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First pages

Chapter One

Ben Regan said, “I need somebody who can peel a box.”

Jimmy O’Shea’s large gray eyes stood out the most in his small face. The eyes belonged to a larger man. He looked at Regan over the rim of his full glass of dark Guinness, took a drink, rolling the liquid over his tongue before swallowing. Regan sat across from O’Shea with an untouched scotch. O’Shea let out a satisfied sigh. “Mmmmm. Nothing beats Guinness.”

“Am I talking to myself, Jimmy?”

They sat at a corner table in a quiet bar. Light music and voices covered their low tones. The narrow room and wood-paneled walls gave the bar a cramped feel, at least to O’Shea, but the other pressed-together customers didn’t seem to mind. He liked how the wood motif gave the place the illusion of having been slapped together. He ran his hand over the wood table they occupied, admiring the raw feel of the smooth but unpolished top.

“I heard you,” O’Shea said. He looked up and studied Regan’s smooth face and wondered why he didn’t darken or shave the graying mustache. The gold chain on Regan’s right wrist made him smile. The chain displayed a small rectangular plate reading Love Thy Neighbor. “Why do you want local talent,” O’Shea said, “when you have all your contacts back home?”

“Because I’m not back home.”

“Call somebody.”

“Are you trying to chase away business?”

“It’s a little hot right now,” O’Shea said. “Somebody broke into the Grady Mansion last week and looted their safe. You know how much influence Grady has? Cops are shakin’ me and my guys down every hour. Who did it? Where’s the loot? You’d think they wanted the stuff, the way they come off.”

“I don’t have time to fool around.”

“You ever gonna taste that scotch?”

“Can you get me somebody or not?”

O’Shea drank some more Guinness. The Guinness turned sour as O’Shea swallowed. He set the glass down. “I know one guy. Peel any box. He’s out of the business, though. Settled down with a wife and all that. I’m not sure I can get him to work again.”

Regan brushed his mustache with the index finger of his right hand. The overhead light made his chain sparkle. “No box-breaker walks away forever.”

“How much?”

Regan put his hand down. “Plenty.”

“Come on, how much.”

“Fifteen grand. That’ll make a man pick up his tools again.”

O’Shea whistled. “Something’s really burning a hole in your belly.”

“Can you get him?”

“I’ll need a couple of days.”

“A couple is two.”

“You know what I mean.”

“You have two days.”

O’Shea laughed. “Burnin’ real deep,” he said. “What are you after?”

“I’ll be in touch.” Regan pushed back his chair, starting to rise. He snatched up the scotch and drank it down “You were right, Jimmy. That’s good stuff.”

Regan walked away from the little gray-eyed man.

O’Shea shook his head and looked up. A painting on the wall behind where Regan had sat showed a naked man running from a fire-breathing dragon. The poor guy must have started out a slayer, as the burning remnants of sword and armor between man and dragon indicated, but the bearded warrior had taken on a task he wasn’t ready for. The dragon had been just a little faster. Now, stripped of clothes and weapons, the slayer only wanted to survive. The dragon gave him the creeps. Jimmy O’Shea shivered and left a $20 bill and his unfinished Guinness on the table. He left the table and went out to his car, where he sat and made phone calls for a half-hour.

 

 

Freddie Webster wheeled the tall donut rack to the front counter of the bakery and helped two colleagues fill the space under the glass. They worked without talking, an oiled machine, snatching donuts from the rack with plastic-gloved hands and moving them to desired spots. Glazed together, chocolate together, all had their home and the dull monotony contributed to Freddie’s stray thoughts.

Sheila, his wife, had brought home the first ultrasound photo of their child the previous evening. Freddie stared, transfixed, but the happy moment vanished once he remembered that providing for the three of them was going to get tougher. He and Sheila struggled enough taking care of themselves.

Once the counter shelves were partially loaded (an hour before the 5:30 a.m. opening so they were right on time), Freddie pushed the rickety rack back to the kitchen for the next batch. The other five members of the night crew hustled before stainless countertops preparing dough and icing finished items.

