Long shadows crawled along the ground as the autumn sun set behind the small one story building. Years of neglect had left its windows and doorways open to the elements, and vegetation grew wild all around it. Tall oaks, their branches nearly bare, surrounded the structure except for its front, which faced a lone country road that stretched for miles towards nowhere. Behind the old place hidden in the gloom sat a parked van, its paint faded and body rusted. Two men sat inside.
One was young and thin. He sat in the driver's seat and wore a black leather motorcycle jacket and a pair of faded jeans with the knees worn through. He raised the stem of a crack pipe to his lips and took a long hit. The cocaine hit his bloodstream, and he leaned back wide-eyed and mouth agape.
The other man, older and stocky, was in the passenger seat. He had on the blue overalls of an auto mechanic, the name "Ned" stitched above his left breast pocket. He held a .44 magnum revolver in his hand, and the large handgun fit well in the big man’s grip. He cocked and uncocked the hammer repeatedly, and the action clicked each time
"Stop it," the young man said. "You’re gettin’ on my nerves."
"You get on my nerves, " Ned said. "Now shut the fuck up, Larry, and gimme the pipe."
Larry shot him a quick glance. "I’m not kiddin'. Ya could shoot someone."
"Maybe I’ll shoot you." Ned put the gun to Larry’s head.
"Stop fuckin’ around." Larry pretended not to be nervous.
"Who’s fuckin’ around?" Ned grinned.
"C’mon, man, I’m serious."
"I’m gonna count to three, and then I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ brains out." Ned chuckled a little. "Waddaya think about that?"
"I don’t think it’s very funny"
"Goddammit Ned…" Larry backed away.
"Two…" Ned cocked the hammer.
Larry looked in the big man’s eyes. "For Christ’s sake, man," he shouted.
"Three..." Ned pulled the trigger, and the magnum’s big barrel blasted lead and fire.
* * *
Jack pulled out on to the lone country road. He wound the ‘Vette’s big V-8 out in first, up-shifted through second and third, then let off the gas till he was back down to sixty. Shifting up into fourth, he cruised on down the dark highway towards the interstate.
His visit with his sister had gone well. She’d been there for him through Mary’s funeral and the long, painful months afterwards. He felt he should be back on duty, but the demons still haunted him. This evening he felt good, though, and he didn’t feel like going home just yet. Maybe he’d drive into DC and check out the clubs. He hadn’t been to Georgetown for a while.
He flipped on the radio, and Satisfaction by The Stones was playing. Singing along, he drove on till he came across a lighted sign on the side of the road. It flashed LIVE MUSIC. Letting off on the gas, he saw a small, nondescript building on a lot off to the right. It was probably a redneck him bar with a country band, but what the hell. It was live music.
The entrance to the place was set off to the side of the road. Guardrails lined a short paved ramp that led down to a parking lot. Tires crunched through gravel as Jack drove down past the parked cars and pickup trucks. He found a spot near the end next to a Pontiac GTO.
He pulled in and turned off the ignition. The engine ticked as it cooled. Was this a bad idea? He hadn’t been to a redneck bar since, well... since that night. He tried to remind himself that he couldn’t change the past, but damn it he sure had his regrets. He sat for a moment more and made up his mind. He got out and locked the door.
Jack pulled his jacket tight as he walked over to admire the old "Goat," as the GTO had been affectionately known. She was a ’67, candy-apple red with mag wheels, and wide tires…definitely a beaut’. He leaned over to look through the driver’s side window, and a reflection caught his eye. He turned, and saw that a bright full moon shone just above the treetops. It grinned at him.
A chill passed through Jack as he jerked his head away. The wind whipped up into a howl, and he let out a muffled scream. Suddenly he was blinded by memories of gunshots, muzzle flashes, and blood pooling on the ground…her blood.
He turned to his car. He’d get the hell out. He’d go home and get plastered. It wouldn’t be the first time. Pulling his keys out, he walked quickly to his car. Damn it, his hand shook. After a moment’s struggle, he got the driver’s door open. He jumped in and pulled it shut behind him. Opening the glove box, he grabbed a cigarette. He was trying to quit, but he needed one. He lit up and sat there trembling.
He couldn’t see the moon from where he sat, but he knew it was there. He could feel it. He sat and thought. He could go home and get blitzed, but the booze didn’t seem to help anymore. Besides, sooner or later he had to come to grips with this thing. How long had it been? Shit, it could’ve been yesterday.
Seconds dragged slowly into minutes, and Jack finished his cigarette. He stubbed it out in the ashtray and lit another. He had to beat this thing, damn it. Drag after drag, he slowly he built up his nerve. Finally he was ready. Taking a deep breath, he got back out of the car. He took a last puff, tossed the butt to the ground and stubbed it out with his shoe.
Turning to the moon, he shouted, "You don’t scare me anymore," but he didn’t feel convinced. He turned away, but he still felt the moon’s cold glare. He shifted his focus to the building.
It was a good-sized one-story building, maybe a hundred feet square. All concrete, it had no windows, no markings of any kind. Except for the sign by the side of the road, he would never have noticed it.
He walked slowly towards the lone set of double doors at the far end. They were black and stood gaping, and suddenly he imagined they were the mouth of some great beast waiting to swallow him up. He went to turn back but the low, muffled thump of an electric bass became audible, and the prospect of live music renewed his will. He continued his trudge across the gravel.
He reached the set of double doors. They were black glass with aluminum frames. Grabbing the handle of one, he pulled it open. He stepped inside and found himself in a long, narrow bar-cum-diner. It seemed to have been walled off from the rest of the building. It was only a small section, a slice of the whole.
