/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

Death Glitch

Ken Douglas


Ken Douglas

Death Glitch

Chapter One

“ Lila Booth is going to kill your granddaughter.”

“ What?” Izzy was stunned. Though she detested Tucker Wayne more than she could put into words, she believed him. As far as she was concerned, he was sleazy, slimy, crooked as the night is dark and not fit to crawl out from under the rock from which he’d come, but he was no liar. When Amy started seeing him, he’d come straight to her, not wanting to do anything behind her back. He was slime, but he was gentleman slime.

“ Tonight, at that erotic ball thing.”

“ Say again.” She felt a cold something shimmy up her spine.

“ You have time.” Tucker paused, sighed down the line. “It doesn’t start till 9:00. That’s,” he paused again, “Christ, fifteen minutes ago.”

“ Now!” That cold working up her spine turned to ice. “It’s happening now!”

“ I’m in Zurich. Just got to my hotel, called in and got a voice mail from Lila. She checked the security recording and saw Amy get on my computer. The brat copied some files she shouldn’t have. She’s already gone to Amy’s apartment, broken in and retrieved the CD. She told me not to worry, then she ended her message saying. ‘By the time the clock strikes the midnight hour, the belle of the ball will fall.’ She’s going to kill Amy.”

“ That could mean anything.” That icy grip on her spine let up. Not much, just a bit.

“ No, Dr. Eisenhower, it couldn’t. Lila is a stone cold killer. She only knows one way to take care of a problem and when she says someone’s going to fall, she means permanently.”

“ Why are you telling me?” She was fully awake now. Tucker’s call had taken her from a deep sleep. It was still early, but she’d drifted off in her recliner in front of the television. She’d been watching Nick Nesbit on CNN. She had been for hours, because like millions of others, she was worried about a three-year-old girl who’d fallen in a well. They’d gotten her out, after what seemed like forever, but she was unconscious and it didn’t look like she was going to live. Izzy had been drinking wine during the ordeal and though she’d tried to stay awake after the girl had been freed, she dropped off. She supposed it was because of the chemo, it took so much out of her. But the sleep fuzz was fading fast. She had to do something, what?

“ Back then, when I was with the priest before my surgery, I saw you. You heard, but you saved my life anyway. I owe you. Consider the debt paid.” He hung up.

She looked at the display on her cell phone, 9:17. Tucker had said the ball, whatever that was, started at 9:00. What else had he said? Erotic. It was an erotic ball. What in the world was Amy doing, going to something like that? She truly didn’t know the girl anymore. But that was no surprise, she’d come to that conclusion when Amy had started going out with Tucker, a man old enough to be her father.

She got out of the chair, pulled off her sweatshirt, shucked out of her sweatpants. Naked, she avoided the look of her shaved head and cancer thin body in the bathroom mirror as she turned on the tap and splashed water on her face. In the bedroom, she went to the closet, stepped into a pair of Levi’s that were older than nineteen-year-old Amy, put on a tee shirt, put the Wolf Pack sweatshirt she slept in back on, then she grabbed the wig, put it on.

Fully awake and dressed, after a fashion, she padded downstairs, got her laptop, set it on the kitchen table, sat, opened it, went to Google and typed in “erotic ball reno,” hit search and at the top of the Google list she read, “Blood Lust, The Annual Wild Erotic Ball.” She clicked on it, was taken to radio station Wild 102.9’s website, where she read about the costume ball taking place at the Silver Legacy downtown. Costume required, it said.

She’d pass on the costume. There wasn’t a casino ticket taker anywhere in Nevada who would turn away a cancer ravaged granny. They’d look the other way when she showed up. Everybody looked the other way these days.

At the door, she slipped into her Nikes, grabbed her keys and went out into the cold night. Her car, a 1989 Dodge Raider her husband had paid cash for the day he died, hadn’t been started in over a month, but she knew it would kick over because she loved that car almost as much as she’d loved Lee. The Raider was really a Chrysler rebranded Mitsubishi Montero, which Lee had bought, hoping to toughen up so he could drive it in the Baja 500 off road race, but his heart quit right after they’d brought it home.

