Authors: M. C. Grant
Tags: #Suspense, #mystery, #Fiction, #medium-boiled, #M.C. Grant, #Grant, #San Francisco, #Dixie Flynn, #Bay Area
Devil with a Gun: A Dixie Flynn Mystery
Â© 2013 by M. C. Grant.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.
Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition Â© 2013
E-book ISBN: 9780738737355
Book format by Bob Gaul
Cover design by Ellen Lawson
Cover image: Fernando FernÃ¡ndez/age fotostock/SuperStock
Editing by Nicole Nugent
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.
Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.
Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
2143 Wooddale Drive
Woodbury, MN 55125
Manufactured in the United States of America
For Karen and Kailey,
my inspiration, my heart
Bailey's eyelids fluttered in
the thin veil between sleep and awake. The room was purple from her Snoopy nightlight, and shadows played across the walls where no shadows were supposed to be.
A voice inside her head whispered to herâher secret voice. The one she never told anyone about except for Teddy, her stuffed protector who sat on the corner of her bed, one arm on her pillow, keeping watch for monsters and bad dreams.
Her secret voice whispered,
Don't wake up. Keep your eyes closed. Be very still and quiet.
Bailey listened to the voice. It was clever. It understood things before she did. And though she knew it was really her voice, her thoughts, she had come to trust it.
When the voice told her to curl into a ball, she curled and absorbed the blows on her back and head. When it said to cry, she spilled tears. When it said not to cry, she didn't make a sound. And when it told her to hide, she disappeared like a ghost.
Tonight it said,
Don't open your eyes
. And she wouldn't. But closing her eyes made her nose and ears open up.
There was a stranger in her room: a man with a strong, doggy smell that wasn't covered up by his man-scented cologne and deodorant. She smelled cigarettes, but not regular cigarettes; it was too sweet. The alcohol on his breath and in his sweat wasn't whiskey, beer, or wineâshe knew those scents by heart. Like the tobacco, it had an unfamiliar sweetness, and for a reason she couldn't explain, she thought it was expensive.
There was another smell, too. One that always scared her, because it meant her mom and dad would argue before he stormed off into the night. When he returnedâsometimes within hours, more often after several daysâhis mood could never be predicted. Bailey had seen him arrive with flowers and sweet bubbly stuff in bottles for her mom, and they would dance and kiss and drink the bubbly stuff and everyone would be smiling. Other times the voice would tell her to hide when her dad came home. If she didn't hide fast enough, the voice would tell her to curl into a ball and protect her head.
That smell, she had learned, was gun oil.
“I don't want you in here.” It was her father's voice.
The stranger answered, “If I was you, I wouldn't want it either.”
The floor creaked as the stranger moved closer to her bed. Bailey wanted to squeeze her eyes tighter, but the secret voice whispered again,
Don't move. Pretend you're dead. A mummy wrapped in bandages. Safe.
“How old is she now?” asked the stranger.
He had an accent, but Bailey didn't know much about other countries. She had met a brown-skinned boy who once lived in a warm place called “chilly,” which sounded backward to her. And her best friend, Shreya, said her family was from India, where they had a farm with goats and grew mangos. Shreya's parents had musical voices, almost like they were singing rather than talking.
This man was from neither of those places.
“She's five,” answered her father.
He didn't mention the half! Bailey really liked the half because it meant she was closer to six than five, and that was better because it meant later bedtimes and full days at school. A six-year-old was practically a grown-up.
“A valuable age,” said the stranger.
“She's not for sale.”
Bailey didn't understand. How could the stranger think she was for sale? That didn't make sense. She wasn't milk or eggs or a doll in the store. You can't buy a person.
“Everything's for sale.”
The smelly stranger moved so close to the bed that he was leaning over her. Bailey could feel his eyes on her face and blanketed body. There was heat coming from him and everywhere his gaze touched, her skin tingled. She kept breathing and remained still, but it was so hard not to scream and run and hide. She didn't like this man being in her room, or the way she knew he was looking at her.