Dining booths ran down the wall on the left, and the bar extended along the right. A narrow aisle down the middle separated the two. The sound of the band came from the wall behind the bar, and to Jack’s surprise it sounded more like blues than country.
In a booth near the door, a couple of young women in blouses and slacks sat huddled together in an animated conversation. They glanced up at Jack as he walked in and then returned to their table talk. Four men in dingy T-shirts and dirty work pants occupied a booth farther back. Their skin was dark and leathery from the sun, and they laughed and drank beer from bottles.
A few good old boys with beer bellies and trucker caps sat at the bar. They sipped their drinks and kept to themselves. A young man with a pockmarked face leaned against the far end of the bar and talked to an older woman sitting on a stool. Her head propped up with her elbow, she stirred her drink with a swizzle stick.
The bartender was a dull looking heavy-set fellow, around fifty and balding. He dried glasses and put them away.
"Excuse me," Jack called to him. "Where’s the band?"
He turned and gave Jack the once over. "Down the end of the bar." He motioned with his head. "Through the door on your right."
The bar room ended in a small alcove. It smelled of sour beer and fried food. An old, dusty jukebox stood against the back wall surrounded by kegs, crates, and assorted boxes. Down a bit to his right, Jack could hear the band from behind a closed door. To his left, another door stood propped open. He stepped over and glanced in.
A big, beefy cook stood flipping burgers at a hot, smoky grill. He took a drag from a cigarette, reached over and pulled up a basket of fries to drain. Then he turned and stared Jack dead in the eyes.
Jack froze for a second, and then yanked his head back. The sonofabitch looked just like Kyle Lee… the same cold eyes… the same evil grin… but it couldn’t possibly be. Still, every instinct told him to turn tail and run, to get the hell out. But he fought off the fear. If he could just get to where the band played, he’d be okay. Forcing himself, he stepped slowly to the other door at other end of the alcove. He gave it a pull, and the sound of amplified music welcomed him. He stepped forward to embrace it.
* * *
The old van sat parked behind a 7-11. Ned rolled down the window and tossed out an empty beer bottle. It bounced off the side of a dumpster and crashed to the ground. He rolled the window back up and turned to Larry.
"Gimme ‘nother rock," he said.
"It’s gone," Larry said. He was just beginning to feel better from the geeks he always got after a crack run. He’d stopped a bit earlier after guzzling a few beers, but Ned had kept going.
"You better not be holdin’ out on me, goddammit," Ned said. "I’ll fuck ya up for sure."
"Dammit, Ned, that was it." Ned was half drunk and in one of his moods.
Ned took another hit off the pipe, but it was spent. "Fuck," he shouted. He stuck the pipe in the ashtray and reached for another beer. "Got any more money?"
"I’m tapped, man." Shit, Ned knew that. They’d spent the last of their cash on the crack. There’d been enough left over for a couple six-packs, but that was it.
Larry stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and propped a foot up on the dash. His mind drifted back to the incident. "Ya know that was pretty fucked up what ya did."
"What?" Ned sounded clueless.
"Ya just about blew my fuckin’ head off. That’s what."
"Oh, that. Did I scare ya?" Ned took a gulp of beer.
"Goddamn right ya scared me."
"Goddammit, it ain’t funny." Larry looked at Ned. "Besides, I still can’t hear good outta this ear." Larry turned his right ear towards Ned.
Ned leaned over and whispered. "Ask me if I give a shit."
"Fuck you, ya fuckin’ piece of shit," and suddenly Larry knew he’d gone too far. He braced himself for Ned’s smack…but it didn’t come. He glanced over at the big man.
Ned sat there motionless. He stared out the windshield with a blank look. Without his scowl, Ned looked rather stupid, and Larry almost let out a laugh. But he dared not to.
Larry slid down a little more in his seat and looked up at the big hole the .44 caliber had left in his roof. He reached up and touched it. Shit…he could damn near fit his finger through it. One of these days Ned was going to go too far.
"Larry," Ned barked.
Larry jumped. "What?"
"You know Redfield’s?"
"The club out on 17?"
"Yeah, near the interstate."
"What about it?"
"Let’s stick it up."
Larry’s foot dropped to the floor. He turned and stared wide-eyed at Ned. "Are you fuckin’ crazy?"
"Do I look like I’m fuckin’ crazy?" Ned yelled. He reached over and grabbed Larry by his jacket. "We’re goin’ in there, goddammit, and we’re gonna fuckin’ rob the place."
"Okay, okay…" Larry pulled himself from Ned’s grip.
"Ya got your .38?"
Larry didn’t answer. He didn’t like this. He was no stick-up man. He had a gun, sure, but that was for protection against getting held up. He liked the way it felt in his hand, but he was no stick-up man.
"Do you have your fuckin’ piece?" Ned’s voice was slow and deliberate.
"Yeah, I got it."
"So what’s your fuckin’ problem?"
"No problem." His problem was he couldn’t stand up to Ned, and he hated himself for it.
"All right, then." Ned was quiet for a moment. He stared at the floor and sipped his beer.
"Eddie’ll help us," he said. Eddie was Ned’s brother.
"How can Eddie help us?" Larry didn’t like Eddie. He’d seen him torch a cat with lighter fluid once, and it had turned his stomach.
"He’s the cook, fuckhead. He can let us in the back."
"What’s the difference?"
