Otis wouldn’t admit he’d been worried about me showing up four days late. That would have been too wifey of him. But I could see the signs. I just couldn’t care. Exhaustion finally caught up to me big time, the stress of clobbering, kidnapping, and delivering a bad guy without getting caught. I’m getting too old for this, I thought, then laughed at myself. Most guys my age were already either burned or buried. Besides, I’d probably been too old for this when I was twenty. Who did I think I was, Cowboy Batman? That thought kept me amused even longer. I was betting Batman never had to run from the cops on a folding bicycle. His cape would have gotten in the way, tangled in the spokes, crashing the bike and making him look like a fool.
Batman, I was pretty sure, would not appreciate being made to look like a fool.
Such inane thoughts followed me all the way into my bedroom, watching while the mattress rose up and slapped me in the face. Good thing I’d just peed because I slept the clock around, coming back to consciousness in deep night, a soft breeze wafting in through the open window, evaporating the day’s sweat. August in South Dakota could be downright toasty.
My eyes blinked repeatedly, adjusting to my surroundings. Not that I could see much. The wall clock, illuminated by a beam from the rechargeable flashlight I kept on my nightstand, decided it was 3:02 a.m. The rectangular window was a lighter tone, deep gray against the blackness in my room. My adjustment wasn’t working. The dream had been too vivid.
Dark, but I could still see enough to travel. Walking past a gaggle of young schoolgirls in front of a building made of brick with severe lines, acknowledging their attractive teacher with a quick eye-flick but otherwise keeping my eyes straight ahead and my direction of travel well away from the group. Not a good idea to let anyone think I might be a pedophile. Which I wasn’t, but people were automatically suspicious these days. Or if they weren’t, they should be.
I overhead a woman say, “Juanita’s going in!” Shock at that; apparently this Juanita, whoever she might be, had more guts than common sense. Moments later, an awareness of the building’s rear door, of Juanita not even making it past the doorway before she was forced to retreat.
Something Dark Lived Here.
So naturally I had to give it a go. Chanting my spiritual word, I made it no more than a single step inside the building before I was engulfed in darkness and, within seconds, forced back out.
Something REALLY Dark Lived Here.
So of course I had to tackle it again. Poster boy for Fools Rush In. This time, still chanting softly, I made it two, maybe three steps inside. The Fear was enormous, oppressive. I attempted to force myself onward. No go. The Dark Side of the Force was so powerful, it felt like my testicles were being forced against my upper right leg, trying to get inside and hide, to fuse with something that might provide a modicum of safety. Again I retreated.
Next scene, no segue, typical. Inside, lights on to some degree, others leaving, me last, cheerfully greeting two soot-black “men,” security guards, silent expressions of black-hole negativity, no more substance than paper cutouts.
Again, inside with others, at least two adult women seated, lights on. One young lady decides her shift is over, stands to leave, but the Dark, though now unseen, is still strong enough to make her dizzy so that she stumbles and we have to catch her.
Outside, finally calling it a night. Full daylight. Old car, a 1984 gray Firebird I once owned until I drove the wheels off the thing. Called it the Gray Ghost. I get in, but then leave the passenger side door open and lean out, trying to fight a fierce wind to grab…what? Recall not clear. Try again and again, but the Wind of Change is blasting at least 75 miles per hour, probably a good deal more than that. I’ve functioned in 75 mile winds; this feels worse.
I give up. Wrestle the door till the wind catches it, slam-shut.
Awake. And know immediately whose consciousness the dream represents. I cannot help him openly, that is, not in this physical world, but on the inner planes? Why not? Kermit Cavanaugh is one messed-up dude but he is still my son, and while I will not allow him to control me or my finances, neither will I abandon him entirely.
Pragmatic, secular types would see it differently. But they are them and I am me. That darkness…never have I seen negativity of such overwhelming power. Kermit has been in a bad, bad place. Yet there was, over time coinciding with my repeated efforts, a lightening. Not all the way to Mary Poppins level, or Mother Teresa, or for that matter Dr. Martin Luther King or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. But not all the way down to the nether depths of Hell, either.
