn't get

what she wants and she goes into a serious pout, no one anywhere in the vicinity will be happy

until she stops being a total, complete brat."

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       That tremendous line drive in the late innings got me a rare reward. I was then blessed

with only the second smile I've ever seen on the man's face. It was only there for a flash and it

was gone. "Very well," he told me. "We will take my car and I will drive."

       Remembering how the old beat up Mazda he drives fits into those locales so much nicer

than my BMW convertible, even if he does drive a big Cadillac back on "The Rez", I gave in, but

still took a parting shot. "Well, Cool Wind, if you absolutely must be a male chauvinist pig,

there isn't much I can do to stop you, is there?"

       "No," he agreed, his always serious demeanor back in play, "there is not." With that, he

got up and went to the sliding door, where I won yet another battle.

       I came to my feet and he was forced by being the gentleman he is at heart to wait for me

so he could get the door on my behalf. Don't mess with me, dude! I reflected proudly. I'll go to

the mat if I have to! Don't you ever mess around with CC Ryder! My philosophy is, if you have

a weapon, use the danged thing, and I did.


       Being honest, I have to tell you there were two more skirmishes in our little battle of new

good friends setting boundaries, and we split evenly again on those two. Cool Wind insisted if I

was in that area without "dressing down" and … don't let this one catch you by surprise so badly

it makes you upchuck … "hiding all my beauty", there'd be far too much trouble. Oh, puke! I am

not some danged raving beauty! I'm just CC, but I gave in 'cause I care for him, too.

       Off I went to my bedroom, digging out the nastiest pair of plain white slacks I had and an

old orange T-shirt. Too bad, CC, was the impression I felt when I came back down and saw the

look of disapproval on his face. So, when I asked him what the heck was wrong with the danged

thing, he only lowered his eyes to my chest and shook his head despairingly.

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       I swear, I spun around and flounced up those dang stairs like a spoiled teenage brat, and I

haven't flounced since I was one! So, figuring I could outsmart the man at his own game … hey,

I may call myself a girl most of the time, but I am a woman, so it's in my genes … I came back

down those stairs knowing I was ready to go. I had on an older bluish-gray jump suit with full

sleeves, zipper pockets over each boobie, and a single zipper from the crotch to my throat. I was

already gloating to myself, Find something wrong with this one, you big bozo! when I arrived at

the ground floor, and I'll be darned if he didn't!

       Cool Wind stepped over to where I stood at the bottom of the stairs, his keen eyes doing

as appraisal of my outfit with every step, then he secured a handful of all my long hair, now low

enough to cover those zipper pockets. "Too attractive. Change it somehow."

       Ergo, off goes CC with her lower lip beginning to jut. I made it upstairs and was back in

three minutes with a ponytail. Find something wrong with that, sucker! I thought as I bounced

from step to step, ready to leave now that we'd finished all our foolishness.

       "This does not sufficiently hide or contain all your incredible beauty," he said matter-of-

factly when I presented myself. "You must change it, still."

       Grrrrr! I told myself as I stomped back up those stairs, making sure my jogging shoe hit

hard on each step. If I get one more doggoned compliment out of this yahoo, I'm gonna smack

him one! Finally, tucking it all into a bun and using hair clips to hold it in place, I rammed a

blue San Diego Padres cap down on it and hotfooted it back down those dratted stairs. If this

isn't all you need, pal, TFB! Too freakin' bad! I've just about had it with all these "you're so

beautiful" pieces of crap you're feeding me! Take this or leave it!

       I'm quite sure there was a fire smoldering in my eyes when I reached him, but he gave in,

finally. "There is still too much of your beauty to be seen, but time is of the essence. Let us go."

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       Therefore, over-complimented to a point I was now almost ready to regurgitate the lunch

I never got around to eating today, I followed him to his ratty little Mazda and got in. We headed

to the vicinity he'd been told Brenda would be working when I won my skirmish … sort of.

       As we discussed it during the ride, how he'd be moving fast and loose while he searched

for her, and he added she may be in and out of cars doing her work, so to speak, so he may have

to cover the same ground more than once before finding her. I was then easily able to convince

him to drop me off so I could follow him on foot, walking a block or so behind him.

       Cool Wind didn't like it, not at all, but he had to admit it made sense in light of where we

were and what we'd be doing. Then fate caught up with me once again, like it always seems to

do. The lunch I never ate, added to the breakfast I skipped, largely because of the hangover that

was mostly gone by now, plus seeing Hug die and killing that female maniac, was made clear by

this point. With all my attention and interest focused on something new, something apart from all

the rest, I was hungry again.

       He may have given in to me after we traded all those punches in our other encounter, but

there's no way Cool Wind was going to let me wander around a block or more behind him after

he saw this total zoo. Not at this time of day, after dark, and with all the scuzbags milling on the

sidewalks and teeming in and out of bars and liquor stores. Not a chance.

       So, as good friends and colleagues are so prone to do, we compromised.

       He parked and locked the car by a curb on a side street only a hundred feet or so off the

street we'd be on and walked fifty feet behind me until I reached the taco shop I'd noticed as we

went past. With my promise I wouldn't leave until he came to get me, and his sworn oath not to

do anything that mattered in this expedition of espionage, we parted ways at the taco shop door.

       He was immediately off in flight, replicating a well seasoned bird dog released from the

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leash at the edge of a cornfield. There's a lot of birds in this place and I'm gonna go get 'em! It

was a cry exuding from the expression on his face. No harebrained women to tie me down now,

I am in the hunt! Almost enough to bring a tear to my eye … not!

       So, figuring I had some time to kill, maybe thirty minutes to an hour, I went in and got a

light meal. Just a burrito, some tortilla chips and a soft drink. Then I went back outside to use a

small wooden picnic table near the front window. That way, I wouldn't be forced to stay inside,

where it was a lot warmer than I prefer, and I could have a ciggie when I was done eating. It's not

a good idea to sit around in all that warmth when you have even a trace of a hangover, and that

lulu I'd been working on all day was still more than a trace.

       I'd only finished maybe a third of the burrito and a few chips, and was taking the first sip

of my drink, when I sensed someone drawing near. I looked up and to my right to see a guy who

was maybe 30, 32, in there, five-ten, 175 tops, with dirty tan slacks and a sleeveless black T-shirt

that showed numerous tattoos on both arms. On his upper left shoulder I saw an image of a cat's

head with a cigarette in its mouth, then some odd design on the biceps with a lot of light green in

it, and a large gear or sprocket of some kind on the left forearm. The right forearm bore a really

disgusting pic of a guy lying on his back, looking toward me with a totally goofy expression and

a woman's form with her face in his crotch doing whatever you may care to guess she had in

mind. As far as I was concerned, the tattoo was as revolting as the guy wearing it. His black

hair was about six inches long, parted a touch from the middle on his left, and it hung down an

inch or two more on his right than his left. The black beard was an inch or so long with a Fu

Manchu moustache and a thin strip of hair in the center of his chin running down from the lip.

       He was exactly what middle age fathers see in their nightmares as the guy their daughter

will one day bring home to meet dad. Scary. Definitely not worth the price of the powder needed

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to blow him to hell in one trip. "Hey, mama, you lookin' hot!" he announced, classifying himself

as a junior varsity lounge lizard with hopes of one day turning pro.

         Looking away, hoping he'd just leave, my code of honor and ethics chose to remind me

it's not in my nature to be intentionally rude unless that's what the situation calls for. To date, all

I knew was he was a pig who didn't bathe regularly, had no taste at all in clothing, and was so far

out of touch he actually must believe those tats made him look good. I tried to make myself seem

noncommittal, and all I wanted to do was to make him go away. Quickly.

         "It's not all that warm by this time of day," I replied, dipping a chip in the little container

of salsa and munching it with my gaze still on the table.

         "No, baby, I mean you lookin' hot! Like you a fine piece o' ass, er somethin'."

         Keeping in mind he comes from another culture, and more than likely felt he was giving

me a compliment, I quelled my urge to backhand him in the nuts. However, I wanted to stop it all

here and now, so I told him glibly, "I'm not hot." Then I took a bite of my burrito and decided, If

this big ol' yucca plant doesn't take the hint pretty dang quick, I'll simply start chewing with my

mouth open and gross him out. As my grandma used to say, that's where thought'll get you.

         Nicely heading me off at the pass, he sat on the other bench, facing me, popped one of

my chips in his mouth and began chewing, his maw wide open half the time.

         I suddenly felt like Snidely Whiplash, the born nemesis of Dudley Do-Right, the Royal

Canadian Mountie, who was always saying, "Curses! Foiled again!" Appalled at once, I said,

"Please, I'm eating," then looked down at my chips. "And leave your darn hands off my food."

         "Hey, ain't you the mean little bitch," he said with much less humor or savoir faire at this


         "Not when I tell someone to mind their manners," I told him as I looked up with what I'm

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sure was pure annoyance on my face. "I am sorta mean whenever I do this, though," I added as I

tossed what was left of my drink in his face and sprang to my feet. "No one better ever call me a

bitch, mister, and you'd better learn to watch your mouth if you know what's good for you!"

       He, too, came to his feet. There was a devil in his eyes. A mean, cruel streak that told

me I'd just stepped over a line he didn't allow any more than I'd let someone get away with

calling me that vile name. "You're gonna pay for that one, ya fuckin' bitch-slut!" he seethed at

me as he moved to come around the table. "I'm gonna beat yer fuckin' ass right out here so's

ever'body c'n see what happens when a bitch gets nasty with Julio Mendez!"

       "And I'll put a hole in you big enough to disguise what an asshole you are if you dare take

even one more step in my direction," I replied in a return hiss. The .380 Beretta was in my hand

at waist level, facing him at four feet away, trained on his chest. "You're about one apology

away from being a dead man, mister."

       "You ain't got th' balls t' shoot me, ya bitch," he sneered. His brown eyes flitting rapidly

in all directions gave proof to the fact he wasn't sure he believed what he'd just told me.

       With my eyes locked on his, I said, "If they could talk to you, mister, the three people I've

shot dead would tell you how wrong you are."

       "Three? Zat all?" he scoffed, his bravado all verbal, none of it in his cowardly eyes, that

gateway into one's soul. "Shit, I done killed more'n that, ya bitch."

       "If you call me a bitch one more time, scumbag, I'll get a chance to catch up with you and

pass by whatever number you want to say you've killed since, countin' you, that'll make four." To

add emphasis, I jacked a round into the chamber. "Say you're sorry, you prick, or I'll shoot you

dead where you stand and swear you threatened to kill me."

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       After glaring at me another couple moments, evidently not seeing anything he wanted to

get at or try with me and the Beretta, he muttered, "Sorry," then turned and walked away.

       I watched his back for around fifty feet, reset the safety and put the gun in my purse. As

soon as I did, I sat again. My knees were quivering like crazy and I wasn't hungry any longer.

       It was only a minute or so later when Cool Wind took a seat on the same side that guy

was using. "Do you know who you just faced down?" he asked me, a serious look on his face.

       "Julio Mendez, he told me," I said, managing not to allow my voice to quaver.

       "Yes. A very bad man, as I understand it."

       "Yeah? Well, he's not so danged tough then, I guess, is he?"

       "Maybe, maybe not. We shall see." He stood, then leaned forward and patted my hand

on the table with one of his gigantic meat hooks. "But you are." Then he winked at me. "Come.

I have located her."

       Standing, I followed him on wobbly pins that made me so glad I wore a one-piece outfit

with pant legs to hide my condition. He let me get next to him and I walked at his side for three

blocks, then he told me to cross at the traffic light and stay on the other side of the street. He said

she'd be working the next corner and pointed her out to me so I'd know who to watch when I was

closer. He also cautioned me to say nothing and to make sure I didn't watch the girl for more

than a few seconds at a time, adding "street people" have an innate sense to tell them when

someone's looking continuously. He advised me we didn't want to make the woman nervous.

       Too scared to argue at this point, I merely nodded and did as he suggested.

       When I arrived at the corner there was a liquor store at that end of the block with two big

windows. Although there were black steel bars in each to prevent anyone getting inside, the glass

made a reflection that allowed me to pretend I was reading the signs posted there and looking in

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the store, perhaps as a customer. That reflection also allowed me to see the car that pulled in to

park at the curb directly behind me, and the guy who called out, "Hey baby?" and waved an arm.

       My stomach initially knotted up when I heard it, but relaxed some moments later when I

saw him motioning to someone across the street. There were four women on the opposite corner

when he waved, a black girl, a Mexicana, and two white girls, a redhead and a blonde. They all

looked at him at once, so he added, "Hey, Blondie, c'mere."

       The one Cool Wind pointed out as Brenda Dalworth stepped into the street after looking

for traffic, then sauntered across in what I assumed was meant to be an arousing gait. She then

ducked her head low and spoke into the window with the guy for maybe a minute. Long enough

for Cool Wind to reach this side of the street in his long strides to stand on the curb watching her

as she spoke too low to be heard.

       Finally Brenda stood and said a little bit louder, "Baby, in your price range, ya ain't even

gonna get no fries with that burger at Mickey D's. For that kinda money, I won't even give ya a

damned hand job. Maybe ya bes' jus' run on home t' yer wife an' see can't ya talk her inta tryin'

some new dirty shit with ya, okay?" Then she flashed him a smile that translated to say, You're

also too danged stupid to live and turned to go back across the street.

       That's when Cool Wind broke in with, "Miss? A moment of your time?"

       Brenda turned, looked him over, and meandered back toward him, a suspicious and wary

look on her face. "A moment's 'bout all yer gonna git fer freebies, stud. Whatcha up to?"

       "I wish to speak with you in private."

       Again, her eyes went up and down him. She sneered and turned halfway around. "Naw,

I ain't int'rested in talkin' t' no cop. Why'n't ya go arrest some fuckin' criminals an' leave my ass

alone, huh?"

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       "I am not a police officer," he assured her.

       Brenda turned and took two steps back, still standing a half dozen feet or so in the street.

"An' I c'n get that shit from ya in writin', I bet, can't I?" Scorn dripped from every word.

       Twice I managed a peek over my right shoulder and it didn't seem to distract Brenda at

all when I did, but I did most of my looking at the reflections in the window.

       "I am now a convicted felon," he told her. "I can never be a policeman, but I am a bounty

hunter for many Native Indian bands."

       "Uh-huh," she said, scoping him out again. "Okay, I guess ya ain't no fuckin' cop. So, if

ya ain't a cop, whatcha lookin' for down here, huh?"

       "As I said, a moment of your time in private."

       "Yeah, it's always gotta be in private." Once more up and down his big body. "Ya hung

like some kinda fuckin' horse, are ya? That's extra, ya know."

       "I do not wish to purchase your sexual favors."

       "Really? Then what th' fuck'm I standin' here talkin' t' ya for? I got shit t' do, dude." She

started to turn around again.

       "I will pay you," he said in that same quiet voice, removing a $100 bill from his pocket

and holding it so she could see it.

       "Ya wanna pay me an' ya don't want no sex? Look, dude, I don't do no animal acts, so if

yer lookin' t' git yer fuckin' German shepherd some action, ya come t' the wrong whore, okay?"

       "No sex of any kind," he said quietly. "You will not be required to remove any garments,

nor will you need to touch anyone in any way, or let anyone touch you. I merely wish to speak

in private for five minutes. Nothing more."

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        "Yeah, sure. Look, dude, I was thinkin' I'd heard all th' weird shit by now, but this's gotta

be as bad as any I ever heard. 'Sides, how'm I s'posed to know if that Franklin's even legit?"

        Calmly, without a flourish, he tore it in half and extended one piece to her. "Take a look

and see if it's real."

        Still wary, she came bit closer, reminding me of a duck accepting a piece of bread, then

darted away a yard or so and looked it over. Holding it up so she could see it in the light, Brenda

told him, "Okay, this's real shit. What've I gotta do t' git th' other half?"

        "Meet me in the alley two blocks down next to the Laundromat in two hours. I will give

you the other half for five minutes of conversation, no more. Then you will be free to leave, if

that is your choice."

        "Maybe I'll be there, maybe I won't," she told him with no smile before she turned to go

back to her regular post.

        "Do you truly wish to be off the streets for good?" he taunted to her disappearing back.

        Brenda stopped in a traffic lane, glancing both ways to be sure no cars were coming her

way. "Like, who th' fuck don't wanna be outa this place?"

        "If so, you will be there in two hours," he advised, turning his back on her this time and

heading away on the sidewalk.

        I watched her follow him a moment with her eyes, shrug, turn and continue toward the

spot she had across the road. Then I kept my head down and followed Cool Wind.

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                                      CHAPTER FOUR

                                      San Diego, California

                          Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 … 8:47 p.m.

       It took me almost a minute to catch up with Cool Wind, who was walking faster than he

normally does, and I called his name when we were a full block away, but all he did was slow

the pace a little. Playing along with it, even if I had no idea why, I fell in step with him … for

about ten yards. Then I began trotting, realizing there's no way in the world my legs, pretty to

look at or not, would ever keep pace with this guy when he was bookin' along like this.

       Finally, when he turned a corner, he came to a stop. "I did not want her to see us talking

in the event she was still looking. She cannot perceive of any connection between us until you

make a decision on what you have in mind."

       Okay, dang it, that's it! I am tired of having my mind read by someone else and not even

getting a report on it. I grabbed the sleeve of his tan windbreaker, reaching up to get a handful of

it from above his elbow. "Hang loose, dude," I said as I yanked on his coat. "What, exactly, is it

you think I have in mind?"

       He looked me over, much as if we'd just met and he was wondering how long it would

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take him to kill me, and if I'd be able to put up any kind of a fight. Apparently satisfied he could

put me away with nothing more taxing than a hard sneeze, he spoke. "You wish to know her true

intentions and delve into her background, particularly her emotions. You wish to know what she

has as unfulfilled goals and what she will do to reach them. If she is what you deem serious in

her intentions, you wish to assist her in removing herself from what you deem a sordid life and it

will make you feel better to know you have provided unexpected opportunity and relief to this

woman you believe has given up hope. Further, you are considering offering her a place to live

in your own home and are still working out in your mind the best way to inform me of your new

decision, believing I will ridicule you for what you wish to do."

       For about half a minute, all I could do was look at him. Then, frustrated and feeling very

naked and naïve, I replied, "Incorrect."

       "Those are not your thoughts?" he asked almost scornfully.

       Another ten seconds of dead air and I told him, "Okay, incomplete, then."

       "In what manner?"

       "I was also wondering if she can cook worth a darn, and if she'd settle for only using the

main bathroom on the second floor. I don't want anyone else using mine."

       Then, surprising me yet again in that he actually can be sardonic and even display a wry

sense of humor, Cool Wind shook his head and muttered, "And I thought I had it all figured out.

I am a fool, it would appear."

       "Yeah, well don't go taking me for granted like that, okay?"

       "I will work on it," he promised sarcastically, letting me twist in the wind some more as I

stood watching him, once again feeling dumber than your average rock. He changed expressions,

making me think his face had a quick change facility that most people will never attain and told

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me, "Now we will find Julio Mendez. You may accompany me, staying one-hundred feet behind

at all times. When I locate him, I will remove this," he told me, touching the brim of his black

cowboy hat, "scratch my head and put it back on. At that point, you will take up a station nearby

where you will be close at hand and can see what develops, but be certain you maintain access at

all times to your weapon."

       That one surprised me. "Are you afraid he'll get the best of you and I'll need to step in?"

       "No." Placidly. Said as if any fool would realize my question was wrong.

       "You're afraid his friends will also jump you and you'll need backup?"

       "No." Same display of attitude and demeanor.

       "Well, what, then? If you want me to keep my gun handy, but you don't expect I'll need

to shoot him or his buddies, why do you want me to be ready? To do what?"

       "If I am unable to stop the beating and it appears likely I may kill Mendez, either use the

weapon as a club to slow me down, or fire a shot in the air to distract me. I feel a compulsion to

hurt him rather severely."

       Mustering up the most serious expression I could apply to my face, I said, "Stupid me. I

was thinking that might be why."

       Cool Wind did a brief double take, then said quietly, "You were also correct, in that I do

not approve of your intentions."

       "What? Which one, assuming you're still reading my blankety-blank mind, do you not

yet approve?"

       "Many," he said, "particularly you providing her lodging."

       "Oh, yeah? Why is that?" Dang it, I think it's bad enough when a guy can just read my

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bleepin' mind, but turning me down when it was my idea in the first place … particularly when I

wasn't yet aware I'd even gotten that far in the thought process … sort of ticks me off!

          "The woman is a street person. She has learned by some very hard lessons never to trust

anyone and to use anyone who tries to help her only to her best advantage, then move on. She is

past the time of being able to show loyalty to anyone else because she is no longer able, after all

she has suffered, to believe anyone will offer her anything without a hidden catch. She is now a

wild animal in every sense and I remain unconvinced you, or anyone else, can tame her."

          We stared at each other a while, long enough I was beginning to fear I'd get a crick in my

neck, until I said, "Bring 'er on, Cool Wind. I'm gonna ride that bronc 'til she's tamed."

          Following one more long look from him that said he clearly didn't channel with me and

had his doubts about my lucidity, he shook his head again and muttered, "We must go." Then he

took off, those long legs of his covering ground like a steeplechase horse, with me trotting most

of the time to keep up. After a block or so, he noticed, shook his head again, and slowed down a


          I maintained the required distance, stopping when he did and pretending to window shop

until he moved again. It went on that way for an hour or more, with Cool Wind stopping from

time to time to question people, then move on again, occasionally changing directions after he'd

spoken with someone. Finally, he stopped at a bar, looked inside, came back out and approached

me as I stood waiting on the sidewalk. "He is inside. Use that alley to go around in the back," he

instructed me as he pointed to it. "I will bring him out the back door in a moment."

          Taking the man at his word, checking the Beretta in my purse as I scurried back through

the alley, I found a place to stand and hide in the back. There was an old car, a Ford I think, over

by the wall of the next building. A tall stack of boxes, the kind used to deliver beer, was piled by

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the wall at the rear bumper of the car. The registration sticker I saw on the rear license plate of

the old Ford, backed in by the mouth of the alley next to the bar, was two years old, leading me

to believe it wasn't being used any longer. I took up a spot near the wall behind the boxes, then

adjusted 'em so I could see out but no one would see me as I stood there watching.

        Only about a minute later I saw the same guy I pulled my gun on, Julio Mendez, step out

the back door to the bar, talking as he emerged. "Ain't no problem, dude. No sweat at all. I can

get ya a piece in a couple-three hours, tops. Ya want a nine, no sweat. A .45, even, or maybe get

ya a 10mm, like a Glock? Jus' tell me what ya want … an' keep in mind, pre-paid's the only way

it's ever comin' down. Ya want a nine, like I said, three hunnert, up front."

        Facing Mendez when he stopped and turned to resume bargaining, Cool Wind announced

in his customary quiet, but still very scary, voice, "I spoke untruthfully in the bar. I do not wish

to purchase a handgun."

        With the conversation suddenly going off in a brand-new direction, one he didn't seem to

want, Mendez scratched his head and looked up at Cool Wind. A long way up, almost a foot.

"If ya don' want no damned piece, dude, whatcha draggin' my ass all the fuckin' way out here


        "We will speak of Brenda Dalworth," Cool Wind said casually, but still with a underlying

tone that would've terrified me if he said it to me.

        "My whore? Why? Ya know th' bitch, er what?"

        "I do, but that is neither here nor there. You are finished being a pimp, as of this minute.

You will release her and any other girls you use in that fashion and will never be a procurer for

any other women. This is a non-negotiable matter and I will accept no answer but your full and

total agreement. It is so. I have spoken."

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       "Yeah? Well, who gives a fuck? Lissen up, dude, ya ain't comin' 'round here an' tellin'

me shit, ya dig? Julio Mendez does what he fuckin' well wants t' do, an' ain't you, and ain't no

other motherfu—"

       Without any hesitation, Cool Wind swatted him on the side of the mouth with his right

hand, hitting so hard that when Mendez turned and began jogging half bent over to his right, an

actual tooth was spat from his mouth as he took that first step. Even as Mendez half danced and

half trotted toward the other side of the old Ford, Cool Wind was walking after him in pursuit.

As he collided head-on with the front fender, Cool Wind was there to grab him and hoist the man

up off the ground. Holding him by that long hair, Cool Wind backhanded him with a hard left,

then swung it viciously left to right, making a loud crack when his palm landed on the cheek.

       Mendez tried to say something from an already very bloody mouth, but stopped when a

massive left hand landed on his belly with a savage jab, creating an outpouring of what had to be

all the oxygen in the man's lungs. He was brought up from that headlong charge when Cool

Wind hoisted him erect to stand almost straight, changed hands to hold Mendez up with the left,

and punched him directly in the mouth.

       Now spitting teeth like a mouthful of popcorn when he suddenly had to cough, Mendez

sank to the ground and steadied himself on his hands and knees. He was still trying to remain in

balance when that right cowboy boot went whistling toward his ribs. I heard a cracking sound as

it landed and saw Mendez's mouth open wide as he tumbled sideways, delivering what I know

was meant to be a banshee wail that came out with no sound. Breathless yet, and still a long way

from breathing in and out again, the man was now a crippled mime wearing a mask of horror to

testify he had no idea pain could be so hurtful. Had I not known what he is and how much agony

he'd caused so many others, I may even have felt sorry for him, but I got past that part easily.

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       Standing over the man too beaten and ravaged to even grovel, still unable to speak as he

was finally nearing the point he could inhale again, Cool Wind made a proclamation. "You will

release all the women under your control and never … it is imperative you hear me now … you

will never engage in these practices again. If you do, this will be but a mild punishment when

compared to what will happen if you evoke my anger again. You will meet me in an hour at the

Laundromat next to Wally's Used Cars where we will make the severance of the relationship you

have with Brenda Dalworth complete. Unless you want me to kick you again, nod your head to

tell me you understand."

       When his head began moving like he was bobbing for apples, Cool Wind spat on him and

added, "Should you not arrive as I have instructed you, alone and on time, your next punishment

will be even more severe." He stood by watching when Mendez finally made the first desperate

gasp of air and I somehow knew he very much wanted to kick him one more time before he left,

but Cool Wind managed to contain the urge.

       He turned, looked my way as if I was standing in the open looking at him, and motioned I

should use the alley to reach the street again. Then he entered the bar by the backdoor and let it

swing closed without him pulling on it.

       I gulped and hurried down the alley to meet him.

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                                      CHAPTER FIVE

                                     San Diego, California

                           Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 … 9:39 p.m.

       For about three minutes, we walked and said nothing. I wasn't sure if Cool Wind wanted

to talk and, after what I'd just seen, I was in no mood to provoke the man. We reached another

taco shop that wasn't materially any different than the other one and he suggested I sit at a round

metal table out front by pointing at it. When I did, he went in unhurriedly and returned maybe

two minutes later with a can of Dr. Pepper in each hand. Giving me one, he sat in a chair by the

side that would allow him to see anyone approaching from any direction, then sighed. "I told

you I wanted to hurt that man. I regret you witnessed it."

       "No, really, that's okay," I told him, leaning forward some and placing the tips of all four

fingers of my right hand on his left wrist, the one holding his drink. "That's okay. I wonder if I

can ask why you seemed to have so much hatred for him. I hope I'm not being too danged nosy,

but I'd really like to know."

       For an agonized moment, he said nothing. Just stared off into space and, for the first time

since I met the man, I knew he was seeing nothing around us. Instead, he was gazing deeply into

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yesteryear and watching something from a time long ago past, possibly even forgotten now by all

but him. Then, as if he'd gotten a cue from the director saying he was on stage, Cool Wind

began to speak. "I had a younger sister I loved very much. Ten years my junior. Tomaiyowit

was her Indian name, meaning Earth Mother. She lived on 'The Rez' until she was fifteen, then

one night she left. Just ran away. It took even me a month to find her."

       His head turned quickly and he tried to look away in time, but not fast enough to avoid

me seeing a solitary tear from his left eye emerge on his cheek. Like the man it came from, the

bead of liquid was strong enough to resist the force of gravity and didn't trickle down his face.

As his head turned away I saw it clinging defiantly to his skin, too proud to fall, too powerful to

be toppled, too adamant to be forced away. Instead, it stood guard, silently daring anyone to be

foolish enough to attack and attempt to wipe it off.

       Seconds later his right hand rose, neared his face and wiped away the only sign I'd seen

thus far of weakness in this man of any kind. Oddly enough, all it did was convince me he had

far more strength within him than I had any reason to believe was in the man. Him, or any other

I'd ever known, for that matter.

       Now he faced me again. "A white boy from up the coast by San Clemente had convinced

her to run away with him. He gave her drugs and she was very quickly made an addict, willing

to do anything he told her so she could get the drugs he offered her." To my surprise, his voice

broke for a moment, but he cleared his throat and resumed talking. "She died of a drug overdose

a few more miles up the coast in a dingy motel room after 'servicing' that boy and three of his


       A smut film started running inside my head, portraying itself in my mind's eye, scripted

only by imagination of what those four pigs did back in Michigan when they raped Chelsea and

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me and did those horrible things to Baker, the first man I ever loved. I saw them all having their

way with me, laughing and drinking as they abused me in ways I never would've imagined were

even possible, destroying my female organs and killing a sweet young girl in the balance. All I

wanted to do at this moment was hear how Cool Wind had killed the lowlife bastard who once

did pretty much the same thing to a baby sister he obviously cherished.

       "Did you kill him?" I asked quietly, fiercely looking forward to a violent and bloody end

to the life of someone not worthy of sharing oxygen with the rest of us.

       Cool Wind shook his head sadly. "I would have, but I could not. He had other girls in

his stable who were also working for him as prostitutes." That last wood slithered out of his

mouth, as if it had numerous mossy rocks to emerge from and the roadway was difficult to

traverse. As it came to my ears it stank of vile disgust, tainted that way as it crossed the big

man's lips. "One of them was already a friend of my sister, whom we all called Tommie. She

was left aghast … no, it was much more than that … she was both horrified and disgusted by

Tommie's death, and so she did something about it."

       He gulped quietly, an intermission before the final act. "She slashed his throat one night

as he slept and then, as he scrambled to jump from the bed, perhaps to seek medical aid or to get

help somehow, she pushed him back atop the bed and sliced his testicles from his body." A new

note of victory coated his next words. "She jammed them into his mouth and held her hand on it

until he was forced to chew them as he died while trying to get air into his lungs."

       "The way you did to that guy we were chasing in the motel room?"

       He nodded in agreement.

       "Wh-wh-wh-what happened … to her, I mean? Did she get away?"

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       "Yes, she made it to 'The Rez' and now can never leave. If she does, she knows she will

be arrested for murder and receive a death sentence."

       "That's … why, Cool Wind, that's horrible! She's still staying there with your people?"

       He only nodded again.

       "Is someone, um, is someone … you know? … taking care of her?"

       Again, he nodded. A moment later he added, "I am."

       I had to mull that a few seconds, then said, "That's very kind of you. You take care of her

because she avenged Tommie, is that it?"

       "In part," he said quietly, "and in part because she is my wife. She uses my name and no

one in authority knows she is there."

       It was now a moment in time stolen from Simon and Garfield, The Sounds of Silence, and

I promised him, "I won't ever tell anyone."

       "I know that," he assured me, standing and crumpling his empty can. "When you finish

your drink, we will walk."

       I gulped that sucker like I was in a chugging contest and handed him the can, which he

made seem out of paper as he demolished it in his grip. Then we began walking, me with my

hands in the pockets at my waist, him with his eyes scouring every nook and cranny of each

place we walked past.

       A block before we were to meet Brenda, he instructed me to walk behind him, suggesting

only fifty feet this time so he'd be sure he could get to me if anything happened or I was placed

in danger in any way. I fell back and watched him stride along toward the alley where they were

to meet. As we approached I saw Brenda pacing back and forth, inhaling nervously on her latest

cigarette and blowing the smoke out hard, as if it offended her somehow. Her eyes darted back

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and forth to her wrist, where I assumed she kept a watch, then came up and scanned the area all

around her, as if seeking to find someone. Or something.

       All her mannerisms suggested she was ready to say to heck with it and leave, but when

she saw Cool Wind nearing her, she stopped and watched him, saying nothing for a moment.

       I drew near, then stopped at an auto parts store and scanned the windows a while, doing

some birthday shopping for my favorite mechanic, perhaps, if anyone asked me. Which didn't

happen. I saw Cool Wind's hand come out of his pocket with the remainder piece of that $100

bill. He handed it to her and said, "Thank you for coming."

       "I said I might," she told him, drawing almost fearfully on the cigarette, then flipping the

butt into the street and watching his face. "Okay, whatcha want with me? This oughta be good."

       "It will be," he promised, still scanning the street around them. "I gave instructions for a

gift to be delivered to you at this location. It would appear the delivery is late."

       "Yeah? What kinda gift's that, dude?"

       "Your freedom. That is what you wish, is it not?"

       "Fuck, yeah, but it ain't gonna happen." The words sounded unnecessarily dismal.

       "Why do you say that?"

       "Well, fer starters, ya'd have t' clear it with Julio, an' he jus' ain't sellin', ya know what I

mean?" Now she snorted heatedly. "The fucker rents me out a lot, that's fer damned sure, but

ain't no way he's sellin'. Not 'less you got one helluva lot o' money, that is." Another snort, this

one even more pronounced. "Shit, even if it came down that way, what's in it fer me? Only if

it'd mean, as big as ya are, ya might kill me one o' t' times ya was beatin' my ass silly, meanin' all

this shit'd be done with faster. That's all I can see as a upside." She got out another cigarette and

lit it. "That what ya got in mind, dude? Buyin' me off'n Julio like some fuckin' slave, maybe?"

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       "No. This will all be put behind you. In the future, you will not be forced to do all these

things you find so vulgar." He took a deep breath and stood erect, making him seem more like

he was seven feet tall instead of six-five. "You made an effort to assist someone recently when

you thought she was one of you, a working girl, to get out of an automobile that was wrecked."

       Brenda eyed him warily. "How'd ya know about that shit, an' what's it t' you?"

       "I know the woman you tried to assist. She is my friend, and is not a working girl, as you

thought to be the case."

       "Yer friend, huh? What's she do?"

       "That is immaterial at this point. She wishes to meet with you but, for reasons I cannot

go into, it cannot be face to face. However, she may be able to be of great help to you, and you

to her, if you cooperate."

       "Yeah? Meanin' I do what, exactly?"

       "Meet with us in the park on a bench so we can sit in proximity to each other and I will

explain what is needed. In return, even if you say no, you will be given another $100 bill for

your time and trouble."

       "Can't do it," she told him, shaking her head. "Julio's gonna want my ass out in th' damn

street all fuckin' day an' all night. Much as he beats on me now, as it is, if he thought I was doin'

some shit like that, he'd pound th' piss outa me, fer sure." Then she looked across the street and

her face went pale. "Som'bitch, there he is! I gotta run!" Brenda whirled and raced off into the

alley with Cool Wind on her heels yelling, "Wait!"

       He chased after her, his footfalls disappearing into a void of quietude.

       When she discovered the alley stopped around a hundred and fifty feet later at the back of

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a building with a locked door, she turned around in anger and anguish. "Now look what ya done,

ya dumb fuck, I'm trapped!"

        I'd seen the reflection in the window as Mendez, badly damaged and limping as if he was

better off at an ER than out here, hurried across the street after stepping out of a store to head in

the direction of Cool Wind and Brenda. He now had six semi-clones at his side, three on the left,

three on the right. All well muscled and looking very mean and angry, they had my friend and

that woman cut off from any escape. My hand went into the purse, flicked off the safety, and I

followed, allowing them to enter the darker parts of this manmade gully and get out of view of

anyone passing by.

        Somehow it seemed to be our O.K. Corral, but I didn't feel like a female Wyatt Earp, not

by any means.

        The gang approached the two who now waited at the far end without any place to go and

Mendez said, "Now yer gonna pay, motherfucker. Yer gonna die, an' yer gonna get th' beatin' o'

yer shitty life, ya rotten li'l bitch."

        Somehow I sensed it before I heard anything, then I felt it as Donnie Oldrunner and three

similar young men raced wordlessly past me, rushing into the darkness ahead of us and getting to

within a couple yards of Cool Wind's attackers before being heard. As they charged in from the

rear, Cool Wind rushed his attackers from the other side. I've heard a street fight is normally all

done in 60-90 seconds, but this one didn't use anything close to that much time. Not any more

than 15 seconds later, Donnie and his friends stood with their backs to me, but between Mendez

and the street. On the other side were Cool Wind and Brenda, and that mountain of a man told

him, "It is now you will tell this woman she is free. Say it. Now."

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       Sensing doom was upon him, but he'd be required to walk barefoot through hell first to

get there, Mendez asked, "Brenda, baby, tell that big fucker t' go away, huh?"

       She shook her head. "I ain't sayin' shit t' nobody, dude. Ya got yer ass inta this, ya c'n

get it out, too. Leave me the fuck outa all this shit."

       "Tell her," Cool Wind ordered in a cold voice that promised Mendez had never before

had a chance to know real pain the way he would learn it now if he disobeyed.