"Fuck you, Larry. Ya gotta problem with Eddie?" Ned pulled out his magnum revolver and let it rest in his lap.
Larry looked at the monster handgun and then at Ned. "No…no problem."
Ned finished off his beer and tossed the empty bottle out. "Let’s get goin’." He let out a loud belch. "We can talk on the way."
Larry started the van and put it into gear. Glancing up through the windshield, he saw the full moon shining in the night sky, and he just knew this shit was going to turn ugly.
* * *
Jack found himself in a dimly lit place. He’d just been scared shitless, but it didn’t matter now. The sound of a blues guitar soothed him.
He glanced around. He stood in the back of a nightclub of sorts. The smell of cigarettes and cheap cigars hung heavy in the air, and the din of conversation mixed with the sound of the band. A few spotlights illuminated a small stage at the far end where the band played. In front of the stage was a small dance floor, but no one danced. The floor was filled with people sitting in twos and threes at small wooden tables. Others relaxed in Naugahyde upholstered crescent-shaped dining booths that were set back into the walls. Half-moon tables to accommodate food and drink fit neatly into the recesses.
Jack spotted an empty table near the stage. He worked his way through the tables and took a seat. At a table in front of the stage, a woman sat alone. Jack watched her and tried not to stare.
A slender forefinger traced a lazy pattern on the tabletop while her other hand held a cigarette. She wore dark hose, and a high cut slit in her long black dress revealed a shapely leg. She seemed oblivious to all around her save for the three-piece band. A seated guitarist played a slow blues number while bass and drums offered a soft accompaniment. Her head nodded slowly to the music, and her black shoulder length hair swayed gently to the beat. She was an ardent admirer of the band—that much was obvious—and every band had at least one.
She gave him a quick glance that he tried to acknowledge, but her attention returned immediately back to the music. The smooth sound of the blues guitar filled the room, but to Jack it seemed that only he and the woman were listening. The rest of the crowd, who all seemed to be in conversation, might have been happier with a country tune from a jukebox.
He turned to check out the band, but before he could get a good look a waitress came over. She picked up the empty beer bottles from the tabletop and wiped up the rings of condensation.
"What can I get ya, hon’?" She had a sweet southern accent and a sexy smile. A low-cut black top and a pair of tight jeans revealed a figure that stirred Jack’s imagination. Her blonde hair was pinned up, and, though her makeup was a bit overdone, she was a knockout. Jack glanced at her ring finger. It was bare.
"Um, Black Jack on the rocks." Jack looked up at her, and her eyes sparkled in the dim light.
"Anything to eat?" She nodded towards a sparse menu on the wall.
"Nope," Jack said. He smiled up at her. "Just the drink for now."
"Black Jack on the rocks." She lifted her tray of empties. "Be right back." Her hips swayed gently as he watched her walk away. She turned and caught his stare, but she just smiled and continued on her way.
The band segued from its slow blues to a faster jazz number, and he turned back to watch them. They were damned good, and as he listened he began to smile. Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes and let the music wash through him. He thought of the waitress. He hadn’t been with a woman since Mary, and he missed her terribly, but he could sure use the company of a woman.
"Here ya go, hon’," the waitress said, and Jack bolted upright. She set his drink on the table. He looked up at her embarrassed at being startled, but she gave him a knowing look. "Good, aren’t they?" She nodded towards the band.
"Um… yes, very good." He glanced towards the band and then back to her. "Who are they?"
"Don’t know." She shrugged her shoulders. "Never seen ‘em before. It’s usually some crappy country band in here."
"You like blues guitar?"
"I love blues guitar," she said. "Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn are some of my favorites." She looked at him. "Ever heard of Keb’ Mo’?"
"As a matter of fact I have," Jack said a bit smugly. "I saw him at The Birchmere and when he opened for Bonnie Raitt at Wolftrap."
"I’m impressed. Listen to any Dixieland?"
"Is this a test?" Jack smiled.
"Maybe." She grinned.
"Actually, I got a chance to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band when I was in New Orleans."
"Now I’m really impressed, " she said, "and jealous." She looked at Jack with what he took as a look of approval then turned and looked around at the crowd. Turning back to Jack she said, "Listen, I gotta serve some of these yokels before they get pissed."
Jack stuck out his hand. "I’m Jack."
She took his hand and gave it a shake. "Sherry. Nice to meet ya."
"The pleasure’s all mine." Jack smiled.
Someone yelled out about needing a beer, and she turned her head and raised her voice. "I’m the only one working tonight so wait your turn." She looked back to Jack and grinned again. "I’ll be back." Then she was off to another table where a young couple sat close together. She placed fresh napkins and drinks on their table and picked up their empty glasses.
He lifted his glass to his lips and drank to Sherry. She was damned good-looking and interesting, too.
* * *
Larry pulled into the parking lot. The sign on the side of the road read LIVE MUSIC.
"Pull ‘round back," Ned said.
Fuck you, Larry thought. He knew to pull around back. He wasn’t stupid. If anyone was stupid it was Ned. Fucking asshole. He steered the van around to the back of Redfield’s and parked.
"Ya ready?" Ned asked.
Larry let out a big sigh. "Guess so." He still didn’t want any part of this, but he was too scared of Ned to try and back out.
"Let’s go, then." Ned opened his door and got out.
"Wait a sec, I gotta get my gun." He reached behind the driver’s seat, lifted a spare tire up, and got his .38. He checked the cylinder. It was full.
Larry opened his door and got out. He followed Ned to where the rear entrance to the kitchen was. Ned pulled the screen door open and banged a couple times on the steel door. Larry zipped up his jacket. It was cold enough for him to see his breath.
