Off the grid, p.1
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       OFF THE GRID, p.1

           Alex Kava
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OFF THE GRID


  Off the Grid

  Alex Kava

  Copyright © S.M. Kava 2016

  All rights reserved.

  Prairie Wind Publishing

  These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents, other than those clearly in the public domain, are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  eBook ISBN: 9780983676133

  No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from THE AUTHOR or the Publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding, or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  Formatted printed and bound in

  the United States of America by Prairie Wind Publishing

  Cover by Deb Carlin

  Background Photo iStock Photo

  Also by Alex Kava

  Ryder Creed series

  2015 Breaking Creed 2015 Silent Creed 2016 Reckless Creed

  Maggie O'Dell series

  2000 A Perfect Evil

  2001 Split Second

  2002 The Soul Catcher

  2003 At The Stroke of Madness

  2006 A Necessary Evil

  2008 Exposed

  2009 Black Friday

  2010 Damaged

  2011 Hotwire

  2012 Fireproof

  2013 Stranded (Florida & Nebraska Book Award Winner)

  Other Fiction

  2004 One False Move

  2007 Whitewash

  Ebook Originals with Erica Spindler and J.T. Ellison

  2012 Slices of Night

  2012 Storm Season

  OFF THE GRID

  Table of Contents

  Goodnight Sweet Mother

  A Breath of Hot Air

  Cold Metal Night

  Electric Blue

  After Dark

  About Alex Kava

  INTRODUCTION BY ALEX KAVA

  Over the years I’ve written several short stories and a couple of novellas. All have been published either in anthologies or as larger ebooks. All but one of these short works includes FBI profiler, Special Agent Maggie O’Dell. And although you may have read one or two of them, I’m very excited to finally offer them as a collection for the first time.

  When Deb Carlin started putting this collection together I realized that not only do these Maggie short works have a chronology, but all of them can be read as companion pieces to my Maggie novels. For example: A Breath of Hot Air takes place the first night that Maggie arrives in Pensacola, Florida, after spending the day with the Coast Guard flight crew of Damaged. The novella Electric Blue sets the stage and provides background for the novel, Breaking Creed. And in the novella, Cold Metal Night I purposely bring Nick Morrelli and Maggie back together one more time for readers who love Nick.

  So for those of you who have read my novels as well as those new readers who are picking up this collection and reading my work for the first time, I thought it might be fun for you to know where these short works fit in with my novels. Of course they can be read and enjoyed individually.

  Here’s the list of the Maggie O’Dell novels with the short works inserted where they were meant to be:

  A Perfect Evil

  Split Second

  The Soul Catcher Goodnight, Sweet Mother (short story)

  At the Stroke of Madness

  A Necessary Evil

  Exposed

  Black Friday A Breath of Hot Air (short story)

  Damaged

  Hotwire Cold Metal Night (novella)

  Fireproof

  Stranded

  Electric Blue (novella)

  Breaking Creed

  Silent Creed

  I hope you enjoy this collection. If you are not already a member of my VIR (Very Important Reader) Club, I invite you to join. We never share your information and you get to hear about giveaways and my book tour events as well as be included on my annual Christmas card list. To sign up and for more information about my books, go to www.alexkava.com. And I love to chat with my readers on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alexkava.books/

  For the record here’s where these short works have appeared previously:

  Goodnight, Sweet Mother, “THRILLER: Stories to Keep You Up All Night,” anthology edited by James Patterson, 2006.

  A Breath of Hot Air, co-written with Patricia A. Bremmer, “Florida Heat Wave,” anthology edited by Michael Lister, 2010.

  After Dark, co-written with Deb Carlin, “First Thrills,” anthology edited by Lee Child, 2010.

  Cold Metal Night is one of three eNovellas that make up “Slices of Night,” which also includes novellas by J.T. Ellison and Erica Spindler, 2010.

  Electric Blue is one of three eNovellas that make up “Storm Season,” which also includes novellas by J.T. Ellison and Erica Spindler, 2011.

  GOODNIGHT SWEET MOTHER

  MAGGIE O’DELL KNEW this road trip with her mother was a mistake long before she heard the sickening scrape of metal grinding against metal, before she smelled the burning rubber of skidding tires.

  Hours earlier she had declared it a mistake even as she slid into a cracked red vinyl booth in a place called Freddie’s Dine – actually Diner if you counted the faded area where an “r” had once been. The diner wasn’t a part of the mistake. It didn’t bother her eating in places that couldn’t afford to replace an “r”. After all, she had gobbled cheeseburgers in autopsy suites and had enjoyed deli sandwiches in an abandoned rock quarry while surrounded by barrels stuffed with dead bodies. No, the little diner could actually be called quaint.

  It was not the problem.

  Maggie had stared at a piece of apple pie ala mode the waitress named Rita had plopped down in front her before splashing more coffee into hers and her mom’s cups. Nevermind that fact that she didn’t drink coffee. For some reason she was willing to forgive her mother that mistake. But the pie – how could she forget that?

