Authors: Josie Brown
Tags: #action and adventure, #Brown, #chick lit, #contemporary romance, #espionage, #espionage books, #funny mysteries, #funny mystery, #guide, #handy household tips, #hardboiled, #household tips, #housewife, #Janet Evanovich, #Josie Brown, #love, #love and romance, #mom lit, #mommy lit, #Mystery, #relationship tips, #Romance, #romantic comedy, #romantic mysteries, #romantic mystery, #Romantic Suspense, #Suspense, #Thriller, #thriller mysteries, #thrillers mysteries, #Women Sleuths, #womens contemporary
His pitying gaze is accompanied by a click on his computer keyboard. Suddenly the circled areas on my picture are aged through some sort of instant digitization. This future me will have to stay inside during Halloween, or the neighborhood kids won’t come near my house. And I certainly won’t be handing out apples for their trick-or-treat bags.
I shake my head in disbelief. “So, you’re saying this is how I’ll look in, what, twenty years?”
He roars with laughter. “Twenty years? Ah, Mrs. Pitt, if only you had that kind of time left to do the right thing. I give you two. Five years at the outset.”
One consolation prize. If and when he’s right, I’ll still be here. He won’t.
Can’t let that happen.” As I sigh, I wonder if I’ll ever smile again, knowing now the damage it does to my face. “Where do I sign up, doctor?”
“Let me print out the contract. In the meantime, you can sign a release form.” He pulls the necessary paperwork from a file folder on his otherwise clean desk. This goes to show you how much thought went into my prognosis. Jeez, talk about cookie cutter!
Once again I move beside him. After I stab his thigh, I’ll hang around until he flounders and fades away, then scream at the top of my lungs, so that his assistant can witness his demise from cardiac arrest.
Most days, I am a wife, a mother, and a lover. Today, I am the Angel of Death.
Or not. I hand the release form back to Zoran with my right hand, palming the mini-syringe in my left one. Just as he reaches for it, I make my move—
Only to hit something hard. Plastic? Um…
what the hell?
He comes out of shock before I do. “I see you’ve found my prosthetic leg. I lost the real one in the war.”
Damn it! Acme intel should have disclosed this.
Now that he realizes the score, he throws me back against the mirrored wall. Before he can charge at me, I give him a roundhouse kick that sends him reeling toward his medicine cabinet. When he smacks into it, the doors come off their hinges.
He throws it at me, but I duck out of the way. Angered, he barges toward me again. My jump kick knocks the wind out of him. This gives me the time I need to grab a couple of scalpels off a small operating kiosk and come at him.
He moves quickly for a big guy. What I don’t anticipate is his willingness to grasp one of the scalpels in mid-air. Despite all the Botox and Collagen that leaves his face a congenial mask, I can see the pain in his hard gray eyes as it slices deep into his palm. His anger surges into a force stronger than I can hold back. He bends my arm all the way around my back and shoves me, face down, against his patient table.
“You fucking bitch, I need my hands! I’m a surgeon, remember?” he hisses in my ear.
“Get real! You’re a butcher, you asshole.” My tone is calm, but frankly, I’m scared. He’s got my arm angled so that if I try to get up, I’ll break it for sure.
Not to mention my face is crammed up against the padding of the table, which can’t be good for my skin. As a plastic surgeon, this jerk should know better.
No, I should know better. In his eyes, I’m no longer a deep-pocketed patient.
I’m now another unwilling organ donor.
The broad hint I should be panicking like hell hits me when he mutters, “This will only hurt a little.” The next thing I know, he’s jabbed a needle in my ass. It hurts like hell! I try to shout, but just a squeak comes out. My lips seem to freeze up. They are not the only things that are paralyzed. No matter how hard I struggle, the muscles in my arms and legs seem too heavy to move. They’ve seized up, too.
Zoran slaps my face to make sure that whatever he’s injected in me has taken total affect. Smiling, he cops a feel, too.
Then he pushes the intercom button to his receptionist’s desk, and says in a cheerful voice, “Caroline, my last patient went out the celebrity entrance. Please cancel the rest of my appointments. I’m taking the afternoon off.”
He picks me up as if I’m a large plastic doll, and tosses me over his shoulder along with the purse I brought, which holds my fake ID. The next thing I know, he’s carrying me into the private elevator his celebrity patients take to the building’s basement parking garage, which stymies any attempts the paparazzi may have to score a Hollywood money shot: the telltale procedure bandage.
I should be so lucky as to have anyone witness Ratko Zoran toss me in the backseat of his BMW sedan.
Next stop, the butcher’s shop.
I’d scream if I could.
Zoran is a chatterbox. He hasn’t quit talking since we pulled out of the garage. Having dropped his fake British accent, his sentences slip and slide over Slavic pronouns and badass claims.
I make it easy for him. I can’t talk, let alone move. In other words, I’m a captive audience, both literally and figuratively.
“I would have liked to have given you a truth serum first, to find out who sent you. The Muslims? The Croats? Surely it wasn’t my old friends, the Serbs? And it can’t be the Mexican government. They have bigger worries than the disappearance of a few grape pickers. If only the injection I gave you allowed you to nod at my questions, but it won’t wear off for a couple of hours.”
Nod? I wish I could reach up and pull the tongue out of his head. We’ve been in the car for at least an hour now, and he’s been giving me a science lesson on what to expect while on his operating table.
He describes his favorite instrument: a Blue Max eighteen-inch 45 cc Heavy Duty gas chainsaw. He uses it to chop up the bodies after cutting open his victims and removing vital organs, while they’re still alive of course. He explains that, like me, they were first given a neuromuscular block to paralyze them. But he’s such a sicko that he skips the anesthesia that would block their pain.
