Authors: T. Jefferson Parker
Then the Reverend Daniel slid back the curtain and they both stepped out. Daniel glanced at the table, then looked at me with his half smile.
"I'd recommend the six," he said. "With plenty of follow."
Will clapped him on the shoulder and Reverend Daniel headed for the
Will checked his watch.
"Let's go, Joe. We're picking up a package, making a delivery, then calling it quits. It's been a ball-buster of a day."
As we left the lounge, the Reverend sat at the bar next to a woman with shiny black hair and watched us go.
The fog rolled in as the night cooled, big swirls puffing in from the Pacific. Par for June. Down at the coast they call it June Gloom. When we got out of the hills and back into cell range, Will's phone went off. He said, "Trona," then he listened a moment. "You got her, right?
Listened again, then flipped the phone shut.
"Joe, we've got a package at seven thirty-three Lind Street, Anaheim. Flog this pompous piece of tin and get us over there. Boy, I'll be glad this day's over."
"Yes, sir." I checked the mirrors, hit a hundred in less than ten seconds. "What's in this package, boss?"
"We're trying to do a good deed."
When we hit the Tustin city limits Will's phone rang again. He answered and listened. Then he said, "Things are lining up. I'll do what I can do, but I still can't turn coal into a diamond."
He flipped the phone shut, sighed.
We were almost into Anaheim when he dialed out.
"Looks like we'll be there on time," was all he said.
It was an apartment backing an alley in the ugly part of Anaheim. Will told me to park in the alley. It was so narrow another car couldn't get by unless we moved. There was a row of carports to our left, and to our right a cinder-block wall wild with graffiti. Not a creature stirring, just the fog easing along.
"Be unfriendly," he said. Which is what he said if he thought could be trouble, or if he just wanted me to intimidate people.
Will stood behind me as I knocked with my left hand, my right up under my coat lapel on the grip of one of the two forty-five Automatic Pistols I usually carry.
"Yes? Who is it?"
"Open the door," I said.
The door cracked. A woman's face, fat, squinting until she saw my face, then her eyes opened wider.
I pushed past her and stepped inside. Her hands were empty and was no movement behind her, just the sound of a TV.
She looked at my face, then I gave her a look at what was under my coat. Her eyes moved from the gun to my face, then back again. Trapped between two horror shows. She raised her hands slowly, deciding to look at the floor. The apartment smelled of bacon and cigarettes. Bedsheets for curtains, carpet worn to the padding, padding worn to the plywood.
"I don' know anything about this, mister. They say come and watch a girl, I come and watch a girl. I don' know—"
Will, then: "Be calm,
She's okay, son. Where are they?"
She nodded toward the bedroom. "She here. He no here. Watching television."
"Stay put," I said to her. "What do I do, Boss?"
"Go get her."
The girl stood up from the floor when I walked in. She was small, blonde, pale. Blue jeans and a Cirque du Soleil T-shirt, white sneakers.
Twelve years old, maybe.
She studied my face. Children will do that sometimes, just stare. Often, they'll make a face, sometimes cry. Sometimes they run. I saw her eyes go afraid and her chin tremble.
"I'm Savannah," she said very quietly.
Then she stepped forward and offered her small, quivering hand. I shook it. I pulled the brim of my hat down a little more, to help her.
"How do you do?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. Please come with me, though."
She slung a Pocahontas backpack over one shoulder and led the way
Going back down the stairs to the alley, I held the handle of my weapon. Will held the girl's hand.
I opened the passenger-side doors for them and waited while Will took her backpack off, strapped her in, adjusted the shoulder restraint for her small frame, showed her how the armrests tilted out of the seat back. Of all the things that he is—husband, politician, agitator, manipulator, dreamer—I can forget that he is a father, too. An adoptive father, maybe the most generous fathers of all. He had his hand on her shoulder, talking quietly, one foot dangling out the open door. Headlights swerved toward us and I heard a car engine down the alley in front of me. No hurry, no threat, probably a renter heading for his carport. "Sir, let's get going."
I heard another car coming up from behind, saw the headlight beams crawl up the shiny black trunk of the BMW.
I moved closer to the open rear door.
"You should get in the car, Boss. "
I'm talking to Savannah." I looked behind me, then ahead. Coming the same speed, no hurry
brights. No problem?
Then both cars stopped. Eighty feet ahead, eighty feet behind. They vanished in a blanket of moving fog, then appeared again. I couldn't makes or models, had no chance at all on the plates.
"Possible trouble, sir."
I kicked Will's dangling foot in and slammed the door, got the remote pad out of my pocket.
Car doors opening. The shuffle of feet on asphalt.
In the fog-dulled wash of the headlights in front of me I saw two figures moving, growing larger. One tall, two shorter. Long coats, collars up, faces hard to see.
I threw open my door and pulled on the headlights, slammed the door closed behind me and locked everything with the remote.
I put my right hand under my jacket and on the butt of one forty-five. I turned and looked behind: two more coats emerging through the smoky headlights of their car. I put my left hand on the other ACP, which left me crossing my chest with both hands, like I was cold.