The door opened, and Ned went inside. Larry glanced backwards then followed Ned in.
A big guy Ned’s size pushed the door closed behind them. "Hey," he said to Ned. The two shook hands. "Hey, Larry."
"Eddie." Larry gave him a nod.
"What’s up?" Eddie looked at Ned.
"Remember what we talked about?"
"Yeah, I remember." Eddie grinned through rotten teeth. He glanced back at the grill. A steak patty had sprouted a flame. "Shit." Eddie ran back and smothered the fire with a spatula. "Nuthin’ like a charbroiled steak," he yelled.
Ned pulled his revolver out of his coat and opened its cylinder. He took a quick look and pushed the cylinder back in place. "Check your piece."
Larry didn’t need to check his goddamn piece. He knew his piece was ready to go, but he pulled it out anyway. Compared to Ned’s huge magnum, his .38 snub-nosed looked tiny. It would still put a hurtin’ on anyone who wanted to test it, though. He opened the cylinder. See, Ned? All chambers full. He pushed the cylinder home.
"Come on over here guys," Eddie called.
Larry let Ned go first then followed.
"Listen up, " Eddie said. "I saw a fella here a little while ago I ain’t never seen before." His voice grew serious. "I think he’s the law."
Ordinarily Larry wouldn’t give a frog’s ass for what Eddie had to say, but this sounded like some important shit. "What’d he look like?" Larry asked Eddie. Ned shot Larry an angry glance, but Larry held his own.
"City type," Eddie said. "Fancy clothes, fancy haircut…"
"Is he still here?" Larry asked.
"Last time I looked."
"Where? The bar or the club?"
"The club." Eddie motioned with his head. "He was sittin’ up front near the band."
Larry looked at Ned. "We better check this guy out."
Ned looked at Eddie. "We’re gonna check this asshole out," he said. "I’ll let ya know when we’re gonna make our move."
"Right," Eddie said. He nodded towards the shotgun that leaned up against the wall next to the grill. "I keep my pump in here case we get robbed." He laughed. "But for y’all I’ll make an exception."
* * *
Jack watched Sherry wait on tables. Most everyone seemed to know her and she had a friendly way with her that reminded him of his late wife. Mary’d been a waitress when he’d first met her.
Sherry disappeared through the door towards the bar, and Jack took a look at some of the people in the club. He liked to guess the status of couples. It was always the female of the two he found the most revealing. From animated excitement to nervous tension, the woman’s actions often told the type of relationship whether it be a first date or a stressed marriage.
Then there were the groups of "the girls’ night out," as Jack thought of them. Young and single and in groups of two to four, they were out with each other because they were bored and didn’t have dates.
Sherry returned to waiting on tables, and Jack turned his attention back to her. Then he glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye, and he sensed trouble. He turned his head slowly to look, got a quick look of the two men moving through the crowd, and turned his gaze downward. He could still see them but didn’t want to be noticed. One of them was big, around thirty, and wore a pea coat over a pair of grease-stained pants. The other was younger, more slender and wore a motorcycle jacket and jeans. They each had their hands in their jacket pockets, and Jack knew they were packing. He turned back and looked at Sherry.
He turned so that he could see them again. The two took an empty table. This was a rough pair, Jack could tell, and he hoped that they had just stopped off for a beer or two. But as he watched the older man, he saw in him what he’d seen in too many others as a cop. No question about it, the shit was going down right here tonight. His gut tightened. He began to feel queasy.
He could just pay his bill and leave. He had paid his dues. Who could argue that? He ran his hand across his chest. Beneath his shirt he felt the scar from the gunshot wound, compliments of one Kyle Lee.
But he couldn’t just walk away. He had his duty. He had sworn an oath. And then, of course, there was Sherry. She was going to get hurt. He just knew it.
Hell, he didn’t know what to do, but he knew for the moment he needed to get the hell out of there. He wasn’t ready for this shit.
He lifted the Jack Daniels to his lips and tilted it back. Standing up, he pulled his wallet out, and dropped a ten on the table.
He turned and focused his eyes on the door out to the alcove. As he walked towards it, beads of sweat popped out on his forehead. His steps felt slow and forced. Fear gripped him with icy claws. This was a bad bunch behind him, and he was scared. Worse, he was ashamed. He was running away.
Someone grabbed his arm from behind, and his heart stopped. They’d gotten to him. Instinctively, he spun on the balls of his feet and grabbed his assailant by the arms.
"Whoa, Jack," a voice said, and he saw that he had Sherry in his clutch. "Would you mind loosening that grip of yours?" He let go of her, and she backed away from him a bit.
"Um…I’m sorry," he stammered. "You caught me by surprise."
"Uh, huh." She eyed him suspiciously.
"Well, what’d you grab me for?"
"I didn’t grab you," she said. "I just touched your arm."
Had she? Damn, was he wound that tight?
"So why ya runnin’ off so soon?" She seemed confused.
Hell, what could he say? That he was a traumatized cop from a shootout a half a year ago, and now he was running away because there were some bad guys in the club? He looked down at her, and she looked up into his eyes. Dammit, she was making it hard. "Sherry, listen. There’s a lot you don’t know about me."
"Yeah, I’m sure, but I was kinda hopin’ you were gonna stick around for a while." She looked away. "And maybe that might change." She turned her head back and looked up into his eyes.
He looked over at the two men. They were both looking dead at him. Shit. He looked back to Sherry. "Listen, I just got to get going for now, okay?"
