Charlie tried not to obsess over the hoagie on the dash still steaming in its foil wrapper. His stomach growled in response to the appetizing scents of fresh bread, four kinds of meats and whatever sauce the guy poured over it all. He had argued with Davis when she’d brought it to him. But took it anyway, knowing that when he did she would leave for a nap, a shower, and to make sure her teenage daughter didn’t skip school again. He repeated to himself while the act of eating kept one awake, it was short lived and hunger kept one alert. Instead, he filled the hole in his stomach with small sips of water.
Charlie expected to stay on this corner until his bladder burst or his relief arrived. He did not expect the three suspects to exit the first club less than thirty minutes after they’d entered. He had not foreseen their systematic and thorough search through bystanders. He watched closely as they regrouped and entered the next establishment in the line. Less than twenty minutes passed before they exited and repeated the steps in their hunt. Charlie radioed their movements to the other agents parked at the other end of the strip, keeping an eye on his prey as they picked their way through drunks, hookers and homeless. Every now and then, they stopped someone, spoke for a minute and moved on.
Three Hispanic guys dressed to the nines, built like Arnold in his glory days, stuck out like sore thumbs. Two factors saved them from harassment: ethnicity and brute strength. Charlie reached for the keys to start the car when he heard a tap on the window. Looking up into a face no older than Davis’ daughter, he let the window down just enough to catch the scents of her plastered-on makeup, some cheap perfume, and two kinds of smoke.
Leaning over and placing one arm on the hood of Charlie’s car, she asked, “Need a date, honey?” Long, lacquered fingernails tapped an absent beat as the other hand gripped an old yellow and black umbrella. Her top was black and tight, and low enough not to leave anything to the imagination.
“Not tonight, darlin’. But you’re first on my list when I come back,” he drawled with a grin, keeping himself relaxed, keeping one eye on the three guys ahead. One stood on the sidewalk, eyeing every figured that passed. Two were inside a bar.
The girl peered at him, took in the fast food wrappers and empty water battles on the floorboard and spotted the radio in his lap. She backed up as if he were Satan himself. “You’re a cop.”
“Not quite.” He cranked the car, tossed her a wave and a crooked grin before pulling away from the curb. In the rear-view mirror, he saw her look around fearfully and scuttle toward another hooker leaning against the side of the building beneath an overhang. She held tightly to the umbrella but motioned in tight gestures with her free hand. She pointed a manicured finger at him.
The woman she spoke to, a tall, thin, black woman in leopard-print tights turned quickly to a group of boys loitering outside a club they weren’t old enough to enter. She jerked her head toward the Buick pulling away. He watched as the news that a cop drove down their street traveled faster than he could while avoiding pedestrians. Charlie picked up the radio, one eye on the path of the gossip, another on the bar where one of the three guys he was tailing stood. The other two exited the club just in time for the gossip to reach them. Their heads jerked his way simultaneously and spotted his car inching down the street toward them.
Charlie hated the chase. Yes, the catch was satisfying, sometimes even worth it. Yes, putting away the bad guys held a certain attraction; otherwise, he wouldn’t do what he did. Still, did they have to run? He took a few precious seconds to radio his backup.
“They made me. Heading your way. Fast.”
He caught up with them two blocks from the other agents. He saw Marshall open the passenger door, but so did the bad guys.
They ran into an alley. Charlie followed them. He knew doing this was stupid even though backup was literally seconds behind him. Charlie chased the bad guys who outnumbered him, were probably armed to the teeth and were most likely leading him into a trap.
When his headlights illumined the brick wall of the narrowing alley, he abandoned it, left it running (another stupid move) and followed the ninety-degree turn to the right, shoes slapping through puddles. His own headlights helped him see the guys just around the corner. The lights bounced off other brick walls that made the L-shaped alley a dangerous dead end, made the drizzle look like starlight and back-lit him enough for the guys to turn and take aim with confidence and a couple of tight grins.
It was ridiculous to close her eyes. Just because she couldn’t see him, didn’t mean he couldn’t see her. She knew that and felt stupid. Besides, if her eyes were open, she might have enough warning before he caught her this time. She might have enough time to get away. She opened her eyes.
On the other side of the streaming lights and soft roar, she saw three men facing her direction, three men she recognized. Three guns pointed to a fourth man with his back to her. In the space between heartbeats, all four guns blazed. The shock of it sent her hands to her ears in a vain attempt to block the thunder. But she didn’t close her eyes, and what she saw, she knew with a disjointed piece of her mind could never be possible.
Another man appeared in front of the man in the dark suit, the man whose dark hair twinkled with bright drops of water, the man in the dark suit whose long, dark jacket blew in the wind, the man whose gun flashed in reflected light like a starburst.
This new man, the man between the three facing her and the man in the suit was blond and bathed in a golden light, his arms raised. She could tell no one could see him but her. No one reacted to his sudden appearance, raised arms or golden light. She didn’t know who he was protecting…the man in the suit or her hunched directly behind him. But he was definitely protecting. Not one single bullet from those three guns touched the man in the dark suit, and not one of those bullets ricocheted to touch her where she crouched against the cold brick wall.
The man in the dark suit shot the bad guys. He wasn’t one of them. All she had to do was be still and silent and they would all go away.