Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cooking The Books

Cooking The Books
Abingdon Press (April 2012)
Bonnie S. Calhoun



“Let me go! Why you do this to me?”

“Because you didn’t listen.” The bald Danny DeVito look alike stood in front of the chair with his hands in the pockets of his leather jacket.

Sunshine filtered through the grimy window set high in the concrete wall. It angled a dusty ray of light down into the room casting a shadow in front of the individual tied to the metal chair in the center of the barren space.

Two men entered the room from behind the chair. One remained in the shadows while the other, a Middle Eastern man wearing jeans and a button-down shirt walked to the bound man. He ran his hand across the man’s shoulder as he moved in front of him.

“You no can do this. I give you what you want.” The bound man struggled against his ropes, his wrists raw and bleeding from his frantic squirming.

“It’s too late.” The Middle Eastern man patted him on the shoulder before removing his hand. “You’ve had many chances. You wasted them all.”

“No, no . . . I have now. I do now.”

The man in the shadows nodded. The Middle Eastern man pulled three hypodermic needles from his shirt pocket, carefully unsheathed the first one and handed it to the DeVito clone.

The bound man’s eyes widened. “I get for you. I give you. I promise.”

“Time’s up.” The DeVito clone ran his fingers along the struggling man’s chest searching for the space between his ribs, then plunged in the needle.

His eyes widened. He gasped with the rush of deadly drugs entering his body. His legs went rigid. “Madre mía.” The words rushed out with his last breath.

Chapter 1

One month later . . .

The car jerked as though possessed.

I inhaled sharply, holding onto the breath as tightly as I gripped the smooth wood railing with one hand and my garbage bag with the other. I peered down from the landing on the floor below my apartment at the car parked closest to the building.

My heart drummed a monster cadence that pounded on the blood vessels behind my eyes, causing pinpoint stars to float in front of my vision. Was I really seeing this or did I not have enough coffee yet this morning?

Yes. It was no flashback from my days of old. The car still shook

A warm summer breeze drifted across my skin as I continued to stare down at the car. I shivered. I wasn’t cold. It was fear.

What was I, an idiot? I had to will my foot to descend to the next step. At the moment, my feet were apparently smarter than I was.. They knew danger. A smart person would turn around and go back upstairs, through the apartment and down the front stairs. But no, I apparently didn’t emanate from that smart gene pool. If it could be considered dangerous or reckless, my name was probably attached somewhere.

My dear mom, God rest her soul, always said, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

Yeah, let’s not mention that angels must have practiced running for the clouds every time the name Sloane Templeton came up as an assignment. I had a knack for turning them into bruised and battered little fife-and-drum corps, complete with head bandages and crutches.

A woman’s screech echoed from the closed interior of the car.

I gasped and stumbled back against the step, raking my calf on the unyielding wood. I winced. As I tried to steady myself, my left hand lost its grip on the garbage bag I was carrying. It rolled down the rest of the stairs in slow motion and plopped beside the Dumpster.

I stared at it. That’s one way to get it down there.

An animal-like howl rolled though the air. I stiffened.

Lord, help me! She’s being attacked.

There was an innocent woman in there. Call the police! Why didn’t I think of it five minutes ago? I felt my pockets. No cell phone, just my gun in one pocket, and keys in the other. I must have left the phone downstairs on my desk in the bookstore last night. Figures, I never have it when I need it.

A muffled scream.

Electric fear zipped up my spine. My brain ticked off the options. Up the stairs and down the front. Shudder. Pass the car and around to the front. Either way, to get to a phone was going to take time that may rob this woman of her life. I had to do something now. I was the only one here.

How? Don’t be stupid! I have a gun in my pocket. Yeah, but I’ve never confronted another person with a weapon. This is crazy and reckless. I could be overpowered. They could take my gun and shoot me.

A moan. Banging. Another scream.

No! I have to do something. Now!

With a trembling hand, I pulled the registered .38 from the pocket of my baggy linen trousers. Against my wishes, Mom had badgered me until I accepted her transferring the weapon to me right before her passing. Her excuse was that I needed protection as a store owner in our crime-ridden area. Although I didn’t have a clue about what crime she was referring to, I did have a good guess about the criminals. This was a new day, and fear was not going to create any more victims around me than I could help.

As I pulled the gun from my pants, the thumb hammer snagged on the top of my pocket, flipping the weapon out of my shaking hand. I lunged for it. Fingers clawed at empty air. Agh!

I flinched as it hit the step, expecting the gun to discharge and shoot me in my smarter-than-me foot.

The weapon tumbled down two more treads of the wooden staircase, and spun to the edge, hanging there for a split second before continuing its descent. It bounced down another step, spun a couple more times, and came to rest with the barrel facing in my direction. It mocked me as though I were playing spin the bottle. Tag . . . you’re it!

A woman’s pleading voice resonated from the shaking car.

My first instinct was to leave the gun right where it lay and run away. But my inner warrior wouldn’t let me back away.

I ran down the few steps and snatched up the snub-nosed gun. The cool metal was foreign in my clammy fingers. Why in the world did I think I could be like my fearless ma, brandishing a weapon, when I’d never held anything more deadly than nail clippers?

I pulled in a sharp breath to calm my teeth-rattling jitters. If I didn’t go now reason would take over. I charged down the stairs. Vaulting over the garbage bag, I snuck up to the passenger side of the car and yanked on the door handle, almost pulling my arm from its socket. The door didn’t yield.

Locked. Great! Now in addition to a skinned leg, I had a throbbing shoulder.

The windows dripped foggy moisture on the inside, masking the interior. I couldn’t see a thing.

The woman needed my help. I suddenly summoned an inordinate amount of bravery and slapped my hand on the glass with the same authority Officer Murphy had used on Tim Owens and me when I was eighteen. “Open the door!”

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