Single mom, Randi Black, stumbles over a body, acquires a stalker, and runs into a still smoldering old flame. Overwhelmed might just be an understatement.
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Randi Black is overwhelmed.
She’s the single mom of teenage twins, is battling a coworker with wandering hands, has just run into an ex boyfriend who wants to rekindle the old fire, and had to take a job working for her ex husband. What she doesn’t need right now is to get caught up in the middle of a murder investigation.
When she trips over the body of a young woman during a weekend outing with her boys, that’s exactly what happens. Now there’s a stalker tracking her every move, a murderer on the loose, and everyone in town thinks she’s sleeping with her old beau, AJ Weleski. Unfortunately, the only one sleeping in her bed these days is her Jack Russell terrier, Wilson.
As the body count rises, Randi is forced to uncover a killer, neutralize her stalker and get her sons to school on time. It’s almost more than a woman can handle.
Shots whizzed overhead. I crouched behind a century old oak tree and tried to locate the gunmen. The underbrush rustled as the body of my son crashed to the ground beside me. I yelped and shoulder blocked my ancient barricade as I leapt in surprise.
“Sorry, Mom. You’re on your own.”
I sank to my knees beside my son and rubbed my newly bruised shoulder. Shots peppered the area around us.
“You’d better get out of here,” Devin said, as the leaves to our left rattled under another barrage.
I nodded, but didn’t speak as he shoved his gun into my hands and motioned me away. He flashed a weak okay sign as I stuck his weapon under my arm and slid to the bottom of the ravine. I blocked him out, and crouched behind a thicket as I listened for movement, but the woods were silent as birds, bugs, and humans waited for the next fusillade. Sweat dripped into my eyes. I blinked them clear and covertly searched for the safest route out of harms way.
My position started to feel exposed so I dashed for a big maple that offered more cover. Shots rattled around me. I hit the dirt and closed my eyes, making myself invisible because I couldn’t see. It worked, the shooting stopped. My breath escaped in a silent rush of relief.
I hunched in the leaf clutter waiting for the thud of shots around me. Nothing broke the stillness but the raucous call of a crow in the distance. I relaxed enough to move; inched around the clearing on knees and elbows, keeping my profile low. The muscles in my arms began to shake with fatigue. My abs burned. My vision blurred as sweat ran down my face. In the movies, they make this look easy.
I stopped to wipe my face, and stretched against the stitch in my side. I promised to get up and run every morning if I could just get through this day. The muscles in my arms stopped burning and my breathing slowed. I let my mind wander. A shot whistled overhead, abruptly snapping me to the present. Shit! These guys were trying to kill me. Still on my stomach, I laid the spare gun down and peered around the tree I cowered behind. The underbrush crashed near my feet. My heart jumped into my throat. I rolled onto my back and took aim. As I tightened my finger on the trigger, a boot connected with the barrel. The gun jerked from my grasp and rattled off into the underbrush.
“Easy, Randi. I’m on your side.”
“Jesus, AJ! I almost shot you,” I hissed.
“You wouldn’t shoot me, darlin’.” He winked as he eased down beside me.
“Think you made enough noise?” I asked. “Now they know exactly where I am.”
“I’m pretty sure they already did,” he said.
By the crinkle around his eyes, I could tell he was smiling. At least one of us was having a good time.
“Do we make our stand here, or try to sneak around somewhere else?” he asked softly.
I mopped my face with the tail of my shirt. “I’ve had it. I say we make our stand here.”
“You gotta get in better shape, darlin’.”
I mentally stuck my tongue out at him and eased up for a look. AJ rose beside me and took a shot to the head. I ducked.
“Shit, shit, shit!”
I lifted Devin’s weapon, checked the ammo and eased to the right on my stomach. A cold barrel pressed into the small of my back. I froze.
“Gotcha, little sister.”
I smacked the ground in frustration. Chad laughed. Leaving Devin’s gun where it lay, I pushed to my feet. Every muscle in my body protested. Almost forty years old and still trying to prove I’m as tough as my brothers, a retired Army Colonel and an ex Navy SEAL. They are so far out of my league we might as well be playing on different planets. I gotta be nuts. The only thing I’ve ever been able to match them in is marksmanship.