Freddie stopped the rack in front of a tall double-decker oven. Everybody sweated in the kitchen area. Hairnets and bandannas, standard equipment, kept sweat and hair out of eyes but nothing stopped the down-the-neck-to-the-back trickles and shirt-collar wetness that made the cool air of morning a relief. The wetness of his hands, under the plastic gloves, made the plastic cling. Freddie ripped off the gloves, dried his hands on the apron he wore, and grabbed a set of thick mitts. He opened the lower half of the oven and removed a tray full of fresh pastries and set the tray on free counter space. The noise in the kitchen kept his thoughts at bay. Voices jumbled, water hissed, laughter followed a now-and-then joke. With tongs Freddie picked up the pastries and deposited them on the rack. After removing the other three trays in the lower half, he opened the top section. The exiting oven heat brushed his skin like a hot breeze. Again, thoughts drifted to Sheila and a possible second job and--

Part of his left wrist not covered by his mitt touched the edge of the rack. Skin seared. Freddie screamed. The pan of pastries, already halfway out, crashed at his feet and spilled across the rubber floormat. Part of the hot pan struck his ankle and he felt another sharp burn through his jeans.

Freddie shed his mitts as his buddy Chad raced to a deep sink and turned on the cold water. Freddie put his wrist under the spray. A third co-worker, Barbara, rushed over with a first aid kit.

Freddie closed his eyes while Barbara wrapped his wrist. He let off a string of curses.

 

 

The burn stung under the bandage. Freddie cursed every few minutes as he steered the old Ford Escort home. The car, with its whining engine and jolting ride, always seemed on the verge of disintegration. He gripped the wheel with calloused fingers and rough, hairy hands.

He pulled into the apartment complex and parked in an open space. As he pulled his too-tall body out of the too-small car, a black cat, the upstairs neighbor’s ragdoll, who liked to sit on the Websters’ deck rail, darted between the two neighboring cars. A woman in a sweat suit jogged by. The day had begun for most; for him, it had come to an end. The morning chill felt good after the sweat box of the bakery, but his sticky skin and matted hair begged for a shower.

He left the parking lot and crossed the grounds to his building. All the buildings in the complex shared the same storm gray color. Only numbers up to five posted here and there distinguished them.

Freddie yawned and stretched, the veiny muscles on his toned arms flaring before he relaxed. He hustled up a flight of concrete steps to the second floor of building three. Through a door, down a quiet hallway with brown carpeting; finally, he reached 305 and put a key in the lock.

Bacon sizzled. The scent hit him when he entered. In the kitchen he found a pan with four popping strips; some scrambled eggs sat in another pan. Freddie found Sheila in front of the mirror brushing on eye make-up. She’d tied back her dark hair. Her blue eyes had their usual sparkle and a smile replaced Freddie’s frown.

“Hi, sweetie,” Sheila said, and leaned a cheek toward him. He kissed her. She saw the bandage, gasped, grabbed his arm for a closer look. “What happened?”

“Accident, don’t worry about it.”

Her eyes stayed on him a moment. He looked away. “Go eat,” she said. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

Freddie looked at her in the blue and white IHOP uniform, the bulge of her abdomen beginning to show. While being a father held some excitement, the grim financial woes facing him and his bride made it hard to be as carefree and upbeat as he wanted.

 

 

Sheila Webster watched her husband go, returned to her face painting. She didn’t see her face in the mirror. She saw Freddie’s frustration, the taut line his mouth formed when he pressed his lips together. He wouldn’t talk. The pile of bills said everything for him.

If Freddie had been chiseled from rock, Sheila had been built with greater care. Soft features, clear skin, scattered freckles, small nose. Nothing in her demeanor suggested that she’d been abandoned at age two and raised in foster homes and had seen plenty of tough times. Their current situation was just another mountain to climb.

Sheila went out to the kitchen. Freddie sat at the table picking at his eggs. She poured coffee and sat near him. Her back arched a little. The chair’s padding had gone to seed ages ago and the wire-mesh backrest did her no good and made her bottom and lower back sore. She scooted closer to Freddie.

He said, “I’ve been thinking about what Art said the other night, about me driving a cab.”

