Shelter in place, p.17
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       Shelter in Place, p.17

           Nora Roberts

  “It’s over half a mile.”

  “A nice Sunday stroll, right? Then the park, pizza. I’ll spring for a bottle of wine.”

  “That’s so unfair.”

  He laughed. “Come on. I need somebody to talk me out of it if it’s wrong, or into it if it’s right. The damn water heater’s on the death watch here again. I really do have to get out of this place.”

  He knew by the long, windy sigh, he had her.

  “What time’s your appointment?”

  “Two. I’m heading there now.”

  “Puck and Dylan could use the walk and the run-around time. Hank and I could use the wine. I’ve got to get it together first. Don’t make a damn offer until we get there.”

  “You got it. Thanks. See you.”

  He glanced back at the building. Someone who couldn’t spell had added some fresh graffiti advising somebody else to FUK A DUKE.

  He assumed they meant duck, but maybe they knew somebody named Duke. Maybe they wanted to fuck an aristocrat or something.

  In any case, it was just another sign his time there had to end.

  Still, a decent coffee shop had opened up a couple blocks away, and somebody had bought one of the neighboring buildings with big talk of rehab and spiffy condos.

  Gentrification could happen.

  Another reason to get out. He’d appreciate seeing the neighborhood cleaned up, spruced up, but he didn’t want to live out his life in a condo.

  As he drove, he imagined setting up a grill on his new back deck. He knew how to grill—sort of. Maybe he’d even learn how to cook something besides scrambled eggs and grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches. Maybe.

  He’d have parties with the grill smoking—or in the great room in the winter with the gas fireplace going. Keep one of the three bedrooms as a guest room, turn the other into what would be his first ever actual home office.

  Buy a big, and he did mean big-ass flat screen for the wall and sign up for every fucking sports channel on cable.

  That’s what I’m talking about, he decided as he cruised into what he had determined would be his new neighborhood.

  Older homes, sure, but he didn’t mind older. Most had been remodeled with the ever-popular open concept, the snazzy bathrooms and kitchens.

  Lots of families, and he didn’t mind that, either. Maybe he’d come across some sexy single mom. He liked kids, kids were no problem.

  He pulled up into the drive of the sturdy two-story brick, thought how much he’d liked the unabashed weirdness of the Victorian over this more traditional. But sturdy was good, sturdy was fine. And the owners had definitely put some effort into curb appeal with the plants, shrubs, the new doors on the garage.

  He could use a garage.

  As he got out, he glanced at the car already parked there. Not Renee’s, his extremely patient Realtor. Curious, he noted the license plate—pure habit—as he crossed what he told himself would be his brick walkway.

  The woman opened the door before he pressed the (his) doorbell.

  “Hi! Reed, right?” The attractive blonde in the tailored red shirt and white pants held out her hand. “I’m Maxie, Maxie Walters.”

  “Okay. I’m supposed to meet Renee.”

  “Yes, she called me. She had a family emergency. Her mother had a little fender bender—nothing serious,” she said quickly. “But you know moms. Renee’s going to try to get here, but she didn’t want you to have to delay or postpone—especially when we got the inside scoop the sellers are cutting the price five thousand tomorrow.”

  “That doesn’t hurt a thing.” He stepped inside, scanned the high-ceilinged foyer he’d admired on the video tour.

  “I’ve just been familiarizing myself with the property. It does have some lovely features. Original hardwood floors, and I think they did a terrific job refinishing them. And don’t you love the open feel of the entrance?” she continued as she gestured him ahead, closed the door.

  “Yeah, the house has a good feel.” He wandered the living room—staged well, he thought as he’d seen every level of staging—and imagined that big-ass screen on the wall.

  He liked the sight line, straight back to the kitchen with the wide breakfast counter, and the dining area, to the wide sliders that opened onto the back deck he wanted for his own.

  “So you work with Renee?” He didn’t know why he asked. He knew everyone who worked with Renee.

  He turned toward her. Blond and blue, mid-twenties, about five-four, and a hundred fifteen. Good muscle tone.