My older brother Steve, the retired colonel, radioed ‘Game Over.’ Dark shapes detached themselves from trees and bushes and converged on him. I searched the underbrush for the gun AJ’d kicked out of my hands. Devin and Travis, my twins, raced from the trees covered in paint. Devin and Travis always manage to get covered in paint. I think they take target practice at each other after they go out of the game. What can I say? They’re fifteen, they don’t know any better.
Travis dumped his gear and flopped at my feet. His sandy blond hair, matted with sweat and orange paint, blended with the leaf litter like camouflage. I nudged him in the ribs with the toe of my boot and nodded toward his brother. He rolled up onto his elbow, green eyes sparkling, as he watched Devin sneak through the trees. Chad never knew he was there until he squashed a red paintball on his head. It looked like blood running through Chad’s black hair. Chad hooked a foot behind Devin’s legs and the two of them toppled to the ground with a thud. Travis chucked acorns at them as they wrestled, every shot right on target. Chad and Devin emerged from the underbrush, covered with leaves and dirt, appearing more like twins than Devin and Travis ever have. Travis grabbed a pinecone, and yelled ‘go long’. Chad and Devin took off at a run as my quarterback hopeful fired the pinecone missile. I shook my head at their antics and untucked my shirt. Sweat trickled from between my breasts and soaked the waistband of my pants.
AJ peeled off his paint-covered mask and traded high fives with Chad and Devin as they trotted back toward the group. His black hair stuck up in spikes. He used his tee shirt to wipe his face, then peeled the shirt over his head. His dark eyes turned my way and caught me admiring his abs. A grin tugged the corners of his mouth as he winked. I turned away and felt the blood rush to my face. Leaves rustled as he moved away. I took the opportunity to admire the view, even in baggy field utilities, it was spectacular. Maybe nicer than the front.
My sister-in-law, Sara Beth, says when AJ strolls down the street in tight jeans, women walk into parking meters. He does tend to have that effect. Mentally I fondled those abs and buns as I reached down to snag my paintball gun from the ground. When I straightened, Chad was standing in front of me smirking. My face flamed, as if Chad could read my thoughts.
“What ya blushing for, Sis?”
“I’m not blushing, I’m just hot.” I fanned my face for emphasis.
“Yeah, hot for AJ.”
“Give me a break, he’s just like another brother.”
“I don’t think you ever looked at me or Steve that way.”
My face was burning. I wondered if I was old enough to be having a hot flash.
“Leave me alone, Chad.”
He laughed. I unhooked the spare ammo pods from around my waist and hung the belt over my arm as Chad left to join the guys. AJ does still have an effect on me, but we had some history that I didn’t intend to repeat. I wished my body would get in line with my brain on that. I jogged/hobbled to catch Chad. The paintballs in my ammo pods rattled as they banged together. It sounded like I was shaking a cat food box. Chad heard me clattering behind him and slowed so I could catch up. I slowed my half-hearted trot to a walk, so he paused. He shook his head at the wait and started off again as I drew even and fell into step.
“How come you never capture anybody else, Chadly?”
“You’re the only girl.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“It’s not polite to shoot women.”
He winked and chucked me under the chin like I was a little kid.
“Hey Chadly, something I need to tell you.”
He stopped walking to listen.
“I noticed you’re getting a little grey in your beard there. Might be time for a little Grecian Formula.”
He laughed and shook his head.
“Oh, Ran, that was so lame. Is that the best you can do?”
His teeth flashed white against his perfect little Van Dyke when he grinned.
“Face it, Sis, I always know what you’re gonna do next.”
I smirked. That knowledge went both ways. I knew as soon as he got home he’d be standing in front of the mirror checking his beard for grey.
We stepped out of the woods into the clearing where Steve and AJ were waiting and it struck me how much taller AJ is than my big brother. Steve’s posture is so erect that you don’t realize he’s not a tall man, but he’s a good four inches less than AJ’s six-two. I ducked my head before Chad caught me staring again and slid down to sit at the foot of a big oak tree. I moaned in pleasure as I relaxed the muscles in my back.