Art Ahern operated a cab company employing ex-cons like Freddie. He’d wanted to drive for Art three years ago after the prison doors closed behind him, but no slots had been available, so Freddie went to work at the bakery. Now Art had a part-time opening.

“Only time you’d be home would be to sleep,” Sheila said.

“Uh-huh,” Freddie said. He chewed some bacon. “But maybe something full-time will come up. With tips I could do okay. While you’re on maternity leave.”

Sheila sipped her coffee. “These graveyard shifts kill you as it is,” she said, “you want to work another five, six hours a day?”

“I’m open to other ideas. You didn’t have any the last time we talked.”

“We’ve always survived.”

“It’s different now.”

“No. It isn’t. You’ve never given up before, why start now?”

He let out a breath but didn’t say anything. She rubbed his shoulder.

“Give us a chance, hon,” she said. “Don’t decide right away.”

He kept staring at the plate, moving the eggs around with his fork.

Sheila ran red nails across his back and emptied the last of the coffee in the sink. “Eat up,” she said, bending to kiss his cheek. She grabbed her purse, and pulled the door shut behind her.

 

 

Freddie shoveled the left-over bacon and eggs into the trash and locked the door. The phone on the wall rang. He picked up. “Hello?”

“Back in the old days,” the voice said, “you’d still be out chasing tail.”

Jimmy O’Shea.

“The old lady pop yet?”

“How’d you find me?” Freddie said.

“I called around. Want some work?”

Freddie said nothing.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me.”

“I heard.”

“I figured with the baby and all you might want some money, like, oh, a split of a job I have. Means seventy-five hundred to you.”

“I’m doing just fine. We are doing just fine.”

“You don’t believe a word of that.”

“I’m not going back to prison.”

“Who says you’ll get caught? One night’s work, in and out.”

“No.”

“Seventy-five hundred bucks, Freddie.”

Freddie’s eyes landed on the stack of bills atop the small desk in one corner of the room. His right hand began to sweat so he switched the phone to his left hand.

“At least come and talk about it.”

“My shift at the bakery starts at ten o’clock tonight. I’ll”--and Freddie paused, his mouth dry. “I’ll meet you at the Starbucks on the corner. Nine-thirty.”

“What kind of crap is that? Let’s meet right now.”

“Tonight, or forget it.” Freddie hooked the phone.

He sat down at the desk and looked over the bills. His hands shook as he sorted the envelopes. The usual expenses. One medical bill after another. Insurance didn’t cover everything. The baby was costing a ton and hadn’t even been born yet.

The seventy-five hundred sounded good, but he had made a promise to Sheila.

He told her “the life” was over and he wanted to keep that promise.

But would one job really hurt?

Freddie went to bed and spent an hour tossing and turning.

 

 

Ben Billsby’s eyes darted left and right as he and six-year-old daughter Yolanda strolled hand-in-hand along the sidewalk. Street, clear. Sidewalk, clear. Park coming up. People there. Ben tightened his grip on Yolanda’s little hand.

She said, “How long have you knowd Baya?”

“Long time.”

“When did she start her candy house?”

“Few weeks ago. Now we don’t have to go downtown anymore. We can buy candy and stay close to home.”

He didn’t want to say that “close to home” meant less danger than downtown, where gangs and drugs were as plentiful as sand at the beach, but still dangerous enough that he had to keep one hand on Yolanda and never stopped moving his eyes. Birds chirped and the gentle breeze gave the assurance of calm.

“Did you knowd Baya before Mommy?”

“We used to live next to each other.”

“Will she have the same candy they have at the other place?”

“She’ll prob’ly have more.”

Baya. Two blocks down. They reached the park. Two men by a tree, talking. They turned to face Ben and Ben smiled. Kenny and Greg. Baseball buddies.

“Yo, Ben!”

“S’up, guys.”

Ben and Yolanda stopped and Ben exchanged words with his friends. Yolanda looked toward the playground and tugged on her father’s arm.

“Can I go on the swings, Daddy?”

Ben saw four teens loitering on the concrete near the swing set. He said, “No, baby,” gripped her hand tighter. He turned back to his buddies.

“Y’all catch the Cowboys last night?”