       "Yeah, okay," he said in a suddenly screechy voice. "You an' me's quits now, Brenda.

Ya can go anywheres ya wanna an' do anything ya want. Don't matter t' me at all."

       Cool Wind asked her, "How many others work for him?"

       "Two," she said with awe in her voice. "Sheila an' Candy."

       "They are free as well, am I correct?" he asked Mendez, his voice now carrying a deep

rumble that made me think of an angry bear looking at an intruder to his winter den.

       "Yeah. No sweat. They c'n haul ass, too, if they wanna."

       "No, not if they wish. You will set them free. Tell them yourself."

       "That's what I meant," Mendez insisted.

       "Now I will fulfill my promise," Cool Wind explained as he started walking slowly in the

direction of the terrified pimp emeritus.

       "No fuckin' way, dude!" screamed Mendez. He turned, looked at Donnie and the others

and muttered, "Aw, fuck!"

       That's when Cool Wind reached him, threw the man against the wall on Cool Wind's

right and waded in. He must've thrown twenty punches in only three or four seconds, each one

echoed by the sound of something breaking or coming apart. When he finished, Cool Wind

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stepped back and said, "If you ever work as a pimp again, I promise you a very slow and painful


          Then he faced Brenda and gave her another bill when he reached her as she gawked.

          "That's it?" she asked, mesmerized. "I don't gotta trick fer that asshole no more?"

          "You are free now," he said paternally. "Use this money, take a cab and get a motel room

for the night. Meet us tomorrow at the park at one o'clock."

          "No problem, dude. I'll be there." She kept her eyes on Mendez as she stepped around

him, careful to touch nothing, then minced her steps and gawked as she passed the other pieces

of carnage in the alley. When she reached the mouth of it, she spun to her left and began to run.

          With a nod, Cool Wind told Donnie and the boys, "You have done well. I feared it all

would come to this."

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                                        CHAPTER SIX

                                      San Diego, California

                            Thursday, May 1st, 2008 … 12:56 p.m.

       My unscheduled vacation was almost over. I had to keep in mind, even if I did get the

job by an appointment from the governor, it is still a civil service position and there are a lot of

people who take a watchdog state of mind on these things. Gunshot wound or not, merited leave

or not, heroine to some and PITA to others or not, I still was expected to show up. That's got a

lot to do with a paycheque of almost $180,000 per year. What's that corny old expression Dad

used to tell me? Oh, yeah, "be there, or be square". Guess that flower child stuff from the 60s

sort of stuck with a few people.

       In any event, I couldn't take a lot more time with things like this, even if I did now feel a

much stronger urge to help this young woman. Darn it, I see people like her all the danged time

in my courtroom and I know sure as shootin' they'll be back. Probably sooner rather than later,

and it bugs me. A lot. I always think to myself, If someone would just take a little extra time to

help some of these people, given a decent chance, they just might make it.

       Well, darn it, I'm "someone", so it made sense to me I should take that little bit of extra

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time now that I had it and try to do some good for someone, instead of sitting up on that danged

bench and looking pompous. Like Kennedy said, even if he was a pervert and a lecher, he had a

good thought once in a while. Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can

do for your country. Dang it all, this is something I can do for my country, or at least for one

small part of it. One step at a time is how anything and everything gets done, and I'd made up

my mind to take that one step with this Brenda Dalworth.

       Call me crazy if you need to, but it seemed to me to be something that needed doing.

       Of course, with my luck these days, it always seems there's a catch or something off the

danged wall involved, but I'm sort of coming to expect that whenever I start something new and

I'm getting used to it. Cool Wind and I showed up, with him driving my BMW convertible

again, and me dressing down at his suggestion. Today I was wearing some decent looking, sort

of new Levis that looked okay, which they ought to at $79.00 per pair, and a nice light blue top

with short sleeves. Toss in my white jogging shoes and clean white socks and I imagine I looked

as all-American as I could be, especially since I'd tied all my long hair into a ponytail today.

       I know Cool Wind wouldn't've said anything if I had a cigarette in my hand when we

walked into the park and found a bench, but I still would've felt like a slut doing it, so I waited

until we sat before I got one going. Then, getting nervous as heck since we showed up at quarter

of and she was supposed to be here at one, I had another one going when Cool Wind told me, "I

see her walking this way." Never sure what the heck to do with the darned ciggie, I just kept it in

my hand and said, "Oh."

       Leave it to CC to come up with something profound at right moment, huh?

       He waited, the emcee of sorts, and pointed to a bench on the other side of the sidewalk

facing this way, perhaps a dozen feet to the left of our bench. Since I had a seat at the far end of

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ours, that put me about sixteen feet from Brenda, Cool Wind around thirteen, since he was at the

other end.

       She didn't look quite the same today, which I saw as an improvement. She had on a very

light green top with short sleeves, a ribbed pattern woven into it vertically, and tan slacks I saw

were at least clean and not very worn. The sandals with a heel strap and two inch heels were as

okay as anything else, and it looked to me as if she wore either pantyhose or nylons, a bit more

effort than I put into my outfit, so that was also a plus in my eyes. Her blonde hair wasn't quite

as long as mine, maybe six inches below her collar, and it was pretty clean, a substantial pickup

on so many women in this part of town, particularly the poorer ones. It was a cross between a

golden blonde and a yellowish-platinum is the best I can describe it. Brown eyes looked to me to

be more intelligent than average, with well plucked eyebrows and a somewhat full mouth that

would've been much prettier if she'd smiled.

       It was also rather apparent she didn't do a whole lot of smiling.

       Still, I guess if I had to live the life she'd known for quite a while, or perhaps it was the

only life she'd ever known, I don't think I'd smile a heckuva lot, either. She took a seat as Cool

Wind suggested and looked our way. "Okay, I'm here," she said with a look on her face much

the same as I'd seen on deer at the San Diego Wild Animal Park whenever people tried to feed

them things. I might take it, I might not. First, I want to see if you intend to kill me and eat me

as a midday meal.

       As Cool Wind had instructed me, I said nothing. Just smiled, since he never said a word

about that, either way. If the truth be told, I was probably just as afraid as Brenda, maybe even

more, and I was picking my way through this little adventure just the same as she was, although

I'd been given fewer opportunities to mistrust the world at large than she, I would imagine.

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       "Hello, Brenda," he began easily. "Thank you for coming."

       "Why shouldn't I?" she asked, digging out a pack of generic cigarettes and lighting one

with a red disposable lighter. After a long drag, eyes locked on us and at an angle, her face not

exactly pointed at us, but somewhat off to our left, she added, "Ya paid me t' be here, ya know,

so I'm here. Whatcha got t' talk about?"

       "This woman," he said, raising his right hand and indicating me with a gesture of his big

thumb, "needs your assistance."

       Her eyes enlarged a little. "Ain't I seen you b'fore?"

       When Cool Wind referenced me, I amped my smile up about five degrees and raised my

right hand, elbow still at my side, wiggling my fingers instead of waving. I was almost about to

reply when my bodyguard-advisor-hunter-protector said, "Please direct all inquiries to me for the

moment. It will be best that way."

       "Why? She too fuckin' good t' talk t' me, is she?" Now her brow furrowed, annoyance

on her face clearly present to indicate she resented being treated as someone from a lower class.

       "It is more that we keep the involvement limited at this time," he told her, removing a

new $100 bill from the pocket of the shirt he wore, no tan windbreaker today as it was a sunny

72 degrees and felt very comfortable. Cool Wind stood, walked over to her, handed Brenda the

bill and returned to his seat. She took it with the same guarded look of a wild animal being given

a treat by a stranger, then tucked it in between her breasts as her gaze followed him back over to

our bench with a sense of alertness not many people displayed. Like a rabbit in the forest, she

was fully prepared to sprint away for her life if it ever came to that. Clearly, she didn't trust

either of us as far as she could throw us left-handed.

       He leaned forward, brown tooled leather cowboy boots on the sidewalk in front of him,

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brawny arms resting on the thighs of denim jeans that had seen better days, his tan sport shirt

with short sleeves stretched on those thick muscles. Then, before he could speak, her eyes lit up

as it came to her now. "Yer that bitch I saw when he flagged my ass down there at th' corner last

night. Then you was there when he an' all them mean fuckers whaled the livin' shit outa Julio an'

them pricks he brung along t' play some kickass on you two, ain't ya?"

       Cool Wind broke in with, "It is inadvisable to use the word 'bitch' when referring to this

lady. She takes particular exception to it."

       "So?" Brenda questioned, eyeing me a bit closer now. "Me an' her's about th' same size,

an' she don't look like she c'n whip nobody's ass, ennyhow. Ya tryin' t' say this li'l shit's gonna

whip my ass fer me, or zat mean if I call 'er a bitch again she's gonna sic a monstrous bastard like

you on me t' kick my ass all over th' damned park?"

       He let it hang a moment before saying, "She would never resort to those means, and I

have no desire to harm you. However, she does carry a handgun and has been forced to kill a

few people in the past. It would behoove you to stay in her good graces."

       "Well, fuck me," Brenda muttered. "Ya got it on ya now? Maybe plannin' t' plug my ass

'cause I used a bad word?" She followed the question with an eerie cackling sound, somewhat a

laugh, but derisive, also somewhat a cry of fear.

       His gesture to me made me hold my tongue. "As she does nothing without a purpose, if

you should see that weapon, it would likely be only moments ahead of your death. I suggest it is

a much wiser move on your part to simply trust me on this matter and make no more of it. I wish

to have all questions directed to me and will suggest she answer only when I cannot."

       Brenda watched me a moment, looked back at Cool Wind, then dropped her eyes to the

ground. "Fuck me," she muttered again.

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        "That is not my wish or intention," he said calmly, bringing her gaze back up to him in a

flash. "My intention is to secure your agreement to a covenant of mutual benefit to each."

        "A what? A 'covenant'? Shit, fergit that shit. I don't go t' no damned church."

        I think I saw a trace of movement at the corner of his mouth, but Cool Wind didn't laugh

or smile. He merely explained, "A covenant is an agreement, a pact, if you will, between two or

more parties. We wish to do something along those lines with you."

        "Yer … what? … her fuckin' lawyer, then, er what?"

        He shook his head, keeping his eyes on her at all times. "No, I am a bounty hunter and,

on occasion, a bodyguard, as I serve this lady at present."

        There was a hint of new respect on her face when she looked at me now. "Okay, so what

kinda agreement we talkin' 'bout here, ennyways?"

        "This is the lady you attempted to assist get out of that wrecked automobile, but then fled

when the police arrived."

        "Naw, uh-uh," she argued, shaking her head slowly. "That was another whore off'n the

streets, jus' like me. Wasn't no classy bitch like th— … classy babe, I mean, like her."

        "You are mistaken," he corrected her, "but that is unimportant at this time. She is the one

you tried to assist and now needs your assistance in that very matter."

        Her expression now questioned his intelligence. "Why? She's outa th' fuckin' car, as ya

c'n see by jus' lookin' at 'er. What's she need my help for on that, since she's walkin' 'round free

as a damned bird?"

        "What did you hear the woman you tried to assist say when you were standing by the car,

trying to assist her?"

        "That li'l fat fuck was tellin' her 'I am more than Abraham', er some shit like that, an' then

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he says he's gonna kill 'er ass. Why? How's that help anybody? She went an' shot th' nasty old

fuck an' got out safe all on 'er own."

       "If you will testify to that fact with an ADA, we can then be of assistance to you in your

own legal troubles."

       "Yeah? Like how?" Her cigarette was almost gone, so Brenda flicked it away to land on

the grass between us, but on the other side of the sidewalk, then lit another. I can only assume it

was my expression of distaste that caught her attention. She watched me as I got up, retrieved it

and twisted the hot ash until it fell off, then deposited it in a waste container down at my end of

our bench, much like the one at the end of hers. After I sat again she asked Cool Wind, "Kind of

a picky bi— … person, ain't she?"

       "She does not approve of littering," he told her, dismissing the subject with a shrug. "If

you testify on her behalf, she may be able to persuade the DA to drop the charges against you for

stabbing that man."

       "Ya mean Twig?"

       "Whom is 'Twig'?" he questioned.

       "A dude name o' Curtis Terwilliger, but ever'body calls 'im Twig. It's him. He's the one

who brung charges against my ass, when he was still there in the hospital." At mentioning the

man's name, Brenda quickly looked over her shoulder, then scanned the area around us, clearly

wondering if she might be in any danger of an attack.

       She sneered at the memory. "Prick says he'll gimme twenny fer a head job, so I'm down

there suckin' 'im off an' then he gets all pissy 'bout how he wants my ass naked while I'm doin' it.

Like that ain't stupider'n shit, er what, but I was gonna do it for 'im, ennyways, jus' so's I could

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git the cash an' get th' hell outa there." Her expression became a scowl. "Then th' asshole tells

me it ain't gonna be so good fer I'm 'cause he says I ain't got no decent tits."

       Unbidden, Brenda reached down to the bottom of her untucked shirt and pulled it way up.

Her breasts were pretty much the same as mine, a 32C, and she wasn't wearing any bra, since she

didn't need it. I wear one because … actually, I'm not really all that sure. I don't need it, either,

but it's something I was taught when I was a teen and I've always done so. Perhaps, in my later

years, it'll be necessary, so why start a new habit when I'm fifty?

       Unashamed, she asked, "Ya see anything wrong with these tits?"

       Cool Wind never missed a beat. "No, they are easily acceptable."

       When he added nothing, she glanced at me, saw I didn't seem poised to speak, and pulled

the shirt back in place. "That's what I was thinking. I mean, I ain't no fuckin' Playboy pinup, er

no shit like that, but I got decent tits. Lotsa guys've said so. Ennyways, since the prick didn't like

'em, I told 'im t' go suck 'is own damned dick an' I was haulin' me some serious ass t' git outa that

place an' go where ain't nobody gonna say I ain't got decent tits. Then the prick starts in beatin'

on me." She narrowed her eyes. "I don't take t' no shit like that very good."

       She glanced my way to see any reaction, but I showed her nothing.

       "Nor do I," Cool Wind told her, a hint of something feral in his voice.

       I expected it, as it's a part of the man I've come to know. Still, he very clearly caught her

attention in the way he said it.

       "Yeah? Well, good. Maybe ya won't never go poundin' on my ass, then?"

       He shook his head. "I will never harm you. It is not my way."

       "Like I said," she told him, slightly more relaxed now, "he's whalin' on my ass, so I jus'

stuck the prick with the blade I carry an' that got 'im t' leave me alone fer a while. But, seems he

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went to the ER an' they called the cops. See, Twig's got his ass a record, so they was wantin' t'

know who stuck 'im, ya know? Well, the asshole dimes me out faster'n a drunk'll fart or burp on

ya, an' first thing I know's they're pickin' my ass up an' haulin' me t' jail. Then Julio, the prick ya

pounded the shit outa last night … thanks again fer that shit, man, that was sorta righteous … he

beats the livin' shit outa me fer stickin' the prick."

        Following a drag on her cigarette, she added, "Now Twig's outa the hospital an' he's out

lookin' fer me. If he finds me, th' dude's gonna beat the shit outa me … ain't no damned question

on that part at all … plus the prick's prob'ly gonna make me do 'im all three ways."

        I'm sure it was my quizzical expression when she glanced my way that made her add, "I

got three spots a guy c'n stick a dick in me, an' I don't never let no one do th' last one, but Twig,

he likes that sorta shit an' I know he's gonna jam me up that way, too." She finished another drag

and announced, "Then, after 'e's all done gittin' his rocks like that, he'll beat my ass. Prob'ly do it

even extra hard so's he can put me in the hospital."

        One more slow drag and she asked Cool Wind, "Think ya c'n help me with both o'

them?" Brenda turned her eyes to me now and said, "'Cause, if ya can't help … an' it's gotta be

done real quick so's the bastard don't catch up with my ass … I'm gonna book on outa San Diego

an' haul my ass up there t' LA where there ain't nobody lookin' to beat the shit outa me an'

buttfuck me first."

        "I believe we can arrange that," he said solemnly.

        "Cool," Brenda announced, coming to her feet. She handed him a piece of paper. "That's

a pay phone ya c'n call in on. Lotsa drug dealers use it, though, so be careful whatcha say. Jus'

tell anybody that answers yer lookin' fer Brenda so's ya can tell 'er ya jus' heard her mom died."

She sneered again. "What'll happen is some asshole's gonna wanna come tell me jus' so's they

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can see me break down when I hear it." She shrugged now. "Like I'd give a fuck if that ever did

happen, ya know? Ennyways, if I hear that outa anybody, I can call ya if ya got a number I can

use t' reach ya."

        Cool Wind removed a small spiral notebook from the shirt pocket on the right side and

jotted something on a piece of paper, tore it off and handed it to her. "Call me at this number at

seven o'clock this evening and I will give you a report of my progress."

        Brenda took it, jammed it into her pants pocket without looking, said, "Whatever," and

walked away. Talking over her shoulder, she remarked, "I ain't goin' t' no prison fer nobody, an'

I also ain't lettin' no asshole buttfuck me, ya hear?" Then she continued walking away.

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                                     CHAPTER SEVEN

                                      San Diego, California

                             Thursday, May 1st, 2008 … 4:48 p.m.

       After Brenda left I realized I was pretty hungry, and Cool Wind agreed it would be good

if we ate, since he had already accepted I planned to stick to him like a burr on a hunting dog

until we had this all wrapped up. He barely even gave me any argument.

       I like that in a guy, and might even have entertained some foolish thoughts with regard to

us as a couple if I hadn't firmly accepted that was something I'd never again be part of in this life.

Plus, he's married, and from what I heard about his wife, I already liked her. Add in the fact

she's evidently rather handy with a knife and that idea was totally out of the question.

       There's another difference I've noticed between girls and guys when I think about Cool

Wind like a regular guy. Of course, both of the men in my life were very good looking, and I

always thought it was nice, but it sure as heck was never a deal breaker, and I don't think it is

with most of us. All guys seem to want only the very good looking ones among us, meaning I

count myself pretty lucky, since I'm really not much more than okay looking, as I see it.

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       Granted, I seem to attract a lot of attention when I get into a "slut suit", but guys like that

have about the same amount of taste as someone with a bad hangover which, trust me on this,

isn't very much. I can very easily remember yesterday, and I will for a very long time. Albeit I

definitely didn't want to eat anything, none of it would've had any taste to talk about if I'd been

able to force myself.

       I had it in mind to go to a nice restaurant … my treat, and I got him to agree to that part at

the beginning … but he blew me off on part of the idea. Not only does this guy know how to find

any and everybody under the sun, he knows where the best food is prepared. Another odd fact

is, in southern California, where you'd think the finest Mexican food in the country would be

there on every corner, I've seen very few Mexican places with anything worth eating. They

almost all have "gringo food", an adaptation of what they'd normally eat but geared toward what

so many people "think" of as good Mexican food. It isn't.

       Bypassing all the places I brought up, as well as a few I pointed at, he took us to what I'd

normally describe as a hole-in-the-wall. Left to my own devices, I wouldn't stop there on a bet.

       I'd've been wrong.

       The food was great! Really, I stuffed myself! It was all so danged good, and when I got

up to the counter to pay, since he has no false macho and sat there finishing up while I caught the

tab, I forked over a twenty and got back six bucks and some change. My flabber was gasted, I'm

telling you.

       Of course, while we were eating, I told him I planned to call Angela and see what she

could dig up with whatever ADA had Brenda's case. Having been one not that long ago, I knew

that ADA would see this as an NHI situation. No Humans Involved.

       Tacky, yes, but that's the way of the world.

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       The ADA would see it that a whore and a convict had a squabble, no one died, and would

be pleased to get a street cop in his or her debt while making a real nothing case disappear from

the court's docket. A win-win all around, in other words. While I disapprove, I have learned this

is the real world and certain things must be accepted to stop life from being a constant battle over

the little things while the larger ones are left unresolved.

       He blew me off on that one, too. "I believe I can dispose of both Brenda's troubles with

less people involved and far more conveniently."

       When everything I did was always within the system and done according to established

practice, I probably would've argued with him. Now, having seen things from my end on the

bench, and knowing what this man can do … things I'd've never believed possible before I met

him … I had to give Cool Wind the benefit of the doubt.

       Three times we parked my car, always in areas he deemed were safe for what he termed a

"classy convertible", and walked around asking questions. This time, since he'd wreaked havoc

on that Julio Mendez guy yesterday and didn't trust the jerk had enough brains to cut his losses

and accept the facts for what they are, he wanted me to stick close to him.

       As if I'm going to argue with that logic? I don't think so.

       Finally, we came to yet another sleazy bar. Honest to Pete, I never imagined a classy

spot like San Diego would have so many raunchy dives, but they are here, and Cool Wind knows

each one like the back of his oversized hand. He insisted with this one I should wait outside and

have a ciggie, and I didn't argue with him after a peek in through the door. It was certainly not a

place I had any big yen to hang around. So, I stayed outside and smoked, only to discover that's

also no surefire way to avoid trouble. Remember, I told you I wore a comfortable blouse, Levis

and jogging shoes, so I wasn't any Miss America lookalike by any means.

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        All I was doing was standing out front, leaning on the danged wall and having a ciggie.

Like that's un-American, maybe? Or it puts a big sign on my back saying "off-duty slut, but take

your best shot, anyway"? I wasn't dressed up like a hooker, and I wasn't even looking at anyone

walking by. My eyes roved the area as I smoked, and I had my mind on a dozen other things,

primarily the fact I really missed Hug and what I'd be able to do with and for Brenda.

        From a sense of self-preservation, I flitted away from dwelling much on losing Hug, as it

wouldn't help our current operation if I stood out here crying and drawing attention that way. It

was also not my intention, by any means, to have Cool Wind see me cry for any reason. A man

like him almost never cries, dang it, and I want him to respect me for my strength of person.

        So, what happens then, you might wonder? As I said, I was leaning against the danged

building, minding my own bee's wax, when this cruddy looking dude stops and leans on the wall

with me, his left hand against it, actually pushing against the heavily tinted and very reinforced

window. I assumed the people inside could see out if they wanted, but it was very hard to see in

the bar from out here. A privacy thing, more than likely.

        However, this monkey had his own battle plan for romancing women and, unless I badly

missed my guess, thought he was rather good at it. Good thing I'd already spent some time with

Tez, my best girl buddy and overall office manager at my job. She's a total wimp when it comes

to sticking up for herself, but an absolute ornery pit bull when she's defending me. I'd already

seen her in action a few times, and I consider myself an intelligent woman, one who is able to get

the hang of things rather quickly when it serves my best interests.

        "Hey, mama, you lookin' fuckin' hot," he cooed as he leaned against the wall, then let his

body ease in closer to me. He only stopped when his face was about six inches from mine. "I'm

sayin' it to ya, baby, yer lookin' good 'nuff t' fuckin' eat."

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        Luckily I'd just taken a drag before he dropped in to show me what suave looked like in

action. I turned my head up a little, blew smoke in his face and said, "Go away."

        "Hey, baby, what kinda answer's that, huh? Ya playin' hard t' get, are ya?"

        He was late 20s, early 30s, maybe six feet, one-eighty or so, brown eyes and hair with a

day or two of stubble on his face. Funny, that. Hug had a very dense beard, meaning he had that

five o'clock shadow thing going right after lunch, even if he waited until midmorning to shave.

This guy just gave me the impression hygiene was what he'd say if he came across some guy he

knew whose first name was Eugene.

        "I want you to leave me alone," I explained snippily, loading up with another lungful to

provide a second blast, if necessary.

        "Aw, c'mon, baby, a hot li'l bitch like you ain't gotta treat no stud like me that way, an' ya

know I'm right. Ya know what I'm sayin'?"

        Oh, great. He also wants to pretend he's black, I told myself. Plus, with his choice of

words, he's got it coming. I blew more smoke in his face and asked innocently, "I take it you like

a good sundae, huh?"

        "Ain't no diff'rent than Saturday, 'cept it means I skip goin' t' any fuckin' church. Why'd

ya ask me that, baby?" He leaned in another inch or so.

        "No, I mean the kind with ice cream. Must be you like those, huh?" More smoke in his

face. This time it made him cough.

        "I guess so. Why ya askin'?" He retook those inches I just got back when I smoked the

slob out. "Ya maybe wantin' me t' git ya some ice cream, are ya? See, a hot li'l bitch like you,

she c'n get lotsa stuff if she learns t' ask a guy th' right way."

        One more round of smoke in the face, but it didn't repel him this time. Maybe he was sort

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of getting used to it. "No, I'm planning to use my knee to crush your nuts if you don't get away

from me in a big old hurry."

       That made him lean back. "Bein' sorta antisocial, ain't ya?"

       "You make it easy," I added. "Get away from me."

       "Look, mama, all I—"

       "I am not your 'mama', you dirtbag!" I snapped back at him, ducking under his arm and

moving onto the sidewalk, perhaps eight feet of concrete between the bar and the street. "I said

to leave me alone and I meant it!" My hand went into my purse, but I was already beginning to

regret I stayed out here, and this scene that was developing. I didn't want to cause a problem for

Cool Wind, and this might just do it.

       Perhaps it's because of the area, the habits of the people around here, but he paid a lot of

attention to my hand in the purse. I saw it on his face. With a scowl, he told me, "Well fuck ya,

then. I don't need this kinda shit outa no piece o' ass."

       "You definitely won't," I said to his fast disappearing back as I moved back to lean on the

building again. "I just hope Cool Wind gets back out here soon."

       No more than a minute later, I got my wish. He stopped in front of me and said, "I saw

what was taking place. I would have been here to assist if it went beyond what I saw."

       Feigning bravery I don't really have, I shrugged. "No big deal. I blew him off."

       "As I knew you would," he said encouragingly. "That man Twig is in there now."

       "Okay?" I wasn't sure what to say. "So, what do we do no?"

       "Nothing at the moment. He is not in a mood to come out of the bar, and I did not wish

to create a scene. He has four large men with him, associates to a degree, one might say, and I

did not deem it advisable to fight all five at once."

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        I quickly drew the impression it was less fear and more that there were less troublesome

solutions that led him to think that way. "So?"

        "I wish to find him alone after he has left these premises. It will be far easier to have a

discussion with him in that manner."

        Envisioning the "discussion" would entail very few words and a number of devastating

punches instead, I suddenly had an idea. Dang it, I wanted to be a part of this and, based on my

recent experiences, I was even sort of trained to do these things now. "Okay, here's the plan," I

announced. "We'll go back to my place, I'll dig up another 'slut suit' of some kind, you bring me

back here, and I'll entice that slug to leave with me. Once he's outside, he's duck soup. You can

grab the guy and bounce him around like a rubber ball until he learns to agree with you. It'll be

the same thing we did to that guy who was knocking Belinda's girlfriend around, won't it?"

        "No, that places you at risk for—"

        "Cool Wind, I'm going to do this thing," I insisted, standing almost on my tiptoes as I

spoke to him. "I mean it. I am. Plus, if you try to stop me, I'm going to pout like crazy. You

know you can't stand that, and I know it, too."

        With a long sigh and a weird look my way, he said, "Very well. We shall go to your

home and you may change your garments."

        I really like it when a guy agrees with me that easily.

        He only had one more wrinkle. "In this situation, you will not simply be a woman on the

prowl, as you have been those other times. You will be an active prostitute in your demeanor

and actions. If not, the ruse will fail."

        "Yeah? So?"

        "You will need to speak and act like a prostitute to accomplish your goal."

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       "What, pray tell, does that mean?"

       "I will explain it as I drive," he assured me. We began walking in the direction where he

parked and Cool Wind added, "You will not like it, but I will explain it, all the same. Maybe you

will then change your mind."

       Hah! I thought when he said that. Dare me, will you? C'mon, fella bring it on!

       Little did I know, he would. Or, someone would, I guess. It's all sort of confusing now.

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                                      CHAPTER EIGHT

                                      San Diego, California

                             Thursday, May 1st, 2008 … 7:26 p.m.

       By now you may have concluded I have a very high opinion of Cool Wind, and you're

right. I do. I just love that man to pieces. Not … you know … in a boy-girl way, but just for

what he is, the person I've seen in him. The man is top drawer, as I see it.

       That said, sometimes he really pisses me off!

       Come to think of it, the only people I've ever seen who get along like I do with Cool

Wind are my Mom and Dad. Those two are still goofy-in-love with each other and they've been

together over 35 years. Still, there are times Dad gets Mom so freaking steamed I can almost see

it hissing out of her ears. Today, that's exactly what Cool Wind made me feel like.

       You've already seen what I can come up with as far as a "slut suit" from some of these

oddball capers I've gotten myself into, and I think I do a pretty decent job of it, especially since I

never had any training in "slutting", if I can coin a term. So, when we got back to my place, off

goes CC to her bedroom and straight into the closet. I must've dug out 19 different combinations

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to make up all the "slut suits" I showed him and that man didn't like a single danged one of 'em!

I was so pissed I couldn't even see straight, to the point I was stomping my little feet, (see how

hard it can be to get your point across when you wear a size 6 shoe?), on every danged step all

the way up the stairs!

       He acted like he didn't care! As if it didn't matter! Grrrr!

       Everything I came down to show him had something wrong with it, and I finally caught

on to what was bugging the guy. All my stuff was too nice. Too expensive. Looked too good.

It would be out of character, he explained to me as the fumes trickled out of my danged ears.

       "Okay, Buster," I told him, grinding my danged teeth, "then we're getting into my car this

very minute and you're taking me to Wal-Mart! If you want a cheap, chintzy looking 'slut suit', I

will show you a cheap, chintzy looking 'slut suit', dang it! Drive!"

       By the time we got there, I was a little bit calmer, and had three less ciggies in my pack

than I had when we started out, so I was able to think clearly. Because he felt he still needed to

be there to protect me … from what, I have no idea … Cool Wind also had to go in the store with

me. Well, TFB, pal! Them's the breaks, you know? I tore into that store with my credit card red

hot and chomping at the bit. You probably know it wasn't all that easy, since no store, including

that one, has a "slut suit" department, but I did okay, anyway. I finally found a skirt I thought

would do, and Mr. Knows-So-Danged-Much-About-Everything agreed it would suffice.

       Gee, thanks.

       I ended up with a full-tilt double-bubble skirt, the turquoise combo, with a medium and

light gray blend along with the turquoise comprising inch tall flower designs all around. It has a

layover section from the hips on the same design all the way to the hem, which wasn't all that far

down, if you get the picture. The hem ended about halfway between my knees and my you-

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know-what, and there was a built-in six inch black sash at the waist. Nothing I'd've normally

chosen to wear, but I was trying for an effect, so I bought it for $14.97, marked down from the

$22.99 original price. Like it matters? Like I even care?

       Then I stumbled on a lighter blue mesh top that came up over my knockers, but not too

danged far, and I let it droop halfway down on the black sash. So far, so good. We zipped over

to shoes and I snagged a pair of black three-inch heels that would be very comfortable for any

girl who regularly worked a high wire act, but they fit the role, so I took 'em. A gaudy looking

necklace, supposedly gold with a turquoise pendant I felt looked trashy enough was tossed into

the cart, and I went to purses.

       This was a little more complicated, but I found a black one that was in line with what I'd

be wearing and still gave me enough space for my .380 Beretta. That, my ciggie back, and not

more than basic makeup items filled it, but I didn't plan to need my wallet or any ID. I wasn't on

my way to a social function, after all. I think my credit card wanted to know, Is that all? When

we checked out, it didn't cost a lot, but I figured this stuff was either headed for Good Will or the

dumpster when we finished, so I didn't give it much more thought.

       When I marched back down the stairs, wondering if I might even need my Beretta to get

the man to agree with me, Cool Wind only nodded, lowered his eyes to the floor and shook his

head. It was the same darned look Dad gave me that time I insisted I wanted to learn how to do

roller-blade, the very day I lost all the skin on both knees … I even had the danged pads! … and

I put those stupid things away in the attic. They're probably still up there, somewhere.

       So, now we're a block from that same bar and he's giving me instructions.

       "It will be good if you walk in with a cigarette in your hand," he began.

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       "Uh-oh. That really does make me look slutty, huh?"

       "I did not say that."

       "I know, but you didn't say it doesn't make me look slutty." I took the last drag and put

the one in my hand out in the ashtray. "It does, though, doesn’t it?"

       "Just have one when you get there," he said, ignoring my question the way he usually

does when he doesn't want to bother answering it. Pointing to the bar a block away, he told me,

"Go inside and sit at the bar. Allow your skirt to ride up on your thigh and cross your legs so all

will get a good view. It will not be easy, but you should use a great deal of slang and pretend to

have a poor command of the English language."

       "Do you really think that's necessary, Cool Wind?"

       "Babe, would I be sayin' all this shit t' ya if I didn't fuckin' think that's how ya gotta talk t'

them assholes t' have 'em understand ya? Use yer fuckin' head."

       I dropped the cigarette I'd just gotten out of my case and gaped at him. "What was that?"

       "Merely an example," he explained, not a trace of smile on his face. "You cannot appear

to be an adoptee to their culture. You must seem to be one of them. Understood?"

       Keeping a straight face myself, I replied, "Fuckin'-A!" I remember hearing Baker use the

expression a few times and never really was all that sure what it meant, but it seemed to fit in as

a positive and a substitute for "yes", so I said it. He didn't argue. Only nodded approval.

       "Do not allow people to touch you. If they attempt to do so, remind them to keep their

hands off the merchandise. Anyone who wishes to touch must pay for it, and the money always

will come first. You will do nothing for free. Anything anyone might want from you must have

a price or you will be out of character. If it appears to upset someone when you insist on cash for

any and all contact, your argument is their reaction is irrelevant. Pay first or don't touch. You

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will make no exceptions."

        "Got it," said as I lit up. "So, where will you be?"

        "I will find a place to hide in the parking area or in the shrubbery nearby so I will be able

to see the door. When you exit with him try to go to the left and cross the parking lot. If you

cannot, I will catch up quickly. Go to the far side of the parking lot, in the shadows, and I will

take over at that point."

        "I like it," I said as I took a drag, then opened the door of the Mazda, which he'd decided

would be better for this return trip. With one more glance at my ciggie, I admitted with a sort of

red face, "Guess this does look kind of slutty, doesn't it?"

        "It is all part of a role. Go. Your prey awaits you."

        All the way to the door I tried to make myself look as if I fit in. Was part of the crowd.

My hair was back to the "hang loose effect" now, and I strolled as if there was no need to hurry

for any reason, smoking and looking around, even watching the cars driving by. Apparently I

did it a bit too well because a guy in some sort of older foreign car, a cheapie of some kind,

swerved from the second lane to get over to the curb. As he rolled down the window using a

handle, just that much advertising an "el cheapo", I stepped up the pace a little and pretended not

to hear him. All his "Hey, baby!" cries were converted to "Kiss my ass, bitch!" by the time I

reached the door to the bar, but at least I didn't walk in with a customer on my heels.

        Moving that rapidly in these lousy "slut shoes" sure wasn't easy, and it totally forced me

to appreciate what these girls must go through to do this stuff. However, when I made it through

the door, it wasn't a heckuva lot brighter than out on the sidewalk. The bar was on my right,

extending back around 35 feet, not much more than that. There were six small tables in the

middle with four chairs around each, one on each side of the squared whitish top. To the left

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were what I took to be about eight booths done up in what I think was a dark green vinyl with a

dark table between the two padded bench seats in each booth, sort of like a truck stop.

       There were maybe a dozen stools at the bar, round on top with cracked vinyl seats in a

slew of colors, red, green and brown. All had someone using them, a few sitting, some standing,

all loud and most not too steady on their pins. Of the approximately 40 people I saw hanging

around, less than ten were female. Even though I go out of my way to insist I don't think I'm all

that special to look at, I was easily the best looking woman in the place, by far, "slut suit" and all.

       As I glanced around, noticing at the same time many sets of eyes were focusing on me

and not looking away, I decided Brenda Dalworth was also a great deal prettier than anyone in

this dump. The men were another factor altogether. There wasn't even a single guy I'd trust to

mow my danged lawn unless I could drop him his money from a second floor window. Most of

these yeggs would be arrested by the average cop just because they looked so criminal.

       The smell of the place stopped me in my tracks at the first step I took toward the bar. I'd

recovered from that hangover by now, although I doubted that would ever happen yesterday and

even part of this morning, but there must've been some residual effects. Just the raw stink of stale

beer and other booze-related smells, combined with stale cigarette smoke that permeated the air,

legal or not, made my tummy feel woozy.

       Not now, CC, I ordered myself. This is too danged important!

       So, ciggie in hand, slut suit on display, I headed for the bar.

       With no seats free on this end, I went around to the open area the waitress used to pick up

drinks. She was medium height with jet black hair I knew wasn't home grown, too wiry and very

small breasted. The hook nose was emphasized by a scarlet mouth and full lips with a long white

cigarette hanging from them and bobbing as she talked to the bartender.

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        That guy was a trip into a house of horrors as well. Maybe 60, possibly older, a few

inches taller than me and probably a couple pounds heavier than Cool Wind, his salt and pepper

do had an empty spot on top. Nothing at all for a combover, just shiny skin. He, too, had a large

nose, but his was bulbous and seemed in sync with a lined face and the unmistakable lack of any

smile tracks. The man probably hadn't heard a funny joke since the early 60s. His cigar was in

an ashtray on a ledge behind the bar, under a long mirror about four feet tall and two thirds the

length of the bar.