"Sure... go." She sounded angry, but she looked hurt.
Impulsively, he put his hands on her shoulders and leaned over to kiss her, but she turned her head away. At once, he felt foolish. His shame returned, and he turned and walked quickly to the door to get out of there.
* * *
"Damn," Larry said. "Did ya see the look on that guy’s face?"
"Yeah, like a scared little school girl." Ned chuckled and pulled a cigarette from a pack. He put it in his mouth and lit it.
"Lemme get one of those."
"Sure." Ned tossed the pack towards Larry.
He grabbed the pack and got a cigarette out. "Gimme a light, will ya?"
Ned pushed his lighter along the tabletop. Larry picked it up, lit up and took a drag. "So whaddaya think?"
"’Bout that dude?"
"I don’t think we got shit to worry about." Ned flicked some ashes from his cigarette on the floor. "I think that asshole’s gone."
"Ya think he was a cop?"
"Coulda been, but I sure ain’t never seen a cop act like that."
"Me neither." Larry took a drag. "Even that waitress seemed pissed at him."
"Yeah, that’s Sherry," Ned said. "Eddie used ta have a thing for her."
"So what happened?"
"She’s a stuck-up fuckin’ cunt." Eddie glanced at her. "Won’t give ‘em, the fuckin’ time of day."
Larry looked at her, too. She was definitely hot.
The two men sat at the table and smoked their cigarettes. Ned stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. "Ya ready?"
"Guess so." Larry took a last puff and dropped his cigarette to the floor. He stood up and ground it out with the toe of his boot.
Ned rose up out of his chair. "Okay, just like we talked about."
"Yep," Larry said. He let Ned lead the way.
* * *
Jack pushed through the door to the alcove. The cook leaned against the far wall and smoked a cigarette. He grinned at Jack, and Jack froze.
Suddenly, he was back in Texas. Six long months of hunting down Kyle Lee, and in the end the piece of shit bastard had come after him. Kyle liked to abduct young girls. The method of their molestation paled only by they’re being tortured to death. Their tiny bodies were left so mutilated that visual IDs were impossible. Now Jack faced this sadistic monster in a showdown. He had his .45 aimed and ready, and the business end of Kyle’s 9mm pistol stared back at him.
Jack snapped out of the flashback and nearly tripped over his own feet trying to get out of the alcove. He needed a cigarette, but his were in the car. A pack sat on the bar next to a woman there, but he was too spooked to stop and ask for one.
He walked quickly towards the exit staring at the floor. Out of the corners of his eyes were blurred visions of booths and bar stools. Reaching the door, he pushed his way outside.
It was damned cold out, but it felt good. He stood for a moment and thought of Sherry. Suddenly he imagined her lying on the ground with her head half-blown off. He tried to push the image out of his head and walk to his car. The full moon had risen high above the trees, but Jack had a more terrible demon chasing him. The image of Sherry lying in a pool of her own blood would not leave him. Little by little his mettle returned, and by the time he got back to his ‘Vette he knew what he had to do.
He unlocked the driver’s door, got in, and pulled it shut behind him. Leaning over, he opened the glove box and took out the leather case he kept there. It unzipped easily and, once opened, its contents lay bare on the passenger seat: a Colt .45 automatic and two spare magazines.
He grabbed the box of shells from the glove box. Seven cartridges went into each magazine, and there were three magazines in all. He picked up the Colt and worked the slide. He slid one of the mags up the chute in the grip and put the other two in his left jacket pocket. The gun case and box of shells went back in the glove box, and the leather badge holder that held his detective’s shield got tucked inside his jacket pocket. He was out of his jurisdiction and on leave, but he was still a cop.
He closed the glove box, got out of the car, and shut the door. He didn’t bother to lock it. Glancing around the parking lot, he saw no one there. He pulled the slide back on the .45 and released it chambering a round and clicked the safety on with a practiced thumb. Not having his holster, he put the pistol down the front of his waistband. Pulling his jacket shut, he looked to the full moon.
"I’ll beat you, yet, you bastard." It seemed poetic now to have a full moon out. This was the first time he’d packed his pistol and badge since that horrible night six months ago. A full moon had shone then, too. He hoped this would him help atone for some of his sins.
Jack went to the near side of the building and made his way close to the rear. He needed to check the back of the building. He didn’t want any surprises, and it was always good to know where the exits were. Taking a quick look around the corner, he saw it was clear.
Turning the corner, he saw that near the far end of the building a single floodlight lit a dumpster and an old van. Except for the floodlight, the back of the building was dark. Jack moved quietly down to the rear of the van. A couple of rats scurried away from the dumpster as Jack approached, and the area reeked despite the cold.
Crouching behind the van, he slipped his pistol out. He stood high enough to take a peek through a back door window and then ducked back down. The van looked empty. Jack considered disabling it. It most likely belonged to either the two men in the club or the cook. But if nothing went wrong he would just as soon let the bastards go on their merry way. He didn’t want a shoot-out.
Still crouching, Jack scooted down along the side of the vehicle and took a glance around the front. A heavy metal door was set into the back of the building and covered by an old screen door. It was the rear entrance to the kitchen, Jack was sure. He stood and took a few steps to the door. Holding the pistol in one hand, he pulled the screen door open slowly with his other and held it with his knee. He tried the knob on the door. It turned a little and stopped, and he eased the screen door back shut.
He walked the few remaining feet to the end of the building. Checking around the corner first, he slipped silently to the front and checked out the parking lot. It was clear. Pistol at his side, he stepped around to face his fate.