An engine raced behind them. Tires screeched. The teens near the swing set clawed under T-shirts and drew pistols, aimed at the street. Ben’s friends cursed; Ben turned and saw two young men shoving machine guns out the side of a big car. As weapons cracked Ben dived for Yolanda and fell on top of her.

Chapter Two

“He tried to cover her with his body but they were both killed in the crossfire,” District Attorney John Callaway said. “Them and the others.

The crime scene team scoured the park. The bodies had long been carried away, but police still had the street blocked. Squad car cherry lights winked in the evening twilight. The peace of the afternoon breeze and chirping birds had been replaced by the sharp edge of clipped and authoritative voices over radios.

The man beside Callaway, whom he knew only as Wolf, shivered from the chill despite his long black London Fog overcoat. The coat matched the rest of his black attire. Wolf had arrived in the city a year previously, taking a leave of absence from military service to find out why his sister had stopped writing letters, only to find that she’d been murdered. He tore the city apart to find the man responsible. Callaway, at the time not the D.A. but a former homicide inspector, provided a helping hand, and the two formed an unlikely bond. With his sister’s killer vanquished, Wolf made his exit from the military permanent, and stayed in the city, operating on the fringes between the cops and the crooks. Callaway didn’t think he was a bad guy, but wasn’t entirely sure he was a good guy. What he did know was that sometimes Wolf came in handy, because justice, ever the underdog, often needed a little help, and Wolf didn’t mind lending that help. When Callaway ran successfully for D.A., he was in the perfect position to feed Wolf information to do things regular cops couldn’t.

“We’re watching this like it’s a movie,” Wolf said.

“I wanted you to see it personally,” the D.A. said, looking at Wolf with squint-wrinkled eyes. “The rumors are true, somebody’s selling stolen fully-automatic military weapons to these gangs, and this man, his daughter, and the other two fellows are the first innocent victims.”

Wolf said, “Which gangs run in this neighborhood?”

“The Up the Hill and Down the Hill gangs,” Callaway said.

“Who used the M-16s?”

“The Downhill crew. Now you can bet the Uphill gang will scramble to even the score, military guns or not, and this situation will get worse.”

“Uh-huh.” Wolf’s eyes didn’t leave the crime scene.

“The A.T.F. and Army C.I.D. are on the way,” Callaway said. “My office and the police have been asked to step aside. Which is why, my friend, I’m glad we have our arrangement.”

Wolf remained quiet as his steel-grey eyes watched the crime scene.

“Do you have anything that might lead to the source of the guns and end this before more people get killed?”

Wolf did not reply.

“Did you hear me?”

“Anything I say makes you an accessory.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

“An informant gave me a tip about a warehouse in the Tenderloin,” Wolf said. “Next shipment of guns will be delivered there within a day or two.”

“That was fast.”

“I’m not a cop, remember?” Wolf said. “The gun runners have been in the city for weeks setting up deals.”

“Take somebody alive.”

“No promises.”

Wolf moved toward a black Camaro parked at the curb. Callaway watched him drive away.

 

 

The Camaro’s engine grumbled as Wolf cruised through the Tenderloin District, following the rough streets strewn with garbage and potholes. The windows were down and the block’s soundtrack played loud and clear, shouts from the sidewalk, horns, wheels clicking over trolley tracks, music from bars, mariachis on somebody’s radio. By the mouth of an alley, two hookers in tight outfits smoked. Nearby, several blacks kneeled on the sidewalk shooting dice; on the front steps of a dirty gray building, a white woman smoked and read a magazine by a flickering porch light. At another corner a group of teens spoke with a pair of beat cops.

A big gray building with an empty theater marquee loomed ahead. Back when Wolf had `been a teen, dodging the cops and skipping school, the building, the Paradise Theater, had been his sanctuary. A man named Max Klein owned and operated the place and lived in the top floor loft. He’d played old movies because he couldn’t afford new stuff, and the Paradise became a specialty house for those who loved classic films. It was the one part of the Tenderloin anybody could visit because the bums and derelicts and even the hoods and hookers stayed away. Nobody wanted to upset the Old Man, as Klein became known. He gave back to the community and tried to help people, one of whom was a certain angry sixteen-year-old kid who sometimes needed a refuge.