“I’m wiped out.”
“You ought to go to the gym with me,” Chad said.
I snorted. A trip to the gym with Chad would be like sending a high school kid out to pitch game one of the World Series. I’m not in his class. He’s the ex Navy SEAL.
“On your feet, Randi,” Steve yelled. “We’re burning daylight.”
“What? We have a time limit on getting to the parking lot?”
Chad and the boys snickered. Steve turned and started out of the woods, ignoring me. He was just pissed because our team lost. I stuck my tongue out at his retreating form.
“Move your ass, Randi,” he snapped over his shoulder.
“Move your ass, Randi,” I mumbled as I crawled to my feet. “Maybe you should have stayed in the army, Colonel.”
As you’ve probably gathered, Steve and I don’t operate on the same wavelength.
Devin and Travis bounced ahead of us toward the parking lot. I stopped to watch my almost grown babies for a minute. Devin, lean as a distance runner, his dark hair falling below his collar. Travis, tawny hair almost military short, broad at the shoulder, a good three inches under his brother’s six foot. Totally opposite in looks, but seemingly connected by radar as they zigged and zagged through the trees and over brush. They were ready to play another round. I wished I had half their energy.
Chad, just a few steps in front of me, snapped branches at me as we ducked through the trees. Sometimes, I wish he were still in the Navy. I glanced toward the parking lot and sighed. It seemed further away than when we started. I stared at my feet and stumbled through the underbrush on rubber legs. My boots felt like they weighed forty pounds apiece. Chad shot a quick glance over his shoulder and made a rude comment. I flipped him off without looking up. He just snickered. Asshole.
Head down, eyes half closed, I trudged through the woods. A sticker bush encircled my pants leg. I jerked free, tripped and banged into an ash tree. I swore and rubbed my elbow.
“I hate trees, I hate sticker bushes, and I hate these stupid combat boots,” I snapped as I tripped again. Mostly what I hated was feeling inadequate. I actually like playing paintball. It’s all the hoo yah army stuff that puts me in a bad mood.
Just once I’d like to come to the range dressed in comfortable clothes, but when you play war games with a bunch of ex soldiers, you have to dress the part. I’d have camouflage underwear if it were up to them. If Alden, Missouri is ever threatened by terrorists, my brothers could mobilize an attack force to rival a small nation. The only civilian in a family of warriors, I just fumble along in their wake. They include me in their games from habit. I join in because, hey anything they can do I can do. I know, I know. It’s stupid. I don’t think you ever outgrow your childhood.
Chad snapped another branch at me, I ducked, took a step, and my forty-pound boot caught on a wild grapevine.
“Shit,” I yelled as I started to fall.
I could hear Chad laughing as I tumbled forward. My gun went flying as I hit the ground. Paintballs spilled from the hopper and rolled around, bright pink against the green and brown leaves. I pushed onto my hands, spit out a mouthful of dirt, and found myself face to face with a head. A growl rumbled deep in my throat. I rose arms flailing, and teleported backwards, landing on my butt in a multiflora rose bush. My knees were shaking and my heart hammered in my chest.
“Ahhhh, shit. Oh, Jesus!”
I fought my way clear of the thorny bush and tried to stand on shaky legs. My stomach heaved. I hugged a tree for support and deposited my breakfast at my feet. Chad stopped laughing and ran toward me.
“Jesus, Randi. What is it?”
I sank to my knees and flapped a hand weakly toward my discovery. He turned to where I pointed and morphed into cop mode. Chad’s a vice cop. He’s a UC, an undercover guy, and spends most of his work time hanging out with druggies and prostitutes. I guess a dead woman in the forest wasn’t that far off his area of expertise. He stepped forward and moved the underbrush aside with the barrel of his gun. His ponytail flopped across his back as he shook his head and fumbled his game radio from the pocket of his utilities. He keyed it twice. Steve stopped and looked back over his shoulder. Chad motioned them back and Steve and AJ turned around. I closed my eyes and lay my forehead against the rough bark of a tree.