“You have another on the way,” said the stranger.
“I said no.”
Another on the way
, thought Bailey.
What does that mean?
“You make it sound like you have an option.”
“But you saidâ”
The stranger laughed softly. “Yes, Joseph, I did. I just want to make sure you understand the consequences if you let me down.”
Joseph? The only time she heard her father called anything but Joe was when her mother was either really angry or really happy. If she was angry, the words that came with her father's full name were the ugly ones. Bailey didn't like those words.
“I understand,” said her father, but his voice sounded small. It was the same voice he had when he was drinking, before he had too muchâbefore he changed into the man she hated. “Can we leave now?”
“Aren't you going to kiss your daughter goodbye?”
The stranger laughed, but it wasn't a nice sound; it was sharp, like a knife. “Then allow me.”
Bailey tensed but tried not to let it show as the stranger bent down and kissed her forehead. His lips were soft, but instead of heat there was coldness. It seeped through her skin and bones and deep into her brain, like when she drank lemonade too fast.
The stranger whispered, “Obedient child. I have plans for you.”
Bailey might have screamed if her secret voice hadn't shown her a picture of Teddy clad in shining armor, stabbing a sword into the stranger's eye so that it stuck into
Bailey lay still, pretending to be asleep as the stranger and her father left the room and closed the door behind them.
I do love a
handsome, younger man, especially one with ginger hair and a kissable face. But when his sandpaper tongue scrapes the length of my nose at six in the morning, it takes a moment for me to find it endearing.
I groan and roll over, but the silly boy believes I'm being playful and that my earlobe needs a none-too-gentle nibble.
I swat him away, but this only serves to inspire rather than deter. With a purr that shakes the walls, Prince Marmalade sprints to the foot of the bed, pivots one hundred and eighty degrees and leaps. All four paws crash onto my chest and the top of his furry head collides with my chin in an ebullient love tap.
I can't help but laugh until his tiny claws suddenly spring from their sheaths to knead my tender breast.
“Ouch, ouch. Enough. I'm awake.”
I pull the ginger kitten into my arms and allow his purring to bring me fully awake. He rolls onto his back and stretches to his full lengthâreaching from my chin to navelâso that I can stroke the length of his exposed belly and chest. He's vulnerable, tender, and madly in love with me.
Who can blame him? I'm a great catch.
Well, for twenty-two days of every month at least.
After feeding Prince and preparing the coffeemaker, I head to the front door of my apartment, wait two seconds, and open it.
Standing in the hallway with her balled fist mere inches from striking the door, Kristy screams in surprise. Behind her, Sam chuckles.
“Dixie! Stop doing that,” says Kristy. “Scares me to death. I think you must be psychic.”
“Or you're predictable,” I say.
Kristy gasps. “Bite your tongue! I'm never predictable.”
“Especially in bed,” Sam adds quietly with a cockeyed grin.
Kristy's mouth gapes open in disbelief at her lover's inappropriate comment before she covers it with her hand and giggles. “Well, that's true,” she admits.
I open the door wider. “Really, girls, it's far too early in the morning to be going into your bedroom activities. Especially when one of us is straight and pathetically single.”
Kristy is about to say something more until she spots Prince Marmalade slinking across the floor to greet them. “Princely!” Kristy squeals with delight and rushes in to sweep the kitten into her arms.
Prince puts up a good show of being uninterested by immediately increasing the volume of his purr and licking the bottom of his newfound friend's chin. Kristy giggles again and carries him to the couch where, in typical male fashion, he splays himself between her breasts.
“Coffee?” I ask Sam as she enters the apartment.
She nods and produces a plate of baked goods from behind her back. “We brought pastries.”
I look at the plate and frown. Each item is in the shape of an intimate body part.
“We saved you the penis,” says Sam.
“Really?” I ask sarcastically. “How kind.”
“A new bakery opened around the corner,” adds Kristy. “It's run by this lovely lesbo couple, Miriam and Sindra. They're trying something new with erotic, exotic, healthy baking.”