And she a heart surgeon. Irony.

She keyed the door, keyed the ignition, backed out of the driveway, shoved it into first and drove downtown, running every stop sign and light along the way. She prayed a cop would stop her, because she needed help, but none did.

“ Damn, damn, damn,” she muttered as she downshifted into a right turn at Sierra. She should’ve called 911. “Shit!” she pounded the steering wheel. She’d left her phone at home.

She pulled into the valet parking at the Silver Legacy. Damn, she forgot her money, too. The valet approached.

“ Catch you when I get out.” She left the keys in the ignition, pushed her way into the casino. The casino dome was a downtown landmark, but she’d never been inside. She didn’t like casinos. She’d earned her money the hard way and she wanted to keep it.

Inside, she went to the closest bar. The bartender was making drinks for a waitress, who was dressed like she’d just come off the stage of Cats. Santa was sitting at a table with Robin, this Robin was female. A vampire with white pancake makeup on his face was sitting next to a woman who looked like Morticia. Santa and Robin were drinking beer, the vamp and Morticia had no drinks, probably waiting on the waitress.

“ Where’s the Erotic Ball?”

“ Downstairs,” Santa said.

“ Downstairs where?”

“ That way,” the vampire pointed. “The escalator.”

She turned away, followed his pointed finger with her eyes, started off at a fast walk, wending her way through slot machines and gamblers, werewolves, more vampires and young women made up in costumes that concealed hardly anything at all. One girl squealed as a slot paid off. She was in a naughty maid’s costume, with a mini skirt too short for a decent girl to wear in public and when she jumped up with glee, Izzy saw she wasn’t wearing panties.

Just what kind of ball was this? And what on God’s green earth did Amy think she was up to, going to it?

At the escalator, she forced herself to slow down as she was blocked by a giant of a man dressed obviously as Adam. She hoped his fig leaf was glued on well, but glue or no, the sight of all these young, scantily clad beauties was going to give that leaf a run for its money.

She peered around him, saw a couple young girls in almost see through panties and wispy bras. They kissed, then handed their tickets to a vampire even bigger than Adam, who stamped their hands, then allowed them entry into the ballroom.

The restrooms were outside the ballroom and the costumed crowd in the well lit foyer going in and out of them was large. She could just imagine what it must be like inside the ballroom. Dark probably, but not too dark, she hoped. She looked around the foyer, scanning for Lila.

But either she wasn’t there or she was one of the women-and their were some, mostly older-who were wearing traditional Halloween costumes, the kind that easily hid your identity. Would Lila be wearing one of those?

Lila Booth. She knew Tucker had somebody who did his dirty work. Somebody who made his enemies disappear, but she’d never dreamed it was a woman, that it was the girl his father had adopted.

It had been years since she’d seen the black-eyed, blonde witch. The woman was in your face pushy, wore no make up, save for blood red lipstick, which, combined with her bottomless black eyes, told one and all this was a person you didn’t want on your bad side.

Rumors seemed to follow Tucker Wayne and his rogue of a father, Mansfield, like the plague, but they’d never been arrested and the Nevada gaming commission found no fault with them, even though those who opposed them had the nasty habit of meeting death in an untimely manner. But Izzy knew the truth, because she’d overheard Tucker’s confession back then, just before she’d saved his life.

She shouldn’t have listened.

She was a good Catholic.

But she couldn’t help herself.

She’d seen the priest as she’d entered the room. Heard Tucker say the words, “Bless me Father for I have sinned.” And she’d backed out, but stayed by the door. His last confession had been twenty years ago, but now, apparently, he felt the need. Apparently, he hadn’t trusted Izzy’s skill with a scalpel.

She’d known about the Wayne’s wealth. She’d known about their casinos. She’d known about the rumors, but she was a surgeon, it wasn’t her job to prequalify her patients. Besides, the rumors were nothing more than that, rumors. But, after hearing what she shouldn’t have, she’d known they were true and she’d wondered if what she was doing was ethical, wasting a perfectly healthy heart on a man like Tucker Wayne.