        "Name's Mazie," she told me through a cloud of blue smoke, watching the drinks she was

sorting on her round tray. "Yer new on this block, ain't ya?"

        Flicking my ashes in the ashtray she ignored on the bar in front of her, I said, "Yeah, just

got in this afternoon. Came from Detroit 'cause the weather in Michigan sucks."

        "Bet you do, too!" she said with a cackle, still looking at the drinks and writing prices on

a slip of paper so she could add the numbers.

        "It's a livin'," I told her, concentrating to use a lazy pronunciation, something I slip in a

and out of in casual conversation.

        "Better'n taking yer fuckin' clothes off, too, ain't it?" she questioned curiously, but with a

note of familiarity that told me she'd almost certainly done that kind of work before. Maybe still

did it part-time.

        "Different price, too," I said coyly, having to think these things through due to my lack of

experience. I was suddenly proud I was able to come up with something so clever. "It all gets to

the same thing and it's less work for me that way."

        "Ain't that the fuckin' truth?" she said, finally taking the cigarette out of her mouth just in

time to flick a long ash off safely. "Some o' these assholes act like yer a fuckin' weekend date, or

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a wife, ya know? We get in that damn bed, I ain't got no fuckin' time fer no chit chat shit. Not

me, no way in hell."

        "You did that around here, did you … ya?" I corrected myself, then felt stupid because it

made me sound like I was playing a role. Which I was.

        "Still do when things gets slow 'round this fuckin' place an' Bernie here cuts my fuckin'

hours on me." She laughed again, still more cackle than anything else. "When Bernie cuts my

fuckin' hours is when I add me some fuckin' hours!" Mazie burst into a long, hacking cackle at

the hilarity of her pun, finishing with an extended coughing spell that had her bending over by

the bar and turning red. When she straightened up she had tears in her eyes.

        "Need me another one o' these," she chuckled, taking a drag, then leaving it in her mouth

and stepping around me. "Tell Bernie t' git 'is fat ass down here an' get ya a damn drink, huh?"

Then, not waiting for me, she yelled, "Bernie, lady needs a drink here when yer done playin' with

that teeny li'l dick o' yers." Then she was off, heading for a table.

        Bernie showed up, appraising me as he drew near. What he used in place of a smile, more

like a DMZ in the customary angered expression, was evidently supposed to put me at ease. "I

like it," he told me. "You ain't half bad. What's yer name?"

        Crud, I never thought of that! I looked at him as I tried to come up with one.

        "Cat got yer tongue, babe?"

        "Uh-uh," I told him, shaking my head and sending all that hair swirling. "That's my name,

though. Cat." I resisted the urge to smile at him for the sake of an image I was still making up

on the fly, although I was proud of myself for being so mentally agile. "Got MGD?" At least I

knew the slang name for Miller Genuine Draft, which I hoped made me sound like I was one of

the girls.

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       "Buck an' a quarter," he said as he turned and walked along the steel doors, opened one

and got a longneck.

       When he looked up, I said, "Bottle's fine." I raised my purse to get some money but he

waved it off.

       "First one's on the house," he told me, again feeling me up with his eyes. "Ya jus' start

workin' the streets around here, didja?"

       "Yeah. Just today," I said, nodding as I hoisted the beer. The hair of the dog idea hit me

as I put my mouth to it, making the moment a little easier, and I was pleasantly surprised to feel

it was working. Just that first hit sort of tasted great and made me feel better. Not a bad idea, I

told myself.

       "How much, babe?" asked a beefy guy who looked like he worked construction. He was

on the stool closest to me at this end of the bar.

       "What you want?" I asked, uncertain how I'd go about this part and wishing now I'd gone

into a little detail with Cool Wind on what to say.

       "Half an' half," he said with a lewd grin.

       Making an uneducated guess, I assumed that meant some of both, wondering if he meant

I'd hang around long enough to let him finish both ways. Since we also hadn't talked about how

I would blow these guys off, which was my every intention, I figured I'd be best served if I was

out of this jerk's price range. Brenda had mentioned twenty dollars for one way of doing it, so I

figured I'd at least double that, then decided to do it the Seven-11 way: take a high retail and add

a bit more. "A hundred, but I gotta get off my feet for a while, so you'll hafta wait."

       There! That should do it!

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       He stood and sneered at me. "Shit, I was thinkin' ten." He put his right hand in the front

pocket of some rather filthy white Levis.

       I smiled. "Sweety, for ten bucks, all I'd let you do is buy me a beer."

       The quip made Bernie laugh, but his face stayed angry looking even as he guffawed.

       "Bet ya would," he said with a smile. Tipping the longneck Coor's and draining it, he

waved to Bernie, turned and walked away.

       Before anyone could take possession, I slid onto the seat. Bernie and I chatted the next

few minutes about not too much, most of it inferring he'd like me to return the freebie he gave

me. I made sure he knew I took it as a joke, although I knew very well he was serious, so it was

a stalemate of sorts.

       Then a young, skinny guy, early 20s, maybe five-nine, one-seventy, with shaggy blond

hair and an untrimmed, bushy beard, came and stood on my right. His eyes told me he was too

drunk to worry about even before he spoke. "How much for a suckee-fuckee?"

       Appalled, but realizing in a hurry I wouldn't be if I was working the streets, I glanced up

at him and replied, "Do I look Chinese to you?"

       "Huh?" That caught him by surprise.

       "I'm an American, dipshit. Speak to me in English!"

       He was embarrassed. Then he came back with, "I wanna come in yer mouth."

       "One-hundred dollars," I said coolly.

       "Yer shittin' me? How's come so much?"

       "As drunk as you are, it'd take all fucking night." I took a swig of my beer. "Oh, and a

note from your Mommy. At your age, I'd want that, too." I stubbed out my ciggie in the ashtray

on the bar.

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       "Shit, I'm twenny-three!" he declared.

       "Uh-huh, and I'm six feet tall. Go away, huh? I'm busy."

       Cowed, a little angry, he walked away mumbling "Bitch."

        Bernie resumed his halfhearted hitting on me, realizing even before he began his odds of

success were about the same as a one-legged field goal kicker, then he quickly broke it off when

he peered to his right. "Uh-oh. Looks like you got a customer, an' I don't think yer gonna be able

t' blow this guy off." He leaned in a bit closer. "Name's Twig, this dude, an' he kinda runs a few

things 'round here. Mean som'bitch, too, so's I'd be watchin' how much smart ass lip ya give 'im.

Might piss 'is ass off, ya know?"

       Unable to resist, I looked to my left and saw what he meant. The guy was around 40, I'd

say six feet, not quite 200 pounds, with greasy black hair combed straight back over his head.

He had a cigarette hanging from his mouth, angled to his left, dark eyes and a craggy face, a man

who'd be a perfect fashion model for a prison uniform. He'd look comfortable, right at home in

it, and at ease in any prison cell. I could tell by his eyes and demeanor he'd done hard time, and

felt I'd want to sentence him to the max if he was ever in my court.

       The man was an utter thug in every inch of him.

       He wore a burgundy leather shirt with a flyaway collar and a black leather coat, ¾ length

with the same open front. Black silken pants and loafers with black socks finished it off, and I

had to admit, made him even scarier looking. This was not a man to mess around with for any of

the people I knew except Cool Wind, and maybe Donnie Oldrunner. He was a tough customer.

       Except it looked like he also wanted to be my customer. Well, CC, I admonished myself,

that is what you had in mind, isn't it?

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        When he reached me he used the closest replication he could manufacture to a smile. It

made me feel I was watching a very large lizard preparing to eat something it hadn't yet killed.

"Yer lookin' awful damned good, lady. How's come I ain't seen ya 'round here b'fore?"

        "Just got here from Detroit," I told him, taking another hit on the MGD and having a load

of second, third and fourth thoughts about what a smart idea this might not've really been. Me

and my dumb ideas and plans.

        "Been gettin' any action yet?"

        "Some. Here and there." Dang! Why am I forgetting to use slang?

        "What's the goin' rate, baby?"

        I kept my eyes on my drink. "D'pends on how far ya wanna go." There, that sounded a

lot better.

        "Around the fuckin' moon, baby. Around the moon." The lizard smile expanded.

        Oh, great! What the heck does that mean? Well, whatever it is, it sounds like some kind

of special deal, so I guess it deserves a special price. What the heck do they call … I know, a C-

note. Okay, that's it. "A C-note," I told him, finishing the beer and suddenly feeling like I might

have to burp. Oh, God! Not now! Man, how do I get my goofy butt into all these messes?

        "Little steep, ain't it, babe?"

        "Not when yer as good as me," I responded, hoping that sounded like I flunked English a

couple times, or more.

        "That special, huh?" he came back at me with a low, throaty laugh. "Ya worth it?"

        "No, I'm worth more, but that's what I'll take." Gee, would a whore actually say that?

        "Ya heard about me yet? I'm Twig."

        "Some," I said, lighting a ciggie to give myself something to do.

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        "Any of what ya heard any good?"

        "Not so far," I told him. "Why? Ya got anything good to show me?"

        "Biggest dick ya ever saw," he chuckled, then manhandled it as if that got it admitted as

Exhibit A, or something.

        "Too bad," I told him as I took a drag and watched myself in the mirror, wondering what

my Mom would say if she saw me now. Maybe she'd need a defibrillator. "I don't do this shit for

fun, Twig. This's business."

        "Well, if ya knew who I was, ya'd know I can get ya a lot o' business. The kind ya do …

if I get me a sample so's I know what I'm talkin' about, that is."

        Okay, CC, it's time to put it all on the danged line, girl! "Even if it was to get my name

out and around, best I'd do is fifty." I took a drag and watched his eyes, wondering if that'd be

what it took to scare him off.

        Still smiling, almost shooting a forked tongue in my direction, he reached to the inside

pocket of the leather coat and pulled out a wad of money. Thumbing off a fifty, he handed it to

me and said, "Let's get it on, baby. I'm gonna have ya suck it first."

        Wonderful, I thought to myself, hoping I didn't toss in an eye roll with the reaction I had.

        Sliding off the stool, I began walking toward the door. "Let's get to your room then and I

can get started showing you how good I can be when I'm in the mood. Yer gonna love this a lot

more'n ya ever imagined."

        Before my second step, I felt a powerful set of fingers encircle my right wrist and I was

pulled back toward him. He pointed to a door at the other end of the bar. "I got a room up on

the second floor. The door's back that-a-way." The pressure increased and he started pulling me

to the far end of the bar.

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                                       CHAPTER NINE

                                      San Diego, California

                             Thursday, May 1st, 2008 … 7:53 p.m.

       Oh, man! Now what? Cool Wind's waiting for us outside and this dingaling plans to use

a back stairway! Sheesh! This sure does bite! Applying a little reverse thrust, leaning back as I

was being half dragged to the stairwell, I sensed all the wisdom in what the first love of my life,

Baker Mann, referred to as "The Six P's: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance".

       The merit to that proper planning was beginning to ring in loud and clear as we made our

way toward the door and what I assumed would be that set of stairs behind it. The harder I drew

away, the stronger I felt his grip. When we were around ten feet from the stairs, Twig turned to

face me with what I'm sure he felt was a wry smile. In my mind, I now understood what that big

lizard would appear to be just before it made the fatal moves to devour its prey.

       "Playin' hard t' git, are ya?" he taunted.

       "Well, no, but I was thinking … ohmiGod! What're you doing?" I felt helpless when he

spun around, grabbed me, and slung me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

       Laughing loudly, his left arm wrapped around my middle as I laid belly down on his left

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shoulder, he inserted his right hand up under my extremely brief skirt, tugged on the sexy undies

I added as an afterthought, and began working his fingers under the lacy material.

       "Stop that shit, damn you!" I howled as I began pounding on his back with both fists. "I

didn't say you could do that, damn you!"

       He bellowed lustily, "Yer gonna lemme fuck ya an' I can't touch yer pussy? What kinda

shit is that?" I was also positive he was still grinning like a Cheshire cat.

       The patrons in the bar all joined in and began applauding, yelling things like, "Go Twig!"

and "Dick that bitch, dude!" and "Save me a piece, man!"

       To make matters worse, this cretin was so horny, he didn't slow down too much when he

went whipping through the door into the stairwell, a single flight to the second, and top, floor. In

his lust driven haste he whipped a left turn to begin the climb and banged my head hard against

the wooden door jamb. It hurt like crazy, was embarrassing since the outer door had yet to close,

and it truly pissed me off.

       "Hey, you damned idiot, you just about knocked my freaking head off! Put me down!"

       That direct order had about the same effect as the Egyptians yelling to Moses, "Alright,

you Jews get back here, and I mean right now!" If I hadn't used my hands to push off and avoid

another crash, I'd've banged my head again at the top of the stairs.

       He charged into this dinky, dirty little efficiency with a bed pushed up against the wall on

the right, a kitchen nook to the immediate right of the door, a bathroom over in the far left

corner, a beat up old wooden table with a small portable TV to the immediate left of the door,

and one more thing. A sort of French door combo across the room that opened onto a dinky little

balcony I'd've never stepped on if it wasn't this serious. What he had in mind might not

technically be rape in the strictest sense of the law, considering he thought we had a deal of sorts,

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but it'd be that way on my end, no question. It's not a memory I wanted to relive. Not after the

way I felt the last time.

        One long stride after he opened the dang door, then swung it shut as he carried me away

from it, this slimeball tossed me on the bed on my back and followed me to the mat, so to speak.

The pig landed atop me, scrambled between my legs before I could do or say anything, buried

my mouth under his and began dry humping me. Oh, puke!

        Finally, in a desperate move, I grabbed the skin of his cheeks in both hands, holding it in

my fingertips and the base of the thumbs, and shoved his head back. "Damn it, knock that shit off

this very minute! You quit, damn you! I mean it!"

        "Can't, baby!" he huffed passionately, dipping his face again to kiss me, I thought. My

face whipped to my left, leaving me looking at the door again, so I avoided his lustful kiss, but

not completely. His face had pushed all my hair to one side and I took a slimy, wet tongue tip

directly in my right ear!

        Oh, double puke! I just got Frenched in my ear by a freaking lizard! I could honestly

feel my poor tummy lurch in semi-nauseous rebellion. "Dang it, you better stop, and I mean it!"

        Still rutting between my legs, thereby vastly increasing the likelihood I'd never want to

have sex again in my life, he raised his shoulders and chest in a partial pushup. "Now what?"

        "I want a cigarette first, damn you! Get the heck off me!"

        First he gawked, clearly thinking I was joking, but the way I was still pushing hard on his

chest and shoving him away added the ring of truth. Rolling away finally, he said in frustration,

"I can't believe this shit! Bitch, do you realize how hard I am for you? Ya get me this revved up

and ya expect my ass t' wait?" Then he glared at me, somehow convinced he could eye-fuck me

and get his wishes.

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        Rolling away from him and sitting up, then getting quickly to my feet so I didn't again get

grabbed and mauled, I got to my purse, which had fallen on the floor when he stormed into the

room. I dug out a ciggie and lit it with trembling hands. "Yeah, you can damned well wait a few

minutes 'cause I want a ciggie. You don't like it, I'll give you your money back."

        "I ain't never heard o' no whore givin' no fuckin' refund in my life," he told me, "not less

she got herself an ass whuppin' first."

        "Well, you have now," I argued, skirting as widely as I could around the bottom of the

bed and edging to the double doors to the balcony facsimile. "Plus, I want some fresh air. Just

in case you haven't noticed, it kinda stinks in here." Since the doors were already opened, I

stepped out onto the yard deep, six feet wide shelf and desperately looked around. Dang it, I

can't see a blasted thing! Just the stupid parking lot!

        "It's gonna smell like fuckin' in here pretty damned soon," he said luridly, also lighting up

one of his own in the unexpected lull.

        Not if I can help it! I promised myself. Still seeing nothing, I became desperate and was

on the verge of making a run for it when I remembered that Paul Davis song, Cool Night. A love

song Baker and I often sang to each other over the years. My voice is just okay, in my opinion,

but no one's ever begged me to shut up if I was singing, although I don't recall being asked to do

an a capella tune, either.

        Still, it was the best thing I could think of and, with a teensy moderation, it just might do

the trick. Changing one word, I stood on the edge of the balcony and began to sing.

I sometimes wonder why

All the flowers had to die

I dream about you

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And now, summer's come and gone

And the winds they seem so long

Come on over Cool Wind

Come on over

It's gonna be a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

Oh-oh, when the Cool Wind

Brings back memories

Of a good life

When this love was not so old

Oh-oh, I won't talk about the past

How love's supposed to last forever

And you don't have to take a stand

Lay out any plans

Come on over Cool Wind

Come on over

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It's gonna be a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

Oh-oh, when the Cool Wind

Brings back memories

Of a good life

When this love was not so old

Come on over Cool Wind

Come on over

It's gonna be a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

On a Cool Wind

Let me hold you

On a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

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By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

On a Cool Wind

Let me hold you

On a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

On a Cool Wind

Let me hold you

On a Cool Wind

Just let me hold you

By the firelight

If it don't feel right

You can go

        "Damn it, babe, if I wanted t' hear ya sing, that'd be one thing, but I wanna fuck an' I'm

gettin' real tired o' this shit."

        As I was almost finished I saw a monstrous being emerge from the shadows of shrubbery

by the next building and race across the parking lot toward the bar's front door. Good thing, too,

since my ciggie was almost finished and Twig came out far enough to grab my wrist again.

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       "Git yer ass in here an' ditch them fuckin' clothes," he ordered in what I was certain had

to be the closest he'd ever get to cooing romantically. "We're gonna fuck now!"

       "Just hold on there, you big dumb ass," I said with annoyance, resisting a little in hopes it

would give Cool Wind time to make it up the stairs. Of course, he first had to come in the bar

and then find the danged stairs!

       "I ain't holdin' on t' shit 'cept yer fuckin' titties!" he yelled, pulling harder on my wrist


       "Stop being so pushy! All I want is—"

       The no-good bastard smacked me in the face!

       For a moment suspended in time, all I could do was stare at him in disbelief. This pig

actually hit me! I couldn't believe it at first when his right hand came whistling around at me,

the palm open, and delivered a vicious slap to my left cheek. However, when I tasted blood, I

did become a believer. "You pig bastard!" I screamed, suddenly so freaking angry I didn't know

my own name. Before I even realized what I was doing, I made a properly formed fist, making

sure my danged thumb wasn't tucked in it so it'd be broken, and slugged the big creep right in the

mouth. Although it hurt like heck all the way up to my elbow when I hit him, especially my poor

wrist, I didn't care. I now understood something about the guy mentality.

       I really wanted to hurt this clod in the worst way, and I did. My punch bloodied his

mouth in a hurry, but it also set his inner rage on fire, fueled by his injured pride and a terrible

case of coitus interruptus even before we'd had the time to "coit", if I can coin a word.

       "That's it, bitch! I'm gonna beat yer no-good ass t' death!" He advanced on me.

       The murderous look in his eyes, accompanied by his words and the tone, assured me if I

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was in this room all alone with no help coming, I'd leave it feet first in a body bag. No danged

wonder Brenda was so afraid of this guy.

       He was now a homicidal maniac.

       Still, I had to do something or I may very well undergo a very serious beating before my

hero showed up. I darted left, feinted, then dived for my purse, as it was my only chance now.

       I hit the floor and slid, but got my hands on that cheap purse. It wasn't a clean move, and

it wasn't pretty. It also wasn't in time. He got a grip on my right ankle and pulled me back, my

purse coming open but with the .380 still jammed inside, the front sight snagged on the lining. I

was almost fast enough, but not quite.

       Now he was going to make me pay … in blood and a great deal of pain, if he could.

       I'm not sure if Cool Wind thought the door might be locked, or if he did it simply for the

affect, but that huge cowboy boot hit the door and shattered the knob and a large area of the old

wood surrounding it. When that big Indian charged through the opening he'd just created I had

no question how General Custer and his men felt when Chief Shitting Bull and most of the angry

Indians in the world came charging down the hill that long ago day.

       Twig had used his left hand to flip me over onto my back and was on his knees straddling

me, a big right fist cocked back and about to descend to deliver a vicious and very telling blow.

It was never finished.

       Cool Wind's big foot swung like a pendulum and the boot smashed hard into Twig's

broad chest, slamming him backward and away from me. Two long strides and he was bending

down, his left hand filling itself with the leather coat and hauling Twig up from the floor. Yet, as

fast as the astounded bully rose helplessly upward, Cool Wind's elephantine mitt raced down at

him in a whoosh of devastating power. That big hand and the center of the attempted rapist's

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face met in the middle and blood flew in all directions. It sounded like someone had just

dropped a raw beef roast on a concrete floor. Splat!

               Twig wasn't even able to scream. He merely shot back to the wooden floor and

hit with a second loud thud. As fast as he landed, my hero, Sir Slugsalot, hauled him back up

and towered over him, right fist poised to do an encore. "You will now cease and desist from

bothering this woman. Forever. I have spoken."

       The words were eerily chilling and, in a way, even painful to hear. For me, not Twig.

       Looking much like the aftermath of a train wreck, Twig could only nod his very bloody

and gruesome head.

       "You will also never again come near Brenda Dalworth. Do you understand me?"

       Another battered nod, blood flowing from numerous places on his face.

       "Tomorrow, without fail, and no matter how badly you hurt by then, you will visit the

police station and insist the complaint be withdrawn. Am I making myself quite clear?"

       Nodding again.

       "If I ever learn of you striking another woman, I pledge I will beat you to death with my

bare hands. Tell me aloud you understand me."

       Blood sprayed when Twig muttered, "Yeah."

       With a sneer, Cool Wind slapped Twig across the face, sending another mist of red to the

floor, then dropped the man in a listless pile. He looked my way, still the executioner in any and

every respect. "We will go now," he said, pointing toward the door.

       I scrambled to my feet and went, as instructed.

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                                      CHAPTER TEN

                                     San Diego, California

                             Thursday, May 1st, 2008 … 9:21 p.m.

       Cool Wind didn't have a great deal to say on the way back to my house … not like he

ever does, but he was extra quiet this time … and I didn't start any conversations. If I ever did

what he just did to anyone, I'd be saying a few silent prayers to make sure I got back on God's

good side, just to be safe. When you knock that much snot out of someone, you've pretty much

assured that person he won't get a cold for a couple years or more.

       Still, perhaps sensing my concern a bit, he did look over at me twice and grunt, more of a

warm greeting than anything else. I appreciated it, of course, and smiled back at him so he'd be

able to know I still see him as my buddy. Like I'd want any other kind of relationship with a

man who goes after someone like the other guy's a junked car and he's a big derrick in a scrap

yard? I think not.

       The timing was perfect when we got there and he pulled in to park in a guest spot since I

was just finishing up my last ciggie. I always hate … especially now after what happened back

there … to walk anywhere with one in my hand. Now I wouldn't need to do it.

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       Maybe it never happens to you, but I seem to have a knack for forgetting details when I

really shouldn't. Things like being dressed up like a two-dollar whore, as Baker would've said. I

didn't take note of it until I was out of Cool Wind's car and heading for the walkway to my front

doo when I noticed Donnie Oldrunner's reaction. His eyes bugged out like a little boy at the Wild

Animal Park seeing his first elephant, or maybe a lion. Goofy me, I even turned halfway around

to see if there was something odd going on behind me, then I remembered.

       At the moment I probably looked exactly like that girl Donnie's Mom stayed up late some

nights praying he'd never bring home to meet her. I was just about to say something, although I

wasn't sure what it'd be. I mean, how do you tell a friend you've come to care about, "Gee, I've

been out on a case where I dressed up like a slut and I probably gave you the wrong impression.

Don't worry, I'm not HIV positive or anything like that."? However, before I could say anything,

I saw him wilt and drop his eyes to the ground.

       When I peeked over my shoulder again, Cool Wind was standing there looking at

Donnie, who was still a good 25 feet away. I asked him, "Say, was Donnie freaking out a little

bit over the weird way I'm dressed tonight? I don't think he saw us when we left, did he?"

       A nod. "Yes, he was around. You simply did not notice him."

       We began walking again and I thought, Well, Donnie knows I'm not like that, so there's

no reason to feel bad, I guess. Just gotta get in the house before any of my neighbors see me and

turn me in as the next Heidi Fleiss. With a smile I said, "Hi, Donnie. How are you?"

       "I am well, Miss Ryder," he said, his expression warming up now to the one I usually saw

that made him look like he just found a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk. "I must say you look

exceptionally nice this evening." Then he blushed.

       That's another thing I don't get about guys. When they pay a compliment, even if it's all a

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big joke like that one certainly had to be, they seem to act as if they've just let down their guard

so far they'll never recover from it. Maybe I'm just not perceptive enough to know about stuff

like that. However, I couldn't just let what he'd said slide without a question. "That was a joke,


          "I'm sorry?" He even removed his cowboy hat, black like Cool Wind's, and scratched his

head a moment. "I fail to understand your meaning."

          Aw, crud. Another one, it seems. I really hate it when everyone else gets the punch line

and I'm still standing there wondering while the rest are laughing their butts off. "When you told

me I looked lovely. Even 'exceptionally lovely', I think is what you said." I glanced down at my

apparel, then at him again. "You're kidding me, right?"

          Boy, if I thought Donnie blushed before, this one had to get in the back seat and let the

new one ride shotgun. "Oh, no, Miss Ryder. I would never do that. Not with you."

          Dang it! Either I was really missing something here and he was driving it right into the

ground, or maybe it has something to do with their native culture and I wasn't picking up on it.

Either way, it left me feeling sort of stupid. "You wouldn't even kid around with me, Donnie? I

thought we were kind of friends. At least a little. Aren't we?"

          "Oh, I would never dare to impose upon—"

          "That will be sufficient," Cool Wind broke in. "You may put your things in the truck

now and leave for 'The Rez'. Tell her good-bye and then be off."

          Now Donnie looked like he'd just seen someone run over his new puppy with a Buick, an

event particularly arduous on a young dog. He amped up the blush to major league level and was

about to speak when I tossed my 2¢ worth into the pot. "Huh? Why? Cool Wind, tell me why

in the heck Donnie's leaving like this? And with no notice? Does that mean you're pulling up

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stakes on me now, too?" It was a thought, of course, since I'd mentioned a few times I couldn't

see any reason he'd still be hanging around. Not that I even wanted Cool Wind and the guys to

go, since I didn't, by any means. Heck, with me making fifteen grand a month as a judge, and

the oodles of insurance money Baker left me, that thousand a week I was paying him didn't

exactly crimp my style any.

       "No, I am not. Only Donnie Oldrunner is leaving. It was my intention to inform you of

his departure after he had gone."

       "Okay, guys, this isn't even a danged bit funny. What's going on here?"

       "Nothing," Cool Wind patiently explained. "Donnie is leaving and I instructed him to bid

you good-bye."

       "Why? Why's he leaving?" I looked at Donnie and saw the actual dictionary picture of

the word sheepish spread across his face, which only added to my annoyance and confusion.

       "It is best left unsaid," Cool Wind replied.

       "The heck it is," I argued, feeling dumber than the proverbial rock I've mentioned to you

a time or two. "I want to know why he's going."

       "It is best left unsaid."

       Okay, now I was in danger, like Grandma used to warn me, of having a bunch of flies set

up housekeeping in my mouth. I know my jaw must've been hanging wide open. "Dang it all, it

is not 'best left unsaid', you big boob! I like Donnie, darn it all! If he's leaving, I want to know

why and I'm not letting this thing go until I get an answer!" All I could think at the moment was,

if this was a joke, these two were in cahoots and totally driving the blasted thing into the ground

so much we were likely to hit water, or maybe oil, for Pete's sake!

       The two of 'em, if it was two, and that's all I could think it'd be, were really making me

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feel stupid, and I don't enjoy feeling that way. So, with the pressure mounting like this, I gave up

worrying about what my neighbors might think after seeing me in a "slut suit", and even decided

to heck with anyone seeing me outside talking with a ciggie in my darned hand. I lit one up and

stood there waiting. Someone was gonna give me an answer, and I wasn't going inside until I

got it. So, after inhaling and ramping up the glare I had on Cool Wind, I began tapping my foot,

the stupid high heel cocked back on the dagger at the rear end of the shoe. "Well?"

       First Cool Wind looked like he might speak, then glanced at Donnie and dropped his eyes

to the ground again. When I peered at Donnie, he also found something incredibly interesting on

the tarmac and began to study it.

       "Darn it, somebody danged well better say something, and I mean now! I want to know

why a guy I really like is leaving and no one even wants to explain it to me. Am I too stupid …

in your opinion, that is … to get it?" Another drag and more foot tapping. I was getting pissed


       Again Cool Wind looked at Donnie, then he turned back to me. "I really cannot say."

       "Bullpucky! Dang it, someone can, and someone had better, PDQ!" I spun to face the

now very red-faced Donnie. "Why are you going, Donnie?"

       He gave a brand-new meaning to the word mortified at my question. "It would be unwise

for me to say." Then he looked over at Cool Wind, almost as if asking the man if he'd done what

he'd been told to do.

       "I don't see it that way." I watched his face for a long time, maybe five seconds. I know

that's not much in the overall scheme of things, but you had to be there. Heck, in the time I was

gawking at him, it felt like I could've had lunch and a ciggie when I was done. "Okay," I said

when that one wouldn't get off the ground, "tell me this. Do you want to leave here?"

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       Again, he looked back to Cool Wind, something else that was getting on my nerves in a

big old hurry. When Cool Wind failed to acknowledge him, merely went on eyeballing the dang

ground, Donnie told me, "No, I do not."

       "Did someone tell you that you had to leave? Call you from 'The Rez', maybe?"

       "No," he repeated, "I do not wish to leave."

       Grrrr! This conversation, and these two guys, were all pissing me off! "Then I say I do

not want you to leave. Will you stay, Donnie, if I ask you?"

       Instead of answering me, he peered over at Cool Wind again.

       That's when Cool Wind told me, "Donnie will stay, if that is your wish."

       Donnie's puppy managed to jump away at the last split second and the Buick lumbered

past, the little mutt wholly untouched. Donnie's face showed his delight.

       I waited, but that was evidently all she wrote. No further info was coming and I could

either deal with it, or deal with it. I had my choices laid out for me. "And that's it? Donnie's

staying and no one's going to tell me why we had this cockamamie conversation?"

       The song now playing would be called "Dearth", if it had a name, since that's how heavy

the silence became. I looked at 'em both, Cool Wind then Donnie, and took a repeat lap between

the two just to be sure. With nothing else forthcoming, I took one more drag on my ciggie, gave

each one an eyeball swat, and said, "Guys! They can drive a girl nuts!" Then I walked up to the

door and let myself in with my key.

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                                    CHAPTER ELEVEN

                                      San Diego, California

                              Friday, May 2nd, 2008 … 10:14 a.m.

       After last night's hullabaloo I sat around inside and kept to myself. I zapped a TV dinner

so I wouldn't starve and got back into that novel I'd been reading, The Shimmering Image. It was

really interesting, and I finished it before I headed upstairs to bed. I saw Donnie a couple times

as he made his rounds and smiled at him. Each time he did the red-faced thing and smiled back

at me. Heck, the second time I went into the downstairs bathroom and checked in the mirror to

be sure I didn't have any spinach in my teeth, for Pete's sake.

       When Cool Wind came in later to do whatever the heck those guys do to keep me safe …

as if I'd know, or even understand if they told me? … I tried to talk with him about it. I told him

I had no hard feelings about it, but I really liked Donnie and didn't want him to leave. He gave

me a grunt, as usual, and went back outside to kill bad guys, or whatever it is he does.

       So, today I was starting all over again. I slept in until nine, a major luxury to someone

who customarily is up trying to get ready at quarter of six each day, and even fed myself. There

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was a sale of some kind at Ralph's Marketplace, the grocery I go to, and I'd stocked up on some

neat Danish. They had two kinds, strawberry and cheesecake, and I love 'em both, so I got five

of each a couple-three days ago. I had the cheesecake this morning with a glass of milk, then

made a pot of coffee and started reading my newspaper. I was mostly finished with it, since they

have the thing so shortened up by now it's like they describe a teen boy's first sexual experience:

over before you know it.

       Then Donnie came in the front door, looking like I probably did when Mom and Dad got

me my first car, and said, "You have a visitor who wishes to speak with you."

       Before he could say more a woman's voice called from outside the front door saying, "I

can get a damned warrant if I need one. Stop dicking around and let me in."

       Donnie and I both smiled, but I somehow think it was for different reasons. "Please tell

her to come in, Donnie, and thank you. By the way, you look very nice today."

       Maybe I didn't mention it before, although I don't know why not, but Donnie is what I'd

have to say is "a hunk". I even asked Cool Wind about him a while back. He's 29, a year or so

older than I am, six feet even, 180 or so, with sheeny black hair and brown eyes. Much the same

as Cool Wind, only he's not as bulky because he's eight years younger, Donnie has muscles on

his dang muscles. Like Jim Croce said in that old song, You Don't Mess Around With Jim,

Donnie Oldrunner is "stronger than a country hoss", although that "big and dumb as a man can

come" line sure doesn't apply. The others do, however. You wouldn't want to tug on Superman's

cape, spit into the wind, or pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger … and you definitely wouldn't

ever want to mess around with Donnie Oldrunner. As Baker would've said, Donnie is "tougher'n

a 79¢ steak … that's the whole steak, not per pound".

       He's a man a girl can feel very safe with because he's entirely a gentleman, yet brave and

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protective as can be when I'm around, and I've had occasion to see him go heads up with more

than a couple guys. Donnie's never even been touched in a fight, as far as I can recall, and he can

sure as heck do some damage when necessary. Plus, of course, the man took a danged bullet for

me from that weirdo, Rafer Densmore, although he had a Kevlar vest on, and he wouldn't even

let the ER people treat him, for Pete's sake. He just insisted he had to get back to his duty, which

was guarding me that evening. The man is both loyal and courageous.

       Plus … and don't you ever say I told you this 'cause it would embarrass the pee out of me

… he's also cute as can be! Cool Wind told me Donnie's never been married, and I sure don't see

why some girl back on "The Rez" hasn't snagged him by now. I mean, the man is a hunk, so

why hasn't someone locked the guy up and conned him into a diamond? Hard telling, I guess.

       Yet, now, when I tell him he looks very nice, he does that red in the face thing again. He

was wearing a polo shirt, or a knockoff, I can never tell, in a dark brown that went very nicely

with his deep tan and what looked like new Levis that, in my opinion, only emphasized the guy's

got some very decent buns on him. As I said, he's really cute.

       "Thank you, Miss Ryder, and if I might be permitted, you look simply ravishing today."

       Okay, he may be a hunk, but it appears I must've missed a vision problem along the way.

       When I got out of my robe and showered, I was sort of looking forward to enjoying this

last day off for that pesky bullet wound on my arm, since I head back to work as a judge next

Monday morning. Consequently, I was wearing a bumming around outfit. I put on some tan

cargo shorts, the kind with eleventeen pockets where you can carry anything and everything up

to and including a danged road atlas, and a dark blue pullover shirt with short sleeves and sort of

a vee in front. Not a "boobie peek" vee, just something to let a girl relax without any tight collar

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to bug her. Toss in my white gym socks, the kind that go up a few inches and not those stupid

things that look like no socks, and there you have it.

       Except now I'm being told I'm "Miss America on a stick". I don't think so.

       I smiled at him. "Donnie, that's very sweet of you to say, but I look more like a girl you'd

want to come in and clean your garage than anything else today."

       "I beg to differ with you, Miss Ryder. You appear as stunning as you always do."

       "Yeah," I responded, "while we're at it, that 'Miss Ryder' stuff's gotta go. My name is—"

       "Gonna be mud if I have to stand out here listening to a whole lot more of this bullshit

from the two of you," came the remark from the front door. "You two trying to make me puke,

or what? Screw it, I'm comin' in anyway."

       "I must show your guest in," Donnie apologized with a half bow, then turned on the heel

of his boot and walked away in those ground eating strides of his.

       As he approached the front door a woman stepped inside and smiled at him. "I had 'em

issue the warrant, Donnie. I got tired of waiting," she said, smiling at him as she ambled past.

       Donnie continued walking and she came in looking like a woman ready for work with a

nice gray business suit, the kind with loose slacks and no cuff. The jacket hung open showing a

10mm Glock on the right side of her belt, clearly not bothering her while she walked, since she'd

carried a sidearm for 21 years now as a member of the San Diego PD. Black loafers and a small

black handbag on a black strap hanging from her right shoulder set the outfit off, coordinating

nicely with a soft, silky looking black blouse. It was probably short-sleeved, knowing Detective

Angela Dutton as I've come to know her the last few weeks, but I couldn't be certain with that

coat she wore, as it was long-sleeved.

       "You two about done now with all that crap I was hearing?" Angela asked, taking one

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last peek over her right shoulder as Donnie disappeared. "Gotta admit it, that dude's got a set of

buns on him that simply won't quit."

