Authors: Mike Lawson
Also by Mike Lawson
The Inside Ring
The Second Perimeter
Atlantic Monthly Press
Copyright Â© 2015 by Mike Lawson
Jacket art and design by MJC Design
Author photograph C Tara Gimmer
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
Atlantic Monthly Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
154 West 14th Street
New York, NY 10011
Distributed by Publishers Group West
To my agent, David Gernert.
This is the tenth DeMarco novel and were it not for David,
the first one would never have been published. Words cannot
express how much I appreciate all he's done for me.
She was young and strong, but she didn't stand a chance against them.
There were three of them, all wearing black ski masks. One was skinny, shorter than her, and if it had just been him, she was sure she could have taken him. She would have beaten the shit out of him. But the other two were bigger than her; they were fat, but strong.
It was after midnight and she'd been forced to park to the side of the restaurant, and they took her just as she was about to get into her car. They rushed her as a group, and before she could scream, one of them clamped a hand over her mouth. Then they manhandled her to the back of the restaurant, out by the Dumpsters where she couldn't be seen by passing cars.
They groped her a bit. The big guy who had his hand over her mouth was squeezing her right breast with his other hand, and the other big one cupped her crotch. He laughed and said, “Oh, yeah. This is gonna be good.” The little one didn't touch her; he just watched.
The next thing she knew, she was on the ground and one of them was sitting on her chest with his hand still clamped over her mouth and the other big guy had ahold of her wrists so she couldn't use her fists. She thought they'd try to pull her jeans off next, and she tried to get her hands free to fight and started kicking at the short one who was still standing, but he was able to evade her thrashing legs.
The short guy watched her struggle for a while, then knelt down and put his face close to hers. “You're going to stop,” he said. “You're gonna knock off all the bullshit and quit telling lies.” His voice sounded familiar but she didn't know who he was. “You're gonna quit before people lose their jobs. You saw how easy it was tonight. If you don't stop, the next time we're gonna take you someplace and take turns raping you, then we'll tie you naked to a tree and leave you for the wolves. You understand?”
She couldn't speak because the one man still had his hand over her mouth and she couldn't even nod because he was pushing her head into the gravel. But she stopped struggling. When he'd said
, she knew she was going to be okay.
“Let's go,” the short guy said to his pals and the one got off her chest, giving her left nipple a hard tweak before he did, then they all took off running.
It took her a while to get to her feet and when she did, she almost collapsed back onto the ground. Her legs felt like they were made of rubber. She started crying as she walked back to her car, and it pissed her off that she'd been so scared they made her cry. She opened the door and picked up her cell phone, which she'd left in the cup holder, and dialed 911.
As she was waiting for the cops to arrive, she thought:
Fuck you. I'm never going to stop.
Marjorie Dawkins was the mother of two boys: Bobby was ten, Tommy was twelve. She was a busty five foot four, had a photogenic smile, and her hair was a lustrous chestnut brown. She used to wear her hair shoulder length but got tired of fussing with it. Now she had Carla over at Selene'sâfor sixty bucks every three weeksâkeep it short and simple so all she had to do was blow dry it after she showered. Marjorie didn't have time to spend more than five minutes in the morning on her hair. Whenever anyone described her they didn't say she was pretty; they always said she was
Her husband, Dick, was a good-looking, easygoing guy who could spend hours perfectly content doing nothing but punching a TV remote. When asked what he did for a living, he would say he was a day trader. The truth was that Dick was a stay-at-home dad, a nanny for their boys. As for the day trading, she'd give him five hundred a month to play with and figured that so far this year he'd made a profit of maybe nineteen bucks. Since Marjorie earned a quarter million a year, she figured any money Dick lost playing the market was a cheap price to pay to salvage his pride, plus it gave him something to talk about at parties. He was also, she had to admit, a good fatherâBobby and Tommy adored himâand after fourteen years of marriage he could still jump-start her libido. Like with her hair, Marjorie didn't have a lot of time for sex so she was glad she had someone handy with the proper appendage when she was in the mood.
Bill Logan was six foot one and weighed exactly the same as he had in college: one hundred and eighty pounds. He had thick dark hair, an attractive widow's peak, and when he smiled, a dimple appeared in his right cheek. Women loved that dimple.
Bill's first name was actually Leslieâhe was Leslie William Loganâand he'd never forgiven his mother. After he started to catch shit for the nameâwhich began when he was about sixâhe asked her why in the hell she'd named him that. She told him that Leslie had been her father's middle name and that there were a lot of famous people named Leslie. There was Leslie Howard, the British actor in
Gone with the Wind,
and Leslie Nielsen, the guy in all those funny movies, like
The Naked Gun
. You know, his mom said, the movie O.J. Simpson was in. And then there was the most famous Leslie of all: Bob Hope. His real name had been Leslie Townes Hopeâwhich was why, Bill Logan said to his mom, Hope changed his name to Bob!
Like his partner, Marjorie Dawkins, Bill made a cool two hundred and fifty grand a year. Unlike Marjorie, he didn't have a useless spouse and two kids to gobble up what he earned. He'd been married for a year when he was in his twenties, cheated on his bride three months after they said their vows, and was divorced fourteen months after the wedding. There'd been nothing wrong with his wife; she had been, and still was, a sweet, attractive woman. The problem, Bill knew, was his nature: he just couldn't stay faithful. He could have been married to the actress Scarlett Johansson, who some magazine had just named the sexiest woman on the planet, and he would have cheated on her. He'd always figured that it was a
thing that he'd learned this about himself when he was young and before he had kids. He never again subjected any poor woman to the agony of marrying him.