Then a deep, resonant voice from ahead, bouncing off the alley and the garages, hard to locate but easy to hear.
"Will! Ah, Will Trona! Let's talk."
Will was out of the car before I could stop him.
Watch Savannh,” he said. “I’ll get rid of this dingleberry.”
—I shut the door on her and stepped after him, but he reeled and hissed straight into my face.
"I said watch the girl, Joe! So watch the girl!"
I stayed back with her but I watched him walk away, blanched white in the cross fire of the headlight beams.
The Tall One stepped forward. I couldn't see much of his face: couldn't even guess an age. His hands were in his coat pockets.
The two guys behind me had shaded to their left, putting me between them and our car, automatic weapons held close up to their coats, barrels down.
They didn't move.
They had us and I knew it and there wasn't one thing I could do right then except stand there and watch.
Will stopped about six feet short of the guy, put his hands on his hips and spread his feet a little.
Words floated back with the engine noise and exhaust. I unlocked the car doors with the remote, reached in and killed the interior lights.
"What's going on, Joe?" asked the girl. "I can't see."
"Say nothing. Absolutely nothing."
. . hard man to catch up with, Will Trona. . . ."
There was a strange cadence to the voice, an almost cheerful lilt to the syllables. Just a little off, like a second language learned later in life.
Who the hell are you?
the girl in the car?
You with Alex?
You 're with Alex.
Little shit too scared to show his face, ah?
Then Will again:
We had a deal. Get the hell out of here.
Now the deal is this.
The Tall One leaned forward and a sharp explosion cracked through the alley. Will dropped to his knees and bent over.
I yanked open the rear door, jumped in, unbuckled Savannah and shoved her all the way across the seat.
Looking through the windshield I saw The Tall One step forward. I pushed open the far door, climbed around Savannah, dragged her out of the car by one arm.
"What's happening? Is Will okay?"
Pulling on the girl, I turned to see the shining end of the Tall One’s hand pointed down at Will. Another hard crack, Will's head jerking once, smoke rising up against the fog and into the glare of the headlights.
I whispered. "
Get ready to run! Two honks is me. Two honks is me."
I picked her up and dangled her over the cinder-block wall, then let I heard her land, then fast footsteps. The footsteps of the men behind got louder.
I dropped to the pavement, drew one weapon and slid back into rear seat of the dark car. The two behind me came fast, machine guns up. They were looking at the wall, where they'd last seen me.
When they got close enough I shot them both. The left one fell hard. The right one shuddered and stopped and unleashed a wild automatic burst that jerked the firing gun back into his own face. Then a clatter and a groan.
Staying low, I backed out and spilled again onto the pavement, elbows and knees I wriggled to the front of the car, pressing in close to body panel, gun out ahead of me.
Even in the headlights I only saw shapes: the Tall One, the two others walking slowly toward me. And Will on the ground. Distance off. Perspective off. Everything a pale haze.
Shit, what was that?
The deep voice again:
I pointed my .45 toward the voices, watched the fog beyond the sights.
I think there's two down, over by the car.
I inched the sights to my left, tracking the voice.
Then footsteps came at me, two sets, close together. Shapes coalescing in the headlights.
can't see a goddamned thing!span>
The footsteps stopped.
. . it's Nix and Luke. Wasted, man. I'm not going in there. . . .
The fog blew open, then closed again. Strange-looking men.
I heard the Tall One behind them, and his clear voice cutting through the fog.
Get back here. Now! Move!
The sound of men running, shapes illuminated in the wash of headlights.
Get over here.
Nix and Luke are dead over there, man. . . .
I heard two sharp cracks, and two muffled thuds. Then two more shots, as twin orange comets flashed down from the Tall One's hand.
A moment later the car reversed with a chirp of rubber and jumped backwards, the bright slash of the headlights sweeping the asphalt. I saw the two men down beyond Will, one of them moving, one not. When the car backed out of the alley and roared down the street on the other side of the cinder blocks I ran.
Will was huddled on his knees, forehead to the ground, arms around his middle. Blood on his head and his clothes and the asphalt. I put my hand on his back.
"Oops," he whispered.
"Quiet, Boss. You're all right."
I ran back to the car and brought it forward. I got Will into the passenger seat. He sat up okay. Wet and heavy. Smell of metal. Blood on my face where his head had rested when I dragged him in.
One of the men that the Tall One had shot was still moving as I guided the big car around him. I tore out to Lincoln Boulevard running the late-night signals, my palm slick on the horn, clumps of fog tearing past the windows.
"You're okay, Will. You're going to be okay."
His head was back on the rest and his eyes were open to the headliner. A dull light in those eyes. Shoulder and shirt and lap full of blood.
"Hang on, Dad. Please hang on. We're almost there."
I hit a hundred southbound. The cars seemed to rocket backwards at us. Will's head rattled when I shot across the lane dividers. Then he leaned forward like he always did, to watch the gauges and me.