       "I have no idea what 'crap' you're talking about."

       "Oh, really? You pay these guys on commission based on how much kiss-ass they do in

a day, CC?"

       "I beg your pardon?"

       "Aw, c'mon, girl. Never try to shit a shitter. I heard him brownnosing the boss in here as

I stood waiting. He ask you for a raise recently, or what?"

       "I don't pay him. As a matter of fact, no one pays these guys. Of course, I do pay Cool

Wind, since he's the one I hired, but these guys all come along with him for no wages. They all

want the experience of working with him to learn his ways."

       "Shit, if that guy's part of the freakin' deal, maybe I'll talk with Cool Wind about coming

around to my place, maybe on the weekends."

       "You're a cop, and you carry a gun big enough to hunt bear with. Why the heck would

you ever want to hire security people?"

       "I wouldn't, but it might be worth a couple of bucks just to have a guy with that kind of

hot buns walking around the house to sort of cheer a girl up." She grinned and added, "So, how

much is the package you bought from Cool Wind?"

       "A thousand per week."

       "Oooookaaaay," she said with an oddball grin, "then I guess when I have a jones to see a

pair of really hot buns on a guy, I'll just swing by here for coffee, instead. Speaking of which,

got any? Coffee, I mean."

       "Sure, I'll just—"

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        "I can find it," she told me, turning to head for my kitchen. I was still sitting on the long

couch in the area of the main living room it sort of sets off over by the fireplace, so I just lit a

ciggie as I heard Angela opening and closing doors in the kitchen. She was back a minute later

with a cup in her hand, steam wafting above it. She sat on the other end, closest to the front door,

pulled over a coaster and set her cup on it after taking a sip. "Mmmm, good."

        "I'm so glad you approve. So, tell me, why the warrant? What's up?"

        "I don't have a warrant and you know I don't," she told me, eyeballing my ciggie as she

spoke. "I was just getting tired of listening to that teenage bullshit you two were splattering all

over the freaking room. I figured it was either I'd vomit in your bushes out there, or I suggest

you two get a room. I finally decided just to tell you guys to knock that shit off, and here I am,

Angela on the J-O-B."

        "We weren't doing any such — … what's this about on the job? What’s up?"

        "Well, you know me and wardrobe questions. When I can't make up my mind, I can be a

total bitch to be around."

        "Only then?" I asked, getting in a dig as I took a drag, but I smiled at her to take all the

real sting out of it.

        "Well, you know what being a cop does to me. Anyway, gimme one of those," she told

me, pointing at my ciggie.

        "You've started smoking again after all these years?" I asked, digging one out and giving

it to her, then passing along my disposable lighter.

        "Just OP's," she remarked as she lit it, then handed the lighter back to me.

        "What the heck are they? I've never heard of them."

        "Other People's," she said with a chuckle. "Shit, you and all these shenanigans have me

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on the edge again. I don't do it much, but this really is good coffee." Following a quick drag,

she took another java hit and added, "But, I still have all these wardrobe questions."

       "You've lost me," I replied, totally out in right field by now.

       "I can't quite make up my mind what I'll want to take with me as accessories if I end up

going to prison … after helping you secure the damned semiautomatic weapon you used to pop a

cap on that old lecher who couldn't get enough of your titties," she responded, taking yet another

drag and blowing the smoke toward the ceiling. "Wow! These suckers make me dizzy, still. It

must mean I'm not overdoing it yet."

       "You're not going to prison for that, and neither am I, and you know it."

       "Bullshit, girl. You put four bullets into a major player in the local Democratic Party,

and all the folks who miss that sleazy asshole carry a lot of weight at City Hall and with 'The

Brass' at SDPD. I haven't heard anything yesterday or today … which may or may not be good

news in some way … but I like to do that Girl Scout thing and be prepared."

       "I believe that's the Boy Scouts," I corrected her.

       "Sexist little shit. Whatever," she said, blowing me off. "However, I don't know any

such thing, and I don't like it when I don't know things."

       "Well, since this does directly involve you, I will say this much. Cool Wind has looked

into it somewhat."

       "Cool Wind, you say. Hmmm, any survivors?"

       "No fatalities," I admitted grudgingly. "Two casualties, but they'll both recover … um, at

least, eventually."

       "Ahh, so two and two is four," she said, taking another drag of her "sneak high", then

following it with more coffee. "I had a chance to visit with Julio Mendez. Even asked him if he

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knew for sure which railroad the train that hit him was with, but he clammed up on me. I take it

that was the 'Midnight Cool Wind'?"

       "In a manner of speaking. Julio has agreed to leave Brenda and the other two girls he had

on a string alone now, and he's released her from any obligation to him." I had to smile at the

idea, since even thinking about doing someone that kind of good turn made me feel better, and

Brenda deserved a break, in my opinion.

       "I've said it before and I'll say it again, that Cool Wind is a mean motor scooter and a

very bad go-getter. Details, I presume, will not be forthcoming?"

       I shook my head as I took a drag, then drained my coffee cup. "There was also a moment

of … shall we say conflict? … with a man named Twig."

       "No shit? That was Cool Wind? One of the other 'tecs said he saw Twig looking like a

bad wreck after the other cars were all towed away. Damn, you guys've been busy, huh?"

       "Someone had to do something."

       "Yeah, that's what they said about Hiroshima. Looks like it happened again all over Twig,

the way I hear it."

       "That's reasonably close. In any event, I have it on good authority Mr. Twig plans to see

a cop or two today and withdraw his complaint, meaning—"

       "Meaning, since things are looking up for Brenda, it might behoove me to look that lady

up and see if she needs a ride to the DA's office so she can tell her story."

       "She's going there today, as I understand it."

       "Well, kiss my ass," Angela said with a smile. "If so, we might just steer clear of a load

of stringy bullshit on this one."

       "I'd say there's a good possibility, " I agreed with her.

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        "Cool. Now, if you and 'Hot Buns' can ever stop making goo-goo eyes at each other—"

        "We are not!" I shot back at her. "Donnie was going to leave here last night and go back

to 'The Rez' but, when I asked why, neither he or Cool Wind would tell me a reason, so I insisted

he stay here, and he's going to stay." I hadn't planned to get into all that, since it didn't involve

Angela in any way, but I don't like to have people ride me like a rental horse in a stable.

        "Oh, I thought maybe you chewed the guy's ass or something and he was kissing up to

get back on your good side."

        "Donnie is always on my good side," I argued.

        She grinned. "With a bod like he has and that set of buns, that's the only way." Then she

gave me a wink and finished her coffee.

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                                   CHAPTER TWELVE

                                      San Diego, California

                               Friday, May 2nd, 2008 … 11:06 a.m.

       When Angela took off I got back to attempting my best at doing next to nothing, and was

making progress in that regard when Cool Wind came in holding his cell phone in his hand. "I

received a call from Brenda. She wishes to speak with you."

       "Is she on the phone now?" I asked, pointing to it. Since it was closed, I think I knew the

answer, but I asked, anyway.

       "No. I said I would speak with you and return her call." He cleared his throat. "She has

spoken to an ADA and given her statement. Of course, they wouldn't advise her of their plans or

intentions, since she is not a party under investigation in the shooting, but she said she explained

what she heard." He shook his head. "She appears to still feel she heard the man say 'I am more

than Abraham' and cannot recall more of his words, beyond all the death threats he made to you.

Still, it is reasonable to infer they will make the connection from what she told them."

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       "Gee, that's great, Cool Wind. So, should I call her back?"

       "I suggest I call her and arrange a meeting. I am aware you wish to speak with her."

       "Okay, cool. Should I go change my clothes?"

       Looking me over in my shorts and sport shirt, he shook his head. "No, but I suggest you

wear shoes," he added, looking down at my stocking clad feet.

       "I'm glad you mentioned it," I told him as I reached for my shoes on the floor at the end

of the couch. "I never would've thought of that part."

       With a quizzical look, he responded, "I will be at your car in the garage." Then he walked

away toward the garage door, bringing the cell phone up to dial a number.


       Not any big surprise, Cool Wind arranged for us to meet at a Denny's restaurant, which I

thought was a great idea. Of course, I'd already eaten my breakfast and wouldn't need a meal, but

they have a biscuits and gravy order I enjoy, and I was sure Brenda wasn't eating well on only

the small amount of money we'd given her. Of course, I insisted on repaying Cool Wind for the

loot he already gave her. I asked him to call her back to tell her to order a decent meal, but he

pointed out she only uses pay phones or borrows a cell phone from someone. Apparently Julio

Mendez felt it was a waste of time for her to have a cell phone when he wanted her busy having

sex for money, instead.

       Before I could come up with an alternative, since I didn't want her to be hungry while she

waited for us, he told me, "I instructed her to eat well and informed her we would pay for it."

       "I will pay for it, Cool Wind, and you know it."

       Still never cracking a smile, he used it as a straight line to play off that old Lone Ranger

joke. "Who's 'I', white girl?"

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       It took me a few seconds to get it, particularly since he wasn't even smiling, then it made

me laugh like crazy. I've known all along the man is incredibly intelligent, but I never guessed

what a wry, and sometimes sardonic, sense of humor he possesses.

       I suppose that only shows me there are always new facets to be discovered in everyone.

       When we arrived, with the gentlemanly Cool Wind actually getting my door for me when

I spent an extra few moments messing around to freshen my lipstick, I was feeling like a lady

and very happy with it as we went inside. What can I say about the place? It was a Denny's with

the expected green roof, a yellow sign with big red letters, green carpeting and tons of booths on

the aisles with eleventeen thousand people eating various meals, mostly breakfasts. Brenda was

in a red vinyl booth with a table, so Cool Wind guided me back to it and waited while I slid in.

       He took the aisle seat. We were at the rear by a large window that allowed him to see the

parking lot where my car was parked as well as all the way to the front door. I assume that's why

he didn't make her move so he'd have the gunfighter's seat. She looked up as we approached but

didn't smile, merely nodded. She was chewing her food and had inflicted severe damage on what

seemed to be scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, a stack of pancakes, o.j., hash browns and a

glass of milk. A cup of coffee sat to one side, untouched yet.

       "Good to see you're getting a decent meal for a change," I told her as I slid in by the wall

and Cool Wind quietly palmed the check sitting in the middle of the table.

       "Dude says yer buyin' er I'd o' just got me some toast," Brenda replied as she shoveled in

a forkful of eggs.

       "That we are. Thank you for giving that statement. I'm sure it will be what we need to get

this taken care of quickly."

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       "No sweat," she replied before doing in the half glass of o.j. still on the table. She raised

the glass so the waitress saw it, then nodded and put it on the table again. "I'm fuckin' starvin'."

       I thought about letting the remark go, but decided to say something, since I had yet more

on my mind regarding this young woman. "Would it be difficult for you to use less vulgarity

when you speak? When people speak that way it somewhat demeans the conversation and puts it

in a bad light, if you will. Further, it creates the impression the speaker isn't very smart, and I

can see you're an intelligent woman."

       Brow furrowed, she glanced at Cool Wind.

       He told her, "Watch your language."

       "Oh." She looked my way. "Why did'n ya jus' say that?"

       After I looked at him, I turned back to Brenda. "Habit, I guess. While I use slang often, I

normally try to keep it cleaned up. Not that I can't use dirty language … and I have done so on

far too many occasions … but, I try to speak like a lady on most occasions."

       "Whatever trips yer trigger or floats yer boat," she said in dismissal, attacking the stack of

pancakes with a vengeance. She must've asked for a lot of extra syrup as I saw four of the little

syrup containers empty on the table and the pancakes were now all only drowning victims in the

brown liquid.

       Waiting until she swallowed, she added, "That was some decent shit … can I say shit? …

ya did with Twig. That mother— … dude's lookin' like he was in a car wreck an' didn't have him

no damned car. Some serious ass kickin', dude. Thanks fer havin' my back on that one."

       "It was my pleasure."

       That got her attention. Brenda looked first at him, then me. "He serious on that part?"

       "I'm afraid so. Cool Wind doesn't approve of males hitting women."

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        Brenda hoisted the thumb of her left hand, unwilling to disturb the right as her fork took

up the last of the scrambled eggs. "That was a kick ass move. Thanks a lot."

        She was being absorbed into our unit, and I could tell because Cool Wind only grunted.

        "Oh, an' th' other part," she reminded herself as the rest of the milk disappeared from the

glass. "You an' them other dudes did some serious … dude, I mean it was down town bitchin'

decent … ass kicking on Julio. He done cut them other two babes free, like ya said. Sheila, she

went an' hauled ass back t' Iowa, er Nebraska, er some shit eatin' place like that where they got

all them cows an' corn an' shit." She glanced at me. "Ya never said. Can I say shit, er not?"

        "That's up to you," I told her, wondering if this was an omen of sorts.

        A shrug. "I'll see what I c'n do. Ennyways, Candy, she says she ain't hookin' er whorin'

no more fer nobody. Says she's gonna get inta cosmetology, er some shi—… stuff like that an'

maybe even start doin' hair an' shi—… stuff somewheres in a salon, er some shit." A giggle as

her face broadened in an embarrassed grin. "Sorry 'bout that. Th' li'l fucker jus' slipped out."

        Totally incognizant of what she'd just said, she speared a sausage link with the fork and

put it all in her mouth in one bite, then began chewing, keeping her mouth closed.

        "I appreciate the effort," I told her.

        Okay, CC, let's get the show on the road. "Brenda, I'm told you want to find a way to be

out of all this and stay off the streets. Is that true?"

        "Bet yer ass," she said, still chewing. "Can I say ass, er not?"

        "Your decision. Answer the question, please."

        "Thought I did." Another shrug. "See, I kicked meth 'bout seven months back. It was a

real bitch, but I got my shi— … stuff t'gether an' got off it. Now that I ain't out hookin' no more,

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I kinda wanna make a life fer myself, if I can." She finished with a sort of embarrassed flush, as

if I'd laugh at her for having such a foolish dream.

        I didn't laugh.

        She and I sat and looked at each other a lingering moment, sort of the way two dogs will

meet and watch each other, even before they sniff butts, trying to see if the other one intends to

bite, or worse. That time of intense study where parts of inner beings examine the same parts of

another to make an assessment. To see if the other is a danger or a possible ally. After reading

her the best I could, I made my tentative offer.

        "I want to help you, Brenda, if I can. Notice I said 'help', not 'take care of', or anything of

that nature. Help. Simple as that. If it ever gets to where I'm doing more than 49% of the work,

I'll quit. I'll help, but I won't do."

        After a delay, that thing called a "pregnant pause" by poor quality writers, she asked me,

"Why? Why'n hell're ya even sayin' this shit … I mean, stuff, t' me? What's in it fer you?"

        "It's a form of payback. I've had people do kindnesses for me in the past and I'll never be

able to repay them. Some have died, others have moved on, but I still owe for all the help I was

given when I really needed it. So, helping you pays down my debt. You, in turn, will one day

have an opportunity to help someone else where there's supposedly nothing in it for you. When

that day comes, I'll expect you to help that person. As I said, simple as that."

        Cool Wind grunted, so I had affirmation.

        "Okay," she said with a shrug. "Whatever ya say, I guess."

        "Tell me," I asked, hearing a different sort of grunt from Cool Wind as the words rolled

off my tongue, "would you like to come stay at my place for a while, until you can get back on

your feet and earn a respectable living?"

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       Another shrug. "Yeah, if yer serious. Ya ain't shit— … foolin' me, are ya?"

       "No. I'd never do that. Look, I can't have you move in until the DA drops the case with

me as a 'person of interest', but I'm not going to leave you wandering the streets in the interim, so

here's what I propose. Cool Wind and I will take you to a decent motel somewhere around here

and get you a room for, say, a week. Then, when all this comes together, you can come stay with

me at my place in Scripps Ranch." I watched her face with my eyes and inspected Cool Wind

with my ears, wondering how this would be received by both. He merely grunted again.

       "Sounds good t' me. When's all this comin' down?"

       "When you finish your breakfast, I guess."

       Brenda popped the last piece of toast in her mouth and said, "I'm finished. Let's haul us

some serious ass."

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                                   CHAPTER THIRTEEN

                                       San Diego, California

                               Friday, May 2nd, 2008 … 12:37 p.m.

        When we all got in my car, a year-ol BMW 335i convertible with leather seats, Brenda's

eyes bugged. "Shit … I mean, wow, you can skip that crap about a room, ya know? Shit, I'll jus'

stay here an' call it okay, if ya want."

        "We can do better," I told her, lighting a ciggie as Cool Wind backed out, stopped and

took off to the exit. "This doesn't have hot and cold running water."

        "Bet me!" she said, running her hands across the seats. "Shit … I mean, damn … um, I

mean … I dunno, somethin' … if I owned this mother, I'd jus' sleep in it. Wouldn't never leave."

        Wondering how long it'd take us to get in sync, if it would ever happen, I said nothing.

        He drove us to a nearby motel. Nothing fancy, but very clean and devoid of any criminal

element. We checked the room, Cool Wind going in first and inspecting everything, then giving

his approval after insisting she know where the locks were for the patio doors. It was on the third

floor, but I paid no attention to that, either. Brenda seemed to have plenty of energy and there

was an elevator if she didn't want to use the stairs, an inside the building staircase with concrete

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walls and metal rails, a landing halfway between each floor. However, as fast as I thought we

had that part solved, Cool Wind nixed it. He didn't want her using the stairs for any reason.

       "Yeah?" she asked. "What if some asshole … sorry, I fucked up … some dude's gonna

be in it an' I don't wanna git in? Ya know, maybe th' fuc— … uh, guy's hit on my ass, er some

shit like … I mean, stuff like that? Ya want me t' get in an' have some prick be rapin' me there in

the damned elevator?"

       "Should that occur, I suggest you wait until it comes back down. Oh, and I want you to

carry this at all times." He handed her a small black plastic tube.

       "This's pepper spray," she said as she looked it over.

       "No, it is bear spray," he corrected her. "It is the 7% solution, even stronger than what

the police or security people carry. It is totally disabling, but be very careful you don't get any of

it in your own face. If so, you will be helpless and in great pain for 30-60 minutes. Do not admit

you have it to a police officer as it is illegal. If anyone bothers you … for any reason, in any way

… I suggest you use it without delay, then leave the area immediately. As I say, the effects are

very long lasting and will disable you completely if inhaled or it makes facial contact."

       My cell phone rang, so I turned my back as they were discussing it and answered. The

name on the screen was Tez, my nearly invaluable office manager and very close girlfriend. I

pressed SEND and said, "Hey, Tez, what's up?"

       "Not much," she told me, the background noise letting me know she was in her car with

the windows open. The first guy I ever loved, Baker Mann, had a '97 Corvette, silver with a t-

top, and it became mine when he died, since we'd been married six hours by then. I didn't even

want to look at it, and when I hired Tez I learned she had an old Toyota or Mazda that may have

seen service during WWII, so I just gave her the danged 'Vette. Doing so got that stupid car out

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of my sight except when I see her. Then, as if I didn't have enough bad memories about that car,

a guy tried to kill me when Tez gave me a ride not long ago. I commandeered the car and chased

that sucker down, then shot him, but he didn't die. He's in jail now and heading for prison after

I'd earlier sentenced him to a three year minimum for manslaughter. Even funnier yet, he'll get at

least ten years for trying to kill me.

        "I just ran some errands and thought I might stop by. You home?"

        "No, Cool Wind and I are at a motel down by Mission Valley. We—"

        "Are you shittin' me? You're screwin' him now? CC, why the fuck would—"

        "No, I am not!" I said very firmly. "I've rented a room for a girl I want to help get off the

streets, if I can. Hey, I know, why don't you swing by? We can go to the coffee shop … better

yet, I see a Starbuck's down the street. Why don't you meet us there?"

        When I told her where we were Tez said, "Hell, I'm maybe five, six minutes away. I'll

see you there PDQ. Adios," and she hung up.

        Turning around, I saw they were done talking and were waiting for me, so I announced

Tez was on her way to meet with us at the Starbuck's and asked Cool Wind to take the car and

meet us there, since it was only a block or so. He hesitated, looked at me as if he wasn't sure

what to do, then shrugged and went for the car. Brenda and I began walking, enjoying a truly

beautiful southern California day and chatting. At least, I thought we would, but she had yet one

more item to clear up.

        "Look, I ain't used t' nobody doin' nothin' fer free, ya know?" Her eyes rose to mine as

she spoke, with her standing on the right and closest to the street. They contained a question, but

also held a strong note of defiance. "Not t' say I ain't grateful, er none o' that shi— … stuff, but I

was thinkin' it'd be good t', you know, clear up some shi— … stuff, first."

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       "Okay?" I had not a clue where this might be gong.

       "Yeah. Well, first, far's yer boyfriend there—"

       "My who? What are you talking about?"

       "That big Injun, Cool Wind. Look, he's a decent kinda guy, so if ya—"

       "Wait. Hold on. You've got some wires crossed. He is not my boyfriend. I've hired him

to protect me, and I do consider the man a very dear friend, as well, but I don't have a boyfriend.

I'm a widow from not all that long ago, and I did have a relationship for a while with a very dear

man I hoped would—"

       "You guys broke up, though, huh?" She stopped and lit a generic ciggie, blew the smoke

out and watched my face for a reaction.

       "No, he was killed by an insane woman who wanted to kill me and take him out first, as

well as my kid—"

       "Whoa! Hold th' fuckin' phone here! Ya got a kid? Look, maybe me stayin' with ya—"

       "That's just my way of identifying her. My 'kid' is a Brittany—"

       "Like Britney Spears, ya mean? That airhead slut don't know 'er ass from a hole in the

fuckin' ground? Her?"

       I had to chuckle. "Her name is Brittany Lance, a takeoff on the 'airhead' you mentioned,

but she's a dog to everyone else. They used to be called Brittany spaniels."

       "Oh, yeah. I 'member them. My granddad had one, but I didn't get t' see it much 'cause

he started tryin' t' fuck me when I was 'bout ten, so I didn't go over there no more."

       Putting the fingertips of my right hand on her forearm, I said, "I'm so sorry."

       Another shrug. "Don't be. He never got no pussy off'n me, but two o' his kids was able t'

get in my shorts, ennyways. My uncles. They both dicked me 'fore I finally said I'd tell the cops

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if they didn't leave me th' fuck alone, so they did, after a while. Shit happens, ya know? But, it's

okay. I got past it, somehow."

        "I'm really very sorry, Brenda. Honest, I am."

        Half a grin this time. "'S'okay, no sweat. Wasn't yer fault an' there wasn't nothin'

nobody coulda done about it, ennyways. Okay, so, back t' the Injun. If he ain't yer boyfriend, I

still wanna tell ya I ain't never gonna hit on 'im, er nothin', but if ya want me t' let 'im dick me,

it'll be okay. I mean, I won't mind. Ain't like I wanna be with no guy, not after all th' shit's

happened t' me, but he c'n throw a bone t' me if ya want an' I won't say nothin' t' nobody."

        Slightly caught off base, I decided this was a learning curve and I'd better get the hang of

it if we were going to make this work. "That's nice, I suppose, but it won't ever happen. Brenda.

Cool Wind is happily married and would never want you to do anything like that, nor will any of

the men he keeps around to guard me."

        "What? Ya still got some asshole tryin' t' kill ya, er what?"

        "No, but he thinks so. In any event, he and his men will be gone in another week or so

and it will calm down after that."

        "Okay." Another shrug and she took a couple drags as she worked to dig up the rest of

what was bothering her. "So, I was gonna jus' say no on the other, 'cause I flat out don't never do

it, 'less I absolute gotta … I c'n make a exception if ya want … but I don't never do no girl on girl

shit, ya know? I was gonna jus' say no way, but ya are bein' awful fuckin' nice, so I'll do it, ya

know, get it on with ya if ya want. I almost never do that shit, an' I figgered I oughta tell ya—"

        "That will also never be a requirement. I have never 'done girls', as you refer to it, and I

never will. More to the point, after what I've been through, I doubt there'll ever be another man

in my life, either. Just me and my kid, and that'll be about it."

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        "Really? Man, that's weird, considerin' you being such a foxy li'l bitch, an' all, but—"

        "I am also not a bitch, Brenda. I will very much appreciate it if you never use that word

to describe me, or refer to me that way, again. I hate that word."

        "No problem. I was just sayin', ya know. 'Course, far as yer kid—"

        "Brittany? What about her?"

        "Well, I don't do no 'animal acts', neither. Just in case ya was wonderin'."

        "I don't understand?"

        "I don't have no sex with no animals. I ain't never lettin' no dog fuck me, er a horse, er

none o' that shit, so if that's a part o' the deal—"

        "Honey, I don't care if you never have sex with anyone again the rest of your life. If you

ever do, it won't have anything to do with me, however. That's up to you and I'd really rather not

even hear about it."

        "Settles that," she said with a much more relaxed expression. "Like I said, I was just, ya

know, thinkin' we oughta clear that shit … fuck, I meant stuff! … up right at th' start, is all."

        Moments later we reached the store. Bought our drinks, knowing Cool Wind would only

accept a black coffee and what Tez wanted, so we had them on the table when Tez tooled in the

parking lot in the 'Vette. As she was parking it, with Cool Wind now standing off to the side so

he could see everything and everyone approaching, Brenda added, "Oh, an' if it matters at all, I

don't never do no niggers, either, no more."

        "I don't use that word," I told her coldly.

        "Whatever. It's just, I had me one beat th' shit outa me a couple years back … I mean, I

done a few of 'em, 'cause that's all part o' bein' a whore, ya know … but I drew me a fuckin' line

in the damned sand after that black bastard put my ass in th' hospital."

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        "As I said, there will never be any sexual activity in your life even remotely connected to

me, so we won't ever need to discuss your sexual preferences again. It sounds like you won't ever

be bringing any guys home with—"

        "Not on yer fuckin' life!" she shot back. "Ya ain't never gonna need t' worry 'bout any o'

that shit with me, no way! Don't matter t' me if I never see no guys again. I had 'nuff o' that shit

t' last my ass a lifetime."

        Moments later, I introduced her to Tez, my office manager and closest buddy. She's in

her early 40s, five-seven and mid 140s, with hazel eyes and frizzy dark brown hair. Oh, and she

has a rather enormous set of bobbies, which she complains about from time to time. She's been

married twice, has restraining orders against both men, but hasn't seen either one for years. She

smokes three packs of generic cigarettes per day, has pretty hazel eyes and a weak smile she'd

love to make better, but can't. Life has sort of kicked her in the teeth a few more times than most

of us and she let it get to her. Meek and mild, she's afraid to stand up for herself. However, she's

an altogether different person when it comes to me, my safety, or my interests. In that case, she's

a virtual pit bull who will tear your face off if she needs to.

        Oh, and she has some very salty language habits. Enigmatic in so many other respects, to

know Tez is to love her … or to run from her, depending on who you are and why and how you

know her.

        We all sat and talked, with me eventually easing out of the conversation in the largest

part so I could listen to them interact. It was hard for me to get a read on how it was going. At

first I thought it would be all bad, from the way they were talking and verbally feeling each other

out, but it sort of changed into rather hardened women gently pushing each other around. Still,

from my perspective, they weren't exactly clashing, just butting against each other like a pair of

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goats in a barnyard. Sort of scuffling for fun and entertainment. It initially appeared a bit

hostile, but seemed to wind down nicely right away.

       Finally, when Tez asked what I was thinking about because I'd been so quiet for a these

last few minutes, I said, "Oh, I guess I was just noticing you two seem to be getting along rather

well, which makes me happy. So, Brenda, I take it you like Tez, huh?"

       "Her?" Brenda asked, looking to me with her left thumb indicating Tez. "Th' woman's a

absolute bitch an' ya know she is." Then she faced Tez. "Fuck it, you rock." The smile she then

came up with was the happiest I'd seen Brenda act since I first met her.

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                                   CHAPTER FOURTEEN

                                      San Diego, California

                              Friday, May 2nd, 2008 … 2:17 p.m.

       Thankfully, things began to slow down about then, which fit in nicely with my idea of the

last day of my week off to heal up from that gunshot wound. I still had vegging out in mind and

was hoping to get some done yet today.

       Tez left finally, after telling her new friend to "be sure you go fuck yourself when you get

a minute", which left me scratching my head. Brenda countered by assuring Tez if she ever got

to where she became lonely or bored, she had an ass Tez could kiss, so don't worry. All I got out

of it was a well scratched head.

       You may not've guessed this about me yet, although you probably have, but when I get

an idea going, I like to carry it through to the end. It seemed Brenda stood a very good chance of

becoming my new "pet project", and we all know that phrase about "communication being the

problem to the answer", right? The things we do for love, huh? Well, I'm the kind of girl who, if

I see someone needs a helping hand, I reach out. I'm certainly not going to do it all, not going to

take care of someone forever, but a hand up is no big deal. We've all had someone reach down

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to pull us up before … I know I sure have … and there's no danged reason we can't do the same

thing for someone else when we see the need. I guess that's just me, but I'm happy with it and I

see no reason to change.

       So, back to that communication thingy. We went to a cell phone store, the one I use for

my phone, to get Brenda hooked up so she can stay in touch. Heck, cell phone stores are now so

danged common they're almost like Starbucks operations. Or bars in Milwaukee, roughly four to

a block in the neighborhoods. Brenda was embarrassed, or course, and agreed only if I kept it to

the cheapest phone they had with the smallest amount of minutes.

       Yeah, right. With those cheapie plans you call maybe three friends and your minutes are

used up until next month. Or you go over your limit and the danged bill comes in with all those

extra charges and you owe eleventeen cajillion bucks. Nope. I might do something stupid once

in a while, particularly as far as men go when I look back in my life, but I can still catch on to all

the obvious stuff, and this was obvious. I got her the same plan I use, meaning if she was on the

phone 24/7 for maybe 27 days, or something like that, there's a $2.50 surcharge. C'mon, it's only

about nine bucks more per month. I can afford it with the money I'm making now.

       We made sure she had the numbers for Cool Wind and my phone, telling her she'd have

to figure out who the other 598 people the phone would hold might be, and I gave her a kiss on

the cheek before we left. Oh, and I slipped her three twenties just to make sure she had some

walking around money for generic ciggies, a Coke, maybe a burger or a cab ride if necessary.

       Having been there myself at times where all those little things can bog you down, I sure

didn't want her getting jammed up when we were helping her get started on the road back. I got

a touch peeved when Cool Wind sort of grilled her about not getting back on the meth, but even

Brenda said he was right to worry, although she had that part all under control, she added.

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       So, with all the pertinent details attended to and not much more to do with my day, I very

happily had my big bodyguard drive us back home. Brenda would be just fine for a few days in

the motel, and they had a restaurant where she could charge meals to the room. Heck, since I did

give 'em my credit card number, they sure better not give her any crap about getting a meal. No

sense in being tripped up now by little things.

       Brenda was on her way back from hell, and I felt great about helping her.


       Sometimes it's like ya just gotta pinch yerself, ya know? Do somethin' t' make sure ya

ain't jus' dreamin' some shit so's ya wake up an' find out it was all in yer head an' yer stuck in the

same ol' shitpot. That jus' outright sucks, an' it's happened t' my ass too damned many times fer

me t' even count. I ain't shittin' ya, neither. Man, I did pinch my damned self. Right there on the

back o' my arm, that softer part. Hurt like a bitch, so I knew I wasn't dreamin' all this shit.

       Made me think a little, that did. See, there was this one guy I knew, a homeless dude, an'

he was always talkin' 'bout how God'll come save yer ass when things get so's yer all stretched

out an' yer back's against the fuckin' wall. He was a nice guy … don't get me wrong … an' once

in a while I'd lissen t' his shit when there wasn't no johns pullin' over t' suggest I do some o' the

shit they was always wantin' me t' do. Usually, though, when he'd get goin' real good on it, I'd

give the dude a fast "later on" an' I'd be in the road, ya know? Lissenin' t' all that God shit can

get on yer nerves pretty quick after a while.

       He'd tell me … Bill was th' ol' dude's name, jus' in case it matters … how wasn't nobody

knew fer sure how all this shit comes down, but sometimes God'll put yer ass t' the test

somehow. He'd say how ya gotta go through all kinds o' shit, sufferin' from this an' that, an' then

there'd be a day where ya was tested. If ya aced it, ya'd be in. Fuck it up, yer shit outa luck.

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        Times like that I'd usually tell 'im I was outa there. Maybe even take some shit trick I'd

normally tell t' haul ass just so's I didn't hafta sit an' lissen t' all that shit outa Bill. I mean, let's be

real here, ya know? If there even is a dude named God … I ain't sayin' there is, an' I ain't sayin'

there ain't, I only said "if" … like He's got time fer my shit when all this other shit's goin' on in

the world? Yeah, right. I'm that important, an' priests don't dick little boys when ain't nobody's

lookin'. As if.

        Come t' think of it, I ain't seen that ol' fart in a while. He was always sayin' he knew God

was gonna come save 'is ass an' he wouldn't be homeless no more. I never told 'im he was fulla

shit, er nothin', 'cause there ain't no sense makin' nobody feel bad when ya ain't gotta, but I knew

he was fuckin' dreamin', all the same. Like God … if there is one … has time t' be helpin' even

the really fucked up people? Like me an' that Bill guy? C'mon, gimme a damned break, huh? I

ain't stupid, ya know.

        Ennyways, he was always tellin' me we'd have some really ugly shit t' go through an' as

soon's that was done, great stuff was gonna happen. 'Course, the dude covered 'is own ass when

he says it ain't gonna jus' be perfect forever when all that shit happens, but he tells me no matter

what it is comin' down on yer ass, it ain't gonna be nothin' ya can't handle.

        Uh-huh. Sure as shit. I always wanted t' ask 'im what he was smokin', but I ain't never

seen th' dude smoke nothin' 'cept cigarettes, so I can't swear he's fulla shit. Prob'ly, but I ain't got

no proof, so who'm I t' say, right?

        So, now we got this CC babe. I think I kinda covered my ass on the basic shit when we

was talkin' t'day. I mean … yeah, she's already done more shit fer me than anybody ever did in

my whole fucked up life … but ya gotta draw some damned limits, ya know? Told 'er I was

even willin' t' get that big Injun's nut fer 'im if he wanted, an' she says don't even think about it.

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Okay, I'm down with that shit. Then, jus' kinda wonderin', I even tell 'er I'll make a exception if

she wants an' crawl in th' sack with her an' git her off, if I gotta. Hey, no way am I doin' none o'

that girl on girl bullshit if I don't gotta, 'cept she is damned good lookin' an' she's been so damn

nice t' me fer no good reason I c'n see. So, yeah, I woulda done 'er, if she wanted.

        'Course, maybe it really is 'cause o' me tryin' t' save 'er ass outa that wreck. Naw, it's

more likely what I tol' the DA's office. I'm bettin' her ass was in deep shit if I never said nothin'

'bout that ol' fuck was tryin' t' kill her there in 'is damned car. Shit, if I'd'a knowed she wasn't no

hooker, I ain't sure I'd'a tried t' save 'er ass in the first place. I mean, it ain't no skin off'n my ass

if some big-time bitch goes up fer murder er manslaughter er some shit like that.

        'Cept, I did think she was a sister, kinda, what with most of 'er ass showin' when I peeked

in th' door an' hardly nothin' t' cover them nice tits she's got.

        Then, on top o' that shit, she's got ol' fuckin' Godzilla, that Injun dude. Bigger'n most o'

the houses I ever lived in, 'e is. Big som'bitch like that an' he can kick him some serious ass! He

went an' nigh on t' kilt Twig, an' he sure as shit didn't do Julio no fuckin' good, neither. Then, as

a add-on dealy-doo, them two's puttin' me up here in this place, maybe a thousan' times better'n

any place I had me a room in a lot o' years, plus she's gonna gimme a place t' live. Shit, who the

hell knows? Maybe I can even get my ass inta some school, er some shit, an' even learn how to

do some decent job where I ain't gotta let some big asshole come in my mouth every fuckin' half

hour, jus' so's I don't get my ass kicked by Julio after bein' a whore all the damned day long.

        Well, shit, them's the breaks, ya know? So's this, Brenda thought as she glanced at the

cigarette she was about ready to put out in the ashtray. I can have me a smoke like I been doin'

here in my room … my fuckin' room, dudes! … an' now I'm headin' downstairs t' the restaurant

so's I c'n get me some eats. This shit ain't, like, half bad, ya know?

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        She stubbed it out, then stopped in front of the mirror on the dresser to check herself out.

These jeans is okay. Halfways decent, an' this blue blouse ain't too shabby, neither. I c'n walk in

there an' look like I b'long instead o' worryin' if some asshole manager's gonna call the cops an'

say I'm in there hookin, er some shit. Then, 'stead o' standin' on a corner so's I can suck dicks all

night 'til I puke, I'm gonna come back here an' watch me some movies on this TV. Ya know, this

really ain't bad. Nope, this is some decent shit, th' way I see it.

        A sidelong glance at the clock radio on the night table with red LED numbers showing it

was almost four, she smiled. Ain't no reason t' bust my ass t' eat in twenny minutes so's I can be

back out there whorin' an' not miss no tricks. Fuck it. When I finish eatin', I might even take me

a walk 'round the ol' neighborhood an' have me a smoke while I look things over … without even

worryin' if some cop's gonna jam my ass up.