Bill Logan figuredâall false modesty asideâthat he'd probably slept with more women in North Dakota than any man his age. In Bismarck, he could hardly go into a bar or a restaurant and not run into some woman he'd bedded. The one woman he hadn't slept with and never would was Marjorie Dawkins. They just had too good a thing going, business-wise, to screw it up with sex.
Bill parked his fire-engine red Porsche Boxster next to Marjorie's black Jeep Cherokee. He drove the Porsche from May until September but after that switched to a practical four-wheel drive Chevy Tahoe with studded snow tires. Winters in North Dakota were a bitch. Their office was in a strip mall with four other businesses: a HairMasters staffed by a bunch of Vietnamese girls; a Subway operated by a cheerful, overweight Hispanic lady; and a FedEx-Kinko's place that was really convenient for him and Marjorie.
The fourth business had a sign next to the door so small you could barely read it that said
. More than half the time, the door had a
sign in the window. The guy who owned the laptop repair shop was a long-haired doofus named Gordy Hewlett, and Bill and Marjorie hired him whenever they had any computer-related work they needed doneâincluding a few jobs that some nitpickers might consider illegal. Gordy bathed infrequently, liked to wear jeans with holes in the knees, smoked a lot of pot, and quite often when Bill went into his shop, Gordy would be playing video games. And all those things were okay with Bill and Marjorie because when they needed Gordy, he performed okay.
When Bill walked into the office he and Marjorie shared, Marjorie waved a hand at him but kept talking to whomever she was talking to on the phone. She'd been there since six thirty. This was the way it had always been in the ten years they'd worked together: Marjorie arrived at six or six thirty and stayed until three thirty or four because she was always attending her boys' after-school functions: soccer, basketball, baseball, whichever sport was in season. She wouldn't let her sons play football.
Bill usually arrived at nine or ten and stayed as long as necessary. If there was something that needed to be done at night, like meeting a guy on a backwoods road, Bill handled that sort of thing. Business-related social events were different and they both attended a lot of those: fund-raisers, parties, rubber-chicken dinners. Sometimes they'd both go to the events and sometimes only one of them would go. Marjorie was just as good as Bill when it came to schmoozing folks.
So they worked whenever they needed to, splitting the time and the various jobs in a way that suited them both. No one paid any attention to how many hours they worked or if they were in the office or not. The only thing that mattered to old man Curtis was that they got results.
Their office was as bare-bones as you could get. They had serviceable desks they'd bought at a place called Office Furniture for Less, and both had comfortable, ergonomic, tilt-back leather chairs. There were also a couple of rarely used visitor chairs and four tall metal file cabinets. They were
careful about what they put in the file cabinets. If they were ever served a subpoena or if someone executed a search warrant, there couldn't be anything in those cabinets that could bite them on the ass. This meant that the only things in the file cabinets were phone directories and documents that were a matter of public record, like bills going through state legislatures, property records, and environmental studies. The stuff that could land them in jail was encrypted and stored in the Cloud, and Gordyâthe pot-smoking laptop repairmanâhad the files rigged so they could be wiped out in three seconds from their smart phones if it ever came to that.
One reason the office was so poorly furnished was that they really didn't need anything better. If they wanted to impress someone, they rented a suite in a hotel. The other reason was that Curtis didn't mind paying their salaries, but he'd go crazy if he thought they were wasting his money on things they didn't need. Curtis may have been worth over a billion dollars but as the old saying goes, he'd squeeze a nickel 'til the buffalo shits.
Marjorie hung up on whomever she'd be gabbing with and said to Bill, “I went to a parent-teacher conference last night and one of the other moms said she saw you and Bobby's math teacher at the American Grill. I mean, for Christ's sake, Bill. Do you think you're invisible? And in case you didn't know it, my kid's math teacher used to be married to a cop and the cop still has a thing for her.”
“Aw, she just happened to see me there at the bar and sat down for a minute to chat.”
Marjorie knew he was lying through his teeth. “So what's going on?” he asked to change the subject.
“You know Buchanan, state senator, ninth district?”
“I just found out his septic system failed and it's going to cost about twenty-eight grand to make things right. So I had Gordy do a little research on him. It looks like Buchanan's barely able to make his mortgage and the main reason why is his daughter's going to Reed College over in Oregon, which is costing him a boatload.”
“Sounds like what Senator Buchanan needs,” Bill said, “is a good contractor who can give him a deal on fixing that septic system.”
“That would help,” Marjorie said. “Also a guy who can get him a permit to build the new system on the same spot where the old one is. Buchanan's septic system sits near a creek, which was okay at the time it was built, but today that won't fly. It's going to cost him double to relocate the drain field.”
“Well, I know a guy who can take care of that.”
“I know you do. So you wanna go talk to Buchanan?”
“Ah, jeez. He lives in Belcourt, doesn't he? I mean, that's two hundred miles from here.”
“Hey, you're the guy with the Porsche. What's the point of having one if you don't drive it once in a while?”
“Yeah, okay. I'll do it.”
“One other thing. Curtis is flying in on Tuesday. He's particularly anxious to hear how we're doing with Judge Morris. He's got a real hair up his ass over Morris.”
“Which Morris? South Dakota Morris or Montana Morris?”
“Dakota, of course. What's wrong with you? Did that teacher screw your brains loose?”
“Aw, enough with the teacher. So what are we going to tell him about Morris?”
“I don't know. We'd better come up with something before Tuesday. But that's not the big thing. The big thing is that goddamn girl.”