I find myself wondering what he has been going through lately, and if he is consciously aware of these changes within himself, and if these changes amount to enough to keep him going. Besides wondering, is there anything I can do? Not much. From what I read in Lucas Solomon’s vehicle, my son is connected with the bounty hunter and the case is going to get big and ugly with massive headlines before all is said and done. But that does not mean Kermit’s connection with Solomon will amount to much in the news if it is mentioned at all.
Time, I think, to read more carefully the hundreds of entries in Solomon’s journal. I turn on the bedside lamp, reach into the drawer to retrieve the notebook, and begin reading. The entries are in code. They must be. I’m no cryptologist, so they’re Greek to me. So far. But it’s up to me to crack this thing anyway. I’m certainly not going to share it with the world.
Does Otis have decoding skills? I don’t know. It’s never come up. Come daylight, over breakfast, I’ll ask him.
In the meantime, I need to get some reading done. Maybe inspiration will strike.
KERMIT “COYOTE” CAVANAUGH
The doorbell finally roused him from his bourbon-induced stupor. Stupid bell. He’d been sucked in by the sales pitch. It wasn’t even a bell, not strictly speaking. The thing was progressive, like income tax. First go-round: Bird-cheeps. Second go: Barking dog. Third blast: Crowing rooster. It had taken the squealing hog sound to get him moving. He couldn’t even remember what number that was.
Well, crap. At least he didn’t have to get dressed, having passed out on the couch. His suit was more than a little rumpled, his mouth tasted like a den of garter snakes during winter hibernation–not that he would know what that tasted like, but unfortunately he could imagine–he could barely see against the morning glare hitting his bloodshot eyes, and as for his hair…not even a guess. Field mouse nest, maybe, complete with mouse pee and little mouse turds decorating the landscape.
“Hold yer britches!” He meant to yell. It came out more like a raven’s croak.
Blinking, unbelieving, he stared at the girl standing on his front step. Twenty-something. Long blonde hair down to her perfect little butt. Trim, slim, sparkling blue eyes, movie quality lips upcurved in amusement. Five-five, one-ten, jeans that left less to the imagination than her birthday suit would have done, tucked into fancy-tooled cowboy boots that added a couple of inches to her height. Short-sleeved off-white blouse, snug around her breasts–C cup?–but hanging loose over her midriff. Kermit began to wake up fast, realizing he was a little ticked off about that. He wanted to see that midriff.
“Yeah? Who’re you?” The raven croaked again.
“I’m the answer to your prayers.” She stuck out a finely manicured hand. He shook it, not wanting to let go, marveling at the no-nonsense strength in those digits. “Come to make all your problems go away. Gwyneth Olivia Delaney, at your service.”
“You’re not selling Avon, are you?”
“Nope. Not me. If I wanted to sell, I’d have better to offer than that.”
Cavanaugh blinked owlishly. “Something tells me you’ve got a story to tell. Or do you need my legal services? Office hours are nine to five, Monday through Friday.”
“May I come in?”
Yeah, like he was going to refuse. “Sure.” They started for the kitchen but oops, bad idea, empty Jim Beam bottle on the floor along with his shoes and three weeks worth of newspapers. The kitchen, then. He gestured to a chair at the kitchen table, punched the coffee maker Start button absentmindedly on the way by, and excused himself. “Make yourself at home. I need to hit the head.” Crude, he realized later, but she seemed to take no offense. What could she be after?
Because women, as he knew full well, were always after something.
Which didn’t stop him from gargling vigorously with Scope, brushing his hair, splashing water on his face, and tucking his wrinkled white shirt into his wrinkled Navy blue slacks before returning to the kitchen.
“Feeling better?” Her inquiry seemed sincere, no putdown, no revulsion.
