That was plain enough. I turned to leave. I spun back when Pen called my name.

She said, “You’re smart, Jake. You’re funny, you’re generous, considerate, cute, sweet, you’re brave. Jake, you’re the jackpot.”


“Am I?”

“Yes. And I like you a lot. But I’m married. As it turns out, I love my husband. Yet even if I didn’t love my husband, I’d still be married, and there are rules about that.”

“Whose rules?”


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That was plainer still.

It had stopped raining by the time I left Lido’s, but the way the clouds gathered on the horizon, it didn’t look as though it was through for the evening. I found my Neon in the back row and rested against the door. Maybe I should insist on taking Pen home, I told myself. Yeah, and tuck her into bed, too.

I glanced back at the front doors of the restaurant.

“You’ve done enough damage,” I said aloud.

I climbed inside the car, started it up, and maneuvered it across the parking lot. I was approaching the street when I felt a cold prickling on the back of my neck, a familiar friend announcing his presence—fear. I sensed it even before my conscious mind could determine the cause. Parked near the entrance to the parking lot was a gray 1988 Ford Ranger 4x4 with rust on all four sides. Two men were sitting in the cab. The one behind the steering wheel looked exactly like the man who had attempted to grab Pen in Hilltop three days earlier.

There was no indication that Pen’s attacker made me, but then I wasn’t looking for one. Instead, I forced myself to stare straight ahead when I drove past, pretending the pickup didn’t even exist. I headed up the street, hung a U-turn the moment I was out of sight, and parked next to the used car lot across the street from Lido’s. The lot was closed for the evening, and no one challenged me as I weaved past the rows of cars. I came out of the lot behind and to the right of the Ranger. I walked in a straight line toward it while trying to stay in the driver’s blind spot should he glance at his mirrors.

The windows to the truck were rolled down, and I could hear music as I approached. Rachmaninov’s Russian Rhapsody. The sound startled me. Heavy metal I could understand. Or country-western. But how many thugs do you know who listen to classical music?

I crouched low and circled the truck until I reached the driver’s window. I popped up and said, “Hi, fellas.”

Pen’s attacker—the driver—leapt back in his seat like I had caught him dozing. His hands were empty. The second man recovered more quickly and reached for something on the floor of the cab.

“Hey, dummy!”

My shout froze him in midreach. I rapped on the door frame with the business end of my Beretta. He looked at me. I pointed the Beretta at his head.

“Do you want to die?”

Unlike Danny’s single-action Browning, my Beretta was a double-action semiautomatic. I didn’t need to thumb back the hammer before I fired it. But I did so just the same—for dramatic effect. The second man leaned back against his seat.

“Hands up, guys. Palms against the ceiling. Do it now.”

Both men pressed their hands against the roof of the cab. The driver looked at me like I was one of those big cats at the Minnesota Zoo and he was wondering how I had managed to slip through the bars. I liked the look. The second man stared straight ahead. His eyes had the unfocused quality of someone wandering through an art museum and not seeing anything that interested him. That expression changed when the driver said, “I’m going to kill you for this.” The second man smiled, and suddenly he reminded me of the kind of dog that fetches dead animals and drops them at his master’s feet.

I jabbed the muzzle of the Beretta into the driver’s ear.

“What did you say?”

He just looked at me.

“Go ’head. Repeat what you just said.”

“He said …”

The driver’s head swiveled toward the man sitting next to him as if he were terrified his most intimate secret was about to be revealed.

“Shut up, Michael.”

“I was just saying—”

“Shut up.”

“Don’t tell me to shut up, Lawrence.”

Michael and Lawrence. I needed this. I really did.

“Guys, guys—both of you quiet down.” I felt like a mother separating a pair of bickering children on a long road trip. “You.” I gestured at Lawrence with the Beretta. “Do you remember me?”

Lawrence’s hand came off the roof of the cab and touched the back of his head where it had slammed against the asphalt.

“Yeah, I remember you.”

“Put your hand back up.”

He pressed his palm against the ceiling again.

“You’re here to snatch the girl,” I told him.

“You can’t prove that.”

“Why would I want to? I’m not a cop. I’m not FBI, DEA, ATF, BCA, state police, county deputy, or Boy Scout. I’m the guy who’s going to blow your head off unless you answer my questions.”

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