All was quiet except for the ever-present sound of the muted electric bass and an occasional car passing by. Jack walked over and stood in front of the black double doors for the second time that night. He tucked the pistol back in his waistband and checked his watch. It had been barely twenty minutes since he’d first gone in, but it seemed like hours.
He psyched himself to go back in. Adrenaline up and heart pumping hard, he pulled on the door. The view of the bar was before him again, and he saw that the two bastards had taken up positions. The guy in the motorcycle jacket sat in a booth near the door where the girls had been earlier, and the big man in the pea coat stood at the far end of the bar near the alcove. They had not made a move yet, but they seemed ready. The big man was the one to watch, Jack knew, and he needed to get as close to him as possible.
Stepping inside, he felt the motorcycle man staring at him. Glancing at him, Jack saw that he looked surprised. Jack knew something was wrong, but he had to act as if everything were normal.
Acting casually, he made his way towards the back of the bar. He knew the motorcycle man might be right behind him, but he put that thought out of his head. Every step took him closer to the big man. Jack took a quick glance at him, and the big man was staring dead at him.
Jack looked away again as if nothing were unusual. He was plenty scared now, though he dare not show it. The big man was nitro; anything could set him off.
The four men still sat in their booth. They laughed loudly, and Jack tried to draw on their laughter to remove himself from his fear. He had to stay focused. His life as well as others depended on it.
He moved past the men, and slid into the next booth. Taking a quick glance behind him, he saw corridor was clear. If the motorcycle man were watching, then the four men would block his view.
Turning back towards the big man, Jack undid the button on his jacket. He slipped the pistol out from his waistband. Clicking the safety off, he held the handgun on his lap. He put his other hand on the table while he watched and waited.
He glanced at the big man again. His pea coat was pulled back, and Jack could see the name Ned stitched on the big man’s shirt. Jack saw Ned glance down to where the motorcycle man was, over to the bartender, and then to the cash register.
Jack hoped Ned would just grab the cash and go. He didn’t want any trouble. He just wanted no one to get hurt. Sherry’s face came to Jack’s mind, and damned if he didn’t suddenly hear her voice.
"Excuse me," Jack heard her say and watched horrified as she pushed in beside Ned at the end of the bar. "Frank," she called to the bartender. "Two Buds, a Miller, and a gin ‘n tonic." Frank gave her a nod and grabbed a glass. Sherry put the empties from her tray on the bar.
The big man looked down at her. He gave her a mean look but did nothing.
Jack put his head down. He didn’t want Sherry to notice him. Still, he tried to keep an eye on Ned.
"Well, I’ll be damned," Sherry said. "Jack’s back."
Shit, she’d seen him. He looked at her. "Let’s talk later," he called to her, but she came over anyway.
"Ya run off, and then I come out and find ya sittin’ here." She stood with her arms crossed and brows furrowed.
Dammit, she was blocking his view of Ned. He stared hard at her. "Sherry, sit down." His voice was slow and firm. She gave him an angry look and a huff of disgust but stepped aside and took a seat on the other side of the booth.
Jack looked to see that Ned now held a large caliber handgun at his side. He noticed Sherry follow his gaze. She let out a gasp and then yelled to the bartender. "Frank, he’s got a gun." She pointed at Ned.
"Don’t nobody move," Ned hollered. He raised the revolver and pointed it at Frank. Frank had bent down and came up with a sawed-off double-barreled shotgun. Ned’s eyes got big, and he fired twice towards Frank.
Jack heard the two shots and saw a thick, red spray burst twice from Frank’s back. Frank began to crumple behind the bar. Jack pulled his .45 up from under the table, but before he could train it on Ned there was a bright flash and a huge boom from behind the bar. Frank had apparently let loose with both barrels of his shotgun.
Ned’s left shoulder exploded in a mass of bone and bloody muscle as two shells of buckshot ripped through it. It spun him around, and at first he looked puzzled. Then he noticed his arm was gone.
"Sonofabitch," Ned screamed and began blasting away towards the people at the bar. Jack stopped that shit with three quick rounds to the center of Ned’s chest. The big man’s eyes went slowly blank, and he slumped to the floor.
Jack quickly tried to assess the situation. His ears rang loudly from the gunshots and he felt nearly deafened. Above the ringing, though, he could hear the muffled screams and shouts of the people in the bar. It was all too familiar.
There were two dead for sure: Frank and Ned. Two others lay bleeding on the bar room floor. Sherry stared at the mayhem and screamed. Jack slid out of the booth.
Standing quickly he aimed his pistol down where he’d last seen the motorcycle man, but he wasn’t there. He turned to the alcove just in time to see the sonofabitch from the kitchen raising the barrel of a shotgun towards him. Jack dropped to the floor and he heard the roar of the 12 gauge. He raised up just high enough to get a clear shot in the cook’s direction and fired twice.
He grabbed Sherry and pulled her to the floor. He waited a few seconds for a second blast. When it did not come he rose high enough to see that that the cook had disappeared. Jack worked his way carefully through the alcove and into kitchen. The rear door was slightly ajar, and Jack figured the bastard had slipped out. Perhaps the cook and the motorcycle man had escaped in the van, but he couldn’t be sure. He made his way back towards the bar room.
From the alcove, Jack looked again to where the motorcycle man had been. He saw it was still clear. Clicking the safety on, he stuck the .45 in his waistband and walked back out. Sherry lay crumpled on the floor sobbing hysterically. He pulled her up and sat her down in the booth. Tears streamed down her cheeks and left tiny rivers of mascara.