        Yeah, this here's some decent shit, come t' think of it.


        Brenda went out the door and came to a stop in the hallway in front of the room, then

went to a window looking over the parking lot. She took a deep breath and smiled. She was

happy for some reason, and it wasn't just the motel room, even if the room was a major step up

from normal for her. No, it was more the taste of freedom in her mouth and nose. The sense a

chapter of her life that had her as the lesser being in almost every relationship was coming to a

close. That she'd somehow turned a corner and the wide open road of life was waiting for her to

accelerate and get up to speed.

        Moving along at a more carefree pace than she'd known in years, if ever, she made her

way to the elevator and pushed the button. Waited. Looked up at the indicator saying it was on

the first floor. Waited some more. Looked again. Still waited. Nothing.

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          Finally, she shrugged. Fuck it. It's still broad daylight out an' I ain't waitin' all day long

fer some fuckin' elevator, man. Life's too short.

          She made her way to the stairwell door, stopped, stood on her tiptoes and peered in at the

eight by eight square of glass, leaning to her left and right to scope it out. I don't see shit, Brenda

decided. 'Sides, it ain't even fuckin' dark yet. Ol' Cool Wind's jus' got 'is damned shorts in a

knot fer nothin's the way I see it. Man, I'm fuckin' hungry an' I ain't standin' here waitin' no


          She pulled the door open and stepped through, not bothering to close it since the large

pneumatic cylinder would take care of it. As she took the second of three steps that would put

her at the top of the stairs, she felt the jarring blow of what she thought was two big hands, palms

first, slamming into her shoulder blades. Already in midstride for the last step, her right leg was

off the ground and she had no means of regaining her balance, not when the impetus sent her in a

long dive, hands outstretched, down the stairs.

          When she hit the concrete steps the heels of her own palms glanced off in a ricochet and

her body took the brunt of the landing on her breasts, ribs, belly, hips and knees. All Brenda was

able to say was "What th' fu—?" as she landed heavily and painfully on the stairs. Sliding down

headfirst, the now bruised hands sticking out in front of her absorbed some of the impact when

she collided with the wall at the far side of the landing. Still, her forehead struck a jarring blow

on the concrete wall, putting shooting stars of many colors in a repeat cycle that flashed behind

her eyes and in her shocked mind.

          As she tried to raise her head to look back up the stairs behind her, the clatter of feet on

the steps preceded the first punishing blow. Having experienced more beatings in her life than

the average person ever even reads about in a newspaper, she knew it was a fist that smashed

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into her face so violently. The blow bounced her head again on the concrete wall, and another

was at full speed on the way to her face when her head caromed off the wall. This one hit

Brenda on her left temple and caused a warm flooding of her face and mind at the same time.

The next landed on her mouth when she attempted again to see her attacker, and she began to

fade out.

       She felt one more as she departed consciousness, a crushing blow directly to the back of

her skull, then it was all black and silent. None of the rib kicks registered in her mind. They only

left their marks on her body and in her damaged bones. The stomping on her back and shoulders

all went unnoticed by Brenda as she laid spread across the landing, a small pool of blood forming

around her head. She certainly never heard anyone running down the stairs in an escape flight.

       Sometime later, no idea when, Brenda floated back up to consciousness to be greeted by

a wave of pain and agony coursing through her body. She tried to endure it, but couldn't, so she

let out a hurt filled groan. After a couple minutes of torment on the floor, she attempted to rise

by a pushup, but couldn't, so she collapsed again to the concrete. Resting a couple minutes to

gather strength, she felt around blindly and found her purse. Extracting the cell phone, she

opened it and pressed a button by a number she'd only called once to test the phone

       When the call was answered she said in a shaky voice, "CC, don't get too mad at me, but

I used the stairway 'cause the elevator was busy. Somebody beat my ass up an' I ain't too sure if

I'm gonna live 'er not." Then she passed out again.

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                                   CHAPTER FIFTEEN

                                      San Diego, California

                              Friday, May 2nd, 2008 … 4:56 p.m.

       When it comes to my work as a judge, even if I feel a powerful sympathy, or perhaps an

animosity, regarding someone standing before me, I can at least appear to remain detached as I

do my job. I may wish I could personally step off the bench, apply a stinging slap to the back of

a defendant's hand, and say, "Now you quit that crap and go home. I sentence you to stay in your

room all weekend with no radio or TV." Alternately, I may wish I could sentence someone to the

next 1,000 years in the very bowels of hell and drive the danged van myself to drop that sucker

off where Satan awaits. However, in a general sense, I stick to the law as written.

       Sure, there's an occasional situation where the law as I see it simply sucks, and I have

been known to bend a rule or two. There was a homeless guy in my court who had two strikes

against him. California adopted the three strikes law in 1994 and carries it to an extreme with

which I disagree. If a Defendant has any two strikes against him, if one of those crimes was a

violent or "serious" crime, the third strike is mandatory for any felony offense. However, it gets

a bit stickier than that out here. Any theft offense involving property valued at less than $400 is

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classified as "felony petty theft", which I also see as ridiculous. If I'm going to be a judge and

I'm the one to rule on these things, I hardly see that as a prison offense. We always called 'em

"wobblers" when I was an ADA, meaning a deal could be cut with no prison time. Maybe time

in the county jail, or just probation in many cases.

       My homeless guy was protecting a homeless woman around six years earlier, (yes, he'd

been homeless all that time), and he beat the other guy pretty severely. He ended up serving a bit

over a year in prison, then was paroled. A few months after he was let out, he was arrested for

stealing a bicycle valued at around $100 and did 90 days in the county jail. However, because of

the assault conviction, that was a second strike. Then he was brought before me for theft.

       The man stole a ham from a grocery store to eat it because he was hungry and no longer

had a bike to take him to the places that serve meals. Those places close by or before the normal

lunch time and it was late afternoon when he got his bike working properly. Rather than just go

hungry until the next morning, he swiped a 6-pound ham selling at 87¢ per pound, a $5.22 piece

of meat. He went a block away and started eating, but was arrested because a store employee

followed him and called the police.

       The ADA prosecuting him was an absolute dink I couldn't stand when I worked with

him. That guy would prosecute his own mother for running the dishwasher with less than a full

load and he'd ask for the max at sentencing. He wanted this old guy sentenced as a third strike,

and he was technically correct. However, in that scenario, I'd've been forced to sentence the poor

guy to 25-years to life. For stealing a danged ham because he was hungry enough to take a

chance like he did!

       I ask you, is that asinine, or what? Absolute stupidity!

       Well, it didn't happen in my court, I'll tell you that much. I kicked out the first two

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strikes, refused to acknowledge either one, then sentenced the man to pay the grocer twice the

price of the ham, $10.44, and bring me a receipt showing he'd paid that amount. Then I went

back to my chambers, handed Tez a twenty, and told her to drive the poor guy to the store, then

bring him back with the receipt.

        The ADA was livid, and tried to chew my butt. I told him to appeal it if he didn't like my

ruling, knowing what his boss would do if he even asked permission to incur the thousands it'd

cost to appeal my decision. Then I glared at the little dink when he stomped out of my courtroom

with his lower lip hanging out in a pout I'm not sure even I could top, and I can pout at a major

league level when I don't get my way at times.

        As a funny add-on, the store manager tried telling the poor man, with Tez standing right

next to him, he couldn't do it because the register wasn't set up that way. Tez explained, if he

didn't do what was asked, the judge would come to the store and make him explain why it was so

impossible to accomplish something that simple. Then she added, "Write the poor man a fucking

receipt in longhand and stamp it with the store's stamp unless you want her in here explaining to

you and everyone else what a fucking moron you are!"

        He followed her kind suggestion and that case was closed.

        So, you see, I can handle matters with a cool head at times. As long as it's business. As

long as it's not personal. That can be a very different story. I guess it's fair to say at those times I

can be an emotional woman, of a sort.

        When Brenda called me and said what happened, then went quiet because she'd passed

out after saying she didn't know if she was going to live, I sort of lost it, I guess. There I was, a

crazy lady running around like a chicken with its head cut off, or something. I can remember I

grabbed my keys and was on a dead run for the garage when my feet left the darned ground.

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       Cool Wind caught me waist high with one of those muscle-bound arms and hoisted me

up off the floor, whereupon he confiscated my danged car keys and said, "I will drive you."

Then he made me get my jacket and purse, (it can get chilly out here in the evening, even in

May), and he had me call 9-1-1 while he made like a land speed racer across town in my BMW.

       The EMTs beat us there, thankfully, and we watched as they brought Brenda out of that

place on a long stretcher and loaded her into an ambulance. We followed it to the hospital and

had to wait a couple hours before they'd let me see her. Finally, after telling me they'd admit her

and she'd be there a couple days, I was granted a few minutes to talk with her, with Cool Wind at

my side at all times.

       "Brenda, do you know where you are, Honey?"

       "I'm either in a fuckin' hospital er heaven looks like shit," she muttered as she looked all

around the room. "I gotta get me some water," she added as she made a feeble effort to get out

of the bed they had her in.

       "Oh, no you don't," I countered as I raised the white Styrofoam cup from the table by the

head of her bed. "They said you can have these ice chips. No liquids for a while since you were

out cold like that a couple-three hours."

       She gave me a look I imagine she reserved for johns who tried to stiff her and said, "If

that don't suck, big-time, I don't know what th' fuck does." A snarl on her face, she grabbed the

cup and almost inhaled a mouthful of chips.

       "What happened, Honey? Who did this to you?"

       Cool Wind leaned in a bit closer when I asked the question.

       "Shit, I dunno. I was tired o' waitin' fer the damned elevator … honest, Cool Wind, it

was taking a long damned time … so I was gonna use them stairs."

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       "Understandable," he said in a very gentle voice. "Go on."

       She seemed relieved to see he wasn't angry. "Ennyways, I was jus' startin' down them

stairs an' some asshole slams into me from in back an' pushes my ass down them steps. There I

am, landin' on my face like a damned clumsy ass cow, an' when I looks back t' see who th' fuck

jus' clobbered my ass, some som'bitch goes beatin' on my face an' head like I'm a fuckin' bongo

drum, er some shit like that. Each time I'm tryin' t' look, the prick's whackin' on me again an' I

wasn't able t' see shit, ya know? Then I'm out like a damned light … it's true, all that shit they

say 'bout how it all jus' goes black on ya … an' then I'm comin' to, kinda."

       After gobbling more chips, then emitting a satisfied sigh, she went on. "So, then I can

see I'm not dead … 'least, I didn't think I was, an' you two bein' here an' talkin' t' me kinda says I

ain't … an' I tried t' get up." She shook her head. "No fuckin' way that's happenin'. None. So, I

gets my hand on that phone you guys got me … by the way, thanks, since th' li'l fucker saved my

damned life … an' I calls you, CC. Nex' thing I know, I got me 77 docs an' nurses fussin' all

over my poor dumb ass, an' here's us now."

       "Well," I said reassuringly, taking her hand and squeezing it, "you're safe now. I'm here

and I'm not leaving right away, and Cool Wind's here to protect you at all times."

       He interrupted me. "I have called Donnie Oldrunner and asked him to come here so he

can stand watch. I have some places to check and questions to ask."

       "Ya got any idea who did this shit t' me?" Brenda questioned.

       "Not at the moment, but that will change," he attested.

       It was all the words he didn't say that sent a chill up and down my spine. I knew from the

tone of voice he used someone was now in grave danger.

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       "I will be off when Donnie arrives," he advised us, "but he will keep you safe."

       Cool Wind stepped out of the room and I had a few minutes more with Brenda, where I

promised her she was not going back to that motel. I insisted she would come directly from the

hospital to my place when she was discharged.

       It wasn't long after that when Donnie Oldrunner arrived and stepped in long enough to

say he was taking over and would be outside. Minutes later a nurse shooed me out of the room,

insisting Brenda needed to rest, so Donnie and I went to the waiting room down the hall and sat

on the couch.

       "Dang it, Donnie, I feel so bad about this."

       "There was nothing you could do," he insisted. "There was no reason to suspect she was

in danger in any way."

       "I disagree, darn it. Her pimp was beaten badly by Cool Wind for all he'd done to her,

and that guy, Twig, was practically crippled for the threats he'd made against her. I should've

known, dang it! I should've done something! Oh, Donnie, I'm so ashamed!"

       "No," he said soothingly, "there was no way you could know. If there was any reason for

suspicion, Cool Wind would have taken extra steps to protect the woman."

       "Well, darn it all, I shouldn't have to have Cool Wind, or you, or anyone else do all of my

thinking for me. I should've known! I should've, but I didn't."

       "There is only so much any one person can do. You are not God, Miss Ryder."

       "That's another thing, Donnie. I don't know why you keep calling me that. I sounds so

danged elitist, or worse. My name is CC, okay? Just CC."

       "Very well. What does it stand for, if I might ask?"

       "Christina Charity Ryder. My Dad always wanted to have a child named CC Ryder, after

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that song he loves so much, although I think he'd've preferred to have a son, not a daughter, but

I'm all he got as children. Mom had some medical problems and couldn't have any more kids

after I was born." I'm not sure why, since I usually don't divulge personal information like that

so easily, but I'm always so comfortable and relaxed around Donnie.

       "I am pleased he did not get his wish," Donnie told me.

       Surprised, I asked, "Why?"

       "If you were a man, you would not have contracted with Cool Wind and we would not

get to work with him. I learn much from a man such as he."

       "Oh," I replied. "I guess that makes sense." Then I looked down the hall to where I

knew Brenda was lying there in all that pain, almost certainly due, at least in part, to what I'd

done or I instigated. "I just feel so bad for her. She's had such a rotten life and she doesn't

deserve any of this crap. But I had to step in … maybe when I shouldn't've … and now look

what the heck I've done! That girl almost died!"

       The darned guilt was swarming over me and, not untrue to my nature, I soon began to

cry. Of course, that also embarrassed the pee out of me and I tried to look away before Donnie

saw the tears dripping onto my face. However, I wasn't fast enough.

       Two big, strong arms encircled me and pulled me to his brawny chest. As his hands now

began to stroke my hair, Donnie soothed my guilt by telling me, "Shhh. I will protect you, CC. I

will let no one harm you. Shhh." As he continued stroking my hair, holding me, and murmuring

in my ear to instill confidence, I deposited the rest of my sobbing on his denim jacket.

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                                     CHAPTER SIXTEEN

                                       San Diego, California

                                Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 … 11:41 a.m.

       Maybe I shouldn't've done it, since she fell asleep soon after I left her room and never

woke up all night because of all the drugs, but I kept a vigil until after one in the morning over

Brenda. Finally, insisting she'd be okay and with one of Cool Wind's other trainees on hand to

watch over her, Donnie brought me home. Cool Wind had taken my car, but his truck suited me

just fine. It was almost like Cool Wind was still with me because I felt so comfortable and safe

every minute.

       When we reached the house he walked me to the door, then went in and checked every

danged room, insisting I stay by the closed front door as he made the rounds. Then, after asking

if there was anything more he could do and being told no, he went back outside and did whatever

the heck it is those guys do.

       Perhaps it was some catching up from all that's been going on lately, but I sort of slept in

this morning. It was only around ten, when her bladder said the time for being polite was gone

and firmer action was needed that my kid, Brittany, chose to get in bed with me. Her little tongue

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went to work washing my face, starting with my danged nose, and that tickles like crazy, so she

didn't need to do a lot more to get her way. Usually, I like to take a few minutes getting out of

bed. Maybe have a ciggie and come alive slowly. See, while I hate to go to bed so darned early,

I also hate getting up. I know, some people are impossible to please. Baker used to tell me I was

what helped him understand that old joke saying some people will complain even if you hang

'em with a brand-new rope.

        Anyway, I was up and took her out back to do her little job, using the leash because I can

still see that poisoned meat left by that insane woman, Bunny Fargo, in my mind. It gives me the

shivers just to think about it. When she finished I took her back inside and put food in her dish.

I only feed her the dry stuff, since Baker and Hug both said the canned stuff will make her fat. I

only baby her with a small can of "meat" two nights per week, Tuesday and Thursday, but that

little dickens knows when it's dinner time on both nights. She gets all anxious and whines, even

follows me around until I fill her dish.

        That meant it was back to time for me, and I only had two more days before I'd be up

early and heading back to work. I made the most of it, getting that darned ciggie I needed and

zapping a Danish in the microwave. Then I got out my paper, still wearing my robe and some

old slippers, sat with my coffee and another ciggie, and relaxed while I read.

        Until my cell phone rang, I mean. I answered it the way I always do. "CC Ryder."

        "Good morning, Your Honor. My name is Dan Branfield. I'm with Shifting Sands of

Texas Life Insurance Company. How are you today?"

        Hmmm, I thought to myself. People say they get calls from insurance guys all the time,

but this is the first one I've ever had. Oh, well, I've already got that policy, and the stuff at the

office, so I'm afraid he's out of luck. "I'm sorry, Mr. Branfield, but I already have all the life

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insurance I need, plus what I have at work. I'm afraid I'm not interested in buying more, but I

thank you for calling." With that, I repositioned myself, about to press END and hang up as soon

as he said good-bye. I already had to scramble a little to grab the earpiece and affix it to my ear,

so I didn't even answer until the third ring.

       "Oh, I'm not an agent," he said calmly, as if everyone assumed that and he always had to

correct them. "I'm in claims, Your Honor."

       Hmmm, it's obvious he knows what I do for a living, but why the heck's he calling me? I

don't have any reason to speak with the man. "I'm sorry, I don't understand. What sort of claim

are you calling me about?"

       "You're the sole beneficiary for one of our insureds, a Mr. Henderson Gentry. You are

the Christina Charity Ryder he named, I assume?"

       As fast as he said it I felt a chill run through me. Hug's only been deceased four danged

days by now, and his family had the body shipped home the day after he died. Cool Wind didn't

want me to attend the funeral. He was concerned both about my safety, and the reaction of Hug's

family members, since he died protecting me. Add in the fact I'm not very big at all on the idea

of going to anyone's funeral and it wasn't that hard for him to convince me. I'd rather remember

the way I knew someone while he was alive than to have the image of him in a casket be the last

time I see him.

       "Are you sure, sir?" I asked, still very puzzled. "Hug made me the beneficiary of his life


       "Indeed. That's how I was able to call your cell phone. He listed the number under your

contact information."

       "But … but … but, Hug and I only met last December, Mr. Branfield. We were only,

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um, together around four or five months when he … when he died." Damn it! I simply hate

saying that blasted word! Especially about a man I loved and who loved me enough to die trying

to save me! Boy, my day may have gotten off to a late start, and maybe I was finally sitting back

so I could enjoy myself a couple minutes ago, but not now. This was too weird!

        "He made you the beneficiary of his group insurance in February, Your Honor. He listed

you as his fiancée. I assume, since your name is unchanged, the wedding hadn't taken place at

the time of his passing?"

        Oh, jeez! On top of all this other crap, now I'm expected to lie about it? Well, I won't do

it, dang it. I'm not going to start telling little ones. That only makes it easier to get used to telling

big ones. "We, um, we weren't engaged, Mr. Branfield. Of course, we'd talked about the idea, in

general, but we weren't actually planning anything. It was for, um, later, in a vague way."

        "That's not any problem, Your Honor. Mr. Gentry had to list an insurable interest on

your part, and fiancée would certainly qualify. The fact you had no plans, or even if you never

wore a ring in honor of the changed status, is irrelevant. You are still the named beneficiary."

        "Sir, it's only been four days. How can you be contacting me so soon?"

        "The television station he worked at turned in the information. It seems they also had a

key man policy on his life."

        Nervous enough to light a cigarette, I told him, "I don't understand. Key man? What's

that, for Pete's sake?"

        "Many businesses do it, Your Honor. If an employee is important to the operation, or a

key man in the scheme of things, the company will insure the employee's life, pay the premium,

and be the beneficiary. In this case, KNEW was the owner and beneficiary of the policy, and the

company paid the premiums."

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        "I see. Um, out of curiosity, how much did they insure Hug for, if you can tell me?"

        He chuckled. "Technically, I'm not supposed to, but I can't see any harm in telling you,

an honorable member of the community, such as you are. Half a million."

        "Oh, my goodness! Half a million dollars? My Hug had that much insurance?"

        "For the company, yes. Your benefit won't be that high, of course, but the company was

able to get a death certificate quickly and filed all the paperwork, so I thought I'd call to see if I

might deliver it personally. I'm in San Diego today, as a matter of fact, sort of a family thing, but

I'll be free by around four thirty. Will it be convenient for you if I drop by in the later part of the

afternoon … say, five thirty? If so, I can deliver the cheque and call it a day."

        "I … I suppose so. Five thirty, you say?"

        "Yes, if that works for you."

        "Sure. I'm not going anywhere today that I know of, except to see a friend who's in the

hospital for a couple days."

        "I hope it's nothing serious. Is he okay?"

        "It's a she, and she'll be fine in a few days. Thank you for asking."

        "Oh, a lady friend. I see. No boyfriend yet, I take it?"

        I held the phone away and looked at it, then put it back on the armrest. "No, I don't have

a boyfriend … nor am I likely to again." The nerve of some people! Why didn't he just ask me

if I was a two-bit slut, I wonder?

        "Very well, Your Honor. I have the address, so I'll see you at five thirty."

        "Oh, if I might ask, how much, um, money is it?"

        "Three-hundred thousand dollars, Your Honor. I'll see you later today." He hung up.

        Just like that. Three-hundred grand. The idea was a bit sickening, but I had no idea why.

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                                CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

                                     San Diego, California

                             Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 … 2:07 p.m.

       Not as well as I wanted, but better than I had a right to expect, my Saturday was moving

along slowly, giving me time to relax and enjoy myself. I was all wrapped up in another great

story called The Second Coming, about two guys who head in and out of the future preventing

serious bad events and tragedies. The writer does a great job and it's really hard to put the book

down, but I had to once again when Donnie Oldrunner announced I had another visitor.

       Setting the story aside on the coffee table, still seated on the couch, I looked up in time to

see my new friend, Angela Dutton, the SDPD detective, come through the front door. "Gee," I

said with a smile, "this is a nice surprise. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

       Angela came to the couch and took the same seat she had yesterday, on the end nearest

the front door. She watched me fire up a ciggie and frowned. "I'm not going to ask you for one

of those things."

       Looking back at her with a smile I said, "Darn. That makes me think of that military guy,

Major Bummer."

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        "Huh? Major Bummer? What's up with that?"

        Another smile. "It's just such a major bummer when I can't let you pilfer my ciggies."

        Angela frowned at me. "Everybody likes a little ass, nobody likes a smart ass."

        Pointing my index finger at my chest, ala Miss Piggy, I asked, "Moi?"

        "Yeah, you, smartass. Listen, I've heard something disturbing, so I'm here to check it


        "Aw, crap. Not a problem with this mess on Abramovich, I hope?"

        "Related," she told me. "After a fashion." Now she looked at my cigarette case again. "I

am not going to ask for one. I mean it."

        "Okay, I'll suffer through it, I guess. Related, how?"

        "Our little buddy, Brenda Dalworth … whom I told you to stay away from. The girl you

and Chief Kickass represented in dealing with a couple of local thugs … another little activity in

which I was not involved in any way."

        "Uh-huh?" I said, knotting my brow and wondering where this was headed.

        "Who won't need to use the john for quite some time, since someone ever so kindly has

now kicked all the shit out of her. Every last brown ounce."

        "Yes, isn't that terrible? Someone practically killed that poor girl."

        "Yeah, well, 'practically' don't feed the damned bulldog, CC. I heard about it, so I

bopped on over to see her. I saw the shape she's in, and I know you did, too."

        "Of course. I was there until around one this morning." I took a slow drag, my eyes now

locked on her. Where's this going, I wondered.

        "So I understand. You've become Brenda's guardian angel, I take it?" The look on her

face said she knew the answer and was waiting for me to fill in the blank.

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        "I wouldn't necessarily go that far. I want to help her, though. I think everyone deserves

a chance in this life and it doesn't look as if she's ever really gotten one."

        Once again, I trained my eyes on her, trying to figure out what was on her mind.

        "A commendable idea," Angela told me, again looking at my ciggie case. "In thought, if

in no other way. It's how you intend to go about administering that help that has me on the edge

of my seat." One more glance at the case. "And I mean it when I say I am not going to ask for

one of those damned things."

        "I believe you," I told her. "What's the matter with me helping that girl?"

        "Oh, helping is fine, I'm sure. It's the way I understand you plan to go about it that's put a

thistle under my saddle."

        I couldn't resist. "Don't you think that saddle metaphor is a little 'tacky'?"

        She frowned. "Bad, CC. Really bad."

        "I know," I giggled. "I'll try to 'rein myself in' a little."

        "Shit, that’s even worse."

        "Oh, I see," I taunted, "you're trying to 'bridle me' now, right?"

        "Sick, CC, really sick."

        "I know, but I can't help myself," I chuckled. "It seems I'm always trying to 'stirrup' some

kind of trouble, doesn't it?"

        "That's incredibly low, CC."

        "Agreed, but once I 'get the bit in my teeth', I can't help myself."

        "Did you hear about the local cop who shot a judge?"

        "No. Should I have heard about it?"

        "Hard telling, but if I hear one more of those lame, sick shots out of you, it'll be in all the

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papers tomorrow." Dragging easily on the cigarette, her demeanor convinced me Angela was far

from finished yet.

       "That sounds like a threat," I said with an even happier giggle.

       "Good. That means we're on the same page. Oh, and I am dead serious when I say I am

not going to ask you for a damned cigarette."

       "I know that, Angela. I believe you."

       Now she scowled. "However, if you don't offer me the son-of-a-bitch in one damned big

hurry, you're going to need to figure out how to deal with one very cranky cop."

       "Oh. Angela, would you like a cigarette?"

       "Me? A cig— … well, thanks, CC. Don't mind if I do." Her left hand came out, palm

up as she sat watching me.

       "You should've asked," I suggested with a chuckle as I handed her one.

       "Didn't want to be a pest or a freeloader," she remarked, still looking at me with the fresh

cigarette in her left hand. "Got a lighter I can borrow?"

       When I handed it to her she held the cigarette with the filter near her lips, the lighter now

in her right hand. "I suppose now, if you'll kick me in the ass once to get me drawing on it, I'll

be okay." As she lit up Angela handed me back the lighter, inhaled deeply on the ciggie, held it

in a long time, then blew a steam of smoke toward the ceiling. "I literally hate myself whenever

I do anything like this, as well as those who abet me in such stupidity."

       "Then why do you do it?"

       Angela frowned again. "Probably because I haven't been laid once since Jesus Christ was

in grade school and it throws off my internal rhythm. Don't worry, I'll get over it."

       "I can't help you with that 'getting laid' part. Sorry, wish I could."

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       "Well, shit, there's something CC can't do. Call the reporters and schedule a conference."

       "Now who's being the smartass?"

       "The one with the bigger gun and a badge."

       One more drag and she stared at me a long moment before asking, "Why in the world …

damn it, I just know I'm going to regret asking this one for a long time … are you talking about

having Brenda live with you? Tell me that, CC."

       "She needs help, Angela, and—"

       "Shit, half the damned world needs help, CC. From Bangladesh to Cairo to the slums of

London to Moscow to people in Toledo. Everyone needs some fucking help, CC, but I primarily

want to know why you want to help this girl … and do it in such a stupid way?"

       "I don't think it's stupid to—"

       "CC, the woman is a whore! She's a damned druggie with language habits that'd make ol'

Tez sound like a Sunday school teacher. She's accustomed to doing a number of things every

day … and many times every day, by the damned way … that'd honestly 'puke a damned snipe

off'n a gut wagon', to quote my dear and departed granny." One more drag. "How can you be so

stupid, an intelligent woman like you?"

       "I don't see it as stupid. The way I see it—"

       "CC, you don't see shit. This woman isn't too much removed from being a wild animal,

for Christ's sake! What're you going to do if she steals from you? Brings her narcotics into your

home? Shit, maybe even hauls a trick in here to service the bastard?"

       "I hardly think—

       "That one's right on the damned money," she snapped back. "You hardly think, you just

step ahead and do the 'feels good' thing and you may very damned well end up paying through

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the nose for it. CC, you have no idea what you're setting yourself up for with Brenda. I do, and I

wish I could make you see it."

       The concern was real, but I still didn't want to accept her attitude. Shaking my head, I

argued, "I have a good feeling about helping her, Angela. I really do not believe she'll ever let

me down. I feel confident I can trust her."

       For a long time, perhaps 15 seconds, she watched my face. Then she shook her head. "I

hope I'm wrong, but I don't think so. Damn it, I don't think so at all."

       She went on smoking the ciggie and staring at me.

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                                   CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

                                        San Diego, California

                              Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 … 6:12 p.m.

        There was never any doubt on my part Angela had my best interests at heart when she

gave me all the warnings on Brenda, but there was also no doubt she was wrong and I was right.

I had this … I don't know, I guess you'd call it a feeling … Brenda was just looking for a chance

to manage a messed up life. I wasn't going to sit in judgement as far as who messed it up for her,

since I certainly didn't have all the facts. Even if I am a judge, I'm not that kind of judge. So, we

left it at a "we'll see" level and Angela left after a while.

        As soon as I walked her out to her car, keeping our voices low because Donnie Oldrunner

was always a dozen feet away, I made it back to the couch and resumed vegging. I would never

want to do it long term, but one final weekend of accomplishing squat did have an appeal, all the

same. However, even if I have sworn off men, either in the short term or for good, there's still the

part of me that can't let myself look like a bimbette when a man will be around. Call it a silly

character flaw if you must, but that's just not me.

        So, around five or so, I'd finished my shower and had my hair done, letting it hang loose

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to drape over my shoulders onto my chest. Out of habit I had at least half of it hanging down in

front so my danged boobies weren't on display. Still, I didn't dress up. Not really. I put on a

pair of light blue Levis and a light blue sleeveless top that matched the color of my pants, (and

what a lucky find that was), with a long-sleeved ribbed white top. Not a sweater, really, but

something to ward off a light chill. Anyway, it was comfortable and I felt I looked okay. A little

makeup, not a lot but enough, some mascara and a clear lipstick I've kind of grown to like and I

was set.

       It was too early to eat and I had my choice of a half dozen TV dinners whenever I did get

hungry, plus there was some microwave popcorn on the counter for this evening. I planned to sit

around with my kid stealing a kernel every once in a while and get back into that novel I started,

The Second Coming. I took her out so she could tinkle and was back on the couch with my book

when Donnie Oldrunner told me Mr. Branfield was here, so I said to show him in.

       Not looking at the clock and getting caught up in that story, I'd only a minute or so past

lit a ciggie. I finished a drag and put it in the ashtray when Donnie brought him in. At first sight

I had to admit he was a nice looking guy, with one unusual facet, in my opinion. He looked to be

early 30s, almost six feet, 160-170 with brown eyes and hair. The hair was maybe two inches and

combed, but slightly mussed. As if he combed it this morning before he got going for the day but

never touched a brush to it since. Sort of relaxed, not fussy.

       He wore a nice medium gray business suit, white shirt and the expected red striped tie,

and his unusual feature caught my eye immediately. His lips were almost full, yet not quite, but

gave him that different look. At first his mouth almost made me think he was about to cry. Then,

when he caught sight of me, he smiled very brightly. It was like everything changed and made

him a lot better looking.

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        Keeping in mind I had absolutely zero interest in finding another guy, I still haven't put

the woman part of myself into cold storage. Even my "look but don't touch" attitude recognized

a nice looking guy, and he was that, no question. He was also here as part of something I'd done

once and didn't enjoy it, and now I was doing it again. Just the idea of it stamped the finality of

what happened deeply into my mind and heart.

        Being paid money because a man loved me, meaning that man was gone forever from my

life. The feeling totally sucked and I found I was almost mechanically making myself smile. So,

I decided it wasn't his danged fault and made myself look pleasant enough that I wouldn't be seen

as taking it out on him.

        "You're Judge Ryder?" he asked, almost as if surprised. He was halfway to the couch as I

was standing to meet him and had his hand extended as if to shake mine.

        I took his hand, nodding at Donnie so he could leave again, and asked him, "Why do you

sound so surprised? Oh, and people always call me CC, my nickname. It stands for Christina

Charity, but I like CC a lot better."

        "Yes, I agree, although your real name is almost as beautiful as you are, if you don't mind

me saying so."

        "I suppose not," I told him, "as long as that's the only lie I hear from you. Would you like

some coffee? A can of Coke? A drink, perhaps?"

        "Oh, no. I'm fine, thank you." He gestured to the couch with his left hand. "May I place

my briefcase there between us so I can ask you a few questions?"

        "Sure," I said as I took my seat again and picked up my ciggie. I'm never phony enough

to ask if someone minds if I smoke in my own house or car. If they don't like it, they can feel

free to leave is the way I see it.

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       As I took a drag he remarked, "Oh, I see you smoke."

       "Uh-huh. If you smoke, too, go ahead. I sure don't mind it."

       "Nope, that's one bad habit I never picked up."

       "Good for you," I said, working a little harder now to maintain a pleasant expression in

the face of what might be a judgmental attitude. If so, it'd show itself before long. "I never make

an apology for things like that in my own home, so I hope you don't object to me smoking while

you're here?"

       "Oh, of course not. It's your home, as you said." His expression was now quizzical.

       "Is there something on your mind, Mr. Barfield? You're looking at me differently now."

       "Oh, please, call me Dan," he replied, handing me his business card. "I was just … um,

oh, never mind."

       "Never mind what, Dan?"

       For a moment, he looked at me, saying nothing. "I was just thinking … no, never mind."

       "Please? What were you thinking?"

       After another moment, he told me, "Well, the thought came to me. I've never kissed a girl

who smoked."

       Nodding my head, wondering where the heck that one came from, I said, "Well, I can't

help you there. You'll still be wondering when you leave."

       "Oh, wow, I'm sorry, CC. That was a terribly clumsy thing for me to say. I certainly was

not implying anything. Please, accept my sincere apology." He reddened tastefully.

       Okay, CC, maybe the guy was nervous, or something. No biggie. Let it go. "That's okay,

Dan. No problem. So, you said you have some questions?"

       He had a number of them, but nothing too intrusive, and nothing really that personal. As

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we talked, Cool Wind returned with Brittany, my kid. She'd begun fussing like she needed to get

outside and do a "number two" and he took her because I was expecting this visit. When she was

in the door she came right over to us and gave him her sniff inspection, stamped a passing grade

and went into her crate for a drink. He remarked how pretty she was, getting himself a few extra

points in the process, and we discussed the breed for a couple minutes. Once he had the answers

to all his questions, he produced a cashier's cheque for $300,115.07 and handed it to me.

       Curious, I asked, "Didn't you say Hug was insured for $300,000, Dan? This is more."

       "Yes, that's the law. When an insured dies the money belongs to the beneficiary from the

date of death until the cheque is produced. The insurance company must pay the guaranteed rate

of interest from the date of death until the claim is settled, so this represents $300,000 plus 3.5%

from the date of his passing. On behalf of Shifting Sands of Texas Life, you have our sincere

sympathy for your loss."

       "Um, thank you," I replied, choking up a little. "I appreciate the thought."

       The heaviness was taken from the moment when he inquired what I intended to do with

the money, giving me cause to ask why he'd want to know. He explained there are a number of

settlement options where I could take only an income and leave the money with his company or

just let it earn interest, and things like that. I explained I planned to get in touch with my own

insurance agent and get some direction from him, so he let it go. We talked about a number of

irrelevant things for another few minutes until he asked, "Would it be out of line if I asked you to

have dinner with me, CC?"

       Well, I thought, if anyone asks me what happened to the danged wrench, I'll tell 'em you

just threw it into things here. "I wouldn't say it's out of line, exactly, but I won't accept your kind

offer. I'm sort of putting that part of my life on hold for the time being."

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       "Oh, of course, I understand. Things of this nature can take some time to get over. It's

not at all unusual to stay home for a while in these situations."

       "I'm glad you can understand my position," I told him with a new smile. "I'm not at all

sure of my intentions … if I even have any … in that regard." He seemed like a nice enough

guy, so I didn't mind explaining that to him. In a sense, I could understand. If I hadn't just been

through losing two wonderful guys in six months, I might've felt interested in Dan, but not now.

Not when I've had my heart crushed twice, and so badly.

       "Certainly, I do," he told me as he closed his attaché case. "Still, as I mentioned when we

met, CC, you are a stunningly beautiful woman. Would it be permissible if I called you later? To

have coffee at a Starbucks, perhaps, and talk? Would that be acceptable?"

       He stood as he asked the question, and I rose, as well. "I'm not sure," I answered him in

complete honesty. "I believe it's all too soon. You know … after?"

       "Of course. Maybe in a few months? Would that be okay?"

       "Possibly," I answered, wondering what all this meant. Darn it, I've told you I know I'm

not a dog, but I am also not "Miss America-on-a-stick", either. "We'll have to wait and see." As

I said it, I began moving his way, expecting he'd back up and I'd follow him to the front door.