Confession finished, she’d moved away from the door, deciding it was time to check on her other patients. It seemed like there was a never ending stream of them back then. And back then she’d wanted nothing more than some time to herself. What she wouldn’t give to go back. Life sucked when you got what you wished for.

But back then she was the lady with the magic hands. God’s gift to Saint Catherine’s. She’d been overworked, overstressed and underpaid. She’d been tired of her life, wanted out, wanted to live again, wanted to love again. Well, she’d gotten out, but she’d found no love and her life sure as heck wasn’t anything to write home about.

Cancer, five years it had raged through her body, but it wouldn’t kill her and she couldn’t kill herself. So she fought it, but now both she and her doctors knew she was coming to the end of the line. Still, she couldn’t give up. God had a reason for giving her the pain and for keeping her alive. What it was, only He knew.

It was because of her belief in Him that she hadn’t let Tucker Wayne die on the table, though looking back, she wished she had. But how could she have known Amy would fall for him, be swept off her feet by him?

At the bottom of the escalator, finally, she moved around the huge, almost naked Adam and headed for the even larger vampire guarding the ballroom door.

“ No costume,” the big vampire said.

“ No ticket either,” she said.

“ And no entry for you,” the vampire said.

“ Look at me. I’m seventy-seven years old. I have cancer and most likely won’t see Christmas. Do you really think I’m going in there to dance the night away?”

He met her eyes straight on, without looking away.

“ No, I guess not.” He gave her a sad smile. “You gonna cause trouble?”

“ Trouble is what I'm here to stop.”

“ Want your hand stamped?”

“ Heaven’s no.”

“ Good luck.” He stepped aside.

Amy Eisenhower wasn’t gay, not really. But she had to admit she enjoyed Alicia’s kisses, the feel of her lips on her own, the feel of her skin, the feel of her breasts. It was confusing and it sent her skin all a tingle. They’d only kissed once before, when they were naked in bed together at Tucker’s. She’d needed him to see, needed to get caught, because there was no way he’d let her go for any other reason. If it had been a man, Tucker would have had him killed and if she’d told him there was nobody else, that she just wasn’t in love with him, he’d never be satisfied, he’d never let her alone.

But a woman, especially a pretty one, that Tucker could forgive. It was the only way. All she’d needed was a pretty girl to help her out. But who would do that for her, take the risk? When she told her friend Alicia Devon she wanted to get caught in bed with a woman, so her boyfriend would let her go without a scene, Alicia got it straightaway, recognized the danger as soon as Amy told her Tucker’s name. But to her credit, she did it anyway.

Alicia was in her French Lit class and, like Amy, a junior at UNR. She paid her bills working as a stripper at the Men’s Club. She was beautiful, with the kind of looks men swooned over, fought over, killed for. She was also gay, which was why working at the Men’s Club bothered her not a bit.

They picked a night when Tucker was supposed to be in Seattle, but they knew he wouldn’t be, because earlier in the day Amy had gone by Tucker’s office to get a paper copied and she’d overheard Tucker’s receptionist telling someone on the phone that he was coming back tonight, instead of tomorrow.

She called Alicia and told her the news.

“ So tonight’s the big night?” she’d said.

“ Yeah, I suppose so.” Thinking back, Amy realized she’d been not only afraid, but unsure if Tucker would let her go, even if he believed she was gay. She needed insurance, so she’d gone back to the office and lucky for her, the receptionist had gone home. She’d used Tucker’s spare key, logged on to his computer, copied some files to a CD. She wasn’t sure what they were, but she had a pretty good idea Tucker wouldn’t want the IRS to see them. She hoped she’d never have to use them. Hoped she’d never have to tell Tucker she’d done it.

“ You sure you want to do this, girl?” Alicia said.

“ I’m sure.”

“ Are you alone?”

“ Yeah, till Tucker gets home.”

“ Then I’m on my way.”