The Old Man passed away while Wolf had been overseas in the military, but the building remained, unoccupied since forever. A fence stretched around the perimeter. Boards over the windows.

Wolf drove by the building. A monument to his past. He kept his eyes forward and stopped for a red light. To his left, a cluster of people hung around the front of a liquor store. A thin girl with stringy hair wearing a dirty shirt and torn jeans approached the Camaro. “Hey, guy. Got a couple bucks?”

Wolf handed her ten dollars. She showed a smile of missing teeth and ran around the corner of the store. Probably to buy drugs. Wolf preferred she did so with money he gave her than money she picked up turning tricks.

The light changed. Wolf drove on. His destination lay a block away.

 

 

Wolf hustled up the inside stairwell of the abandoned building from which he planned to set up his stakeout. His heavy steps echoed. The top landing opened into an area cluttered with trash, smelling of urine. A corner with a thin mattress and faded rock band posters suggested somebody had once occupied the space, but now the mattress was stained and torn. Wolf’s boots scraped across the floor as he carried a large tote bag to a window caked with dirt and dust. His London Fog hid the black combat outfit he wore, pants, turtleneck, laced combat boots. In its usual leather rig under his left arm hung his nine-millimeter Browning auto pistol. Simple firepower that worked.

The tote bag held other goodies.

He kneeled to unzip the tote bag. He removed a Benelli M4 Tactical twelve-gauge auto-loading shotgun and placed it next to the window. A bandoleer of fragmentation grenades, listening devices, and the proper receiving equipment joined the Benelli. Wolf turned his attention to the radio equipment.

 

 

“I didn’t think you’d show,” Jimmy O’Shea said. He made circles with the tall latte cup in front of him.

Freddie Webster pulled out an empty chair to sit across from the big-eyed man. O’Shea’s back faced a wall. Freddie sat with his mouth a straight line, jaw fixed, waiting. He heard the sounds behind him, mixed conversations, the sucking and whirring noises from the counter. His eyes stayed on O’Shea.

Presently O’Shea broke the silence. “You can’t be so flush you don’t need your cut of that money.”

“I don’t have a lot of time.”

“What happened to your arm?”

“Forget my arm.”

“Want a latte?”

“No.”

O’Shea sipped his hot drink. “Mmmmm. Nothing beats a latte. So this is the scoop. I have a client that wants a safe cracked, and I thought of you.”

“There’s plenty of guys--”

“Can’t use them, the heat’s on.” O’Shea smiled. “You pull the job, nobody suspects. It’s a quick in-and-out, no problems.”

O’Shea reached inside his jacket and pulled out an envelope, from which he extracted pictures. Freddie examined the two-story home in a suburban neighborhood he didn’t recognize. One photo showed a wall safe.

Freddie took a long look at the safe. “You’re kidding me.”

“What?”

“Penny-ante safe like that’s a big deal?”

O’Shea shrugged.

“Who took these pictures?”

“The client.”

“I can pop this in less than ten minutes. Not even break a sweat.” He smiled. Sheila would never have to know about this. He’d get the money and the two of them would have their better tomorrow.

“So you’re down?” O’Shea said.

“When?”

“Tomorrow night.”

 

 

By the time Freddie returned home from work, Sheila had already left. A note on the stove said breakfast leftovers were wrapped in the refrigerator. He went straight to the bedroom and opened the bottom drawer of his dresser where Sheila had placed several folded sweaters. Underneath a frayed pink sweater, she’d hidden a Taurus .38 revolver, and Freddie knew there were bullets in the cylinder. He ditched the idea of using the gun. The revolver belonged to his wife. He didn’t want cops finding any trail that might lead back home. Worst case, if the cops caught him with the gun--and he stopped. He didn’t want to think about that.

From under another sweater he pulled out a tattered shoe box and sorted through the junk inside. He removed a pocket knife, flipped out the blade, and grabbed a sharpening stone from the box. Sitting on the carpet, he ran stone over edge from hilt to tip until the point pricked his finger with a light tap and the edge sliced through a sheet of paper.