       The space between us shrank and, just when I noticed he wasn't backing up, his arms

went around me and his lips were on mine. It was so sudden I didn't even realize it was taking

place until he pulled me tightly to him. Heck, I never even got my danged eyes closed, which

was a first for me, and showed me we must all look kind of dumb when we kiss, telling me that

may be why we all close our eyes.

       I have no idea if there was a tongue about to conduct an invasion because I stiffened in

his embrace, then pushed him back. "What the hell was that all about?"

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        Brittany also wanted to know. She came racing from her crate to jump onto his leg with

both feet, pushing him back within the limits of her size and strength.

        This time he was truly red. "CC, I am so sorry! It's just … well, I mean, I mentioned I've

never kissed a girl who smoked … I liked it a lot, by the way … and you were getting so close as

you walked toward … well, I mean, you are so damned beautiful, and—"

        "As long as nothing like that ever happens again," I interrupted, "let's just pretend it never

did happen, okay? We'll just say you got caught up in a mood, or something."

        "You're sure? Look, I'm really very sorry, and—"

        "No, that's okay," I said as I shooed Brittany away when she tried to get between us so

she could protect me. "Let's just pretend it never happened." I stepped back a foot or so. "Let

me show you out," I suggested.

        "Oh, yes, of course. Of course." Maintaining a safe distance, I followed him to the door

and opened it. "Thank you for bringing that to me, Dan. I do appreciate it."

        "Oh, you're most welcome," he insisted, "and I will call after you've had some time."

        "Okay, that'll be fine," I replied, not knowing if it would be, or even caring much at the

moment. Dan walked out and I closed the door.


        Dan Barfield turned around, a smile on his face as he thought of the woman he'd just

kissed and ran into a blockade that stopped him in his tracks. He looked up about half a foot

into a pair of coal black eyes and had the feeling he was in danger. Might be badly injured.


        Cool Wind glared down at him, not yet casting a shadow with sunset still more than 90

minutes away. "I do not approve."

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       "Of … of … of … of w-w-w-what?' he asked with a gulp. "W-w-w-what'd I do?"

       "You interest in that woman is purely sexual."

       "What? Look, I never said—"

       "You do not need to speak it in words. You mannerisms and expression speak for you."

       "Look, I don't know who you … who the hell are you, anyway, mister?"

       "I am a bad omen for you, or anyone like you. It is your intention to use her for only your

purposes without caring for her feelings."

       "Look, buddy—"

       "I am not your buddy. If you ever even approach that woman again for anything other

than a legitimate business purpose, I will hurt you."

       "Hey, damn it, you can't tell me—"

       Cool Wind's massive hand grasped the necktie and hoisted him to his tiptoes. "I can, and

I will, do anything I choose insofar as protecting her feelings. If you ever again even attempt to

do what I feel will jeopardize her best interests or her feelings, I will find you and fracture many

of your bones. You will suffer grievously. Am I understood?"

       After not more than a moment, he replied, "Yes. Yes. I understand you. I'll leave her all

alone, as you wish."

       Still holding the necktie and forcing him to stand unnaturally, Cool Wind instructed him,

"Very well, ring the doorbell and tell her."

       "What? I'll do no such … oooofffffff!" A powerful jab to the belly left him breathless for

a moment.

       Still in a calm, quiet voice that sounded as if it emerged from a graveyard on an inky dark

night, Cool Wind ordered, "I will stand over here behind this small tree near the door. You will

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ring the doorbell and tell her … honestly and completely … of your underhanded intentions. You

will apologize and pledge never to return."

       When Barfield opened his mouth as if to speak, Cool Wind added, "If you fail to obey me

in this, I will strike you again. And again. And again."

       One more loud gulp and he turned around, then rang the bell. Brittany began barking as

soon as he pushed it and CC reopened the door seconds later.

       "Oh, it's you," she remarked, holding the door at face height and leaning ahead to rest her

cheek on the back of her hands. "Did you forget something?"

       "I apologize, CC."

       "Don't worry. I said to forget about it."

       "My, uh, my interests," he said with another gulp, glancing twice over his left shoulder,

"were sexual only. I want … I mean, I wanted you and I was, uh, I was trying to … look, this is

really very hard for me—"

       "Then why are you doing it?" Her eyes took on a confused posture.

       "Because I was tol— … uh, because a woman like you deserves a much better man than I

am, so I want to make an … I mean … aw, shit. Look, I'm very sorry I hit on you and I promise

I will never contact you again. Honest. I swear I won't."

       "Okay," she said with some confusion. "Is that it?"

       "Yes. Can I go now?"

       "Like I care? Suit yourself," she said, closing the door.

       When Barfield turned around, Cool Wind was there again. "I will never see you in this

woman's vicinity again."

       "No, I swear, you never will," he said as he edged his way around the much bigger man.

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      "No, I will not. I am sure of it," Cool Wind said to the man's departing back. "Never."

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                                 CHAPTER NINETEEN

                                     San Diego, California

                         Sunday, May 4th, 2008 … 9:17 – 10:41 p.m.

       After the man with underhanded intentions departed CC's door, Cool Wind got in the old

Mazda and went out looking again. Last night's search was fruitless, and he didn't bother going

again today until near the evening. The people he was seeking would spend much of the day in

bed, coming out only as the sun went down. So, as the day began to fade away, being replaced

by the dark shadows of later afternoon, he was again on the hunt.

       It wasn't until the fifth bar he entered Cool Wind encountered one of the people he'd been

seeking. Adjusting his cowboy hat to filter out the meager light and prevent anyone from getting

a close look at his eyes, something that too often telegraph's a man's intentions in combat, he was

soon at the bar standing behind two men seated on stools with shot glasses in front of them.

       When the man on the left looked up, then even farther up to see his face, Cool Wind told

him, "You will leave now. I will sit there."

       "Oh, yeah?" asked the large man on the stool, a welder in his early 50s, temporarily in a

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vacancy between jobs now ending its second year. "An' if I tell ya t' go fuck yerself, what's that

gonna mean?"

        He shifted positions, turning to face Cool Wind and giving the impression he may very

well spring from the stool in an attack.

        "I will then throw you to the floor. Should you attempt to rise before I depart, I will then

hurt you severely."

        "Zat so?" asked the man, reaching in front of the guy drinking to his left and grasping the

longneck bottle.

        "Don't do it, Monty," said the other guy, the one on Monty's right. "Dude'll fuck yer ass

up, serious like."

        Monty looked at his drinking buddy. "Zis th' one done all that shit t' yer ass?"

        Twig nodded. "Yeah, I wouldn't be fuckin' with 'im, I was you."

        Monty looked up and down Cool Wind's broad chest again and sighed, then faced Twig

again. "Lucky fer this big fuck I gotta take me a piss." With a nod to Twig, being careful not to

brush against Cool Wind, he slid off the stool and began walking very slowly toward the men's


        Cool Wind slid onto the now vacant seat. "You bear animosity toward Brenda


        "Yeah? So what?"

        "She has been injured."

        A shrug. "Why'm I s'posed t' give a fuck 'bout that shit?"

        "I may reinjure you now. That will be determined by what you tell me about her."

        They looked at each other across a span of time covering thousands of years. Countless

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events where bullies harmed weaker people, then fell mute when encountering a man who knew

no fear of them and was prepared to do them harm. Following ten seconds of soul searching so

deep it sent a surge of chilling fear racing down his spine, Twig asked carefully, "Uh, whaddaya

wanna know?" His right hand dropped to his thigh, closer now to his pocket, but stopped when

he saw Cool Wind's head make a miniscule movement from side to side. With another shrug, he

put his hand back atop the bar.

       "Did you harm her?"

       After another intense silence, Twig shook his bandaged head, "No fuckin' way."

       "Where were you yesterday afternoon?" Cool Wind turned to face Twig directly, the very

implication of pending disaster.

       "In my fuckin' bed. I could hardly even move."

       "Who can swear to that for you?"

       Again they locked eyes. Again Twig looked down first. Then he pointed to a table

twenty feet away. "That blonde babe at th' table. The fat one."

       "Summon her, but say nothing when she arrives."

       A sigh, then a shrug and Twig yelled, "Becky. C'mere."

       When she rose and headed toward them Cool Wind instructed him, "Turn to face the wall

behind the bar. Do not look at her."

       Becky stopped by Twig's stool, asking, "Yeah? What?"

       Cool Wind asked her, "Where was this man yesterday?"

       She looked back in confusion, then at the muted Twig, and faced Cool Wind again. "The

dude was in 'is fuckin' bed all damned day. He ate him some chicken soup an' got 'im the wildest

fuckin' blowjob ennybody ever give 'is ass." She smiled. "I know 'cause it was me what sucked

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'im off. Why? Ya want one, too? Twig been tellin' ya how good I made it fer 'im, has he?"

       He didn't answer, but leaned closer to Twig. "If you hear of the person who harmed her, I

want to know it." He put a piece of paper with his cell number on the bar. "Should I learn you are

aware of the person who harmed Brenda but have not informed me, I will damage you yet more

the next time." Giving Becky a nod, he rose and left the bar.

       One hour and four dismal drinking spots later, he walked up to the pool table in a dive a

few miles in from the coast. Julio was preparing to take a shot. Cool Wind grabbed the back of

his shirt, yanked the man erect and threw him backward into a wall. Standing a full yard from the

man cowering before him, he asked, "Are you aware Brenda was harmed?"

       Nodding and looking at the floor, Julio Mendez said, "Wasn't me, man. I ain't done that

bitch no bad shit."

       With the speed of a striking cobra, Cool Wind backhanded him, leaving Julio in a pile of

flesh on the floor. He closed quickly to stand a yard away again. "You will not speak ill of her.

I want proof it was not you."

       "When'd she get hurt?" He looked up, his face showing it was a sincere question.

       "Where were you yesterday? The entire day?"

       Julio looked across the pool table. "Hector, tell this motherfucker where I was all fuckin'

day yesterday."

       "In jail on a drug bust, Julio. Why'n't ya tell 'im yerself?"

       "I wanted you t' say it." He looked up from the floor at Cool Wind, waiting to hear what

the big man had to say.

       Dropping another piece of paper on the floor, Cool Wind ordered quietly, "Find out who

did her harm and call me. If I learn you know this person's identity and refused to tell me, I will

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do you much greater injury than you suffer from now." After burning the pimp with his eyes, he

turned and walked away.

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                                   CHAPTER TWENTY

                                      San Diego, California

                              Sunday, May 4th, 2008 … 10:33 p.m.

       She walked down the hospital hallway, a visitor's pass in her hand indicating the room

she wanted, long blonde hair to the middle of her back bouncing to and fro as she undulated her

way. She stood very erect, proud of the way her 36C breasts imposed on the low cut neckline of

her black ribbed long-sleeved dress, a semi-dressy item able to yell a "hello" to her sexy knees

but never close enough to have a conversation. She was also proud of the way her round little

ass was able to jostle side to side, threatening to collide with passersby. It was a practiced walk

acquired over the time she'd spent in her career, which she normally said was that of a hostess.

       If "hostess" meant she was usually the first to enter a chintzy motel room rented for $20

per hour, or the duties involved sitting in the passenger seat of a car with her head in the driver's

lap, she was a hostess. If not, she was a whore, but she tried hard never to use that term unless

she was talking to someone already in "the life".

       Deep, pretty blue eyes with an excess of mascara only added to her "lady of the evening"

impression, although no one would ever yell, "Oh, nurse!" to her. A full mouth she always kept

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painted with a soft pink lipstick promised an incredible smile could be made available, but never

did anyone see the real thing. The one she used when calling "Hey, baby!" was designed to give

the impression she was very happy to see the one she greeted. In truth, she always wished he'd

pay her for whatever he wanted, then go somewhere and watch his dick rot and fall off. Of all

the people on earth she hated, and the number grew every day, the ones who'd inserted that part

of themselves into one of her orifices were the ones she most despised.

       It was simply bad business to let the bastards know about it, so she didn't. If the prick got

his rocks off like she was loading product in a stone quarry, he might come back. Of course, she

would hate the som'bitch twice as much that way, but she'd get paid and he'd never know it.

       Today's visit had a twofold purpose. Since she was no longer a "hostess" and would soon

be working in a respectable trade as a cosmetologist, beginning first with nails and graduating

later to doing women's hair, she wanted to thank the person so instrumental in ejecting her from

a life in hell. That, and to warn her friend, of course, since that fuckin' Delbert Graham had to be

at least two bricks short of a fuckin' load. Maybe more.

       When she found the proper door, Candy Appleby stopped and took a deep breath, still so

very erect, still jutting her boobs out in front of her. A black orderly in his mid 40s, pot belly in

a side to side rotation as he walked, risked a neck injury the way he whipped his head around as

he went on by. Candy pretended not to notice, only telling herself, Suffer, ya big prick. This shit

I got ain't fer sale no fuckin' more, so how's about ya eat shit an' die, huh?

       Pushing on the door, she looked in and saw her friend Brenda Dalworth. Aw, man! That

shit sucks! Looks like she stepped in front of a fuckin' train! "Hey, girl, yer lookin' a whole lot

better'n I was thinkin' ya'd be," Candy said as she stepped into the room.

       Brenda was lying back on the bed, dressed in Levis and a medium green short-sleeved

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blouse, white socks and jogging shoes. Her face was puffy and bruised, the colors turning now

to look like very old spoiled fruit. The bandages on her arms and hands even looked painful, and

her mouth was bruised and had a number of unpleasant looking scabs.

       Brenda smiled, despite her condition. "Shit, Candy, if ya was expectin' me t' be worse'n I

am, ya shoulda jus' hauled ass t' th' damned funeral home. Man, I'm lookin' like shit, ya know?

Like I'm death warmed over, er some shit."

       This time Candy used her real smile, the one she didn't know would've more than likely

tripled her business on the street, except she couldn’t dredge it up for the assholes she despised

who used her because she allowed them to do so. It was easy with Brenda, since she suffered the

same degradation, day in and day out, but now she wouldn't. And, because of what Brenda did

for both of 'em, neither would Candy. That made the visit a "gotta do" thing in her book.

       "Ain't no way I'm ever gonna be able t' thank ya, Brenda. Hope ya know that?"

       "Hey, it was a way out, ya know? Plus, after all th' shit Julio's done pulled on my ass, I

was wantin' to do any kinda bad shit t' him I could think of. Makin' the prick give up pimpin'

so's he's gotta work fer a damned livin' sorta appealed t' me, somehow."

       Allowing those blue eyes to widen as she asked her next question, Candy said, "Zit true

like they was sayin', ya got some Injun 'bout the size o' two guys, er some shit, plus a whole big

ass bunch o' other Injun dudes an' they was stompin' the piss outa Julio and a mess o' his homies?

I heard them dudes kicked 'em some serious ass."

       "Yeah, he's real decent. Name's Cool Wind, which I ain't never heard nobody was called

b'fore, but he's a really great dude. Plus he c'n kick the shit outa anybody ya ever met, I bet."

       "Well, I'm jus' damned glad ya done it fer me, ya know? Now, soon's I get all o' my shit

t'gether, I'm gonna get inta cosmetology school an' learn t' do somethin' where I ain't gonna be

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gettin' some assholes nut twenny times a day." She scowled at the memory, then brightened as it

resurfaced in her mind as something now from her past. "Um, there's, uh, there's som'thin' else I

kinda gotta tell ya."

        Brenda watched the changes on Candy's face and sat up straighter on the hospital bed.

"Yeah? Like what?"

        "Um, ya know I had me a boyfriend, right?"

        Brenda snorted. "Shit, like when didn't ya? You was always sayin' how th' las' damned

thing ya wanted was t' be dickin' somebody when ya was done workin', then ya'd git some dumb

ass wanted t' buy ya shit an' ya'd spend half th' damned day screwin' th' shit out of the prick so's

ya could tell ever'body what a asshole ya had when ya wasn't workin'. I ain't never figgered all

that shit out about you, Candy. Man, when I was gettin' done with that shit fer the day, wasn't no

shithead with a boner gettin' near my ass, but you was always doin' that shit. Ennyways, what's

up with that?"

        "Uh, th' dude's name's Delbert. Yeah, I know, it's goofy soundin', but he was, like, in

love with me, an' all that shit. Delbert Graham's his whole name. He was runnin' him some

small-time dope a few diff'rent places … that's how he was gettin' the cash t' spend on me … but

he sorta was short on payin' them dudes, so they cut 'is ass off. Plus, they was makin' noises

about maybe beatin' an' cuttin' on him if he didn't come up with the cash, ya know?"

        "Real smart, Candy, gettin' yer ass tied up with a dealer, 'specially small-time. The dude

usin', too?"

        "Some, I guess. Meth, mostly."

        Brenda hung her head, shaking it slowly. "Damn, Candy, ain't ya got no idea what that

shit'll do to ya? Even after all that crap I was dealin' with when I was dickin' around with that

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shit? Plus, like, what it makes ya look like? Ya do meth fer five years an' ya start lookin' t' be

around forty when yer twenny-five." She grimaced. "An' you was bonin' this asshole? Man, I

gotta say, Candy, that's one dumb fuckin' move."

       "Yeah, well, I ain't no more," she said, standing erect from ingrained habit and thrusting

out her chest. "That's, uh, kinda-sorta what I gotta tell ya about."

       After a fast look at the wall clock, then checking her watch to be sure they were in sync,

Brenda sighed and said, "Okay, give. What's this new shit I need t' know?"

       "Um, Delbert, he don't have no other way t' make no money … plus he was worried them

guys was gonna stomp 'is ass er cut him … so he's carryin' a piece now. He's, uh, doin' him

some armed robberies t' git by 'til he finds somethin' else."

       "Great," Brenda said, leaning forward with her face in her hands. "So, we got us a real

halfwit runnin' around with a gun, yeah?"

       "Um, it might be worse." Candy was now chewing the freshly painted pink lower lip.

"See, when I got my ass outa all this shit … which is only thanks t' you, an' there ain't no way I'm

ever fergettin' it … I went an' cut 'is ass loose 'cause he wasn't doin' me no good no more."

       "Yeah? So?"

       "So … uh, so, I'm thinkin' he mighta been the one who done all this shit t' ya. See, he's

been tellin' some people how he's gonna kill ya 'cause ya made me an' him break up."

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                                 CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

                                      San Diego, California

                                Sunday, May 4th, 2008 … 10:49 p.m.

       One thing I try very hard not to do is to be judgmental about others. Heck, I get enough

of it in my work, so I sure don't need to do it in my private time. I also don't feel I have any right

to be that way until my own house is squeaky clean, if you know what I mean. Still, as soon as I

stepped into Brenda's hospital room, with Cool Wind standing out in the hall to guard us, I have

to admit I did a double-take.

       The woman I saw standing by the bed was very pretty … in a way. A cheap way, and I

almost hate myself for saying it like that, but it was inescapable. Sure, she had all that long and

very pretty blonde hair, "legs that go all the way up" as Baker would've said, and "boobs that go

on for days", as both Baker and Hug would've said. Unusually pretty blue eyes, and a very full,

sexy mouth. I notice these things about other women because … well, because I am one.

       There were other things I noticed, things not so pleasant and cheery. A naïveté not many

would pick up on. An inner purity she tried to keep hidden, primarily from the fear someone may

snatch it away and leave her as sullied in her own mind as the world-at-large saw her.

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       Or, as she thought it saw her.

       A pretty young woman in her very early 20s, by my guess, with eyes that showed, if you

looked deeply into them, they were perhaps in their late 70s. Just a girl, really, who not only no

longer believed in the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, but in happiness or enjoyment. A young

and badly disillusioned female who, if she understood fulfillment, would think it, too, was a fairy

tale of the greatest magnitude. She had a heart she expected would be broken often because it had

been beaten and brutalized so many times it was, in her eyes and mind, to be anticipated.

       "Hi," I said with a smile. "I'm CC Ryder, a friend of Brenda's." I stuck out my hand.

       The girl took it, weakly, as if she'd maybe only done anything like this once or twice in

her life to date, and added a smile so phony it hurt to look at it. She empowered me beyond any

of my rights or abilities because she expected her role would be one of servitude. Knew she was

not worthy of cleaning my shoes, even if I had just recently used the white shoe polish trick to

spiff 'em up like they were just purchased. "I'm Candy. Uh, look, I gotta go, 'cause—"

       "Bullshit!" Brenda cut in. "Candy, this here's that babe I was tellin' ya about. Ya know,

the one who went an' saved my ass with that Injun guy?" She giggled. "Ya shoulda seen 'er that

night when they got in that wreck an' she shot that ol' fat fuck fer tryin' t' grab hisself some free

pussy, er somethin'. She jus' hauls out 'er piece an' pops th' ol' fuck, ya know? Puts about three

er four caps in 'is damned face, she did."

       "Really?" Candy questioned, long, slim fingers up by her face, the fingertips touching her

mouth, each painted the same pink shade as her lipstick. "Ya jus' capped th' bastard an' what? Ya

manage t' ditch th' piece in time, er—?"

       "Shit, she's got herself a per-mit fer th' damned thing!" Brenda said with a joyous laugh.

"Ol' bastard musta either figgered it was a cap gun, er he thought he was fuckin' bulletproof! I'm

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tellin' ya, she capped 'is ass right there an', the way she was dressed, I figgered she was one o' us,

ya know? I'm sayin' it, 'cause she's there in th' dude's car lookin' like she's trickin'. Shit, way I

saw it, I was only helpin' one o' us git 'er ass away from trouble, ya know?"

        Then she turned to me. "How's come ya was doin' that shit, CC? Don't think ya ever tol'

me why ya was in th' car with that ol' asshole."

        Oh, great! Now I get to explain myself to a pair of women I'm not sure can even imagine

what happened, from my perspective, or why I was out there. Well, since I was the one who got

my butt into that mess, I might as well admit it, but without all the gory details. "The guy I was,

um, living with had, uh, had cheated on me, so—"

        "Like there's one that don't?" Brenda asked knowingly, sharing an insider's look with her

friend, Candy, who nodded with a knowing look of her own.

        "Not all guys are like that," I argued, seeing their faces take on an expression that told me

they pitied my ignorance and what must be my slippery grip on reality. "Anyway, he did, and I'd

found out about it, so I told him to get out."

        "See?" Brenda gloated, sounding as if she'd either been clever enough to find a woman as

her friend who knew what to do with a cheating guy, or perhaps taught me herself what to do. "I

tell ya, CC's got 'er some stones, ya know?"

        Candy nodded respectfully at me, boosting me another couple notches above herself in

her opinion.

        "So, that, uh, that night I was just going to go out and, um, you know, I just wanted guys

to notice me. Act like I was worth something so I'd feel, uh, you know, sexy?"

        Scratching her head, almost raising her hand to seek permission to speak, like she would

have in school not that long ago, Candy said, "I don't get it? I mean, yer a fox, ya know? Shit,

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like ya ain't drop-dead-beautiful, ennyways, so why'd ya hafta—?"

       Now my face was burning, so I know I was getting red. "Well, um, you see, I sort of,

um, made a move on him, upstairs, um, in our bedroom, and he didn't … I mean, he said he was

tired, at first, so I was hoping … never mind that part. He couldn't, um … you know? … get

ready for me? It was as if he … I mean, I was really starting to feel like I—"

       "The dude couldn't git it up? Fer you?" Candy asked, clearly convinced she'd just missed

something crucial to understanding the point I was trying to make. "Ya mean he was gay?"

       "He do hair, maybe?" Brenda chimed in. "I mean, 'cause a whole lot o' them dudes is all

swishy an' shit, ya know? Most of 'em'll admit it, ya know, 'specially t' a woman, an' even more

especially t' one o' us, 'cause we ain't got no fuckin' secrets, but—?"

       "No," I said, the heat blazing now from my cheeks. "He'd been, um, trying all evening to

figure a way to tell me. He was too ashamed, I guess, to make love with me after what he'd done

that day, so he had, um … a problem?"

       "Sounds like it," Brenda remarked almost happily, as if we'd just scored one for our side.

       "Um, so I went out the next night … I was only trying to reassure myself, I guess … and

I, um, sort of ended up at a man's house, but—"

       "Ya let that ol' bastard take ya home with 'im? A porky ol' fuck like that dude?"

       "Uh, no, it was another guy, but we didn't actually, um, really do anything, we just—"

       "Wait! Ya was with one dude, then ya was in a car with another ol' fat one—?"

       "Oh, damn it!" I almost wailed as I felt the entire conversation was heading south on me.

"I was almost … okay, damn it, the first guy got his thingy in me, but I wouldn't let him come, so

then I got up—"

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          "See?" Brenda praised me again. "Tol' ya she's got herself some serious fuckin' stones,

good ol' CC does."

          This was already getting out of hand and I just stepped into the danged room. As far as I

saw it, this was the perfect time to reassert a little bit of control. "When that older man wouldn't

listen and keep his hands off me, I pulled my handgun to make him pay attention."

          "Most of 'em, that'll do it, fer sure," Brenda said as she fiddled with the nylon cord straps

of the paper bag with her things in it. I'd bought her some clothes to wear home and everything

she had with her when she was attacked was in the bag. Since I'd paid for the room the days she

was in it, I had Cool Wind get the rest of her stuff and bring it to the house.

          "In any event, he tried to take it away from me and it went off. That's what caused the

car to crash into that parked car. Then, when he was about to kill me with his bare hands, I shot

him in the face. It was, um, about the only target I had, since he was only inches away at that


          "That was brave," Candy affirmed, eyes wide and becoming even more worshipful.

          "Plus, it led t' all that shit where she saved my ass," Brenda beamed.

          With another gulp, I figured it was time for one of the first big steps. "Brenda, I'd like to

ask a favor, if I may?"

          "Shit, jus' name it, CC."

          "Since you're going to be staying with me for a while until we get things sorted out for

you, will you do something about cleaning up your language? It's not that I never use any of

those words, because I said I know them all, but that's somewhat offensive to people who don't

live in the streets the way you were … but won't be any longer. Will you please try to clean it up

a little? For me?"

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       To my surprise, Brenda reddened. "Yeah, it's a deal. I'll give it a shot. Fer you, CC."

       "Great! Okay, are you ready, then?"

       "Uh, yeah, 'cept I'd like t' have Candy come with us, jus' fer a couple hours, if it's okay?"

       "Of course. That's not a problem. Cool Wind or Donnie can take her home later. I'm

sure one or the other won't mind the drive."

       "Cool. Then, I'm all ready. Lemme buzz them nurses an' see what's th' holdup."

       The holdup wasn't much and we got into the discharge papers soon after. Because she

had no medical insurance, but did have Medi-Cal, Brenda's bill was paid 100%, although I'm

sure it was a reduced rate because the government was involved. As soon as we stepped into the

hallway, I introduced Candy to Cool Wind. As I expected, he only grunted and took Brenda's

paper sack, then led us away.

       Cool Wind escorted us out to my car, vigilant eyes always on the move, and he agreed to

put the top down at my request. The weather was in the low 70s with only a little cloudiness, just

enough to take away the glare and make it a nearly perfect day. Another day in paradise, living

in southern California. I sat in the passenger bucket seat and the girls were in back, Brenda now

behind me, Candy behind Cool Wind, who drove.

       Cool Wind said nothing as we drove, concentrating only on the traffic and what he still

insisted must've been eleventy-seven people who wanted nothing more out of life than to kill me

dead where I stood. Although I'd given up trying to convince him he was wrong, and paying him

a thousand a week didn't cramp my style in any way, I knew it would have to end soon. The man

has a wife and a life on "The Rez" and would eventually have to get back to it. Oh, and I finally

learned where the heck he and Donnie were sleeping, since they didn't sleep in the house.

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       Remember that brushy area across Appaloosa, the next street over, where I chased that

Rafer Densmore guy and shot him in the leg? Well, the guys made a little camp, of sorts, down

there in all those trees and bushes and that's where they went with their sleeping bags when one

or the other needed to catch a few zees. I tried to insist they sleep in the house, or at least in the

danged garage, but if you've come to know Cool Wind at all by now, you can guess how far I got

with that one. I finally shut up about it and said he and Donnie could stay in the house if either

of 'em changed his mind.

       A couple times on the trip home I noticed Cool Wind was watching for something in the

rearview mirror but, when I asked him about it, all I got was another grunt. Instead of bugging

the poor guy, I concentrated on talking with the girls. I learned Candy didn't even smoke at all,

and her language didn't need nearly the supervision Brenda's did. Both dropped out of school in

the tenth grade and, I suspected, neither had been a great student, based on the wretched lives

they led. Candy was planning to start cosmetology school "when I get a coupla things worked

out" which, it turned out, had to do with getting a job to support herself and pay the tuition.

       I could hear the situation screaming for my chequebook to step in and take over, which I

really didn't see as a problem, but the time involved might be one. Still, with the decision made

to cut loose of any guy connections for any duration between "quite a while" and "forever", that

may not be an impediment any longer. Changes require we change, you know?

       As we pulled in the last block, turning right on my street where it curves a little to the

right, then back left before we get to my house, maybe 125 yards off Scripps Ranch, Cool Wind

told me he was going to have Donnie Oldrunner wash my car. When I objected, he said it would

give Donnie something to do, so I let it go. He was going to park in one of the guest spots to the

south, although there were openings in the one on the north, too. His preference was to stop and

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let us get out by the walkway to the house. Never a girl to argue with a guy who wants to show

me he's a gentleman, I smiled and nodded my approval.

        Just as I got out of the car, leaving my door open and tilting the seatback forward so they

could emerge, I heard the roar of a car's engine. When I looked up, there was a black Toyota, or

some other small car, tearing down the street heading right for us. Peripherally, I noticed as Cool

Wind jammed it into park and wrenched his door open, both girls spun their heads around to see

what I was looking at. It was Candy who recognized the car and/or the driver.

        "Aw, shit! It's Delbert, man! Delbert Graham! That's th' dude what wants t' kill

Brenda!" she shrieked, evidently telling me, or Cool Wind, so someone could protect her friend.

        My purse, with the .380 in it, was still on the floor in front of my seat, since I didn't pick

it up before I got out of the car. Although I didn't really have any sort of plan, it's safe to say I'd

have leaned in to pick it up after helping both girls get out by taking each one's hand as she rose.

As it was, this knucklehead was now sliding his car to a halt, jamming it in park, and jumping

out with a revolver of some kind in his hand. Since he was only 12-15 feet away when he got

out, I was dead if I reached for my purse unless this guy was the worst shot in the universe.

        Both girls froze in place as Cool Wind came to his full height, already going into a

crouch so he could make a run at the guy. Graham, if that's who it was, aimed the black piece of

metal at him and roared, "I'll blow yer ass away if ya take even one fuckin' step, dude!"

        At the moment, the way I saw it, the situation would need to improve a couple notches or

so just to become grim. I looked back at my purse, trying to force myself into a decision, even if

I'm not accustomed to being in "combat mode".

        Graham looked at Brenda, "Yer the one who's gonna die, ya bitch! If it wasn't fer you, I'd

still have my girl, but I ain't got 'er no more, so yer ass is dead!"

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       That final threat was all I needed, although even my more customary optimistic point of

view didn't think I had much of a chance now. The idea of me rushing this guy barehanded was

absurd, but maybe if I went for my purse and the weapon, it would distract him long enough for

Cool Wind to go into action.

       I admit it wasn't much of a battle plan, as good ones go, but it was all I had.

       Make that all I thought I had. It seems there was another entrant into the fray.

       Still sort of peripherally, since I was looking at an angle down the street behind us and a

bit off to my left on the other side of the street, I glimpsed something in blue, ducked low to the

ground and moving fast toward the guy with the gun. Unable to resist turning my head in that

direction, I caught the image of Donnie Oldrunner ducked low and in a full-on sprint, his hands

out in front of him and a murderous expression on his face.

       "Donnie, no!" I cried. "He'll kill you!"

       I might as well have gone to the beach, faced the waves as they tumbled in toward shore

and yelled, "Shoo! Go away, darn you!"

       In a last second attempt to assist, Cool Wind bellowed, "I will kill you!" and charged to

the back of my car, but he'd never reach the gunman in time. Unless this guy was the proverbial

worst shot in the universe, or a miracle happened, Donnie would take a bullet in the head or torso

and more than likely die before Cool Wind could reach that jerk or I could shoot him. Unwilling

to give up, I moved toward my purse, but something stuck in my mind as I bent to grab it.

       I wasn't taking into account the incredible speed at which Donnie was moving.

       Coming back up, fumbling to extract the .380 as I again came erect, I saw Graham fire at

the fast approaching Donnie three times. There was no blood or other signs of impact, and my

eyes could barely comprehend what they were seeing.

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       Donnie hit the man waist high and he was still digging in when Graham's back rammed

into the area behind the door of the car. The sound was a loud "whoomp!" like two cars

colliding, minus the metal on metal affect. I heard another loud sound, a whoosh of air from

Graham as he slammed into the vehicle, then a shrill scream of agony as Donnie's right hand

filled itself with the guy's testicles and baggy pants, then hoisted him aloft. Donnie's mighty

arms took the man up above his head. Then, instead of just dropping the squirming body, he

hurled it at the tarmac with a blast of fury and rage.

       By that time, Cool Wind was there. He collected the weapon, holding it loosely in his

left hand, stepped back and watched.

       "Cool Wind, do something!" I hollered.

       Turning my way for a moment, he told me, "Donnie will need no help. He has the matter

well under control at this time."

       It was so true. Donnie slammed Graham to the macadam on his back, dropped to his

knees and unleashed a flurry of punches that bloodied the man's face and turned it into a gory

mass of flesh. When Graham attempted to rise and get away from all the damaging blows now

raining on him from Donnie's big fists, Donnie grabbed a handful of long, bushy hair, yanked the

moron back, and moved him to a semi-sitting position. Then he spread his arms wide and his

hands came together as if to clap, one landing on each of Graham's ears at the same time.

       The man was instantly screaming in agony as his eardrums ruptured. Totally not a threat

by now, he fell to his side, one palm over each ear, and began wailing like someone had opened

up his belly with a big knife.

       Turning to me then with only the second full-fledged smile I'd ever seen on his face, Cool

Wind announced, "I taught him to do that."

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                              CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

                                      San Diego, California

                              Monday, May 5th, 2008 … 9:17 a.m.

       Last night's fracas was over and done with in a hurry, as they usually are, although this

one was quicker than most of these oddball experiences I've encountered lately. Thank God. All I

need is just a little more offbeat PR and when the next election comes up, I might be one of the

very few not reelected. That is a rarity. For a judge to lose an election usually means he or she

has done something pretty grungy and has someone running against him or her who makes sure

it gets talked about a lot. Still, in my case, the public good will seems to be almost 90% on the

plus side.

       Granted, the pukes don't care much for me, but they seldom read newspapers or listen to

anything with news in it. Better, even if they did, very few of 'em vote. Or can vote.

       Of course, the incident also brought me a visit from my pretty blonde buddy who works

for the San Diego Police Department, Detective 1st Angela Dutton. She even brazenly bummed

a cigarette from me, but only after we went inside my house. She said all this stress was driving

her up a wall. I told her if she wanted stress, she should try standing in front of a maniac with a

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gun. She said she'd done that in the past, but it never got to the point she was shot, or where she

had to shoot anyone. Like she was rubbing it in on me, she even thanked me, on behalf of the

people of San Diego, for not using my weapon and/or killing anyone.

       After informing her she was a complete snot, I made a suggestion as to where she could

stash her appreciation.

       Um, you may have guessed ahead on me, since you've probably come to know a decent

amount about CC by now, as far as Candy. She finally told us, after Angela recognized her and

quietly asked me, "Aw, shit, CC! Don't tell me you're opening a boarding house for whores who

are working their way out of 'the life'?", she really had nowhere to go. She'd be heading back to

that same part of town, be with the same people, and wouldn't have much money.

       Candy also assured Brenda and me she wouldn't ever go back and turn tricks again "for

nobody, unless I had t' do it, I mean."

       So, after turning down my suggestion she bunk on the couch, (that was all I could think

of on such short notice), she and Brenda were going to share the bed in Brenda's room, down the

hall from mine. Brenda even discreetly assured me, "Candy, she don't never do no 'girl-on-girl'

shit, neither." The way it ended, the cushions from that smaller couch in the little den-like area

on the second floor were laid next to Brenda's bed and I was on the phone this morning to that

same danged furniture store. The one that replaced the bed and chair I shot up after Hug fell

victim to the urges of his "little head" with that insane slut, Bunny Fargo.

       The queen size bed will be delivered this afternoon … they promised me, and now they

know I'm a judge with a handgun … and I have two "boarders". No incoming rent, mind you,

but two boarders, all the same.

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       Okay, enough on that stuff. A gloating Angela left me with "the girls", as my little pack

was being referred to now, and went on her merry way. Still being a complete snot, she is a

good friend, so I figure I can just learn to deal with it. As it was, I either had an answer to my

prayers at work today, or all my troubles were just starting.

       As good as her word, Tez was back in harness, and it really was a harness, so to speak.