“Because everybody wants to eat a penis in the morning,” I say, sarcasm still dripping since I haven't had my morning coffee yetâ
and because I have a tendency to be sarcastic even when caffeinated.
“It's a good shape for dipping into your coffee,” says Kristy. “Although I prefer the assorted boobs. They have ones with a cherry on top, others with chocolate dropsâmilk or darkâand they're open to special orders if you'd like the nipples pierced.”
“Good to know,” I say. “And, ouch! Coffee?”
“Please,” says Kristy. “And I'll have a chocolate boob.”
“Cherry boob for me,” says Sam.
I roll my eyes as the two women look at each other and giggle again.
Kristy and Sam live directly across the hall from me in the six-apartment Painted Lady we call home in the heart of San Francisco. The building is owned by Mrs. Pennell, who lives directly below me with her bobcat-sized feline, King William. King William also happens to be Prince Marmalade's sire.
The lovely Mr. French and his parakeet, Baccarat, have the misfortune to live beneath Kristy and Sam, but I've yet to hear him complain. Then again, I don't follow him on Twitter.
On the top floor, Derek and Shahnaz are young and beautiful but seem too busy working to really appreciate it. Across from them, the apartment is currently empty. The previous tenants, Ben and Saffron, had an ugly breakup that became so intense the rest of us didn't realize we were holding our collective breath until after they moved out.
Ben, especially, is missed; along with being a sweet and gentle man, he was our resident technology geek. Once I discovered his weakness for Australian soft licorice, he was only ever a door-knock away from solving any computer problems I had. Saffron was lovely, too, but the extent of his betrayal soured him for us.
I pour three coffees, add a splash of cream to each, and take them over to the cozy little nook I created by the main windows. I've never owned much furniture, but the unexpected gift of a large painting from the family of a deceased ex-boyfriend has inspired me to purchase a couple of items.
The painting is an unfinished collage that I feel is one of Diego Chino's strongest works. It shows just how much true greatness he had withinâif his driven ego had allowed him to savor his accomplishments rather than dwell on his perceived failures. And because of his premature death, the unfinished quality of the piece speaks volumes to me.
I hung it in a place of prominence on my otherwise bare walls, moved my couch nearby to admire the work, and added a chrome-legged coffee table that offers the pretense of single-woman maturityâuntil you actually look at it. A local artist covered the top of the rectangular table in bright Lego bricks and sealed them beneath a layer of clear resin. Closer inspection reveals a maze-like pattern, four different-colored ghosts, and a hungry yellow ball with a red bow on her head. It is childish, colorful, and fun. I absolutely love it.
To complete the space, I purchased a comfortable wingback reading chair in soft blue velvet and mahogany nailhead trim, and an antique floor lamp that had actually been designed with an ornate porcelain ashtray on its stem. I found both items for a bargain price at a nearby estate sale Mrs. Pennell tipped me off to. And while the entire building had original hardwood flooring, Ben had given me a gorgeous Persian rug that he bought for Saffron before the breakup. The rug completed my homey little island of serenity.
On the other side of the room, closer to the door, I have a small writing desk where I keep my laptop and notebooks for whatever stories I am working on for the weekly
San Francisco NOW
, the job that keeps me in a lifestyle that could easily be improved, but in this economy, could also be worse. I am thankful for what I haveâespecially when it comes to friends.
I lift the pastry penis off the plate to examine it. It's heavier than I expect, solid and substantial. It's also coated in a thin layer of white and pink icing.
“Are you supposed to lick it or bite?” I ask.
“Lick,” says Kristy.
“Bite,” argues Sam.
I take a small bite and am rewarded by a delicious tingle of apple, cinnamon, brown sugar, and raisin.
“Oh, boy,” I say. “This is delicious.”
Kristy beams with delight. “I told Sam all you needed was a tasty cock in the morning to put a smile back on your face.”
My mouth falls open in shock before the three of us erupt into a fit of giggles that lasts so long I am nearly late catching the cable car to work.