He looked at the shiny blade. He’d used a similar weapon only once before, in prison, when another inmate had accused him of cheating at a card game. The inmate threatened to kill Webster but guards broke up the fight. Freddie acquired a wooden-handled shiv which he kept taped to his stomach, because the fight wasn’t over.

When word reached him that the other inmate and some buddies were planning an ambush, Freddie took the initiative.

Two cell mates covered his flank as he strode through the crowded yard. Hot sun blazed above. Rocks crunched below his feet. A heavy pulse beat rocked his head. Target and buddies straight ahead. They stood near a sewer grate.

Freddie and his mates charged over, their opponents reacting too late. Freddie dived into his enemy and his mates crowded on top. Punching, kicking, a scream as the shiv found its mark. Freddie broke off the wooden handle and dropped it down the sewer and when the guards broke up the fight there was nothing in his hand. The guards couldn’t prove who had the shiv. No comebacks for Freddie.

His target, with a punctured lung, died a few hours later.

Freddie put the knife and stone away, took off his clothes and climbed into bed. He stared at the ceiling a lot longer than normal.

 

 

A rumbling truck engine woke Wolf from a cat nap. Voices over the headset assured him the listening devices he’d planted hours earlier were working. He grabbed the headset and scooted to the window. Below the window sat the receiver to which the headphones were connected. He turned up the volume.

At the front of the warehouse, where a large sliding door had been rolled open, sat a medium-sized cargo truck. The engine continued to churn with smoke pumping from dual exhausts. A man wearing dark clothes opened the rear of the truck and stood back while a second man piloting a forklift rolled forward. A hydraulic hiss preceded the rising of long lifting spikes and the driver slid the spikes underneath the first of several pine crates. He lifted the crate out of the truck, steered into the warehouse.

The voices over the headset continued their conversation. Somebody asked “Ace” when they’d distribute the guns. “Ace” told him the following night. Two more men emerged from the warehouse. Wolf assumed the tall blonde in a leather jacket was “Ace” since he gave the others instructions, then turned and walked around the corner.

It took about an hour for the gang to unload the truck. Then the man in dark clothes jumped into the truck and drove away. Two others pulled down the rolling door and secured a padlock. The tall blonde, in a green SUV, pulled around the corner, gave orders, and drove away. The remaining pair stayed on the sidewalk, lit cigarettes and started talking. Wolf kept the headphones over his ears. When the pair finished their smokes, they entered the warehouse through an alcove door, and Wolf listened to them talking about what was on television.

Wolf waited until dark and made his way up a dark stairwell to the roof.

Wolf wished he could jump across to the warehouse like Spiderman but he’d have to settle for the terrestrial alternative. He took off at a run, hopping from roof to roof, running parallel to the street below. He ran about a block and a half. A fire escape provided access to an alley, and Wolf dashed across the empty street to the alley opposite. He climbed another fire escape, reached the top of the next building, and ran back along the block toward the target warehouse roof. At the neighboring roof, he jumped, clearing the distance from the edge to the lower warehouse roof in a flash. He landed hard and felt the shock run up his legs.

A skylight occupied the middle of the roof. Wolf knelt at the edge of the skylight, catching his breath. No lights below, nothing to see. Wolf dashed to an air duct where, earlier, he’d tied a nylon rope. He uncoiled the rope, stepped over the edge, and took baby steps down the wall to a still-unlocked window. He’d earlier used the unguarded entry point when he slipped in to plant the bugs. Hanging by the rope, the weight of his body getting heavier by the second, Wolf reached down and wedged his fingers under the metal window frame. Despite the cold Wolf’s body temperature increased steadily, sweat trickling down his neck.

Wolf raised the window. The hinge across the top squeaked. He put one leg, then the other, through the open window, grabbing the sill to stabilize his body as he slid into the dark room. He turned on a pen flash. Floating dust made the beam look like a laser ray. He followed a path through stacked office equipment to a door, opened the door and stepped onto a cement walkway overlooking the main floor. Wolf put away the pen flash and his eyes adjusted to the low light. From somewhere he heard laughing and the unmistakable voice of Homer Simpson. So much for security. Wolf headed toward the back of the building and descended on metal steps to the concrete floor. The crates, dark shapes amidst shadows, lay beyond. He reached one of the crates, felt around the top and sides. Still sealed. The crate next door had been opened. He peeked. M-16A2 assault rifles and a few M-4 carbines were packed in straw. The sharp scent of gun oil tickled Wolf’s nose. Confirmation. Now he could go to step two and cause enough havoc to snatch “Ace” for interrogation.