  “We’re friends,” she said as she led the way toward the kitchen. “Actually, she’s been my mentor. I only got my license three months ago. Granite countertops,” she added. “The appliances are new. Not stainless, but I think the clean white suits the space.”

  Her voice, he thought. Something about her voice. He stopped on his way to that beckoning deck, turned with the breakfast bar between them.

  “Do you cook, Reed?”

  “Not really.” He thought the flirty smile she sent him just didn’t fit the space between her nose and chin.

  She stepped up to the counter. “You’re a police detective. That must be exciting. Not married though?”


  “It’s a great house for a family, when you start one.”

  She shifted. He couldn’t see her hands, but her body language … Every instinct went on alert. The eyes, the hair, even the shape of the mouth with that slight overbite were all different. But the voice.

  It clicked, just an instant too late. She’d already brought up the gun. He dived for cover, but she caught him twice, in the side, in the shoulder.

  He hit the refinished hardwood behind the granite breakfast counter hard, with stupefying pain exploding through his body.

  “Some cop.” With a laugh, she strolled around the counter to finish him off with one to the head. “You did a better job protecting some idiot kid way back when than protecting yourself now. Say goodbye, hero.”

  He saw her face change from eager to shocked. Now he had his gun out. He fired three times, forced to use his left hand as his right couldn’t hold his weapon.

  He heard her scream, thought he hit her, thought at least one shot hit before she used the counter to block. Before he heard her running for the front door.

  “You motherfucker!” She screamed it as she ran.

  He had to drag himself across the floor, brace the weapon as he cleared the counter. She’d left the door open. He heard the sound of a car starting, tires squealing.

  She could come back, he thought. If she came back … Teeth gritted, he pushed himself to sit, back to the counter, gasping against the pain as he fought for his phone.

  He passed out, felt himself fade. He didn’t know how long. Struggling to breathe against the pain, he pulled out his phone.

  He started to hit nine-one-one, then thought of Essie and her family.

  She answered on the second ring. “We’re coming! Five minutes.”

  “No, no. Don’t. Stay back. I’m shot. I’m shot.”

  “What? Reed!”

  “Need ambulance. Need backup. Fuck me, passing out again. Need BOLO…”

  “Reed! Reed! Hank, stay here, stay with Dylan.”

  “Essie, what—”

  But she was running, the phone in her hand, and her weapon in the other. “Officer down, officer down!” she shouted into the phone.

  Hank picked up his son, gripped Puck’s leash. And prayed.

  She made the last quarter mile in under two minutes, running full out while people working in their yards stopped to gape.

  “Police officer! Go inside. Go inside.”

  She didn’t stop running until she hit the porch of the brick house. Weapon out, she cleared the doorway, swept her weapon toward the stairs leading up, then over.

  And saw Reed.

  “Please, please, please.” She checked his pulse first, then leaped up to grab cloth napkins artfully folded on the set-for-company dining room table.

  When she padded them, put pressure on the wound in his side, the fresh pain shot him to the surface.


  And in shock, she thought. “Yeah, you’re going to be all right. Be still. An ambulance is coming. Backup’s coming.”

  “She could come back. Need my weapon.”

  “Who? Who is she? No, no, no, stay with me. You stay with me. Who did this?”

  “Hobart, the sister. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. Patricia Hobart. Driving—”

  “You stay awake. Look at me! You stay with me, goddamn it.”

  “Driving a late model Honda Civic. White. Maine plates. Shit, shit, I can’t—”

  “You can. Hear that? Hear the sirens? Help’s coming.”

  And her hands were wet with his blood. She couldn’t stop the blood.

  “Plates, the stupid lobster.” He gasped it out, fighting to stay with her. To stay alive. “Four-Seven-Five-Charlie-Bravo-Romeo.”

  “Good, good, that’s real good. In here! In here! Hurry, goddamn it. He’s bleeding. I can’t stop the bleeding.”

  The EMTs pushed her aside, laid Reed flat, got to work.

  Cops, weapons drawn, rushed in behind them.