My stomach twisted and I gagged again. Eyes pinched closed, I pressed against the tree trunk until it hurt, trying to refocus my brain so my stomach would settle. A hand cupped my elbow. I jumped and let out a squeak. I hadn’t heard AJ. He lifted me to my feet, guided me to a fallen log, and pressed my head down between my knees.
“Deep breaths, babe.”
I sucked in air and tried to gain control of my stomach.
“You okay?” he asked.
I nodded. I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I’d lose it again.
I took a deep shuddering breath and sat up. AJ was already moving away, pulling his tee shirt on. I guess cops can’t go around half dressed. AJ’s a detective with the Alden PD, so is my brother Steve. I guess, like Boy Scouts, they’re always prepared. AJ slid a notebook from his pocket and started to write. I wondered idly if he had his cuffs and sidearm stashed in there somewhere too.
Steve headed the boys off before they caught sight of the head and sent them to the truck with orders to call their granddad and get a ride home. They grumbled, but moved toward the parking lot. They know better than to argue with the Colonel.
“Is that head attached to a body?” I asked.
“Don’t know yet, darlin’.” AJ answered.
A shudder rippled along my spine. I wrapped my arms around my knees and rested my chin on them. Chad stood off to my left with his cell phone to his ear. The diamond stud in his earlobe glinted in the light that filtered through the trees. I could already hear sirens growing closer. I sat on my log and watched as Alden’s Finest went to work.
I was invisible—an outsider observing the pros. A crime scene team roped off the area and took photos, then started clearing leaves from the head. My stomach was still in a knot and my hands would have trembled if I hadn’t had them clasped around my knees. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. I sighed in relief, as a pink silk sleeve was uncovered. I hadn’t tripped over a head. It was a body. I don’t know why that was better, but somehow it was. Finding a body was bad, but finding a head—that was just gross. I tore my gaze away from the crime scene and stared off into the woods trying to think about something else. Grocery list. That was good. Eggs, milk, bread, pink silk shirt. Dammit.
I glanced back at the body. The pink sleeve tugged at my memory. The blank face was turned toward me and I forced myself to take a good look. I knew this girl, or had a least seen her recently. Maybe at work. I stared at nothing. Focused inward as I tried to put a name to the once pretty face. Booted feet and camo clad legs stepped into my line of sight blocking my view just as a name was percolating up through my brain. As my focus moved from the body to the legs, the name vanished. My concentration broken, the reality of what I was staring at hit and a shudder racked my frame once more. I closed my eyes and wished myself at home in a nice hot shower.
Lost in my daydream shower, I started as my log shifted. Chad settled next to me and slipped a bottle of water in my hand.
“You okay, Ranna?” He asked.
I took a drink and shivered. The warm September day was starting to cool. Chad peeled off his field jacket and laid it across my shoulders.
“She looks familiar, do you know who she is?” I asked.
“Got a pretty good idea.”
That admission wasn’t followed by a name, but I was pretty sure I’d remember it myself when I had a minute to think without the distraction of a dead body at my feet. I slipped my arms into the sleeves of Chad’s jacket and hugged it close. Right now I just wanted to go home. As usual, Chad seemed to read my mind.
“The crime scene boys and the coroner will be here for a while. Why don’t you let me drive you home?”
Sweet as that sounds, he wasn’t asking to be nice. He wanted me out of the way. I didn’t care. I was cold, tired, sore, and wasn’t all that eager to watch them load the body bag. I let Chad pull me to my feet without an argument. His bearing was stiff and, even in his paint-spattered clothes, I saw a glimmer of the Navy officer that lurked under his disheveled exterior. The clean-cut guy that returned from the service was unrecognizable until you saw him at a crime scene. When he’s not working undercover, the spit and polish sneaks out from beneath the long hair and punk clothes.
AJ peeled away from the cops ringing the crime scene. “You working tonight?” he asked.
“I’ll stop by later.”