With the laughter of the two watchmen fading behind him, left the warehouse the way he’d arrived.

Back in the abandoned building, Wolf removed his coat and found a Powerbar in his kit bag. He sat near the window and ate while listening to whatever night sounds filtered through. A car horn, crickets. The city’s heartbeat had slowed.

Wolf chewed a bite and looked around the empty floor. He’d spent so much of his life hiding in places like this, usually with a team, waiting to ambush an enemy that he wondered if he’d ever kick the habit. This wasn’t the life he would have chosen for himself, but when thugs murdered his sister, he didn’t know how else to respond except with a gun in each hand. He kept his guns because there were other victims like Shelly who had no voice, and Wolf figured if he had the ability, he should be their voice. He hadn’t been able to save her, but he could save others. The mental and physical toll he felt was palpable, however. Wolf was kidding himself that he could continue for long. And he didn’t like that John Callaway and his daughter Kiki put their own lives in jeopardy to help him.

The alliance had been Callaway’s idea. After avenging Shelly, Wolf was content to move on with his life as best as he could. His parents were already gone; so was Shelly; there was nothing to do but try and start a new life.

But Callaway had an idea. The syndicate that had held the city in a death grip was gone, thanks to Wolf. But there would be others trying to fill the void. Other victims like Shelly that the police couldn’t help. If Wolf provided the muscle, Callaway would provide the cover, with Kiki acting as go-between.

Wolf finished the Powerbar and discarded the wrapper. It was all for nothing, he knew. The bad guys never stopped, no matter how many bullets a good guy fired. There would be more Shellys that he wouldn’t be able to save, no doubt.

But he’d try. He owed his sister that.

 

 

“You better eat more than a couple bites,” Sheila said.

Her husband started to smile but the corners of his mouth resisted. Sheila had fixed chicken and spaghetti, but Freddie had no appetite. She’d made the dinner the way he liked, heavy on the meat sauce, chicken lightly breaded.

Tonight was the night. He’d called in sick, and Sheila had no idea of the change in routine.

“Did Art take back his offer?” she said. “You haven’t said much tonight.”

Freddie shook his head.

“If you say one word about money or the baby,” she said, “I’ll scream because your attitude is really starting to piss me off.”

“Tired, sweetie,” he said. “Didn’t sleep well.”

Her eyes didn’t soften. “I don’t believe you.”

He twirled some spaghetti around the fork. His eyes stayed on his plate. Maybe he’d blow off O’Shea and just go into work, tell them he felt better. But then O’Shea would come looking for him. He’d made his decision. No turning back.

Sheila gasped, put both hands to her belly. Freddie jerked wide eyes to hers.

“I think the baby just kicked,” she said, tearing up. She wiped her eyes, felt her belly again. “Oh, wow.”

She rose from her chair. He pulled her close, ear to her belly. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine the life growing inside her. Her fingers scratched the top of his head. Freddie swallowed and a hollow space opened deep in his chest. His mind’s eye showed him nothing. Just darkness.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Brian Drake has been a writer of mystery, crime and adventure fiction since his first publication at age 25. As a troublemaker in high school, Drake was once accused of contributing to the delinquency of his classmates; now he can contribute to the delinquency of the whole earth. He is lifelong resident of California, but keeps running out of reasons to stay.

Q. Which writers inspire you?
A.
Ian Fleming and Mickey Spillane are my biggest influences.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I wanted to do a private detective story, but that approach didn't work. Then, while reading one of Don Pendleton's Executioner novels, I thought I could combine parts of the private detective story with the vigilante story. That's how Justified Sins was born.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
You are welcome to check out my blog at www.briandrake88.blogspot.com.

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In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.
HEROINE
Two teens willing to kill for perfection.