Amy answered the door to see Alicia dressed in white, low top tennis shoes, Levi’s that looked painted on and on her head a straw cowboy hat. She wore a white blouse, open down the front, exposing her very tanned breasts.

“ Alicia!”

“ Like what you see?”

“ Come on, button that up.”

“ You’ll be seeing it all soon enough.”

“ It can wait, okay?”

“ Whatever you say.” Alicia buttoned up.

“ We have an hour or so, what do you say to a glass of wine?”

“ Love it,” Alicia said.

Nervous, Amy had gone to the refrigerator, got out a bottle of Chardonnay. She had trouble with the opener, her hands were shaking so much.

“ Let me do it.” Alicia took the corkscrew from her, opened the wine, poured them each a glass.

Amy took a sip, then another. Then she downed the glass and held it out for more.

“ Better slow down,” Alicia said.

“ One more won’t hurt. Besides, if I’m going to do this, I need the courage.”

“ Okay.” Alicia poured the glass.

“ Cheers.” Amy held her glass up, clinked with Alicia, took a sip, then gulped the wine down.

“ No more for you,” Alicia said.

“ I think you’re right.”

A half hour later and after a third glass of Chardonnay, which she almost had to fight Alicia for, they were in the bedroom and Amy was watching Alicia strip off her clothes. She did it slowly, like she knew a lover was watching.

“ Very seductive,” Amy said.

“ Sorry, it’s like a reflex. I wasn’t trying to get you excited or anything.”

“ Okay.” Embarrassed, Amy pulled off her tee shirt, unhooked her bra, kicked off her Nikes, then pulled off her Levi’s, which weren’t nearly as tight as Alicia’s, then her panties. Then she climbed into bed.

“ Coming in.” Alicia giggled as they heard the automatic garage door open.

“ He’s home.” Despite the wine, Amy was afraid. “How long do you think before he discovers us?”

“ Pretty quick,” Alicia said. “We left the wine and glasses on the coffee table. It’s not going to take him long, especially with me moaning like hell.”

“ What?”

Then Alicia pulled Amy into a deep kiss as she reached her hand down where it shouldn’t ought to go. Amy pulled the hand away, but she held the kiss as Alicia started twisting and moaning. Amy felt her friends breasts push against her own and despite herself, she found herself getting aroused.

But it didn’t last.

“ What the fuck!” Tucker shouted. “In my house. You do this in my house!”

Amy broke out of the kiss.

“ Tucker!” she said.

“ I’ll kill the son of a bitch!”

“ Yikes!” Alicia sat up. “We’re busted, girl,” she said and that stopped Tucker cold.

“ You’re a lesbian?” Only an instant ago he’d been filled with rage. Now he seemed perplexed.

“ Tucker,” Amy said. “I’m sorry, I love you, you know I do, but I’ve always been this way. I thought with you, I could change, but I don’t think I can.”

“ What are you saying?” Tucker squinted his ice blues, pierced her with a stare.

“ I’d never been with a man before you. I was hoping, because of the way I felt about you, that it would, well, you know?”

“ You thought I could make you straight?” The blood seemed to be fading from his face.

“ I don’t know. I thought maybe, but I guess even you can’t change me. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” At that point she thought she’d over played it, but then he smiled and she knew it was going to be okay.

“ I don’t know what to say. I think I’m flattered.” His icy eyes lost their hostility. “I’ve never been with a virgin before. And I never would’ve dreamed one would actually want me to be the one.”

“ Technically, I wasn’t a virgin, I’ve been with women.”

“ That doesn’t count.”

“ Girl come back to me.” Alicia gently shook her. “Where were you?”

“ Thinking about you and me and the other day.”

“ Got away by the hair of our chinny chin chins I think.”

“ Yeah.” Amy looked around the ballroom, took in the costumed partygoers. She and Alicia were wearing matching outfits, Alicia’s black, Amy’s white. French knickers, which hid hardly anything at all, and skimpy bras, which revealed everything. She needed to be seen with Alicia, needed others to verify her lifestyle, needed it to get back to Tucker.