I waved an okay and followed Chad to the parking lot. Emergency vehicles, lights flashing, were scattered across the gravel lot. As we stopped at the truck, Harold Baker, the owner of The War Zone, jogged toward us, his beer belly proudly leading the way. He huffed to a stop in front of Chad’s Ranger pickup, peeled off his Ruger cap to wipe away the sweat and jammed it firmly back in place.
“What’s all the ruckus?”
“Randi stumbled onto a body out on the paintball range,” Chad answered.
Harold’s face went pale.
“Damn teenagers are always running around out there after hours. My God. This is awful. Randi, are you alright? Can I get you a drink? Do you want to come in and sit for a while?”
I shook my head and gave him a half smile.
“One of the detectives will be by to talk to you later,” Chad said.
“I’ll be here. My God, I can’t believe this. There’s a bunch of kids getting ready to play a round. I’d better catch ‘em before they stumble into the middle of the crime scene.” He turned and hurried toward the door of the shop.
I hoped the murder investigation wouldn’t keep Harold shut down very long. He’d owned Sure Shot—the shooting range, and the paintball field—The War Zone, for almost two years. A great old guy, he reads Soldier of Fortune magazine, drinks Budweiser beer and hates terrorists and drugs. I was pretty sure he was an old soldier, but I’d never heard him talk about it. He’d be the right age for Vietnam, though. Three evenings a week, at Sure Shot, he taught women how to shoot and take care of a weapon. Sometimes I got to help him. Harold Baker was one of my favorite people.
I sank onto the truck seat with a sigh, lifted my curly brown hair off my neck, and tucked it through the back of my camouflage ball cap. Twigs and leaves fell onto the seat. I tried to comb the rest out with my fingers without much luck. While Chad stood outside talking to another officer, I pondered cutting my hair short before our next paintball weekend. Nah, probably not. I’d hate for Chad’s hair to be longer than mine.
Chad and I are twins. When we were kids, we looked a lot alike. Now he’s six feet tall to my five eight and he has muscles where I’ve got boobs, so the resemblance is harder to see. It’s still there in the dimples we share when we smile, the dark brown hair, the deep brown of our eyes. But Chad’s eyes have a menacing glint that wasn’t there before he went into the Navy. Mine usually just look tired.
Chad finished his conversation and slid behind the wheel. We drove toward town without talking. Chad was tense. His knuckles were white as he griped the steering wheel and his biceps bulged against the fabric of his tee shirt.
I stretched my neck and swallowed a groan as my muscles protested. I absently picked twigs and leaves from my ponytail as we drove and wished I didn’t have to go to work. I tend bar part-time for my ex-husband, Morgan Black, and I was due there in a little over an hour.
I started tending bar for Morgan about five weeks ago. I left the ad department of The Alden Sentinel because the sports editor grabbed my ass one too many times. After I clocked him with my computer keyboard and gave him a black eye, I decided a career change was in order. Morgan offered me a job. Since jobs aren’t that plentiful around Alden, I took it. My mom’s still in shock. My brothers think it’s funny.
Morgan and I didn’t have the calmest divorce on record. I caught him banging Wendy Miller in the backseat of my car one night in the parking lot behind the bar. We’d been married a little over five years. They hadn’t been all that smooth, but I never dreamed he was cheating on me. Apparently, I was the only one in Alden that didn’t know about Morgan’s extra curricular activities. We’ve been divorced close to fifteen years now and I seem to be mellowing where Morgan is concerned. He’s a good father and a good businessman, just a lousy husband.
Lids at half-mast, I sagged against the headrest and ran through a list of people that might cover for me at the bar. It was no use. I was just going to have to go in. I leaned forward and opened my eyes as Chad swerved onto the shoulder. The man walking alongside the road stopped, glanced at the truck and sketched a salute. Chad hooked a finger at him in a ‘come here’ motion. He eased out of his backpack and ambled toward the open window.
“Mouse,” Chad said.
He nodded toward me. I cocked my head to see him better. He was probably close to sixty. Lean in an underfed kind of way. His eyes were a startling blue and lines like cracks radiated away from the corners. His beard was grey with a hint of red, but his hair was a dull brown and pulled into a ponytail.