“Some. So what’s this all about?”
“All right, then, Kermit. And you can call me Lanie. Please just don’t call me God.”
“My initials. Gwyneth Olivia Delaney.”
“You got ragged in school.”
“You have no idea.” The coffee maker chimed. She took him at his word, made herself at home, and dug around in the cupboards to find two clean mugs. “Black?”
“For now. I take sugar, but at the table. And thank you.” It couldn’t hurt to be polite to this whatever-she-was, at least until he knew the score.
“You’d like to know why I’m here.”
“No kidding. It’s not every morning I have a young hottie a third of my own age knocking at my door.”
“More like half,” she corrected him. “I’m aging well. But down to business, eh? I read about the Kidnapped Kidnapper in the paper.”
“Luke Solomon? Who came up with that headline?” He liked it, that was for sure.
She shrugged her narrow shoulders. Shoulders just right for hugging, yum, danger Will Robinson, danger! “It’s your hometown paper. The point is, law enforcement wants to talk to you about the contract between you and Solomon. Is that accurate?”
This was about legal issues? What the? “Sheriff Donovan has already interviewed me, but yeah, the FBI called yesterday and they’re sending somebody to my office later this morning to do the same thing all over again.”
“All right. Then there’s the issue of actually, for once and for all, really truly finding your dear invisible daddy, also true?”
“Enough with the questions. How about some answers?”
“Fair enough.” She fished in her surprisingly small shoulder bag, removed a black device some three by five inches in size, maybe an inch thick, and set it on the table. One strong finger punched a button, then lifted in a “wait one” gesture. A row of little green lights appeared on the device, marching across the screen in endless repetition. “Good.” She smiled more widely, revealing perfectly capped teeth. The better to nibble you with, my darling. “They haven’t bugged you yet.”
“Yet?” Spikes of alarm shot through him. That his house might be bugged had never once occurred to him.
It was occurring to him now.
“Here’s the thing.” Lanie took a delicate sip of coffee, decided the temperature was right, and gulped down a bigger swallow. She was even cute doing that. “I can make your problems go away.”
Coyote’s eyes went flat. He wasn’t buying this. Cute package or no, when something sounded too good to be true, it was too good to be true. Always. “And how,” he asked, sarcasm fairly dripping, “do you propose to do that?”
“Simple, Kermit.” It came out sounding like simple Kermit. “You hire me as your investigator. You know, like a lot of criminal defense attorneys do, hire their own investigators. Then you give me the two assignments. One, I get affidavits from half a dozen people who will swear over their notarized signatures that your use of the phrase ‘and return of’ your father did not in any way imply the use of abduction, coercion, or any other kind of force. It was simply an expression of your love for your aged parent and concern for his welfare, especially strong since the kidnapping attempt that failed two years ago.”
Kermit’s eyes widened. He could see that. With the right people swearing to his righteous intent regarding the Solomon contract, neither the FBI nor Sheriff Donovan would be inclined to go push for prosecution. But…”How do you think you can accomplish that?”
“I can be very persuasive when I want to be.” Her statement carried echoes of Ve haff vays to make you talk, interlaced with hints of sexual favors. Multitalented girl?
“Not saying I doubt you.”
“But you do. And you should. Let me leave you my resume, including references.” She fished in her bag again, this time producing a letter sized envelope. “Run a background check on me, call my former employers, and I’ll stop back–wait. You said the FBI will be in your office before noon?”
“Could you possibly stall them for, say, 48 hours?”
“Why should I?”
“Because if you check me out today and I start work for you first thing tomorrow morning, I’ll have at least some of those affidavits notarized and in your hands to show the feds.”
He nodded, strangely excited. “Okay. But I will thoroughly check you out.”
“I’d expect nothing else.” A compliment. Sincere or sucking up?
“But one thing, before you go. This case has gotten violent already.” He wouldn’t mention just how violent he was thinking of getting. “If you start sniffing around, you’re going to stir things up.”