“ Let’s dance.” Alicia pulled Amy out of her chair, led her to the dance floor as someone took their picture. It seemed cameras were flashing all over the place. Plus, the radio station was going to have pictures of the ball up on their website. Only a few short days ago, if someone had told her she’d be online with hardly any clothes on, she never would have believed it.

Tonight, Lila Booth was a vampire, clothed in black, complete with cloak. She’d painted her face white, was wearing her signature blood red lipstick, had darkened her blonde eyebrows black and painted eight blood red teardrops under her dark eyes, four under each eye, signifying the seven men she’d killed. The eighth teardrop was for Amy Eisenhower, who would be her first female victim.

Lila was going to do her in a crowded room and she was going to walk away. By the time anybody figured out the girl was dead, she’d be in her car, heading home. Lila smiled, turned into the Silver Legacy’s parking garage and to her delight and surprise, she saw the shiny yellow 1966 Volkswagen Beetle Tucker had given the sweet young thing. The car was a classic, which looked and ran like it did the day it had come off the showroom floor all those years ago. Tucker only gave the best.

“ Well, well, well,” she said aloud. She parked, opened her glove box and took out a Trackstick GPS tracking device. On her way out of the garage, she stopped by Amy Eisenhower’s car and stuck the Trackstick to the inside front bumper of the vintage Volkswagen.

Lila never missed, but there was always a first time and just in case this was it, she wanted to know where her quarry fled to, should she get away.

She’d arrived late to the ball, wanting Amy to arrive before her, give the girl a chance to have a few drinks, get loose, get sloppy, let down her guard, if she had it up. But there were more people here than she’d counted on, hundreds, maybe a thousand. She thought she’d spot her the second she came through the doors, but there were so many people and they were still coming. Plus, the damned photographer was grouping people by the door, taking photos and blocking her view.

It was beginning to look hopeless. Not only had she misjudged the amount of people present, she’d also failed to consider the fact that Amy might be masked. She could walk right up to her and not know her.

Then she saw the bitch on the dance floor. The little slut was wearing hardly any clothes at all. And she was with another girl dressed the same, only in black. They were dancing close, smiling. Lila started for them when the song ended. People were coming her way. She backed out of their way, watched the two girls as they made their way to a table.

Someone in a Santa suit came up to them. He had a camera. They got up, kissed as he took their picture. They were wanton. She would do them both the next time they stepped onto the dance floor.

Another song, the DJ didn’t give them long. A pounding beat, too loud for Lila. The lesbian bitches got up arm in arm and headed for the dance floor. Lila followed, a Walther P22 with a Finnish SAK silencer on it in her hand, hidden by her cloak. With the music blaring the way it was, nobody would hear the pistol go off.

“ Gun!” someone shouted. “Lila Booth is here and she has a gun!” The voice boomed through the loud speakers and it was shouting her name. She turned toward the stage, saw the DJ. There was a girl up there. A dancer. She had hardly any clothes on. And there was an old woman screaming into the mic. “Amy, she’s here to kill you. Get out of here, now!”

Amy Eisenhower and her friend turned away from the hag, bolted for the exit and before Lila could follow, dozens joined them, then more.

The DJ tried to get his mic back, but the old crone had it in a dragon’s grip.

“ I know you’re here, Lila, and I’m coming for you.”

“ Not tonight, old woman,” Lila muttered. She was furious. She’d get Amy another day. Amy didn’t have the disc anymore anyway, so in reality Lila could take her time with the little lesbian. But the old crone up on that stage, she was going to die tonight.

Chapter Two

“ I thought things were okay with Tucker Wayne?” Alicia said as they made their way through the casino. She didn’t seem nearly as frightened as Amy, but then Tucker hadn’t sent someone to the party to kill her.

They’d bolted for the door as soon as she’d understood Nana’s warning and Amy wanted to run like hell, get far away, but Alicia held fast to her hand, keeping their pace quick, but not looking as if they were in a panic, which was pretty smart, because the way they were dressed was drawing enough attention. The last thing they needed was for some of these gamblers to think they were in some kind of trouble.