  She held up her left hand, felt Reed’s blood slide down her wrist. “I’m a cop. We’re cops.”

  “Detective McVee. It’s Bull. Jesus Christ, that’s Reed. Who the fuck did this?”

  “The assailant is Hobart, Patricia, mid-twenties, brown hair, brown eyes. She’s driving, or was, a late-model white Honda Civic, Maine lobster plates. Four-Seven-Five-Charlie-Bravo-Romeo. Get it out. I don’t know her address—lives with grandparents. Get it out. Get that bitch.”

  “Detective,” one of the officers said. “There’s some blood, leading out. She could be hit.”

  She looked back at Reed and dearly hoped so. “Alert hospitals and clinics. Two of you clear the house. And let’s move, let’s move!”

  * * *

  Patricia moved. And fast. The son of a bitch shot her. She couldn’t believe it! She hoped he died screaming. She couldn’t stop to check, but the bullet had gone in just under her left armpit. And she thought, hoped, right out again. A through-and-through they called it, she remembered as she blinked away tears of pain and fury.

  If he lived long enough, the bastard would identify her. Plus she knew she’d bled on the way out, and that meant DNA.

  She pounded a fist on the steering wheel of the stolen car as she pulled into the sweep of her grandparents’ driveway.

  She needed her cash, her fake IDs, some weapons, her go bag. She’d have to leave the stolen car behind, just take her own until she could ditch it.

  She’d planned for this, she thought. She’d planned for it. She just hadn’t expected to hit the road with a bullet wound.

  She raced into the house, up the stairs.

  It should have gone perfectly, she told herself. She’d cultivated the asshole cop’s Realtor, going through some of the same houses he had. Had drinks—girlfriends!—with the clueless bitch. And she’d been right there, sipping hard lemonade, when the should-be-dead guy contacted dumbass Renee about the house.

  Simple after that. Go over Sunday morning, get the code for the lock box, and then kill stupid Renee, take her files on the house, and so on. Then just wait.

  But he’d made her. How the hell had he done that?

  She let out a weeping whine as she doused the hole under her armpit with peroxide, padded it.

  She’d felt it, just in the set of his body, the way he’d studied her face.

  He was probably dead, probably dead, she assured herself as she pulled on a fresh shirt, pulled out her go bag, dumped more cash, more IDs into it.

  She’d have made sure of it. She knew he’d be carrying—off-duty weapon, she wasn’t a moron. But she’d hit him twice—right side, right shoulder.

  How the hell could she be expected to know he’d manage to get his gun out and shoot with his left hand?

  How the hell could she know that!

  She took two more handguns, her combat knives, a handmade garrote, plenty of ammo, even took the time to grab another wig, some more facial appliances, some contacts, more bandages, and some of the pain pills she’d culled from her grandparents’ supply.

  It seriously pissed her off she wouldn’t cash in on the sale of the house, the life insurance policies when her grandparents finally croaked. But she had more than enough to keep her going for years.

  Wincing at the pain, she shouldered the bag and started downstairs.

  “Patti? Patti? Is that you? Grandpa’s done something to the TV again. Can you fix it?”

  “Sure. Sure, I can fix it,” she said when her grandmother thumped out with her walker.

  She pulled out a nine millimeter, shot her grandmother, center of the forehead. She went down with a soft whoosh of air.

  “All fixed!” she said brightly, then walked into their bedroom, where the overheated air smelled of old people. Her grandfather sat in his recliner, smacking a hand on the remote while the TV screen buzzed with static.

  “Something’s wrong with this thing. Did you hear that noise, Patti?”

  “I did. Bye-bye.”

  He looked up, squinted behind his bifocals.

  She shot him in the head, too, let out a happy little laugh. “Finally!”

  She was in and out of the house inside ten minutes—she’d practiced, after all—leaving two bodies behind her.

  Keeping to the speed limit, she drove to the airport, left her car in long-term parking, jacked a nondescript sedan, and was on her way.


  He saw lights speeding over his head and wondered if he was dead. Maybe there’d be some sexy angels to guide him through those lights to whatever.