I glanced away as a siren wailed and came closer. The sheriff slowed and gave us a once over. A nod from Chad and he continued on to Timber Bridge.
“What’s goin on?” Mouse asked, shrugging at the departing sheriff’s car.
“Little trouble over at Timber Bridge.” Chad answered. “What are you doin’ out here this afternoon?”
Mouse ducked his head and glanced quickly around as he answered.
“Uh huh. You around here last night?” Chad asked.
“If you saw anything unusual around here last night, I need to know about it.”
“Wudn’t out here last night, suh.”
You might want to head on into town, Mouse.”
He snapped off another salute, nodded to me and turned away. I’d seen Mouse around for years, but I’d never really paid attention to him. He was just part of the scenery. I looked him over as he moved off toward town. His combat boots, worn at the heel from years of use, shone with polish. His jungle fatigues, threadbare at the knees and seat, were clean. For some reason that surprised me. I just assumed he’d be dirty. He shouldered his pack, stuck his hands into the pockets of his field jacket and shuffled off. Chad watched him for a minute, lost in thought. I sat quietly glancing between Mouse and Chad.
“You think Mouse had something to do with the murder?”
Chad didn’t answer. He shifted into first and eased onto the road. I didn’t ask again. I knew from experience Chad wasn’t going to talk tonight. I’d catch him tomorrow and get all the details. A moment later, we passed Mouse still trudging home.
“He in Vietnam?” I asked.
“How do you know him?”
“He deals a little weed.”
“He one of your contacts?”
Chad was staring through the windshield, fingers tight on the wheel, body rigid in the seat beside me. He didn’t answer my question. Probably didn’t hear it. I gave up and stayed quiet until we stopped in front of my red brick house. I coaxed my body from the truck and turned toward the sidewalk.
“You ought to take off work, Ranna. It’s been a rough day.”
“I can’t. Morgan’s out of town and we can’t get by without two bartenders on Saturday night. Unless you want to go in for me.”
“Not a chance. If I’m not back at Timber Bridge soon, Steve’s gonna go postal on me.”
Chad started to pull away. I called his name and he stopped.
“You don’t actually think Mouse had anything to do with this, do you?”
He didn’t answer, just waved, and drove off to The War Zone. As I trudged up my short walk past the dying stalks in my flowerbed, I saw two shake shingles amongst the flowers. I picked them up and noticed two more at the bottom of the hill next to the road. Lovely, the roof’s coming off, just what I needed. I tossed the shingles onto the porch and sank down on the steps. The leaves rustled as Mrs. Litton’s cat, Bill, popped out of the flower stalks and sat down next to me. Bill lives next door, but he visits a lot. We companionably admired the flowers scattered across what used to be my tiny front yard. The patch of grass that dropped downhill into the ditch and was a real pain in the butt to mow so I turned it into Bill’s personal jungle. Solved my problem, and made the neighbor cat happy, a two-for-one deal.
“Mouse wouldn’t hurt anyone, Bill,” I said.
I wondered briefly why I was so sure of that. I didn’t even know the guy. I was too tired to ponder it for long. Bill rolled his head under my hand and grabbed my fingers with his teeth. I scratched behind his ears and gave him a final rub before I staggered to my feet and went inside. Wilson, my Jack Russell Terrier, raced down the hall from the kitchen as I pushed into the living room. He bounced around my legs in greeting as I tried to pull the door closed behind me.
“Hey, Wilson. You want to go outside, buddy?”
