Authors: Ken Douglas
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Thrillers, #Murder, #Psychological, #Twins, #Murderers, #Impersonation, #Witnesses - Crimes Against
by Ken Douglas
A Bootleg Book
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Dead Ringer. Copyright © by Ken Douglas
Bootleg Press is a registered trademark.
Cover by Compass Graphics
Cover Photo by Elena Vizerskaya
For three Angels
Father, Friend and Lost Child
Heaven, I’m sure, is a better place,
Because of their company.
Table of Contents
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Chapter Twenty-Three 144
Horace Nighthyde stood at the bus stop on Atlantic in front of Sammy’s Bagels, a trendy new bakery in Downtown Long Beach. He checked his Timex. Five to twelve. Five minutes before he was supposed to kill a man. He heard the drone of a small plane, looked up. A Cessna was on a straight out over the harbor. He sighed. He had his own Cessna. Flying soothed him, Mozart on the CD player, the ocean below, like he was God looking down on his creation.
The sky had just cleared. It had been raining earlier, the kind of hot rain that’s common in the south, but rare in California. He heard the hiss of Striker’s tires against the steamy pavement before he saw his black BMW. He took a last, quick look upward, saw the clearing rain as a sign, a good one. He stepped off the curb, got in the car.
Ready?” Striker slid over a pump shotgun. He was a big man, dark hair cropped close, white walls, like he was back in the Army or still on the force. He looked like a fight waiting to happen, but he was the kind of man who stayed in the background, a planner, a fixer.
Yeah.” Horace fingered the shotgun, playing calm, but his nerves were on fire. He wished he was anywhere else, but Ma was sick and she had no insurance, so here he was. It was out of his control.
There’s a small convenience store up the street,” Striker said, getting right to it. He had a deep voice, like one of those game show hosts on TV. “The Jap goes in every Monday at 12:10, gets a bag of dope from his connection and buys lottery tickets.”
Junk or coke?” Horace said.
Smack, but he’s not a junky, he smokes it.”
Like that makes a difference.”
He’s a snappy dresser, you can’t miss him.”
What’s the name of this place?”
The convenience store?” Striker pulled away from the curb. “Quick Shop.”
Quick Rob is more like it.” You stop and they rob you with their high prices. So, what’s the drill?”
You walk in, blow the fuck away. After, walk to the back of the store. Next to the freezer section, you’ll see a door. Go through it into the back room and out the rear exit. There’ll be a Chevy waiting. By the time anyone figures out what happened, you’ll be gone.” Striker gave him a quick look from behind the wheel. Horace saw amusement in his eyes. The bastard was enjoying himself.
Jesus, I’m gonna be seen.”
No one’s gonna notice you and after that gun goes off, they’re gonna be grabbing floor.”
We’re here.” Striker pulled up to the curb in front of the store, tires throwing water.
Hey!” It was a pretty blonde. She had to jump out of the way to keep from getting sprayed.
Sorry,” Horace said from his open window.
Sure.” She went into the store.
He couldn’t help taking a quick appraisal of her figure and shoulder length hair. He was a sucker for women, even though he wasn’t too lucky with them. She had blue eyes. He loved blue eyes. And she was dressed in designer clothes, beige silk blouse, scarf that matched her eyes, classy skirt. She belonged in Beverly Hills, not downtown Long Beach. Maybe she worked for one of the attorneys down by the courthouse. Maybe she was an attorney herself. Maybe she was slumming. Who could tell?
Okay, go!” Striker slapped him on the thigh.
Horace got out of the car, holding the shotgun down by his side. He looked both ways as he crossed the sidewalk. Nobody noticed. He stepped into the stop-and-rob, saw the Jap right off. He had a bottle of Johnny Walker Black in his hand. Two people were in front of him as he waited at the cash register. Horace took a quick look around. The store was full of customers, a man and a kid at the magazine rack, others in the aisles.
He almost called it off, but then he met eyes with the Jap. The Jap saw the shotgun, recognition flooded his eyes. He knew who the gun was for. Horace stepped forward, stuck the gun into the Jap’s chest, braced himself for the kick, pulled the trigger.
The Jap flew backward as if he’d been kicked by a tornado. His body slammed into a counter of canned refreshment, sending beer and soda cans rolling among the screaming assholes seeking cover. Striker had been right, nobody was looking at him.
Horace turned toward the rear of the store, found himself face to face with the blonde from out front. She’d seen his face then, she saw it now. Her blue eyes blazed. He brought the shotgun up to her face. She didn’t shrink like the others.