“We should be at my ranch in another hour.” As if reading my mind, he adds, “The drug won’t wear off before we get there. And by the way, any friends who may come looking for you will be disappointed. You see, the cabin is not in my name. It belonged to a now-deceased fellow whom I met while fishing on Big Bear Lake. The lonely old hermit died of a sudden heart attack while feeding his hogs! They ate him too. Can you imagine that? You see, to those animals, human flesh is a delicacy, compared to the garbage they ate before I came along. As you can imagine, I keep them well fed. Tonight they will be feasting, ecstatically I might add, on your leftovers.”
Not if I can help it.
Seems I’ll have some help with Los Angeles’ typical late Friday afternoon traffic. As the I-10 crawls east toward San Bernardino Valley, every now and again Zoran looks back at me in the rear-view mirror. I keep my face totally still. The whole drive I’ve been memorizing turns, and looking out the window for glimpses of expressway signs.
I vow to get back to my children. My twelve-year-old daughter, Mary, and my ten-year-old son, Jeff, need to be picked up from basketball practice. And before after-school pickup, I was going to stop at a toy store in East South Central, which, I’ve been told, still has a few Furbys on the shelf. I have every intention on watching five-year-old Trisha squeal with delight when she opens one on Christmas morning.
And of course, Jack knows Ratko was on my to-do list today. If I don’t show up, he’ll be frantic. From the day of Trisha’s birth and until before Jack came into their lives, I’d lied to my children and told them their father had gone away, “on business.”
Did it stop them from feeling deserted? No.
If Ratko has his way and I disappear into the gullets of some hogs in the middle of nowhere, once again they’ll be devastated.
This resolve drives my desire to move any appendage. By the time we turn onto State Road 330 going north, I’m able to bend a random finger, to curl a single toe. Twenty minutes later, by the time he has veered left onto State Road 18, I can finally flex my ankle, and then my wrist. Now, if only I could move my arms…
I can, just barely.
“Almost there,” he chortles gaily. “By the way, the hogs love the sound of the saw. To them, it’s the dinner bell. When I turn it on, you’ll hear them squealing with delight. Then again, maybe not, since you’ll be screaming even louder.” He pauses, as if a new thought has just struck him. Too bad it isn’t a hammer instead. “Tell me, Mrs. Pitt or whatever your name is, are you a drinker? No problem if you can’t nod. I guess I’ll know soon enough. The telltale sign is any swelling of the liver. If so, I won’t be able to sell it. That’s okay. I’ll enjoy it myself, with grilled onions, and a hint of dill—”
The thought of being the main course in Ratko Zoran’s dinner propels me upward.
Between the crux of my elbow and the driver-side headrest, Ratko is in a headlock from which he cannot move. He chokes and flails, but I refuse to let go. Although the car swerves all over the road at sixty-miles an hour, I hold tight. Then, on the count of three I wrench his head fast, to the right, until I hear the snap that tells me I’ve broken his neck.
Only after he chortles his last gasp do I look up. Before my death grip, Zoran had steered the car onto the Stanfield Cutoff, a sliver of a road that unites both sides of Big Bear Lake at its narrowest juncture. The car sidles off the unprotected shoulder and into the lake.
There is no time to jump out before it nose-dives into the lake.
The BMW sinks below the lake’s cold, choppy waves. The water pressure against the doors keep it sealed, like a tomb. With the electrical system dead, I can’t open a window, either. Soon the oxygen will be exhausted. I can hold my breath for three minutes, tops.
Still, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be found in the bottom of this lake with this war criminal. Not with Christmas just around the corner.
I’m pounding on the window when it hits me.
Immediately, I etch around the back window with my ring. Then I brace myself on the back of the front seat before kicking it out with both feet.
The force of the kick pushes out the glass, and me with it. As the water flows into the vacuum of dead air I leave behind, I feel myself being sucked into the dark, frigid abyss. I force myself to open my eyes, to look for light, anywhere.
Finally, over my head, I see something. My lungs burn as I kick with all my strength, toward the brightness.
I burst up out of the water like a buoy submerged too deep, for too long. I cough out water and fear while bobbing in the gentle waves of the lake.
My teeth chatter as I swim to shore. I don’t care that I look like a drowned rat. I’m still alive.
When I reach the road, I head west, the way we came. I’ll keep running until I come across a store, or someone with a cell phone, so that I can let Jack and the kids know I may be late, but that I’ll be home, soon.
They must be worried sick about me.
How to Buy the Freshest Tree
One of the most beautiful traditions of Christmas is the cutting, decorating, and lighting of a conifer brought into your house.
Traditionally, the tree was adorned with fruits and nuts (not the California kind) and lit (not by an arsonist) on Christmas Eve, then removed the day after the twelfth night, which is January fifth. But heathens (yes, I mean you) have decided to stand tradition on its head (I guess this is better than putting its head in a guillotine) and put up the damn thing right after Thanksgiving, then take it down in the first week of January.
Traditionalists, this is considered bad luck.
You have been duly warned.
When hunting down a Christmas tree (very different from hunting down human prey, FYI), besides gauging it for height, berth, and the perfect conical shape, you should also be concerned about its freshness. This is especially true if you insist on leaving it up for five or six weeks.
The needles on fresh trees are green and bend easily, as opposed to brown and prickly. You will feel an oily sap on them, as well as on the tree’s bark. And of course, the tree smells fabulous!
And by the way, the same buzz saw you use to cut it down can be used on your next victim! (Helpful hint: Be sure to buy a saw with a variety of blades.)