She showed up in that 'Vette I gave her 'cause I didn't ever want to see it again, and was able to

get around in it because it's an automatic, which Baker always hated about the car. She'd been

shot two times by Rafer Densmore, the other maniac who tried to kill me. Once in her left arm

and once in her left shoulder. From necessity, her arm was in a sling, but Tez was here to run my

office and that didn't allow for inefficiency.

       After she'd jumped on a couple people for things that weren't done the way she wanted

last week, even making one clerk leave the room crying, my second-in-command after Tez rose

to her feet. Belinda Jefferson is the sweetest little thing … with the emphasis for "little" being

only figurative. Based on how sweet she is, because at five-three and 285, "little" doesn't seem

to fit in many ways. She's black, very heavy with teeny, tiny feet, and she sounds even better

than Aretha when she starts singing. Almost exclusively gospel music, which she sings at their

Baptist church where she spends all day and most of the evening every Sunday.

       She's a girl my Grandma would describe as "one who wouldn't say shit if she had a whole

mouth full of it." And, she wouldn't. She'd only call it poop. She's very religious, lives with her

Mama, who's even portlier than Belinda, and calls her kitty-cat Mary Magdalene because the cat

has "stopped her whorish ways". She doesn't bother to mention that only happened after she and

her Mama got the stupid cat fixed, but that's just our Belinda.

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        Moving daintily on those tiny feet, she came to where Tez was barking out orders left and

right, put a hand on Tez's cast, and smiled at her. "Because of this, it wouldn't be fair, so if I

must do it, I'll have to wait."

        Caught off stride, Tez asked her always productive first banana, "What the hell's that

supposed to mean?"

        "It means, if you continue to stomp around this office like a scourge and send another of

these darling young ladies running from the room in tears, the Good Lord will be forced to use

His Almighty tools to break your other arm when this one heels." She added, with another of her

sweet and loving smiles, "Child, I am a tool of the Almighty God." Batting her long eyelashes

for affect, Belinda sauntered back to her desk.

        Tez gaped at her for a moment, then headed for my chambers mumbling. "Screw that

shit. I need a damned cigarette."

        All this occurred while I was on the bench conducting matters on my first day back from

a sick leave I now felt guilty about with Tez showing up for work the same day I came back. But

when she had two bullet wounds, the one in her shoulder still present. The docs said they'd've

done more damage digging it out, so they treated her for infection and left it in her shoulder.


        Tez took a liking to Candy right away, but differently than with Brenda. With Brenda it

was two tough women, Tez and Brenda, able to taunt, tease, pick on and insult each other with

wild abandon. Neither felt sorry for the other because both had seen many parts of the seamier

side of life and overcome them. Yet, from Tez' perspective, it was an altogether different matter

with Candy. In her eyes Candy was the fledgling booted too early from the nest and left as prey

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for the world-at-large. Those big, blue eyes were the initial testimony that proved it to Tez. It

only got worse when she noticed Candy wasn't all that heavy into cussing and vulgarity.

       To Tez, that branded Candy almost an innocent child, disregarding the fact that at age 22

she'd been a prostitute in San Diego almost four years by now. To Tez, this was an innocent kid

and she needed protection. Even more important than the fact she needed to be guarded in Tez's

eyes was the fact she deserved it. And Tez was going to see the kid got what she deserved.

       Shit, Tez decided, if I don't watch out for the kid, who the hell's gonna do it?

        More concerned than ever about keeping the office and the docket running smoothly as

she'd done Tez's job, too, the preceding week, Belinda convinced Tez to take "the girls" to the

cafeteria for a soft drink or coffee and "rest up a little so you don't try coming back here to do too

much too soon."

       Already a bit weak with the morning not even half finished, Tez agreed and shepherded

her new lamb and the sturdy little goat as well to the vending machines. They each got a cold

soft drink, then retired to the circular courtyard in the center where they'd be outdoors so Tez and

Brenda could smoke. Enjoying the early sunshine of the day, two cigarettes lit and the tab tops

all removed and disposed of, the three sat at a round concrete table to chat for a while.

       After a few minutes of semi-meaningless conversation where Tez ineffectively fished for

the inside dirt on the life of a prostitute, and "the girls" self-consciously shied away from giving

answers of any consequence, Candy had a question. "Tez, what kinda trouble would I get inta if

I knew 'bout somebody doin' some really bad shit an' they was gettin' away with it a long time, if

I told on 'em?"

       "I guess that d'pends on what kinda bad shit you're talkin' about," Tez advised, taking a

drag and studying those big, blue, innocent eyes. "This somethin' ya got from a john, is it?"

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       "Uh-huh," she nodded. "It kinda feels like I should maybe oughta tell, ya know, since we

both're now stayin' with CC, her bein' a judge an' all. See, I kinda learnt it over a coupla years I

been doin' this dude, ya know? So, b'fore, when I was jus' out there an' all, it was like it didn't

mean shit, I guess. 'Cept, now, bein' how we's staying at CC's place, an' she's all important, a

muckety-muck like she is, I was thinkin' maybe I oughta say somethin'. Trouble is, I don' wanna

get my own ass in no big jam if I say some shit 'bout it. That's why I was wonderin' if maybe I

can ask you 'cause, ya know, yer runnin' things fer CC, an' she's a judge, an' all."

       "It depends, Honey," Tez said, suddenly feeling more motherly than at any time in her

memory. "Just how bad's this shit ya know about? I mean, is it like murder, or some asshole

doin' armed robberies?"

       Candy shook her head. "Naw, it ain't nothin' like that. Ain't no weapons involved. Not

that I know 'bout, ennyhow. Ain't nobody gettin' hurt er killed, neither. It's jus' I know what's

bein' done ain't legal, but I ain't sure what ya'd call it. The crime part, ya know?"

       "Well, can you describe the crime?" Tez questioned.

       "Uh, yeah, kinda. 'Cept, I ain't wantin' t' git my own ass in no deep shit, ya know? Um,

how'm I gonna tell somebody what th' dude went an' done … ya know, since he's been tellin' me

this shit, kinda, fer a coupla years now … an' I ain't said shit about it b'fore? Zat gonna jam my

ass up, somehow?"

       "Well, like I say, it depends on what he's done. What, exactly, is the crime?"

       Candy shook her head. "Really, I ain't sure what ya'd call it, an' I'm afraid I'll get my own

ass in deep shit fer tellin' now, 'cause I ain't said nothin' b'fore t' nobody." Suddenly, she stood

and walked away from the table a couple yards, leaving her drink, then turned to face Tez and

Brenda again with her arms crossed together and locked over her stomach. "See, there's some

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little kids is a part of it, too, an' I don't wanna see no kids grow up an' maybe hafta do some o' th'

shit I been doin' the last few years. Zat make any sense t' ya, Tez?"

        "Actually, it's confusin' the hell outa me. Maybe ya better just tell me what it is."

        Shaking her head, Candy repeated, "I'm afraid o' what'll happen t' my ass now, right when

I'm tryin' t' get outa all that shit. I mean, I'm feelin' like I really wanna help them kids, an' maybe

I can, plus I know CC's a important person, an' all that shit. 'Cept, if I say anythin' an' it gets my

ass in a jam, that ain't gonna be cool, no way, no how." Arms still crossed, Candy walked back

to the table and stood behind where she'd been sitting. "See, I been havin' me this reg'lar trick

now fer a coupla years. Name's Randy Somethin', but I don't know the dude's las' name."

        A smirk. "It ain't like I gotta know it, ya know, t' do th' deed. Ennyways, I been cleanin'

this dude's pipes a while now. He always gets a cheap room, down there near where I was always

trickin' b'fore, an' we go there an' get it on a li'l bit. The really funny thing's this dude's married t'

more'n one broad."

        "That's bigamy," Tez advised.

        "Huh? Howzat?" Candy questioned. "I mean, it ain't very big o' him, that's fer sure, but

how's it big o' you if th' dude's got more'n one ol' lady?"

        "No," Tez said, fighting to quell a chuckle. "Not 'big of me', the crime's actually called

bigamy. Means ya married somebody an' you ain't divorced from the last spouse." Scratching

her head, she added, "Ain't that often anybody goes t' prison for it … they usually get a shitload

o' fines, probation, an' community service … but it is a felony, all the same."

        "Oh," said Candy, still clearly way in the dark on all these things. "Ennyways, he's got

this second wife … that's what 'e calls 'er, no shit … an' says she's a whole lot younger'n his first

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wife. See, th' dude's like, maybe fifty er so, an' this second wife's a bit closer t' my age, but kinda

older, like 'round thirty. Some shit like that."

        Deciding she might learn more by just letting the kid talk, Tez nodded. "Yeah? So?"

        "See, Randy's got two kids with th' second wife. Kinda little kids, I guess." She frowned

and took a deep breath. "See, the first wife, she can't get 'erself knocked up. Somethin's wrong

with 'er pussy, er so Randy says, ennyhow. He an' the first wife been married, like, thirty years, I

think." Candy lowered her eyes. "I just 'membered what he tol' me it was called, that one time he

was so drunk an' we got it on, like, maybe four times in one night."

        Taking a deep breath, breasts swelling and a look of pride on her face, Candy bragged, "I

got 'im ready every damn time. Dude says I'm sexier'n shit."

        "Okay? What else?"

        "Well, see, Randy's a registered sex offender. Says he got some beefed up rape charge

when he was, like, still in 'is late teens, er some shit. So that's why he's gotta be careful, even if

he's dickin' a whore, like me."

        "You are not a whore any longer," Tez said sternly. "You were one, but you aren't one

any longer. That shit's all yesterday now. Got me?"

        Smiling happily, Candy said, "Yeah. That's cool. Ennyways, he says that's one reason he

always gets me, if he can, 'cause I look so young, like 'is second wife. He's got two li'l kids with

her an' he always makes 'er an' them kids hide in a shack in the back yard whenever 'is P.O. gets

by t' check up on 'is ass. Plus, like I say, I 'member now what he called it. What he done."

        "Okay, what's he call it?"

        "Kidnappin'. That's a hard one t' remember," Candy admitted. "'Least, it is fer me. See,

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this second ol' lady o' his, she's been with I'm 18 years er so now. I guess she was only 12 when

he took her from some other state. Wyoming, maybe it was. So, 'cause o' them young kids, I'm

wonderin' what I oughta do."

       "Don't be wondering," Tez said as she came to her feet. "We've gotta tell CC."

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                              CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

                                       San Diego, California

                                 Monday, May 5th … 10:31 a.m.

       Some days you just can't figure things out. There's no way of knowing what to plan for

and it seems nothing unfolds the way you expect it will. Just for example, I had a case brought

before me this morning, a criminal matter, and I expected we'd have to set it for trial. Then, in

order to prove I have no idea what's going on at times, the yum-yum tells his lawyer at the very

last minute he wants to plead guilty. To child molestation. His own niece.

       This crumb-bum freaks out his lawyer, the ADA, and pretty much everyone then within

earshot. He wants to save the kid, a precocious 10-year-old girl, from having to testify. Says he

was talking with God and feels this is the right thing to do.

       The incredible oddity here is there's no plea bargain in place. Since it's charged as what's

known as a "continuing offense", meaning more than six occurrences, the sentencing guidelines

call for 6-16 years. He'll also be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, and on parole

until all the cows have come home, then called their moms to say they made it there safely.

       I know the ADA was worried about even getting a conviction. Very worried.

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       The law firm the defendant hired, since the man's rather well off, bills out at $500 per

hour, more when in trial. This case was, by no means, a slam-dunk. Yet the man was even to

the point of arguing with his lawyers, who'd do almost anything to get him to shut up. They had

not only his freedom to protect, although he was vehemently trying to flush that part straight

down the toidy, but the firm's reputation, as well.

       When I asked the defense table if they wanted a psych evaluation to determine if this man

was capable of making such a decision, they jumped on it like wolves on a freshly butchered cow

spread out on the snow. So, against the man's wishes, I had him bound over, revoked his bail,

and came back here to my chambers to think about it. From what I'd heard on the case so far, I

wasn't even sure the guy was guilty. Having spoken to the kid in chambers, I wondered more

than just a little if she hadn't made up the entire story. Therefore, if the psych people didn't tell

me the man was unable to make such a plea, I had no idea what I'd come up with as a sentence.

       In any event, I just bought myself a couple of months to think it over, and I planned to

use every day of it that way. Tough case, tough call.

       I'd just gotten back and hung my robe on the coat tree I keep there for that purpose, then

dug out a ciggie and was sitting back to mull it over when knuckles tapped on the half open door.

"Yes?" I asked, wondering who the heck it'd be, since I just passed Belinda and all she did was

smile and say "Hi".

       Tez leaned in, her right hand gripping the edge of the door, only her head appearing as

she leaned in to her right, mousy brown hair hanging to one side. "CC, we got a problem."

       Oh, wonderful. I get back here, take maybe two hits off a Winston, and there's trouble I

hadn't planned on already brewing. "What kind of problem, Tez?" Please, I thought hopefully,

make it something little I can handle quickly. Or later, maybe.

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        "Uh, Candy needs to tell ya somethin'," she told me as she stepped in, then turned to look

back behind her. "C'mon in here an' see the judge."

        Candy stepped through behind Tez, who pointed to the two chairs in front of my desk,

then closed the door and went to the small sofa on my right against the wall. Brenda followed,

taking the other chair, the one on my left, leaving Candy in the one to my right, between Brenda

and Tez, parked by the wall. Tez looked very concerned, almost worried, while Brenda seemed

as if resigned to a fate she wanted no part of. Worse than the others, Candy appeared to only now

be catching on she'd overcommitted herself and was about to pay dearly for her mistake.

        "Go on, Honey," Tez urged, "tell CC what ya told me out there at the table."

        No question about it, I saw Candy gulp. Watched her throat move as her complexion now

pallored, well on its way to being snow white. "Do I gotta? I ain't thinkin' this here's gonna be

such a good idea no more."

        "Yeah, Candy, ya gotta," Brenda replied, leaning that way now to lightly grip the terrified

young blonde's right forearm in the tips of her fingers. "CC ain't gonna shit on ya none. Hell, I

bet she c'n jus' take over after ya tell 'er an' that'll be th' end of it."

        "Ya think?" Candy asked hopefully. "I flat out ain't lookin' t' git my ass all jammed up on

this here deal." She wrung her hands nervously, unintentionally extracting her forearm from the

grip of Brenda's fingers. Eyes locked on Brenda, she added, "An' I don't wanna have nobody dick

me no more 'less I love th' dude, er at least like 'is ass a lot."

        Turning to me, tears now beginning to drip down her cheeks, Candy pled, "I don't wanna

be a whore no more! Please, CC, don't make me be a whore again? Please?"

        Like two EMTs rushing to treat an accident victim, Tez and Brenda were all over her in a

flash, both kneeling beside the chair, each trying to hug her and stroke Candy's long blonde hair.

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Working from the sling, Tez was at a decided disadvantage, but she'd certainly be marked better

than an "E" for effort. It was so distracting for a moment, I almost jumped from my chair to be

part of what any 60s "flower child" would've called a "hug-in".

       "Candy, that's not going to happen," I said firmly, putting my ciggie in the ashtray so I'd

be free of the distraction. "First, however, before I can tell you any more, you've got to let me in

on whatever they want you to tell me now. I can't help you until I know what it is they want you

to say to me."

       "Yer jus' sayin' that," she argued tearfully. "Then, soon's I say shit 'bout what I know that

dude did t' that li'l kid, yer gonna have 'em toss my ass outa here, er even put me in jail." Tears

now flowing freely, she tossed in, "I ain't stupid, ya know. I seen all this shit on 'Law 'n' Order'

reruns. Yer gonna nail my ass jus' like yer gonna nail Randy's."

       "Who in the world is Randy?" I asked of anyone who wanted to answer.

       "A convicted child molester, kidnapper and, it appears, an asshole who got right back into

dickin' little kids again," Tez confided.

       I felt ice cubes being rubbed on the back of my forearms sending a chill all the way up to

my neck at those words. "Yes, Candy, you have to tell me, but there's no way you can ever go to

jail unless you took part in these crimes. And, if you did, I advise you right now to say not one

more word." Taking a deep breath and leaning forward in my chair, I asked her, "Did you take

any part in committing any of these crimes?"

       Now she glanced at Tez, the closest thing she seemed to think she had to legal counsel.

"Is lettin' Randy bone me takin' part?"

       "Not a chance," Tez told her as she shook her head. "If that's all ya did was let this big a-

hole play hide the weenie in yer little fun box, yer free an' clear, Honey. Trust me on that one."

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        Her eyes rigidly attached to mine now, Candy questioned, "Zat true?"

        "Pretty much. Yeah. Now, with no more fooling around, I want you to tell me what the

heck is going on."

        With one more big gulp, Candy told me everything she knew.

        I waited until she was finished and said, "I'm not sure there's even anything here that can

be prosecuted, or even if the story is real." I lit another ciggie to give myself a moment to think.

"How do we know this guy was even telling you the truth? Maybe he was just making up a story

to make himself sound like a tough guy so he could impress you."

        Shaking her head slowly, Candy rebutted me. "I don't think so." Apparently the idea of

being questioned on her veracity evoked other details. "That one time … he only said it then, an'

that's 'cause he was drunker'n shit that night … he showed me some pitchers. One of 'em was a

little girl, maybe ten er so." Her mouth went taut, the normally full lips now flat. "Dude tells me,

soon's she's ready, he won't be comin' back t' see me no more."

        Hearing that put a lump in my belly the size of a grapefruit. "Okay, I'm sold," I told her.

"Now we have to do something. This is too real and too scary." I reached for the phone on my

desk. "We'll need to bring in a detective, and I know just the one to call."

        "No!" Candy barked in a shrill voice, her eyes filled with terror. "No cops! I mean it!

Ya call in any cops, I ain't gonna say shit, an' if ya tell 'em what I said, I'll jus' say I was makin' it

all up." She shook her head, blonde hair flailing wildly. "I ain't talkin' t' no damned cops!"

        I drew my hand back. "Candy, we can't just let this go. From what you're telling me, this

creep is going to begin molesting some poor little girl, and it sounds like he means to do it soon.

If we don't say anything, just imagine what might happen to her."

        "All I c'n imagine's what'll happen t' me. I ain't gonna be no whore no more."

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        All three of them were looking my way now. Waiting for me to make a decision. Do I

let it go, meaning an innocent young girl who sounds like she's safe up to this point will soon

begin being molested? Do I throw away any and all trust Candy may have started to develop in

me so I can head off disaster for that little girl? Sentence Candy to vanish back to the filthy

streets again to live with the people who only want to use her? Put her back on track to die from

drug usage or, even worse, a sexually transmitted disease?

        Why me, God? Why do all these terribly important decisions have to fall on me? Who

in the world ever said I was qualified to straighten out messes like this one was becoming?

        Sitting back, I said nothing. Only picked up my ciggie, took a drag, and stared up at the

ceiling in thought. I heard Tez say, "Give 'er a minute or two. CC's really good at this kinda shit

when she's gotta be."

        The entire crowd was left hanging while I went over all this garbage in my mind. Picked

up on one answer after another, only to discard each one and head on to something else. Finally,

when I saw there really was only one answer that fit this mess after all the weird possibilities had

run through my head, I said, "There might be a way out of this ungodly bad situation."

        "See?" Tez said, almost gloating. "I told ya she's good at this kinda shit!"

        "Don't get ahead of me," I cautioned, then looked at Candy. "If we can pull this off, it'll

be with your help, Candy. It's a long shot, but we might be able to make it work."

        "What've I gotta do?" she inquired, a somewhat different strain of fear in her voice this


        "How often does this Randy guy come around to see you?"

        A shrug. "I dunno. Not a lot. Once, twice, three times max, maybe, in a month."

        "Do you know where he'll be coming to find you?"

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       "Yeah. Th' same corner I always was workin'. Why?"

       "Because you and I are going to have to work that corner, Candy. We have to be there

when he comes back. That's mandatory."

       This time those blonde tresses went into overtime, whipping back and forth across her

slender shoulders as she vehemently shook her head no. "Uh-uh! No way in hell, CC, even if ya

are a judge an' important an' shit! I ain't gonna be a whore no fuckin' more! I ain't doin' it!" Her

big blue eyes suddenly locked onto mine, pleading, begging, praying even, trying any possible

way to get the indulgence from me that would help her escape what she could only see as a one-

way bus ride to hell. I was witnessing a very quick death. All the hope she'd built up over only

two days of getting released from the slime pit that had been her life for only God knows how

long was dying. Fading fast. In its place was a wall of iron being built that would entrap both

her soul and any faint hopes she'd ever again attain of securing freedom. A freedom she hadn't

yet tasted, but had only smelled on the air from a distance.

       Those last faint traces of an innocent little girl in Candy were hanging on by fingertips

only to a heated metal bar that, should she be forced to relinquish her grip, would drop her many

miles. She'd land in the licking fingers of flame that marked her final entrance into a sheer hell

that would savage her so long it would make eternity seem like a noon recess. Everything in the

rest of her existence, those blue eyes told me in their desperate appeal, hinged on whatever I had

to say next.

       "You won't have to be one," I told her as I stubbed out my ciggie and leaned forward to

speak to her again. "What you'll be doing, if anyone asks, is teaching me what to do. I'll be a

whore-trainee, if that's even a real word."

       All three looked at me with the same unspoken question, but Tez was the one who finally

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put it into words. "I don't get it, CC. What in the hell's a whore-trainee, and how're you gonna

get everybody to leave yer ass alone? Are you sayin' you're gonna go down there and stand on

that corner hookin'? Like, you're gonna let some assholes get ya in their car and bone the shit

outa you just so ya can get this prick?"

        "Of course not. First, I'll want a very high price, one nobody's going to want to pay. If

that doesn't keep 'em all away, since I'll be a green trainee, I'll tell 'em I've changed my mind and

I'm not going to do it at all."

        "Yeah, right," Tez snorted in disgust and disbelief. "Shit, I bet the first damned night ya

try that hinky bullshit, some a-hole's gonna get out of his damned car an' say ya ain't gonna get

no choices 'til he gets what he wants outa the deal."

        "Well, if that happens," I told her with a smile, "I'll leave the man in position to explain

his wishes and desires to Cool Wind. I don't think the guy will get very far with that one."

        "An' I ain't gonna hafta screw nobody?" came the feeble, wispy question now so filled

with desperation blended with hope from Candy.

        With a grin bigger than I felt I had any right to, I responded, "The only thing you might

be forced to screw, Candy, will be a bulb into a lamp if it goes out."

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                              CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

                                      San Diego, California

        Monday, May 5th … 10:31 a.m. – Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 … 7:22 p.m.

       Maybe when I get older I won't rush into some of these things the way I do now. It will

probably save me a great deal of grief when I get all that wisdom under my belt and take more

time before I start these new projects.

       If anyone ever tries to tell you hookers don't work hard, tell them I say they're nuts! If I

had any doubt beforehand, I sure changed my mind that first night. However, before I was even

out there on the danged corner I, of course, had to run through that whole stupid routine again

with Cool Wind, starting with telling him about my idea. Of course, he didn't like it a bit, and I

knew that much before I told him.

       As usual, we had our snippy little argument at the start and went all through our normal

routine, so when it got to the part where I pout and look pissed, he caved right away. Really, men

can be such wimps. Then I was back and forth, up and down the stairs a few times changing

from one outfit to another, and I took the girls along with me to help. In the end, when he was

finally outvoted, he gave in and said I could wear whatever I wished.

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       So, at least in appearance, I was a hooker. I thought about how well I'd be able to act it

out, but I didn't think of all the details I'd need to put together. Thankfully, Candy did think of

'em, with Brenda along as her coach, while Cool Wind drove us to the corner we'd be working.

       "Fer starters, yer gonna need a name," Brenda opined. "Gotta be good, too, or ain't none

o' these jerk-asses gonna think yer real."

       "Well, that's a worthwhile point," I admitted, nodding as I took another drag from where I

sat in the front passenger seat. "I sure can't use CC Ryder." The idea made me smile a moment.

"By now there are a few people who've heard my name, and I guess it'll stand out a little because

it's not an average sounding name."

       "Plus, ain't nobody down here never uses no last names," Brenda reminded me. "Ya

gotta have one that'll sound like yer from here."

       "Why is that?" I asked her. "Your name, Brenda, is a regular sounding name."

       "So?" she asked in return as she lit her own ciggie and lowered the power window in the

back behind Cool Wind, who had the top up this time of day. After a drag she held it up by the

opening so the breeze sucked away the ash. "There ain't hardly none o' the mother— … suckers

knows me by Brenda. My name in th' streets is Godiva." Saying it made her smile.

       "Really?" I questioned, surprised. "As in Lady Godiva?"

       "Fu— … screw that shi— … stuff. I ain't even really sure what it means, but this ol' guy

was callin' me that when I firs' started hookin' an' it sounded kinda tits." Taking a drag again, she

tossed me a somewhat guilty look. "C'n I say shit like that? Tits, I mean?"

       Keeping a straight face, I nodded. "I suppose you can, as long as you don't run it into the


       With a nod of appreciation she added, "Ennyways, mos' tricks always jus' called me that,

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but I never really knew what it was all about. That ol' dude said it was somethin' 'bout some sexy

bitch with a lot o' hair, er some shit, an' I guess it was from a long time back." She sucked in on

it again. "I ain't thinkin' she's from 'round here, neither." A fast shrug. "Makes sense she wasn't,

since ain't nobody else named that in these parts. Not that I ever heard of."

       This time I had to chuckle. "No, she wasn't from around here. Lady Godiva was the wife

of an English nobleman—"

       "Way the hell over in England? Not from 'round here?"

       "No, not from around here. She lived in England in the eleventh century and rode naked

through town to protest the high taxes her husband was charging the people who rented his land

so they could farm it. You might say she was a heroine of the lower class, the poor people."

       "Really?" Brenda grinned. "So, she was special, kinda?"

       "Yeah, you could say that. So, what am I going to use for a name?"

       After a moment, with everyone but Cool Wind thinking about it, Candy said, "I know a

good one. Bambi."

       "No, that doesn't sound—"

       "Perfect!" Brenda announced. "Sounds like somebody'd use that one down here." Then

she scowled. "Shit, ain't been nobody called Bambi since that one girl … ya know, the tall black

girl with them huge tits? … but she's been gone, like, a coupla years."

       Candy said vaguely, "Think she's workin' El Cajon Boulevard since she got out. I heard

she got six months th' las' time."

       Turning to Cool Wind, I asked, "How does Bambi sound to you?"

       He only grunted and kept his eyes on the road.

       "We have a winner," I said to the girls with a smile. "So, tell me about the rest."

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       They did, counseling me about not getting too close to the cars at first, especially if there

was someone in the passenger seat. They gave me some questions to ask if I wasn't sure if it was

a cop or not, adding any really good looking guys were probably undercover cops. Told me not

to go up to a car with a ciggie in my hand, never to touch the johns until we had a deal in place

… meaning I wouldn't be touching any of these creeps in any way … and to stay in a lighted area

until I had time to form an opinion of the guy.

       To walk away if I saw any sort of weapon like a knife, a gun, chains, brass knuckles, any

sharp objects or ropes of any kind. Nylon scarves, too. Used for choking, Brenda warned me.

They insisted I make sure I always got a close look at the guy and tried to see his face, since that

would be the easiest way to spot the real weirdos.

       For a moment I toyed with mentioning Ted Bundy was supposedly a "normal looking

guy", but I let it go. After all, I wouldn't be getting in anybody's car, so what did it matter?

       We went over the idea of where Cool Wind would be, which prompted me to ask about

Donnie and where he was now. Cool Wind told me not to worry about it, and he'd make sure he

was nearby at all times, but we wouldn't always see him. I'd have to be satisfied with knowing

he'd be there if I needed him.

       So, we arrived and I got started. It seemed with each mile we drew closer to where I'd be

working "my assignment" the idea had less appeal to me. I wore a red skirt, much shorter than I

ever wear any other time, but it was in the back of my closet and Candy spied it. I even found a

pair of fishnet stockings I think I bought to entertain Baker, with a sheer black blouse that stuck

to me and made my hooters stand out. I left my hair the long way, hanging wherever it fell,

since I wasn't supposed to be hiding my boobies now.

       Regrettably, I'd talked myself into wearing three inch black heels and my feet and both

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my ankles were continually reminding me after about 15 minutes "on patrol", but Candy and

Brenda both said not to worry about it. I'd get used to 'em in a couple of days.

         Like I want to get used to these things? I don't think so! I even teased myself with the

idea of setting the blasted things in my fireplace when this was over and watching 'em go up in


         The johns, or "tricks" as the girls called 'em, were there when we arrived and they didn't

ever seem to let up. They came in old pickups, new pickups, old cars, new cars, expensive cars,

cheap cars, sports cars, even a guy on a motorcycle, a big, noisy one. It wasn't a Harley, that one

I would've recognized, by it was noisy as heck, all the same. He beckoned me over, but I never

got any closer than ten feet and told him I refused to ride that thing.

         The "buyers" were white, black, Asian, third world, some with what I thought was a form

of Arabic accent, some Brenda said were South American, and all others. They all ranged in age

from their early 20s to what I was sure was a guy in his 80s, slim to morbidly obese, hygienic to

clearly unwashed, well dressed to outright slovenly. Tall, short, muscular, pudgy, skinny and all

the combos in between.

         Some were happy, others fearful. Some lugubrious, some joyous, some expectant, others

doubtful. Lavish spenders, (those were the scariest), to tightwads who practically suggested I'd

be the one paying them. I thought at first I'd seen one of each the first night, but both girls told

me I hadn't even scratched the surface, and they were right. It seemed there were new versions

of pervert every night and some were so cruddy it would sound as if I was making them up if I

tried to explain 'em all.

         There was a fat guy, late 40s, with a big Rottweiler in the back. I was already backing

away from the car when I saw the dog, but it turns out I was very premature in telling him I had

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no intention of getting into any car with a dog in it. That almost set the guy off because, after he

got done with his anger at me for prejudging things, he explained the Rott was the customer, the

"end user", so to speak, and he wanted to watch.

        Most of 'em Candy helped me blow off by using a price they'd never pay, usually $100

for anything they'd want, or higher if the guy looked like he had that kind of money. One big

and rather muscular guy, late 30s with a muscle beach sleeveless shirt and super tight jeans, even

got out of the car and approached us. Candy and I backed up, telling the guy to stay away,

holding out our hands with the palms up, but he never slowed at all. Just as I was about to

scream at the idea of being dragged into this animal's car, an SUV with heavily tinted windows

that made me all the more nervous, I felt something brush past me from behind.

        Cool Wind stepped forward without a word, grabbed the guy's muscular left wrist, and

did something with his hand I didn't catch. The guy immediately dropped to his knees there on

the sidewalk, moaning loudly and in pain. Cool Wind leaned forward and said something quietly

in the guy's ear then, still gripping that wrist, had the guy scramble back to his vehicle still in a

crouch or sorts. Shoving the man inside the SUV, he said to never come back and then watched

the guy drive away.

        When a couple persisted with Candy, some even indicating they'd done business with her

in the past, she said her tests weren't back from the health clinic yet, so she was regrettably out of

commission for another week or so. There were a few even willing to go along with my inflated

prices, but we got away with my alleged rookie status and the fact I wanted to work my way into

the business very gently. Of course, a few just got pissed off, but that was also okay. Those who

got out of their cars were hastily ushered back inside them by Cool Wind.

        Over the ten days I "worked the sidewalks" at Candy's old corner I must've asked half a

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dozen times about Donnie. Cool Wind would always leave it at a grunt and walk away. I knew

he was around, because that's just Donnie, but I never once saw him, and he'd never say a word

when I'd ask him the following day.

        Candy commented her guy always showed up between eight and ten and would be "ready

for a romp" that'd take her an hour or two, depending on how horny he was at the time. It wasn't

until Wednesday of the second week, and he even showed up early, that we saw him. The exact

man we'd been out here looking for and hoping so desperately to find. When Candy mumbled

under her breath, "That's the dude, CC. That's Randy," all I could think was, Okay, so it's show


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                              CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

                                     San Diego, California

                          Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 … 7:39 p.m.

       There's something about the call to action I think triggers the release of a chemical in our

brain, I'm almost sure of it. Perhaps it's related somehow to the Pavlovian reaction of those dogs

that drooled when they heard the bell. I've often wondered if that's not what happens to any pro

boxer when he hears that first ding, or maybe a race horse at the starting bell when the gates open

wide. Whatever it might be, I felt it when I heard Candy's announcement.

       Silly as it might sound with Cool Wind and Donnie both close by, even if I never did see

'em until they were needed, I'd been afraid a few times. There were some real thugs who pulled

in to the curb to rudely discuss using my body for various ultra disgusting practices. Some of 'em

scared the pee out of me. I'm serious.

       Most of the time, however, I was just disgusted and bored and tired. It gets very old in a

hurry hanging around a place like this with all these lowlifes. Hearing the same vulgarities over

and over and over again. Seeing the same sleazy people, including hookers from the area who'd

come over and try to scare us away. That's when I found out Candy wasn't the total wimp I'd

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seen at the first. She was aggressive and, whether it was real or not, acted nasty. Territorial and

angry enough to do something about it. Brenda was the same way, and even tougher when she

went at someone.

        Two black girls came over and acted belligerently, trying to make us leave. After Brenda

gave them a piece of her mind, wrenched up from the very foulest part of it based on some of the

words she used, one of the black girls got pushy and knocked Candy to the sidewalk. Brenda was

on her like an attack dog, grabbing hair at the start. When the blonde wig came off in her hand

with almost zero resistance, Brenda tossed it into the moving traffic, then grabbed a big handful

of the real nappy stuff and tried to remove it, as well. Since that part had roots, it didn't come out

as easily, but Brenda still harvested more than a little of it.

        She finished by dragging that bully into an alley and pounding the snot out of her, even

using the inside of her high-heeled boot to kick that girl in the butt when she finally started to run

away. I was worried it might get out of hand, but then felt better when I noticed Cool Wind had

come to watch as a looky-loo until it settled down.

        When the other one tried to come to her friend's assistance, Candy got her in a neck lock

and hurled hear against a building, whereupon she started beating all over the woman's head and

shoulders, along with her ribs and anything else she could reach. Seconds after it started, both of

'em were running like scared cats. As we watched them disappear Brenda said, "That's one o' the

few things I'll miss about all this shit's protectin' my fu—… damned territory!"

        Silly me, I got in close enough to watch, and I'm sure I would've helped if I was needed,

but the girls took care of it handily enough without me. That left us with the letdown feeling we

get when the action's over with and it's back to the humdrum parts of life. I'd probably turned

down half a dozen or more who weren’t blown off by Brenda when Candy gave me the heads up.

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       Initially, I was a bit appalled. I had great difficulty imagining the guy she pointed out to

me could possibly have done what she said he did. For starters, he was rather fat and ugly. I put

him around five-ten, maybe 240, and he looked a lot like Michael Moore, someone I've never

seen as terribly photogenic. Bald-headed with wire frame glasses, at least two chins with what

I'd call a rounded point on the top one, he had a skimpy, nasty gray beard that made his fat face

look dirty somehow. Early to mid 50s, I could quite easily understand why a guy like him would

be down here paying for sex. He sure wouldn't have much luck if he was out hustling for it.

       He eased in at the curb in a late model Buick, probably the full-size model, whatever it is.

I don't keep up much on cars and, if I did, I doubt I'd spend my spare time in a Buick showroom.

The car was about as exciting as going through albums at Grandma's was when I was a kid. His

right hand was waving as his left honked the horn. Yet, rather than die of embarrassment, Candy

shot over to his car, motioning me to follow quickly.

       Almost gleefully reminding myself this was all an act and I wouldn't have to do anything

with this Hun, a modern day Visigoth in every sense of the word, I followed. Candy went right

into her spiel as soon as she reached the door. "Randy! Hey, baby, how ya been?"

       "Decent, Candy. Damn, I been missin' them sexy tits o' yers."

       "Yeah? Well, I got me a su'prise for ya t'night, dude. Yer gittin' a two-fer."

       "Yeah? Howzat?" he asked, craning his neck to look around her and see me as I got to

the curb to stand beside her. Hating myself for it, I bent down, hands on my knees, my hair all

hanging down straight, giving this puke a boobie shot from each of us. "Nice tits ya got, babe."

       "Thanks," I said as I obnoxiously chewed the gun I'd taken to bringing with me after the

first night, knowing it made me look like I had less class than a burned down grade school. I

opted to go for it, as putrid as the idea was and despite the nauseating pictures it painted in my

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mind. "They're all fer you if ya want 'em, big guy. I'm jus' gettin' started at this stuff." I made a

point of leaning over more so he could see in between my boobies, trying to force away the too

disgusting visualization it evoked.

        "Really? Ya ain't never done this shit before?"

        Candy broke in with, "Yeah, this here's Bambi. She's new t' all this shit, so I'm helpin' 'er

git started, ya know? We'll be doin' a two-fer t'night, baby. Yer gonna git both of us in bed all

fer the same price."

        "Fifty bucks an' I get ya both?" he asked somewhat incredulously. "Shit, there's gotta be

a catch. What is it?"