He raced ahead to the kitchen, then stared at me in puzzlement as I stopped at my bedroom to toss in my paintball gear. I piled my stuff just inside the doorway and gazed longingly at the bed. The urge to crawl in and sleep till morning was almost overwhelming. Wilson yelped to get my attention. I sighed and went through the kitchen to let him outside. He charged, barking at the squirrels. Bill shot across the yard, blindsided the dog and leapt to the top of the fence. Wilson whirled in confusion, searching for his invisible attacker. Laughing, I slid the door closed and went into the bathroom. Paint-spattered clothes covered the floor. Looked like Dad stopped off here with the boys before he took them to the farm. I scooped up their cammies and trudged upstairs. Their bedrooms are at the front of the house. Devin’s is a disaster area. You need a tetanus shot to go in. Travis’s room is perfectly neat. The only similarities in décor were the rock band posters but even here their tastes varied—Nickelback for Travis, he tends to try and blend in with the crowd. Metallica for Dev, I think he just likes the look. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard him play any Metallica. Maybe he listens to them on his iPod. They both share an affinity for busty blonde swimsuit models and Miley Cyrus. Were I to snoop a little, I’d probably find a collection of Chad’s old Playboy magazines stashed away. If I were guessing, Travis would have them filed in a Science Digest binder on his bookshelf. Devin’s would be under his mattress. I’ve decided not to try and find them.
My office overlooks the backyard. The boys have moved into my space and now retired video game systems, sports equipment, guitars and small animal cages fill every nook and cranny. I dumped their paint-spattered clothes next to the rest of their gear and peeked at the cages. No inmates right now. I think the boys are biding their time. I had a full-blown conniption fit when I found a snake in there last month.
I started dropping my camo on my way to the shower as the phone rang. I grabbed it and sagged onto a chair at the kitchen table.
I leaned over to unlace my boots and got a good look at the kitchen floor. Geez, I really needed to mop.
“Miranda, it’s Mom.”
I knew that. No one but my Mom and my second-grade teacher have ever called me Miranda. My second-grade teacher never phones.
“The boys are here with me. They can spend the night if you want. That way you can go straight home after work.”
“I wish you would get a better job. That bar is a terrible place to spend time.”
“The Jolly Roger is the safest place in town, Mom. It’s always full of cops.”
“It’s not proper for a mother of teenagers to work in a bar.”
I rolled my eyes and stifled a groan.
“It’s a good job, Mom. I make good money and I have my days free.”
We have this conversation every time we talk.
“It’s not proper, you’re a single woman.”
What that has to do with anything, I’ve not yet determined. Maybe one of these days I’ll ask her to explain, or maybe I won’t. She went on about the bar and I zoned out while I finished unlacing my boots. I tuned back in just as she finished.
“…Devin wants to talk to you. You just be careful at that place.”
“I will, Mom.”
Devin came on the line.
“Dude! Mom, I heard you found a head at The War Zone.”
“It wasn’t a head, it was a body.”
I gave a shudder as I thought of being face to face with that body.
“Oh,” he said losing some enthusiasm. “That’s not nearly as cool as finding a head.”
I rolled my eyes again and sighed. “Don’t make trouble for Gran and Granddad tonight.”
“We won’t. Gotta go, Mom. Me and Granddad are working on the Mustang.”
“Granddad and I,” I said as the phone clicked in my ear.
I cradled the receiver, dragged myself into the bathroom and stood in the shower letting the water pound on my shoulders. I was sore and bruised and my butt was still stinging from the multiflora rose scratches. My brothers never fall into rose bushes. They never trip on grapevines either.
I slumped against the wall of the shower in a stupor until it suddenly turned cold. I squealed, flailed around getting the soap rinsed from my hair and thrashed my way past the shower curtain. I toweled off the goose bumps and shivered into jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt. While I dressed, I also did some inventive swearing at the stupid water heater. When I finished (dressing and swearing), I wasn’t cold anymore.
Combing the tangles from my hair, I ran some gel through it with my fingers and did the dark bar makeup routine. The magazines say if you feel rotten, take extra time with your face. According to them it’ll make you feel better. Since I hardly ever wear makeup, any time at all was extra. I gave my lashes a last swipe of mascara and tried a smile at the mirror. It came off more like a grimace. The extra mascara hadn’t done the trick, I still felt like hell. I let Wilson in, told him I’d be late and slipped into my boots. I grabbed my keys and ran out the front door, tripped over the damn cat and stumbled down the stairs.
“Jesus, Bill. Go sleep on your own porch.”
Bill flipped his tail at me and stalked toward home. I crossed my fingers as I jabbed the key in the ignition of my truck. If it started on the first shot, I might make it to work on time.