"Sherry," he yelled, but there was no response. He shook her hard by her shoulders, and she seemed to come around a bit. "You’ve got to call 911," he shouted, but she only stared blankly. He shook her again. "Goddammit, Sherry, you’ve got to call 911." A glimmer of recognition crept into her eyes, and then she threw herself into his arms.
"Oh, Jack," she cried.
"I know, I know." He hugged her tightly for a few seconds and then pulled her away. He looked her in the eyes. "You’ve got to call 911 for me, okay?" She nodded her head. "Tell them there’s been shots fired." Jack glanced towards the doorway. The motorcycle man was probably long gone by now, but he couldn’t be sure. He looked back to Sherry. "Tell me what you’re going to do."
"Call 911…shots fired."
"Good," he told her. "Now go." She looked pretty shook up, but he had to hope she’d get through on the phone okay. He had more urgent matters to attend to.
He knelt down to the first victim. It was a woman. She lay face down in a pool of her own blood. He lifted her shoulders and turned her over enough to see that part of her face was gone. He checked for a pulse anyway. He’d seen worse survive. But she was gone. He laid her back down. Thank God it wasn’t Sherry, and he hated himself for the thought, but that’s the way it was.
He swiveled around on his feet and crawled to the other victim a few feet away. It was a middle-aged man who lay motionless on his back, his arms and legs askew. He had a death stare, and his chest was a mass of blood. As Jack expected, there was no pulse.
He stayed in a crouched position for the moment. He pulled out the .45. He wanted to make damned sure the motorcycle man was gone. He scooted down with bended knees and checked each booth. Nothing. He stood up and lowered the .45 to his side. His ears still rang.
* * *
Larry turned the corner to the back of the building, his .38 in hand. He saw a shadow near the van. "Eddie?" he called.
"Yeah." Larry ran down to the van. Eddie stood there holding his shotgun.
"Ned got wasted," Eddie said. He sounded angry.
"Yeah, I know." Larry was out of breath.
"I thought you was covering him."
"I was, but the shit went down too fast."
Eddie looked at Larry as if he were deciding whether to believe him or not. Then he turned away. "I’m gonna kill that goddamn cop," he said.
"Forget it, man, let’s get outta here."
Eddie turned and grabbed Larry by his jacket with his free hand. "Ned was my brother, goddammit," Eddie barked. "Now you do whatcha want, but no fuckin’ cop’s gonna get away with killin’ my brother."
"Okay, man. Have it your way. But I ain’t goin’ back in there."
"Suit yourself." Eddie let go of Larry and moved towards the kitchen door.
Larry jumped in the van. He pumped the accelerator pedal twice, as he watched Eddie slip back through the kitchen door. Then he turned the key, and the old Dodge rumbled to life.
I’m out of here, Larry thought, and pushed down on the gas. He heard the V-8’s carburetor suck a gulp of air, and then the engine died.
"Fuck, not now," Larry yelled. He knew what had happened. The engine had cooled just enough for the automatic choke to close, which had flooded the engine when he’d stepped on the gas.
"Fuckin’ piece of shit van." He stood up and began to pull the motor cover off. Before she’d start now, he’d have to hold the choke open. Otherwise, he’d drain the battery trying to start it.
* * *
Jack turned to take a look out the front door of the bar when a load of buckshot exploded past his ear and through one of the double door’s glass shattering it. It was only the cook’s bad aim that saved him.
He pushed through the door and dove into the gravel outside. As he rolled to his side, another blast came through the door. He crawled to the door and fired two shots high enough so that they wouldn’t hit anyone. He wasn’t at an angle to see very well, but he hoped his gunfire would buy him a few seconds. He needed to reload.
His right thumb pressed the magazine release while his left hand fished a fresh clip from his jacket pocket. The empty mag hit the ground, and Jack pushed the fresh clip home. He clicked the slide release down, chambered a fresh round, and was ready to move.
He stood and readied himself to look through the door’s empty metal frame. He poked his head around and pulled it back. "No," he said to himself not wanting to believe what he’d just seen. He turned again and this time charged through the doorframe. He bolted down the length of the bar and through the alcove to the kitchen door, but it was shut tight. He put two rounds through the doorknob, but it did no good. It must’ve been bolted from the other side.
His mind replayed what he’d seen through the door from outside the bar room. The goddamned cook had grabbed Sherry and was dragging her into the alcove. He kicked the kitchen door once and then again, but it held fast. This couldn’t be happening.
* * *
As he struggled with the van, Larry heard the shotgun blasts and the shots from the cop’s .45. Fine, let them kill each other. In fact, he hoped they would. Then he wouldn’t have to worry about either one of them. He got the engine cover off, and then, sitting down in driver’s seat, he unscrewed the wing nut from the air-filter cover. Then the rear door from the kitchen flew open.
"Let me go, goddammit," he heard Sherry scream. He looked and saw Eddie drag her out through the door.
Larry opened the van door. "Eddie, what the fuck?"
"I was hopin’ you’d still be here, " Eddie grunted. "Slight change o’ plans."
"What about the cop? Ya get him?"
"Don’t think so…the lucky sonofabitch." Eddie sounded out of breath.
"Oh, this is just fuckin’ great." Larry pulled his door shut. He was a fucking dead man. He could feel it. It was only a matter of seconds before that cop would be on them. He hurriedly pulled off the air-filter housing and stuck a screwdriver down into the carburetor to hold the choke open.