  The slice had looked perfectly fine and even smelled freshly baked, served warm so that the ice cream had begun to melt and trickle off the edges. The pie, itself, wasn’t really the problem either, although without much effort Maggie had easily envisioned blood instead of ice cream dripping down onto the white bone china plate. She hated that just the scent of it had made her nauseated. She had to take a sip of water, close her eyes and steady herself before opening her eyes again to see ice cream instead of blood.

  No, the real problem had been that Maggie didn’t order the pie. Her mother had. Along with the coffee.

  And that small gesture forced Maggie, once again, to wonder if Kathleen O’Dell was simply insensitive or if she honestly did not remember. How could she not remember the incident that could trigger her daugther’s sudden uncontrollable nausea? How could she not remember one of the few times Maggie had shared something, anything from her life as an FBI profiler?

  Of course, that incident had been several years ago and back then her mother had been drinking Jack Daniels in tumblers instead of shot glasses, goading Maggie into arresting her if she didn’t like it. Maggie remembered all too vividly what she had told her mother. She told her she didn’t waste time arresting suicidal alcoholics. She should have stopped there, but didn’t. Instead, she ended up pulling out and tossing onto her mother’s glass-top coffee table Poloraids from the crime scene she had just left.

  “This is what I do for a living,” she had told her mother as if the woman needed a shocking reminder.

  And Maggie remembered purposely dropping the last most brilliant one on top of the pile, the photo a closeup of a container left on the victim’s kitchen coun
ter. Maggie would never forget that plastic takeout container, nor its contents – a perfect piece of apple pie with the victim’s bloody spleen neatly arranged on top.

  That her mother had chosen to forget or block it out shouldn’t surprise Maggie. The one survival tactic the woman possessed was her strong sense of denial, her ability to pretend certain incidents had simply not happened. How else could she explain letting her twelve-year old daughter fend for herself while she stumbled home drunk each night, bringing along the stranger who had supplied her for that particular night?

  It wasn’t until one of Kathleen O’Dell’s gentleman friends suggested a threesome with mother, daughter and himself that it occurred to her mother to get a hotel room. Maggie had had to learn at an early age to take care of herself. She had grown up alone, and only now, years after her divorce, did she realize she associated being alone with being safe from anyone who could hurt her.

  But her mother had come a long way since then, or so Maggie had believed. That was before this road trip, before she had ordered the piece of apple pie. Perhaps Maggie should see it for what it was – the perfect microcosm of their relationship, a relationship that should never include road trips or the mere opportunity for sharing a piece of pie at a quaint, little diner. She had watched as her mother sipped coffee in-between swiping up bites of her own pie. As an FBI criminal profiler Maggie O’Dell tracked killers for a living and yet a simple outing with her mother could conjure up images of a serial killer’s leftover surprises tucked away in takeout containers.

  Just another day at the office.

  She supposed she wasn’t as good as her mother at denial, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  Suddenly Kathleen O’Dell had pointed her fork at something over Maggie’s shoulder, unable to speak because, of course, it was impolite to talk with a full mouth, never mind that during her brief and rare lapses into motherhood she constantly preached it was also impolite to point. Maggie didn’t budge, ignoring her, which was also silly if she thought it would in any way punish her mother for her earlier insensitivity. Beside, it had only resulted in a more significant poke at the air from her mother’s fork.

  “That guy’s a total ass,” she was finally able to whisper.

  Maggie hadn’t been able to resist. She stole a glance, needing to see the “total ass” she was about to defend, because that was usually what her immediate reaction was, to come to the defense of anyone her mother would dare to condemn on sight only.

  He had seemed too ordinary to need Maggie’s defense. Ever the profiler she had found herself immediately assessing him. She saw a tall, thin middle-aged man with a receding hairline, weak chin and wire-rimmed glasses. He wore a white oxford shirt, a size too large and sagging even though he had tried to tuck it neatly into the waistband of wrinkled trousers – trousers which were belted below the beginning paunch of a man who spent too much time behind a desk.

  He had slid into one of the corner booths and grabbed one of the laminated menus from behind the table’s condiment holder. Immediately he had the menu unfolded in front of him, hunched over it and was searching for his selection while he pulled silverware from the bundled napkin.

  Again, all very ordinary. An ordinary guy taking a break from work to get a bite to eat. But then Maggie had seen the old woman, shuffling to the table, holding onto the backs of the other booths along the way, her cane not enough to steady her. That’s when Maggie realized her mother’s pronouncement had little to do with the man’s appearance and everything to do with the fact that he had left this poor woman to shuffle and fumble her way to their table.

  He hadn’t even look up at the her as she struggled to lower herself in between the table and the bench, dropping her small, fragile frame onto the seat and then scooting inch by inch across the vinyl while her cane thump-thumped its way in behind her.

  Maggie had turned away, not wanting to watch any longer. She hated to agree with her mother. She hated even more the “Tsk, tsk” sound her mother had made, loud enough for others at the diner to hear, perhaps even the total ass.

