You’re going to have to go out there.

I checked the load in the Beretta a second time. It hadn’t improved any. I tore the Iver Johnson off my ankle and dropped it into my pocket, ignoring the pain caused by the duct tape. Let’s hope that’s all you feel.


I worked the calculations in my head, figuring I could open the door and run half the length of the second-floor landing before Michael and Lawrence opened their truck doors. I’d cover the second half, reaching the staircase just as they got out of the truck. I’d descend to the bottom of the staircase before they could cross the length of the parking lot. And I’d reach the Neon at just about the time they’d blow me to hell and gone, especially if they were carrying any kind of ordnance to speak of. ’Course, I might get them first because, as everyone knows, I’m a helluva shot. I once won a trophy.

Yeah, go ’head and bet your life on that. Maybe you should call Vegas and get odds.

I glanced at the telephone.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud.”

Occam’s razor, named after the fourteenth-century philosopher William of Ockham—the simpler an explanation, the better. If it isn’t necessary to introduce complexities into an argument, don’t do it. Maybe if I had paid better attention in Philosophy 101, I’d have come to it sooner.

I picked up the phone and called the motel office.

“This is room 23B,” I told the man who answered.

“Yes, Mr. Cassidy.”

My last name was Cassidy, I registered. I wondered if my first name was Hopalong.

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“Listen, I don’t want to make trouble for your motel …”

“Yes, sir.”

“But there are these guys in a Ford Ranger pickup in your parking lot. I think they’re dealing drugs.”

“Why do you think that?”

“They’re just sitting there in the rain, and people keep driving up and getting out of their cars and talking to them and then driving away. I mean …”

“I understand. It’s nothing to worry about. This happens all the time because we’re located so close to the freeway. I’ll take care of it.”


“I’d appreciate it, Mr. Cassidy, if you stay in your room for a little bit.”


I stayed in my room for exactly six minutes. That’s how long it took for three Burnsville police cruisers to surround the Ford Ranger, blinding the truck’s occupants with their high beams. Guns were drawn and commands were shouted as I covered half the length of the second-floor landing. Michael and Lawrence were pulled from the cab, pushed up against the truck, and handcuffed by the time I walked the second half. A fourth car arrived, a K-9 unit, and a German shepherd held by a short leash began sniffing around the Ford Ranger as I descended the metal staircase. I was inside the Neon and starting the engine when a Burnsville police officer held up a Mac-10 and a Tec-9 with one hand and a baggie filled with what looked like marijuana with the other. The shepherd jumped at the grass like it was a chew toy.

People drove past the motel. Some slowed their vehicles when they saw the flashing lights on top of the cruisers—a gawker’s slowdown, the traffic people call it—yet none stopped. I was willing to bet that they all lived quiet, normal lives and this was exciting to them. I admit I was a little excited myself as I drove across the gravel parking lot. I didn’t look at the cops and they didn’t look at me. A couple of left turns later, I was cruising down the entrance ramp to I-35. One of my great fears growing up was that one morning I’d discover that, like most people, I was leading a quiet, normal life, that I had become boring. So far I had managed to avoid that fate. Still …

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band were singing “Hollywood Nights” on the Cities 97—He was a midwestern boy on his own … He knew right then he was too far from home. I had a feeling they were singing to me.

I had beers in the tiny refrigerator, and I drank two of them while I listened to the voice-activated tape recording. Someone had been moving around in Pen’s trailer. I heard the sound of her door opening and closing and then the tape went silent. I guessed Pen was taking a walk, and for a moment I feared for her safety. Then I dismissed my concerns. Ishmael’s co-conspirators had been incarcerated, and I doubted that he’d make a move on his own.

It had stopped raining. I decided to walk, too. Clear my head. Shake off Pen. Shake off the fear Lawrence and Michael had instilled in me less than an hour earlier. I got only as far as the coffeehouse up the street. Jellies and Beans. The girl who served me was small and overworked, with a face that had been nowhere and had done nothing. Lucky her, I thought. She held a large paper cup beneath a stainless steel spigot. There followed a hissing, gurgling, gulump. Voilà, a twentyounce café mocha.

“You want whipped cream? It’s better with whipped cream.”

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