Eddie pulled open the side door, and Sherry was still screaming. "What’s with the engine?" Eddie asked.
"Not now, Eddie," Larry yelled. He held the gas pedal to the floor and turned the ignition. The motor turned over a couple of times, and then it roared to life. He glanced back. Eddie’d pulled Sherry into the van and, sitting on the floor, and had her arms pinned with an arm around her waist. He held the shotgun in his hand.
Sherry looked at Larry pleadingly. "Please help me," she said weakly.
"Goddammit Eddie, why’d you have to grab her?" Larry didn’t wait for an answer. He turned back to the windshield, put the van in gear, and floored it. The spinning rear wheels struggled for traction as they spun in the gravel. Then the van shot forward.
* * *
Jack’s heart sank. He had failed again. His mind shot back to the scene in Texas.
He and Kyle were frozen in that moment of time that seems to stop just before the unthinkable happens. Then Jack squeezed the trigger of the .45, and the big slug of lead hit Kyle Square in the chest. It knocked him back, but not before fire spit from the barrel of Kyle’s pistol. Red hot metal ripped through Jack’s chest, and he suddenly found himself on the ground. Then it happened. Jack saw Mary enter his field of vision. What in hell was she doing there? Kyle grabbed Mary’s hair and held her head back. His jacket was pulled open revealing Kevlar body armor beneath. Jack reached for his pistol, but his arm wouldn’t work. He looked back to Mary. Kyle grinned and put the barrel of his 9mm under Mary’s chin. "Say goodbye to your wife, Jack," he said, then the top of Mary’s head blew off. Splashed with her brains and blood, Kyle dropped Mary’s lifeless body to the ground. Kyle backed away laughing as Jack turned his head and watched his wife’s blood pool on the ground. Jack prayed to God to take him quickly, and he turned his head skyward as if to meet his maker, but instead a great big full moon grinned down upon him, and for that moment before he passed out, Jack was certain that it was the devil himself.
"No," Jack screamed returning to the present. "Not this time, goddammit." He rushed back through the alcove and flew down the bar room and out of the bar. As he ran around to the back of the building, he heard an engine start and then tires spinning in gravel. He turned the corner to the back, and the van he’d seen parked there was picking up speed. It was headed right for him. Jack raised the .45 and fired five rounds through the driver’s side of the windshield and dove out of the way.
The van turned the corner to the parking lot, and Jack was sure he had missed. He jumped to his feet and ran to the side of the building. The van sped towards the ramp to the highway then began to weave to the left. It hit the embankment, flipped over on its left side and slid to a stop. Its engine raced out of control for a few moments then died.
Jack loaded a fresh magazine into his pistol and walked slowly towards the van. The side door, now facing upwards, flew open. Jack trained the .45 on the opening. An arm emerged holding a shotgun. The cook rose up through the doorway until he was waist high out of the van. He held the shotgun at his side and gave Jack a cold stare.
"Drop it," Jack said.
"I don’t think so." The cook grinned.
"Where’s the girl?" Jack asked.
Something told Jack to drop him right then, but he hesitated. "Is she okay?"
"See for yourself." The cook ducked down for a moment and came up holding Sherry with an arm around her waist. She was unconscious…or dead. The cook still held the shotgun.
Jack went to take a shot, but it was too late. The cook had flung her up in front of himself.
"Drop your gun, cop," The cook said.
"It’s not going to happen." If there’d been an ounce of a chance for saving Sherry in Jack’s giving up his gun, he would’ve done it. But it never worked that way.
The cook raised the shotgun to Sherry’s head. "It’s your choice."
"If she dies, you die."
Suddenly five loud shots rang out in quick succession, and after each one the cook’s body jerked a little. He looked surprised, and then he dropped Sherry. Jack pumped three rounds into the cook’s chest, and the big man fell backwards. Jack ran to the van and looked cautiously into the doorway.
The cook’s body lay bloody and lifeless, his legs on top of Sherry’s motionless body. The motorcycle man lay draped over the driver’s seat. His eyes were open just barely, his body drenched in blood, and he held a .38 snub-nosed revolver in his right hand, its barrel still smoking.
"Drop the gun, son," Jack said.
The man let the revolver fall from his hand.
Jack climbed over into the van and checked the motorcycle man for weapons. He was clean. The guy’d taken a round or two, and Jack was surprised he was still alive.
Scared what he’d find, he pulled Sherry out from under the cook’s legs and placed two fingers on her neck. Thank God. There was a strong pulse.
A police siren sounded, and a moment later blue and red flashing lights reflected off the inside the van.
Jack wanted to hold her close to him, but first he turned to the motorcycle man and looked into his eyes. "Why’d you do it?"
The motorcycle man shook his head weakly. "I just didn’t…" He coughed, and a bit of blood ran out of his mouth. "I just didn’t like him."
Sherry began to moan softly, and Jack cradled her in his arms. Her eyes began to flicker open.
"Sherry, you okay?" Jack asked
She slowly focused her eyes on his. "Jack?"
"Yes," he said. "How do you feel?"
"My head hurts."
"Holy shit," someone yelled, and Jack turned to see a police officer looking inside the van with her flashlight.
Jack pulled out his ID and held it towards the policewoman. "Officer, this guy’s dead." He gave the cook’s body a push with his foot. "But the fellow up front needs some medical attention." He looked at the cop. "Real quick," Jack emphasized. He looked back down at Sherry. "This one needs to be checked, too." Jack smiled. "But for the time being I think she’ll be okay."