  FUNNY HOW THINGS WORKED. Now miles away from the diner and back on the road, Maggie would give anything to hear that “Tsk, tsk” rather than her mother’s high-pitched scream.

  In fact, had she not been distracted by her mother’s screams she may have noticed the blur of black steel sliding alongside her car much sooner. Certainly she would have noticed before the monster pickup rammed into her Toyota Corolla a second time, shoving her off the side of the road, all the while ripping and tearing metal.

  Was that her front bumper dragging from the pickup’s grill?

  It looked as though the hulking truck had taken a bite out of her poor car.

  What the hell was this guy doing?

  “I can’t believe you didn’t see him,” her mother scolded, the previous screams leaving her usual raspy voice high-pitched and almost comical. “Where the hell did he come from?” she added, already contradicting her first comment.

  She strained against her seat belt, reaching and grabbing for the Skittles candies she had been eating, now scattered across the seat and plopping to the floor mats like precious rainbow beads from a broken necklace. “I didn’t see him,” Maggie confessed, gaining control of her car and bringing it to a stop on the dirt shoulder of the two-lane highway.

  God! Her hands were shaking.

  She gripped the steering wheel harder to make them stop. When that didn’t work she dropped them into her lap. She felt sweat trickle down her back. How could she not have seen him? The pickup had pulled off the road more than five car lengths ahead, the taillights winking at them through a cloud of dust. In-between lie the Toyota’s mangled front bumper, twisted and discarded like roadside debris.

  “Don’t go telling him that,” her mother whispered.

  “Excuse me?”

  “Don’t go admitting to him that you didn’t see him. You don’t want your car insurance skyrocketing.”

  “Are you suggesting I lie?”

  “I’m suggesting you keep your mouth shut.”

  “I’m a federal law officer.”

  “No, you said you left your badge and gun at home. Today you’re a plain ole citizen, minding your own business.”

  Kathleen O’Dell popped several of the Skittles into her mouth and Maggie couldn’t help thinking how much the bright colored candy reminded her of the nerve pills her mother used to take, often times washing them down with vodka or Scotch. How could she eat at a time like this, especially when it had only been less than hour since they had left the diner? But Maggie knew she should be grateful for the recent exchange of addictions. “I haven’t been in a car accident since college,” Maggie said, rifling through her wallet for proof of insurance and driver’s license.

  “Whatever you do don’t ask for the cops to be called,” she whispered again, leaning toward Maggie as though they were co-conspirators.

  She and her mother had never been on the same side of any issue. Suddenly a black pickup rams into the side of their car and they’re instant friends. Okay, maybe not friends. Co-conspirators did seem more appropriate. “He sideswiped me,” Maggie defended herself anyway despite her mother being on her side.

  “Doesn’t matter. Calling the cops only makes it worse.”

  Maggie glanced at her mother who was still popping the candies like they were antacids. People often remarked on their resemblance to each other – the auburn hair, fair complexion and dark brown eyes. And yet, much of the time they spent together Maggie felt like a stranger to this woman who couldn’t even remember that her daughter why apple pie – or any pie, for that matter – made her nauseated. “I am ‘the cops,’” Maggie said, impatient that this too was something she constantly needed to remind her mother.

  “No, you’re not, Sweetie. FBI’s not the same thing. Oh, Jesus. It’s him. That ass from the diner.”

  He had gotten out of the pickup but was surveying the damage on his own vehicle.

 
“Just go,” her mother said, grabbing Maggie’s arm and giving it a shove to start the car.

  “Leave the scene of an accident?”

  “It was his fault anyway. He’s not going to report you.”

  “Too late,” Maggie said, catching in her rearview mirror the flashing lights of a state trooper pulling off the road and coming up behind her. Her mother noticed the glance and twisted around in her seat.

  “Son of a bitch!”

  “Mom!” For all her faults, Kathleen O’Dell rarely swore.

  “This has not been a good trip.”

  Maggie stared at her, dumbfounded that her mother might also think the trip had been as miserable an outing for her as it had been for Maggie.

  “Promise me you won’t play hero,” Kathleen O’Dell grabbed at Maggie’s arm again. “Don’t go telling them you’re a federal officer.”

  “He’ll actually be easier on us,” Maggie told her. “There’s a bond between law enforcement officers.”

  To this her mother let out a hysterical laugh. “Oh Sweetie, if you really think a state trooper will appreciate advice or help from the feds, and woman at that . . .”

  God, she hated to agree with her mother for a second time in the same day. But she was right. Maggie had experienced it almost every time she went into a rural community. Small town cops tended to be defensive and intimidated by her. Sometimes state troopers fit into that category, too.

  She opened her car door and felt her mother still tugging at her arm.

  “Promise me,” Kathleen O’Dell said in a tone that reminded Maggie of when she was a little girl. Her mother would insist Maggie promise not to tell one of a variety of indiscretions her mother would have committed that week.

  “You don’t have to worry,” Maggie said, pulling her arm away and escaping the car, escaping her mother’s hold.

 
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