“Oh, believe me, that’s a certainty.”
“And someone may decide to take you out. Not that I would distrust anyone officially, of course.”
“Of course. You want to know if I can defend myself, just in case. Because an investigator may have to be tough and I don’t look that tough, right?”
“No, Kermit, that’s the beauty of it. They never see me coming. Here.” Again into the bag, this time to retrieve a laminated card. “My concealed carry permit for Montana.”
Did she have a shooter in that bag? Must have. He couldn’t see where else she could hide–oh, under that blouse, possibly? “You won’t always be able to reach a pistol. And killing folks will get you too much attention, seems to me. So, what else you got?”
“Do you have a workout room?”
Of course he had a workout room. Not that he’d used it much in the past year or three, but he had it, complete with all sorts of goodies. Lanie shucked her boots, dropping her height to maybe five-three. Diminutive. Pedophile’s dream. How could she–
The woman shot forward without warning, dropped and slid at high speed beneath the red, suspended heavy bag, braced against the floor with her hands, and two-foot kicked the bag so hard it swung up and grazed Kermit’s extremely startled face. By the time the bag arced back within range, she was up and at ’em, fists and feet blurring in a tattoo that sounded like the roll of a machine gun, thwacking the poor leather from every direction. All the bag could do was hang there and shudder.
He had a speed bag, too, but it had never speeded like this. When she abandoned the heavy bag for the speed bag, the latter rattled against the overhead with enough velocity to raise an eyebrow on Floyd Mayweather. Then she combined the two. The bags were separated by seven feet, eight inches of floor space; Kermit knew that because he’d installed them both. Lanie turned them into a multiple-opponent exercise, working between them, kicking and striking both bags despite the speed bag being positioned above her head height, her long blonde hair flying about in a cloud of gold.
When she stopped, breathing hard but well in control, Kermit couldn’t help applauding. “I’m impressed,” he admitted, “but what if somebody gets hold of that long hair?” More than once, he’d seen hair used as a weapon against its wearer.
“I could show you,” she grinned, “but you might not like the pain.”
He thought about that. What could be worse than this hangover? “Show me.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Okay.” Her eyes sparkled with mischief. She turned to place him behind her. “Grab my hair. Get a good hold, anywhere you like.”
He did, full two-handed grip, right up next to her scalp. A rush went through him, triggered by the feeling of a beautiful girl under his control.
“You’re ready?” She asked politely.
“Ready.” He took a half step back, preparing to yank her head backward.
It took several minutes to quit vomiting all over the gym floor. She’d back-kicked him, right between the legs. Drove his privates up somewhere around his esophagus.
“Told you, you might not like the pain.” She was mopping up the mess, a demure housewife doing her duty.
“You didn’t have to–”
“I think I did. You’re a hard-headed man, Kermit Cavanaugh. Your entire track record shouts that. A tiny little love tap wouldn’t have convinced you.”
He almost laughed but stopped himself. Wasn’t ready for that yet. “Well, girl, I am convinced. I truly am.”
“Aw, shucks.” The mischief was in her voice now. “I was hoping to demonstrate how I can use my hair to strangle an opponent.”
“Not….” He almost heaved again. Not quite, though. He was going to live. Maybe. “Not necessary.”
She left with a signed employment contract, all boiler plate, no trip-me-up clauses like the Solomon disaster. Yes, he would check her out, call her references, all that, but he no longer doubted she could be extremely persuasive when she wanted to be.
Two mornings later when he met with Frick and Frack, the FBI agents, he had seven notarized statements from people who “knew all about” the Solomon contract. Three of the signees didn’t even like him. His new investigator was worth her weight in gold–no irony intended–and he managed not to look uncomfortable in front of the feds. His balls would remain sore, though, for at least another week. It was a wonder neither of them had ruptured. Lanie Delaney gave a whole new meaning to the term “blonde bombshell.”