  He heard voices, a lot of rapid-fire voices talking doctor talk. He didn’t think dead sexy angels worried about GSWs or dropping BPs.

  Plus dead couldn’t possibly hurt so goddamn much.

  Through the pain, the cold—why was he so cold?—the confusion, and the oddly detached wondering about his own death, he heard Essie’s voice.

  “You’re going to be fine. Reed. Reed. You hang on. You’re going to be fine.”

  Well, he thought, okay then.

  The next thing he knew was more pain. His body, his mind, his everything seemed to float through it, around it, inside it. Pain was the name of the freaking game.

  Since he didn’t want to play, he let go.

  That pain refused to sit on the bench when he surfaced again, and it pissed him off. Something, someone poked at him, and that pissed him off.

  He said, “Fuck off.”

  Even to his dim ears it sounded like fukov, but he meant it.

  “Almost done, Detective.”

  He opened his eyes. Everything was too white, too bright, so he nearly closed them again. Then he saw the pretty face, big brown eyes, golden-brown skin.

  “Sexy angel.” Sessy ajel.

  Those full, soft lips curved. And he went away again.

  He went up and down, up and down, not like a roller coaster, but like a raft on a gently undulating river.

  The River Styx. That would be bad.

  He heard his mother’s voice.

  What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian? It’s Yossarian’s name, sir.

  Catch-22. Huh.

  He drifted away again, had a long dream conversation about death and sexy angels with the bombardier who had a secret.

  When the pain slapped him back again, he decided—once and for all—this dead business sucked.

  “It sure would, but you’re not.”

  He blinked his heavy eyes clear, stared at Essie. “Not?”

  “Definitely not. Are you going to stick around awhile this time? I just talked your parents into going down for some food. I can get them back.”

  “What the hell?”

  As she lowered the bed guard to sit on the side of the bed, taking his hand, he took stock. Machines and monitors, the annoying discomfort of
the IV needle in the back of his hand, the raging headache, the sour, metallic taste in his throat, and a score of other irritations under the full-body pain.

  “She shot me. Patricia Hobart—driving a white Honda Civic, Maine—”

  “You gave us all of it already.”

  His brain wanted to shut down again, but he pushed through it. “You get her? You get her?”

  “We will. Are you up to telling me what happened?”

  “Cloudy. How long?”

  “This is day three, heading to four.”

  “Shit. Shit. How bad?”

  She shifted. They’d had pieces of this conversation before, but he seemed more lucid this time. Or maybe she just wanted him to be.

  “Good news first. You’re not going to die.”

  “Really good news.”

  “You took two hits. The one in the shoulder tore some things up, but the docs say you’ll regain full mobility and range of motion with PT. You can’t screw around with the PT, no matter how much it hurts, or how boring. Got it?”

  “Yeah, yeah.”

  “The second, torso, right side, fractured a couple ribs, nicked your liver on the way down. You had internal injuries, and you lost a lot of blood, but they patched you up. You’re going to feel like shit for a while, but if you’re not an asshole about it, you’ll make a full recovery.”

  “She didn’t hit the, you know, fun factory, did she? Because it doesn’t feel right down there.”

  “That’s the catheter. It’ll come out when you can move around.”

  “So I’ve been mostly dead for going on four days, but not dead yet.”

  “Leave it to you to do a mash-up of two movie classics. How’d she get the drop on you?”

  He shut his eyes, made himself bring it back. “Blond wig, blue contacts, an appliance—sexy little overbite. Said Renee had … Renee.” His eyes opened, and he saw it. He saw it before Essie told him.

  “I’m sorry, Reed. We found her in her house. Two shots to the head. TOD’s estimated at roughly two hours before she shot you. From what we’ve pieced together, Hobart—as a redhead going by the name of Faith Appleby—connected with Renee a few months ago. She claimed she was house hunting, and it looks like she followed your footsteps on properties. She got friendly with Renee, so she must have known about the appointment, saw that as her opportunity to take you out.”

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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
new Nora Roberts book
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