Finger on the trigger.
She stared right into his eyes, as if daring him.
The seconds screamed to a stop. Everything seemed slowed down, like he was that comic book character, the Flash. She was a witness, a problem. Squeeze the trigger and the problem would go away.
He pushed her aside. He couldn’t kill a woman. He chanced a quick look around, almost screamed when he saw another Jap in a suit. He tried to get the gun around, but the bastard was running for the door. He was out and safe before Horace could fire.
Horace grabbed another look at the blonde, then rushed to the back of the store. The door was unlocked. A dingy back room, dust. Horace despised dust. And the place sold food. The back was unlocked, out in the grey day it had started to rain again.
The Chevy was waiting as promised. The engine running as promised. Horace jumped in, pulled it out of park, smashed his foot to the floor. The Chevy fishtailed on the wet pavement, but Horace knew how to drive, loved to drive. He got quick control of the car, made a right at the first street out of the alley, another right, another and he was on Long Beach Boulevard. A couple minutes later he took the on ramp to the San Diego Freeway south. He got off on Bellflower, near the university. He turned toward Lakewood and home.
His head was spinning. He laughed. He was high, like he used to get when he was a punk in school. Who woulda thought you could get off on killing a man?
But did he get the right one? That fucking Striker. Maybe he’d been a tough soldier and a hero cop, but he sure as shit couldn’t plan a job. Two Japs. Christ.
Fifteen minutes later he pulled behind a liquor store on Candlewood, near the Lakewood Center Mall. He wiped the shotgun down, then heaved it into a dumpster. With that taken care of, he drove to the mall and left the Chevy unlocked with the keys in the ignition by the south entrance. He entered the mall, adrenaline pumping. He bought hot chocolate chip cookies and cold milk, greedily wolfed them down.
He left the mall, passed the stop where he’d caught the bus to Long Beach. The sun was out now, burning off the rain clouds. Crisp clean air. A good time to fly, but he had to get home and check on Ma.
A couple of young blondes, still in school probably, got out of the car parked next to his van. Seeing them made Horace think about the blonde in the stop-and-rob. She’d gotten a righteous look at him, like it or not, he was going to have to tell Striker, but about the other Jap, he’d keep that to himself. If Horace brought it up, Striker might hold out on the money.
He climbed into his van. What the fuck, he’d done the job, he deserved to be paid. He put that other Jap out of his mind, but he thought of the blonde again and, clear as the air in front of him, he could see the steal and determination in her eyes, the firm set of her jaw as she stared him down, almost daring him to shoot.
A light shiver tingled up his spine as he white knuckled the wheel.
What if Stryker wanted him to do her?
Abortion, a horrible word. Unthinkable for a woman who wanted children, never mind a Catholic who held life sacred. Maggie let go of the shopping cart, rubbed a hand across her stomach. Life, and she was going to kill it. She fought tears. What else could she do? Three years she’d been faithful to a fault. Except once. One time and it had happened.
How could she have been so stupid? A party, a few drinks too many, but not too many that she didn’t know what she was doing. No, she couldn’t blame it on the drink. She couldn’t blame it on Conner’s persistent advances either. He was, after all, only twenty-one, ten years her junior. He had just been doing what all men his age did, trying to get laid. She was the one who was supposed to know better.
But she’d been flattered by his attention. And when he asked if she’d like to leave the party for someplace more private, she surprised herself by saying yes. He took her to the Marriot out by the Long Beach Airport, not some cheap motel, and that impressed her. He’d been a slow and considerate lover and that impressed her even more. And he didn’t complain afterward when she told him she had to get back to her car, so she could be waiting for her husband when he got home from work.
When Nick got home a little before one in the morning, she was in bed where she belonged. He’d wanted to make love and she responded with a passion she hadn’t shown him since before they were married. She loved her husband and, curiously enough, she didn’t feel guilty about what she’d done with Conner.
That night had been wonderful, wonderful with Conner, wonderful with Nick, but now she was paying for it with an ache that tore at her heart. She couldn’t keep the child, not and have Nick, too. He had two sons from his first marriage, wanted no more and to ensure it, he’d had a vasectomy before the wedding.
After she quit racing, they settled into what Nick called the perfect life. He had his job, she had her work at the magazine. He was happy. She told herself she was too. Now she was shit. She wondered if she’d blame Nick for the abortion later on. It wouldn’t be right, not really. After all, he didn’t even know.