        When Candy didn't jump in quickly enough, I took the lead for a moment. "Ya gotta be

gentle with me an' go slow 'cause I don't know a lot about this stuff." I put on a brilliant false

smile. "But I try extra hard t' please a guy, an' I'm gonna try real hard t' make you happy."

        "Shit, yer doin' it already!" he said with a laugh, dropping his left hand to fondle his

crotch. "You gotta git up front with me, Bambi. Ol' Randy'll show ya the fuckin' ropes."

        This time Candy saved me. "No way, José. She's in back so's she c'n learn stuff. I tol'

ya, she's jus' gittin' started with all this shit."

        Now he gave me a wary look. "She's still gonna fuck me, right?"

        "Hell, yeah, we both are," Candy replied with a knowing smile as she opened the door

and got in. "We're gonna wear yer ass out, Randy, an' that ain't no shit."

        While they were talking, I got in the back seat and put on my seat belt. Only then did I

think to look around for Cool Wind, but I didn't see him. I knew a moment of fear, then let it go

when I realized he'd never let me down on something this serious. Randy groped Candy a bit

and even reached back over the seat while he drove, saying, "Lemme feel yer tits, Bambi."

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        "Not 'til we get to the room," I told him, forcing a smile to my face while the image it put

in my mind made me want to vomit.

        He made a number of bawdy statements in the trip of not more than two miles and we got

to a motel I never imagined I'd possibly enter under any conditions. The once white building was

a dingy gray. Two stories with an outer walkway and made of planked wood like they do back

in Michigan, I wondered if they somehow shielded it from the rain to make it seem so unwashed.

I saw drunks on the sidewalk out front and teen gangbangers, all Mexican, on the sidewalk. All

the cars parked in the lot were at least 10-15 years old, many rusted, almost all badly dented or

damaged. I saw paper cups and fast food wrappers in various places and seriously doubted

anyone could see in through any of the windows because they were all too filthy.

        The thought of how grim and grimy the rooms must be caused me to shudder, and the

idea of sleeping in any of the beds, as bad as I knew they'd be, made my skin crawl. Candy was

out of the car quickly, even opening my door and pulling me out. While he lumbered out from

the driver's door she whispered, "You c'n take it from here, CC. I don' even want th' asshole t'

touch me now, since I ain't really a whore no more." Her eyes were almost pleading with me to

get her off the hook here.

        As Randy began wallowing around the rear of the car to come begin mauling us, I asked

her, "Do you know which room, by any chance?"

        "He always gets that one," she told me, pointing to the room on the ground floor in front

of the car.

        "C'mon, Randy," I told him as I stepped forward too fast to be grabbed. "Candy says it's

always this room. Is this where we're gonna do it?" I tried turning the knob and, of course, it

was locked.

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       "Bet yer ass," he said as he arrived behind me and squeezed it. "And it's one nice fuckin'

ass, if I do say so m'self." When he reached up and grabbed my left boob, I shied away and told

him with a truly forced smile, "Well, let's get in it so's me an' Candy can get naked."

       That convinced him, so he unlocked the door and we all went in. Candy hung back by

the wall near the door after she closed it, while he raced over to the other side of the bed and

pulled off a T-shirt advertising some bowling alley and team. Then he looked at us, saw we were

still dressed, and halted. "C'mon, girls, lose them fuckin' duds!"

       "I want you to tell me 'bout yer two wives," I suggested.

       "Naw, let's fuck, instead," he rebutted. "Strip, huh?"

       "In a minute. I want a ciggie first." I lit one before he could argue and moved to a wood

chair by a dinky round table with a very old lamp on it, the shade as grimy as everything else in

this fleabag. "She says you have two wives an' a coupla kids with the younger one. That so?"

       He glared at me, then looked at Candy. "Why ain't you gettin' naked, baby?"

       "Uh, I was thinkin' I'd wait 'til Bambi's done smokin'."

       Again he looked at me, then her, then back to me, but put his shirt on again and said to

me with a scowl, "I don't know what the fuck's goin' on here, but I'm gettin' my ass outa here."

       This was all falling apart at Godspeed and I wasn't at all happy about it. However, I was

not willing to get this close and have him get away, made even leerier by what happened. So I

pulled the .380 from my purse and said, "You're not going anywhere, mister. Get your hands up

and do it now!"

       Not even around the bed yet, he did as ordered, then glared at Candy. "Yer robbin' me?

After all them times I dicked ya, Candy, yer gonna rob my ass?"

       She clamored, "No, man, all's I was doin' was—"

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       "Don't you worry about what we're doing," I cut in. "Candy, go get Cool Wind."

       As she hurried to the door, he asked, "Who the hell's Cool Wind?" although he kept his

hands at shoulder height.

       "You'll see," I told him. "For now, sit on the floor."

       "Why?" he asked nervously, licking his lips as his eyes flitted all over the filthy room.

       "Never mind why," I said, standing and aiming at him. "Just do it."

       With a scornful look, he sat on the floor, but I had a sense he wouldn't stay there too long.

       The door opened and Cool Wind stepped in. He assessed the situation in a hurry, Candy

having told him a little about what happened, and asked, "Where's the guy we're looking for?"

       Randy asked, "Who the hell're ya lookin' for?"

       "Philip Barber. Do you know him?"

       "Hell, no. Never heard o' the bastard."

       Still keeping the gun trained on him, I walked over to stand by Cool Wind, knowing there

was no way now I could have him arrested and seriously doubting at this point there was enough

information to get a warrant to search his place … if we had any idea where it was. We didn't

know the man's last name and, unless Cool Wind had gotten a plate number, we might not find

that out, either. I asked Cool Wind, "What should we do?"

       "Let him go. He's not the one we want."

       When he saw my horrified expression, Cool Wind added, "Donnie's doing the same thing

he did when I promised not to follow you that night."

       Realizing that meant Donnie was now in the trunk of this guy's car, I told him, "Sorry,

my mistake. You can go now."

       He did. In a hurry. Even burned rubber with the Buick.

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                               CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

                                     San Diego, California

                          Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 … 8:13 p.m.

       Winging it is something I do more than most would think in my courtroom, although the

law does prescribe a good number of limits in that regard. I've also done it often in my personal

life, especially with the men I've known and loved. Okay, there were only two. I'll give you that

much, but my guys often required a girl ad lib and think on her feet just to stay even. Neither of

them was what you'd want to call tame, nor were they meek and mild.

       What I'm getting at is the fact flying by the seat of my pants isn't anything brand-new for

me. Been there; done that; got the T-shirt.

       Except this stuff was all new to me, and I wasn't the least little bit comfortable with what

was going on. We got to my car quickly, given that Cool Wind had a set of keys to it in addition

to the ones Donnie had, since he'd driven it down here. We'd come here in Cool Wind's nasty

old Mazda in order to "keep down" our image, if I can mangle a phrase. Donnie had used my

BMW to get here, wherever he's been hiding, and that's what we were in now. Cool Wind only

locked the old Mazda, quite certain no one would steal it. The car looked like something where

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you'd call AAA before you started hotwiring it, just to be safe. While it always ran perfectly, it

was not anything to catch someone's eye, but I'm sure that's why he drives it when he's doing the

kind of work he's so danged good at doing.

       Since he'd watched the direction Randy left, Cool Wind had a good idea … I thought …

of where the man was heading. However, after we got the car into traffic, I could no longer see

that danged Buick and I started getting nervous as can be. Darn it, I like Donnie. A lot. Plus, he

was after this yucca plant to help me, which added to the reasons I'd worry. If this jerk managed

to get away from us, Donnie could be in a lot of trouble.

       Sure, I was confident Donnie could probably kick the guy's spleen out in about twenty or

so seconds if things got tight, but what if the barfbag had a gun? Donnie'd be up that stinky creek

without a paddle, and that didn't do my mood any good at all. So, loyal and concerned as I was, I

mentioned it to Cool Wind to see if he had anything in mind. All I got from him was another of

those danged grunts.

       Then, when I was preparing to bite his fool head off, my cell phone rang. Without even

looking, I clicked the SEND button with my thumb and heard in the earpiece, "It's Donnie, CC.

We went what I'd say is four blocks and turned right. Tell Cool Wind."

       Flooded with relief and feeling like a yum-yum for ever even doubting the man always in

charge when things got right, I relayed the message. In return for my trouble, I got another soft

grunt. Lately I've begun to feel as if I've been married to Cool Wind the last 40 years or so with

all the grunts that make up his end of our conversations. I didn't even smack him, although the

thought did cross my mind rather quickly. Alternately, I also didn't kiss his cheek.

       We sped up and soon had the burgundy Buick in sight and I felt much better. The driver

took a few turns, all of which were reported to us by Donnie, but we had the man in sight, so it

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wasn't all that important. A couple times we got stopped at a light but Donnie told us they were

still moving straight. Another time we had to pull over to let an ambulance go by while we were

a few blocks back, but Donnie reported the turn and we found him again in a hurry.

       Thinking like a "butt pilot" all the time, that "flying by the seat of my pants" thing again,

I dug out my Thomas Guide and had a colored map of sorts and became a kind of human GPS. I

should've known not to start getting overconfident, which is another failing of mine. Granted, we

were doing fine with our jerry-rigging at the start, improbable as it may sound, but a contingency

I don't think Cool Wind planned on jumped up and bit us in our collective butts.

       The signal faded on Donnie's phone and we lost him. I know my face was drawn and pale

when it happened, so I hurriedly told Cool Wind. He grunted again and added, "He will call back

soon." However, he did speed up a little.

       Twice Donnie called and twice all I could hear was a broken sentence before losing him

again. Frantic, I asked Cool Wind what to do and was surprised at his answer. "Call Angela."

       I darned near smacked myself in the forehead! Why didn't I think of that?

       So, I scrolled down, got to her number and pressed my thumb on SEND.

       She caught me on the third ring. "I knew it was too damned good to be true."

       "Angela, I've got a real problem. No time for screwing around."

       "Yeah, you never do," she sighed. "Okay, gimme a body count."

       "What? 'Body count'?"

       "Yeah. How many've you shot this time, CC? Anyone still living, or should we make

this just a coroner's call and get the ME and her boys on the way?"

       "Dang it, that's not funny, Angela! I haven't shot anyone! I just—"

       "Then why the hell are you calling me this late? It can't be to invite me to go shopping

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with you since all the malls will be closing soon, so to what great privilege do I owe this call if

there are no DBs to pick up and I don't need to keep your round little ass out of jail? It's late and

I was almost out of the damned station."

        "Um, it's something different this time," I said a bit too meekly, wishing we didn't have to

go through all this crap first.

        "Yeah, if there's no one dead or wounded, this is a change of routine for you. Oh, and I've

been meaning to ask about your second job. Word has it you're trolling for johns over there on El

Cajon Boulevard, which makes me wonder if we're not paying you enough. However, since you

pull down about three times as much as I do … and I'm talking with some serious overtime on

my part … I've gotta ask why you're doing the 'hey, sailor!' routine there on the corner?" Angela

followed her question with a tired sigh.

        "You knew about that?"

        "Not much goes on in the San Diego area I don't know about, CC. C'mon, 'fess up."

        The fact she'd already known all about this freaked me out, but I didn't want to spend all

night on it since that guy was already out of sight with Donnie in his danged trunk. "It was, um,

an undercover sort of thing, but that's not why I'm cal—"

        "Damn it, CC, we have people who do that sort of shit for a living! They're fucking good

at it! Why are you, an amateur with a loaded weapon, out doing that bullshit?"

        "I can't explain now. Just listen to me."

        "Is this going to be another one of those deals where I spend the next couple weeks with

my hands on my ass wondering if it's gonna get shot off me?"

        "No, damn it! I said listen to me, and you damned well better listen!"

        "Okay, if it's got 'Miss Goody-Two-Shoes' cussing, I'll pay attention. Shoot."

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       "We've been trying to find a guy who was one of Candy's old tricks," I began.

       "CC, stiffing a hooker's not an indictable offense. If you're gonna do anything, the best

idea is to turn him in to a collection agency. Some of those bastards will take almost anything

these days."

       "Angela, I said shut the hell up! This dirtbag kidnapped a young woman from another

state many years ago, when she was a child, and he's held her prisoner ever since. He even got

the girl pregnant, according to—"

       "Aw, CC, you can't be buying in on—"

       "Didn't I just tell you to shut the hell up? Listen to me, damn it! He's been holding this

girl prisoner all these years and she's had two babies with him! Now it seems—"

       "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a sec. Are you serious?"

       "Yes, and that's why I told you to shut the hell up, which you'd damned well better do in

a hurry before I lose my temper!"

       "I'm listening."

       "Well, we found the guy. His name's Randy something, but we don't have a surname on

the guy yet. Just a plate number so far."

       "Gimme the plate."

       "Angela, if I do, you have to give me the man's name and address. We're, um, trying now

to, uh, you know, follow him."

       "Not a chance. Just give me the plate and—"

       "No!" I barked angrily. "Not until you agree to tell me who this guy is and where he's on

his way to now, since we're pretty danged sure he's going home."

       "I assume 'we're' includes Cool Wind?"

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       "Yes, and, um, Brenda and Candy, too,"

       "Aw, shit, she's got a fuckin' posse! Why me, God? Why do You put all this shit on


       "Angela, you're not being funny. Look, you have to promise—"

       "I don't need to promise shit, CC, unless you're in my chain of command. Look, I am not

going to give out an address to a gun-totin' citizen, then have to send twenty memos up the chain

of command explaining why that pistol packin' mama shot said citizen and there are now sixteen

bodies on that citizen's lawn. I ain't gonna do it, girl. If the dog bites ya once, that's the damned

dog's fault. If the dog bites ya twice, that's your own damned fault! You and that damned dog

have left teeth marks all over my fucking hand, CC. No way in hell. Now, gimme that plate."

       "Not a chance. I need a name and address … your promise you'll give them to me."

       "No way, CC. I really don't dare to do it. Not with the way you do things these days."

       "Okay. I'll figure out something else, but he's got Donnie in the trunk of his car, a fact of

which the man is not aware. When he finally stops, wherever that might be, if he gives Donnie

any guff, I can't vouch for the man's safety." Then I hung up.

       Cool Wind looked at me, then gave me an extremely rare smile, and nodded.

       I sat there with a lump in my gut that made me feel I'd swallowed an entire grapefruit I

forgot to cut in half first. Less than 60 seconds later, she called back. I answered by asking her,

"Are you ready?"

       "You are one gutsy little shit, CC, I'll give you that much."

       "I'm not asking for praise or compliments. I simply need your word on this."

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       "Well, since you trust me, I'll make a counteroffer based on that fact. You give me the

plate number and I'll look up the name and address. Then we will meet at a location close to

where you're heading for and we'll talk about how we are gonna handle this. Take it or leave it."

       I had to admit, this girl was fast on her mental feet. Very. I was impressed. "Okay," I

told her, "here's the plate number." I read it off slowly.

       "Hold one," she told me and muted her cell phone.

       After waiting between two and three minutes, which felt like forever, Angela came back

on the line. "Took me a minute to use the store locator after I ran the plate. There's a Starbucks

not all that far from that location. Got something to write the address on?"

       "Will they be open?" I asked with concern. "It's getting close to nine."

       "Who the hell cares? We're not meeting for drinks, damn it, we're meeting to decide

what we … shit, make that I want to do about a very large criminal. We'll get together in the

parking lot and shoot the shit for a couple minutes."

       "Okay, I'm ready," I told her. "Give me the address."

       She did, then told me, "See you there in twenty or so," then hung up.

       I showed the address to Cool Wind, who grunted and flicked on the turn signal.

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                                 CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

                                      San Diego, California

                           Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 … 8:41 p.m.

       The Starbucks Angela mentioned was in a shopping center, a relatively large one not too

far from the coast. As we pulled in and accelerated toward the store, I saw Angela's Crown Vic

turn into the other end of the parking lot, swing around a turn and head our way. Cool Wind got

a parking spot and I was out of the car, heading her way, almost before he put the car in park. I

heard Brenda call out, "We're comin', too, CC," as I jog-trotted toward Angela, who was getting

out as I approached.

       She leaned back against her car, arms crossed on her chest, and told me, "Details, CC. I

need details. Start spilling."

       One fast look over my shoulders showed the girls were moving at a brisk walk, no doubt

hurried along by Cool Wind, who looked at least concerned. After all, Donnie was an employee

of sorts, and a friend. He was potentially in jeopardy and Cool Wind was the reason. I knew he

was much more concerned than he showed at the moment.

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          Nodding at them as they drew up behind me, Angela said, "Cool Wind, ladies, it's nice to

meet CC's posse. For the moment, let's have everyone keep a lid on it while the Honorable Judge

Annie Oakley brings the local sheriff … that'd be me … up to date a bit." Now she turned to me

again. "As I just indicated, spill … and this better be damned awfully good from start to finish."

          Feeling like I was on stage and never attended a single rehearsal, I shrugged it off and got

started, gesturing toward Candy. "When she was, um, doing that other stuff she did—"

          "Hooking?" Angela pressed, her eyes flitting to the girls.

          "I wasn't going to say that," I told her in an admonishing tone.

          "CC, she wasn't waiting fucking tables, okay? Let's call a spade a damned shovel and get

to it."

          "Okay, what you said. Anyway, one of her customers—"

          "They're called johns," she broke in, rolling her hand over in the air to indicate I should

pick up the pace.

          "Whatever. He, in effect, told her he kidnapped a twelve-year-old girl in … I believe it

was Wyoming … a long time ago."

          "Almos' twenny years," Candy offered, smiling shyly and stepping back a pace, as well

as sidling closer to Cool Wind, as if for protection.

          Nodding at her, then rolling her hand again at me, Angela said, "And?"

          "That would, of course, make her an adult by now. According to what he told Candy, he

has two children with this woman who was, as I said, only a child when he took her."

          "Name's Rachel," Candy volunteered again, then stepped back once more to dwell in the

presence, if not the shadow, of Cool Wind. "Them kids is Carson an' Adriane. From what he

was tellin' me, the boy's 'bout twelve an' th' girl … that's the one that's makin' 'is ass all horny

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now an' why he said he wouldn't be dickin' me much longer … she's ten, I think." With a

winsome smile she added, "I wasn't wantin' t' see no little girl get started dickin' no old fat guys,

ya know? Shit, that's what they was makin' me do way back then, an' look at all th' shit

happened t' me."

       "Anyway," I continued, "we set up a sort of sting. I was there pretending to be a … one

of what you said … so we could get this jerk alone and make him confess to what he's done."

       "Did you?" she asked me. "This dingleberry tell you anything tonight we can use in your

statement? As a judge, you know I need something strong to get a warrant to search the man's

house. I can't just walk in and say I heard he's got a kidnap victim and a couple of kids who are a

rape product where he's preparing to carry the rape another step beyond all that other shit."

       "No," I said, shaking my head, unwilling to lie about it. "When I said I wanted to talk to

him about his 'two wives' … that's the way Candy said he referred to the women … he changed

his mind and said he wanted to leave. So, he left."

       "What? You didn't pull a gun on the shithead and demand a confession?"

       After watching my face a moment, Angela leaned her head forward and rested it in the

web of her right palm. "Son-of-a-bitch! You did pull a fucking gun on him, didn't you?"

       "Only for a moment," I admitted, "then I realized I'd be likely to blow the whole case if I

did it that way, so—"

       "As well as getting your own round little ass arrested for kidnapping, you dipshit judge!

You can't just pull a fucking gun on people, CC. There are laws against that sort of crap!"

       "I only did it for a moment, and—"

       "For a fucking 'moment'? CC, what would you say if some asshole was in your court on

a charge of forcible rape and he said he only put his dick in for a moment, then pulled it out, so

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he wants everyone to label him as being too rash and hasty, then slap his damned wrist and send

him home? Would any of that 'only for a moment' horseshit get the son-of-a-bitch any slack in

the area where you're in charge? Well, damn it, would it?"

       "No," I said apologetically. "I was all wrong. Is that what you've been waiting to hear?"

       "It's a damned nice start," she said with a protracted sigh. "A much better way to begin it

would've been to sit with me and explain it so I could have people who are fucking trained in that

sort of shit approach this baby raping bastard. As it is, there's only one reason … and it's about as

slim as it can get … I'll even dare approach this Conrad guy."

       "That's his name? Randy Conrad?"

       "Yeah, as if you didn't know."

       "I didn't. Really. He never told Candy his surname."

       Candy corrected me, "He never said I had t' call 'is ass 'sir', but Randy's th' only name I

was ever callin' the dude."

       Ignoring Candy, I asked her, "What's the 'one reason', Angela?"

       "You told me Donnie Oldrunner's in the man's car, correct? In the trunk?"

       "Yes. Why?"

       "That's my reason. I can investigate to determine if Donnie's a kidnap victim, or if he's

trespassing on Conrad's property, to wit, a 2006 Buick Lacrosse 4-door."

       "Trespassing? Angela, Donnie's not—"

       "Look, CC, I never said I was going to arrest Donnie. What I'm pointing out is the fact I

need a reason to ask anyone the questions I want to ask. The law won't let me just walk up to a

citizen's door and start making inquiries unless I have a damned good reason. Trespassing is, I'll

admit, weak as hell, and kidnapping's almost as absurd, since I assume … don't you fucking dare

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tell me Donnie's in that car voluntarily 'cause I do not want to hear that shit out of you now …

Conrad didn't manhandle Donnie and toss his ass in the trunk. However, what I need is a decent

reason to ask my initial questions. Based upon the answers I get, assuming I get any at all, I'll be

able to wing it and proceed from there."

        "I concur," I said with a nod.

        "Gee, thanks. I'm glad I've got your blessing, Your Honor."

        "Stick it, Angela. You needn't be such a smart ass."

        With a smirk and a nod, Angela blew me off. "Noted. Look, I'm assuming you and your

little posse want to go with me, so here's the deal. I'm going to call for some uniforms while I

head over to the man's house. You and these banditos will stay behind me every damned step of

the way. When we get to his street and I slow down, you will pull over and stay at least fifty

yards away. Got me?"

        "Yes," I said, hands behind my back with my fingers crossed.

        She glanced at Cool Wind, who gave her a nod and a grunt.

        "I'll tell Conrad, or whomever answers the damned door, I have information an adult

male has been taken captive and ask if I can look around to make sure the tip was wrong. If

that's not enough to gain entry, unless I see something in plain sight that leads me to conclude

there might be a minor child in danger on the premises, or a kidnap victim being held against her

will, there's not a damned thing I can do. Anything beyond that will require a warrant and, at

this point, I do not have justification to ask for, or receive, said warrant."

        "I can get you one," I assured her.

        "No way in hell, CC. You're an involved party. You can't issue a warrant."

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       "No, I can't, but I can darned sure call another judge at home and have him issue one and

call your watch commander with the information."

       "True," she admitted. "I hadn't yet thought of that angle."

       "Gee, imagine that. A mere judge … me … being more knowledgeable on matters of law

than a cop."

       "Stick it, Your Honor," she told me as she opened her car door. "I'm going to be on the

air on the way over there getting some backup. When we get there, you do as I told you and, in

the meantime, jump on your cell and get that warrant started." She got in the big Ford and started

the engine."

       I put my cell to my ear after looking up the number and scurried back to my car while the

phone on the other end began to ring.

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                               CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

                                      San Diego, California

                           Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 … 8:52 p.m.

       My call was answered as the girls were still getting into the back seat. "Judge Black."

       "Barry? CC Ryder. I need a favor."

       A brief pause. "Well, good evening, CC. Nice to speak with you, too, and I'm feeling

fine. Thank you for asking."

       "Barry, I'm really sorry, but this is an urgent matter. A cop needs a search warrant


       Another pause. "Did you resign after quitting time today? Why call me? If a warrant's

needed, you have the same authority I do. Issue it."

       "Well, that's the hang-up. In a way, I'm the complainant."

       "You say 'in a way', which is ridiculous. It's like being pregnant 'in a way'. A woman is,

or she is not. It's an either-or, CC, and you know that."

       "Yes, Barry, yes I do. Okay, here's the deal. I did call the officer, so I'm the complainant

of record, although someone else, who insists on remaining unknown, gave me the information I

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used in the complaint. The detective involved is on her way to the premises in question even as

we speak and she's calling for backup. There's the distinct possibility a man is being held against

his will, a prisoner, so to speak, and she needs to investigate, i.e., search the premises as well as

the subject's vehicle, to determine if a crime has been committed. There's also a witness who'll

attest he saw the potential kidnap victim in the subject's trunk and has not seen the man since."

       "This sounds a little … shall we say … off the wall, CC. What are you not telling me?"

       Okay, dang it, time to go for broke. "There's also been an allegation made, from the same

person who brought me that potential kidnap information … a little girl, only ten years old, Barry

… may be raped. In addition, this will all tie in, if true, with another unreported kidnapping. A

child from another state, Wyoming I believe, was kidnapped some years ago. As impossible as

this may sound, she was also raped and bore the subject two children, the female child being the

one described as the intended rape victim."

       "CC, do you honestly expect me to believe this hogwash? Why in the world would I ever

want to issue a warrant based on all this preposterous hearsay, unsubstantiated to boot."

       Time to play my hole card with a "fib flourish". I cleared my throat. "Barry, I have good

reason to believe this little girl is very similar in appearance and temperament to that darling girl

you introduced to me as your granddaughter at the court house."

       One more brief pause. He cleared his throat. "Give me the name, CC."

       Apparently anticipating my needs, Cool Wind had already been on his cell to Angela and

was getting the address in question and copying it to a piece of notebook paper as he drove. He

held it so I could read it and I passed the info along to Barry, adding I needed to have him phone

police dispatch ASAP. He agreed and we soon disconnected.

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       We arrived at the block the house was on, not that far from the coastline, where Angela

put on her four-ways and gestured toward the curb, so we pulled over.

       She idled on down the street another few houses and parked, the four-ways off. I saw her

use the mic on her dashboard and nod her head a few times. Less than two minutes later a patrol

unit pulled in next to her Crown Vic and they spoke from car to car, with yet another unit coming

from the other way and stopping fifty feet out from the first one. Moments afterward the first car

eased to the curb and the other parked across the street.

       Everyone got out and the headed for a house on the right that faced east, away from the

water. The houses were all pretty good sized and well kept, something I'd put in the $400,000 to

$750,000 range, which meant upper middle class, but not wealthy by California standards. After

I peeked at Cool Wind and saw his stalwart expression and grim demeanor I really began to get a

grip on how serious this had all become.

       I didn't enjoy the feeling. Not one bit.


       With four uniforms in her wake, Angela headed for the front door, a small concrete porch

six feet wide, four feet deep. Her badge was attached to the front of her jacket, the 10mm Glock

on her belt and a look of grim determination on her face. Two uniforms stood behind her and one

was in the yard on her right so he could see in the back in case anyone tried to run. Another was

to her left, at the far side of the driveway, watching the back yard from that side. The burgundy

Buick sat in the driveway in front of a closed garage door, it's engine still crackling with heat as

it cooled off from a recent drive.

       As her thumb pressed the doorbell Angela thought, I sure as hell hope we don't need CC's

warrant and we can make this whole damned thing go away. Then, chiding herself from 21

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years experience, she added, As if. Angela, you know damned well this asshole's as dirty as CC

said, and probably worse. Hearing footsteps approach from inside the house, she gritted her

teeth and let her right hand fall unconsciously to the Glock. If it is true, I hope the son-of-a-bitch

gives me a load of shit so I can take his ass in. It's a whole lot easier questioning these bastards

there in the house than at their own residences.

       The door opened to reveal a woman, late 40s to early 50s, a pudgy blonde with hair to her

collar and greenish-blue eyes. She had somewhat large breasts that were noticeable in the aqua

short-sleeved blouse that had a meshed design above her breasts showing some skin that stopped

at the upper cleavage. As soon as she pulled the door open, still wearing a half smile, her arms

crossed her chest and she glanced curiously at the badged woman on her porch with uniforms

standing behind her. "Yes? Can I help you?"

       Using an index knuckle to lift her badge slightly, Angela replied, "I am Detective Dutton,

San Diego Police Department. Is a Mr. Randall Conrad available?"

       "I believe he's here. Why are you asking? Randy hasn't done anything wrong."

       "I want to talk with Mr. Conrad. Are you his wife?"

       "Yes, I'm Virginia. What's this all about?"

       "May we come in, ma'am?"

       She shook her head. "I don't think that's up to me. You'll need to ask Randy."

       Looking past Virginia, Angela saw a boy walk through the living room, apparently out of

a hallway on his way to the kitchen. "Excuse me. Young man? Young man?"

       The boy, a little more than four feet tall, stopped, turned and looked at her. "You talking

to me?" he asked, touching his chest. He was barefoot, wearing a gray bathrobe with his bare

legs showing beneath the bottom hem. Sandy haired, not at all overweight, he had an innocent

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face and large eyes.

       "Yes. Yes, I am. I'm a police detective with the San Diego Police Department. What is

your name, son?"


       "Is that your first name, or your last name?"

       He looked at her as if she was admittedly stupid. "It's my first name. I'm Carson Conrad.

Why're you askin'?"

       "Do you live here, Carson?"

       "Yeah. Why? Did I do somethin' wrong?"

       "Not that I know of. This is your home, correct? Is this woman your mother?"

       While Virginia reddened, the boy's expression showed his increased suspicion the cop

wasn't apparently wrapped too tight. "Naw, she's Randy's wife. My Mom's Rachel."

       "Where is your Mom, Carson?"

       "In bed in her room, I think. Want me to go look?" He seemed to mull it over. "Did my

Mom do somethin' wrong?"

       "I don't think so. Tell me, Carson, how long have you lived here?"

       The boy looked back toward the hallway he'd just left, slumped his head a little and said,

"I gotta go." Turning away, he headed back to the hallway and disappeared.

       "Wait, I'm not done talking with you."

       "I told ya, I gotta go," he said after disappearing into the hallway.

       "Where is he going?" Angela asked Virginia.

       "I wouldn't know. Do you want me to get Randy for you?"

       "Yes, I do, and don't take too long doing it."

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       "Okay," she said with a sigh as she began to close the door.

       "Leave the door open, if you don't mind," Angela suggested.

       With a shrug, "Whatever." She turned and headed for the hallway, her rear end giving

testimony she didn't miss many meals these days. Angela noticed she didn't call her husband's

name, she simply left the room.

       Turning first to the cop on her right, Angela motioned toward the back of the house and

he headed that way. When she looked left the other uniform nodded and headed toward the rear

of the building. A minute or so later a fat guy around 50 emerged from the hallway and waddled

to the front door, a wispy beard of multiple shades of gray on his face along with a curious look.

       "Yeah?" he asked. "Ginny said you was askin' for me."

       "What happened to Carson?" she questioned. "He left the room when I asked him a few

questions. He looked as if someone was summoning him."

       "Ya got me by the ass. I ain't here to watch him. Whaddaya want with me?"

       "Is he your son?"

       "Him an' his mother live here. She does the housework in return for a room an' food for

her an' them kids."

       "There's more than one child?"

       A shrug. "Him an' his sister, Adriane. She's ten."

       "Where is Adriane, Mr. Conrad?"

       Another shrug. "Prob'ly in her room, or with her Mom. This ain't my day t' watch 'em. I

do that on Mondays," he said with a sarcastic grin.

       "Can you produce the child? Both children, as a matter of fact?"

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        "Why? You got a warrant, er what?"

        "It's on the way," she responded, hoping he'd knuckle under.

        "Uh-huh. Well, c'mon back when ya got it." Saying no more, he quickly closed the door.

        "Shit!" Turning to the cops behind her she said, "You two stay here. If you guys hear any

noises you don't like, take the fucking door. I've gotta go see about that damned warrant." With

that, she left in a jog-trot for CC's car.


        When I saw her coming my way I had a mixed feeling of accomplishment. I won, in a

way, since Angela now seemed to be behind the effort to quite a degree, but I wished I hadn't as

it meant there was more than likely a kidnap victim in that house and a little girl in jeopardy. I

would've been happier, I think, to hear a reasonable explanation so we could all go home.

        My window was down already, so I looked out expectantly.

        Angela said, "I need that damned warrant and I need it now!"

        "Call your watch commander," I said as I got out of the car.

        "I will, but you stay where you are."

        "No," I said, hoping I could B.S. this experienced cop. "Since you won't have the actual

paper, it'll be better if I'm along as a judge. If not, it might queer the search. If you doubt me,

you can check Kendall v. State of California just to be sure."

        I think it was the phony case name I gave her that did it, but it may just have been her

desire to bring me in on it since she knew I had a personal interest. "I don't have time to check

court cases. Just you, however," she added, making a sweeping gesture to include the others.

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       "Sorry, Angela, Cool Wind's my bodyguard. Where I go, he goes. That is, unless you

want to have those four officers try to keep him away." Making a tsk-tsk sound I added, "If I

was you, I wouldn't be sure those four and you could pull it off, but this is your call."

       Eyeing me a moment, Angela asked, "Do you remember when you told me not to call

you a nosy, sneaky little bitch?"

       "I believe I do. Yes."

       "Well, you're a nosy, sneaky little bitch, Your Honor. You and the 'muscle machine' are

to stay behind the five of us. Do you hear me?"

       "We'll try," I said as sweetly as I could make it.

       Scowling once, Angela jogged to her Crown Vic and got inside it.

       As the girls scrambled to exit my car Cool Wind said, "Stay by the sidewalk."

       They nodded, so he and I took off, also jogging toward the house.

       Thirty seconds later Angela was back. "I gotta hand it to ya, CC. You did get that damn

warrant. Nice job." Using the heel of her fist, she pounded on the aluminum storm door with a

screen in the top half. Her left hand had hold of the handle while her right fell to the Glock, now

adding all the seriousness I could've possibly imagined and making it as real as could be.

       The two uniforms edged in closer, and Angela looked ready to yank it open and kick it in

when Virginia opened it again. "Yes?" she said rather timidly.

       "Where's your husband, Mrs. Conrad?"

       "I'm not sure. Didn't you already speak with him once?"

       "Yes, and he said I should get a warrant. I now have that warrant, as well as a judge from

the California Superior Court," she answered, gesturing to me. "We're coming in, with or without

your say-so."

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       Virginia stepped back, opening the wooden door all the way. "Whatever you say."

       Angela yanked open the door and stepped inside, the other uniforms back now, so all four

went in behind her, with me following, Cool Wind almost my second skin. Angela looked at me

and said, "CC, you stay here and yell if this woman tries to leave this room or call anyone."

       "Done," I told her, glancing at Cool Wind to show her Virginia wasn't leaving.

       Weapons drawn, Angela and the others fanned out and began a search of each room in

the house. Every few seconds I'd hear one or another of them announce, "Clear!" and head on to

yet another room.

       In less than five minutes, weapons holstered again, they came back. Angela said, "Judge

Ryder, there's no one else here but this woman," she said, indicating Virginia, "and the boy. We

found no trace of Conrad, any little girl, or any woman named Rachel."

       Moments after the search began I heard a sound through the still open front door that

gave me strong reason to suspect the trunk of the Buick had been opened. As Angela and the

cops stepped back in the room I heard Brenda call, "CC?"

       When I turned to look she said, "Donnie's goin' around in back. He said t' tell ya."

       "Thank you, Brenda," I said, glad Donnie was safe and wondering what he was doing


       With a dour expression Angela told me, "The warrant is only for that car out front and the

house, CC. We can't search the yard or any outbuildings except the garage, which we've already


       "I disagree," was my argument. "These are exigent circumstances."

       "That's up in the air and remains to be proven," she said defeatedly.

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        "Bull!" I snapped back. "A little girl's life may be in danger. As a judge, I declare these

to be exigent circumstances. I authorize you to search wherever you need to search to verify that

youngster's safety."

        Turning to Virginia, Angela asked, "Is there any danger to that child. Mrs. Conrad?"

        "I don't know what you're talking about," she declared as she went to sit on a long green

couch by the far wall. "We haven't done anything wrong."

        Before anyone else could speak, there was a tapping on the storm door and Donnie said,

"CC? I need to talk with you immediately."

        "Come in, Donnie," I said, motioning to him.

        As he approached, Donnie asked, "What you said about not searching elsewhere? Does

that also apply to me?"

        Seeing a flicker of hope in Angela's eyes, I told him, "No, since you're not a sworn law

officer, nor are you an agent of any police department. Why, Donnie?"

        "I have discovered something that leads me to believe someone is in flight to avoid any

possibility of arrest."

        "You all heard the man," Angela said to everyone. Pointing to an officer she added,

"You make damned sure this woman doesn't even twitch hard until I get back."

        As the officer moved to stand in front of Virginia, we followed Donnie out the door and

around to a large back yard that ended at a hill running down to a large stand of trees. He made a

signal for us to follow and we went down a makeshift trail about thirty feet to the bottom of the

slant. Donnie turned left a few yards and bent to raise a large piece of canvas from the ground.

It was about six feet by six feet. Tossing it to one side, he pointed to the opening of a tunnel in

the direction of the house. With a solemn look on his face he announced, "I found one pair of

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silver handcuffs back there and a rag that looks like it's got blood on it." With a sigh, Donnie

added, "A lot of blood, and it's fresh."

To be continued in CC Ryder Never Gives Up.

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