“ So did I.” Amy was confused. They’d parked in a parking garage on Sierra Street, and entered the casino from there. Then up an escalator, where they passed the casino shops that were over the street, then down an escalator into the dome, then down another escalator into the foyer, then the ballroom.

They went up the first escalator, were in the dome now, but she was all turned around. Where was the other escalator?

“ This way.” Alicia pulled her toward the doors to the street and then they were outside in the night. “Which way is the car?”

“ I don’t know.” Amy was in full blown panic mode now.

“ Give me that! What are you trying to do, cause a panic?” The DJ wrestled the mic from Izzy, who looked out over the crowd. Did Amy get out? Where was Lila?

She couldn’t make them out, couldn’t tell who was who, so when she saw the DJ pick up the mic and start to say something, she’d acted without thinking. She’d charged the stage, grabbed the mic and shouted her warning.

“ Sorry,” she told the DJ as a pair of security guards approached the stage.

“ It’s okay folks.” The DJ’s voice boomed through the ballroom. “It’s all part of the show.” He put on Bobby Boris Picket’s “The Monster Mash,” but he added a driving sort of disco beat to the background and people started drifting back to the dance floor.

“ Sorry,” Izzy said again as the DJ put an arm around her bony shoulders.

“ What was that all about?” He kept a smile trained on the crowd as he talked, not meeting her eyes.

“ It was true,” she said into his ear. “My granddaughter is here and someone is trying kill her. I hope she was one of the ones who left.”

“ Really?” He turned away from the crowd, met her eyes now. He was big, black and looked like he was a product of the gangs.

“ Yeah.”

“ Then I hope so too.” He waved the security guards away.

“ Thanks.”

“ You should go home before they change their mind.”

“ Right.”

“ You gonna be okay?”

“ I’ll be fine. Again, sorry.”

“ Go.”

Izzy left the stage with the feeling that a thousand eyes were on her, but as she took in the crowd, she saw very few people looking her way. Most of these costumed ghoulies had been drinking and apparently they’d believed the DJ when he’d said she’d been part of the entertainment. How that could pass muster, she hadn’t a clue. But it seemed with enough alcohol, anything was believable.

Lila Booth stood at the back of the ballroom, watching what was going on between the DJ and the hag. She’d been surprised when the DJ waved away the security guards.

Surprised, but not disappointed.

The lesbian girls were long gone, but not this one. This one had said her name out loud. Called her out as a killer in front of hundreds and even though most were too drunk or too into themselves tonight to remember, some would.

So, in reality, she should let the woman go. Nobody would ever come calling at her door. It would all go away if she walked away. But she couldn’t. Someone had betrayed her and there was only one person who knew what she was up to tonight.

Tucker.

And then it hit her who that woman was. It was Isadora Eisenhower. The doctor who had done Tucker’s transplant. She must be related to Amy. Too old to be her mother. Her grandmother maybe.

Lila knew Tucker better than Tucker knew himself. He wouldn’t have any feelings for the old woman, but he had a perverted sense of honor. He didn’t like owing anybody and he paid his debts. He would have considered himself in the doctor’s debt. That’s why he warned her. But now the debt was paid. He’d not give another thought to Dr. Eisenhower.

Eisenhower wended her way through the crowd and, surprisingly, they seemed to have forgotten all about her as she made her way to the exit. Lila hadn’t forgotten.

Izzy hadn’t seen Amy, hadn’t seen Lila either. She didn’t know whether or not they were even there, but she’d had no choice. Amy’s mother had been addicted to meth when she’d been born, in and out of rehab. Jail too. So Izzy, who was still grieving over the loss of her husband, had raised the girl. It had been just the two of them.

But that wasn’t the only thing that bonded them. With the exception of Amy’s blue eyes, Amy was Izzy’s carbon copy. Looking at sixty year old photos of herself, she’d swear she was seeing Amy today. They were twins, separated by half a century and the color of their eyes.

No parent and child had ever shared a stronger bond, one that Izzy had thought unbreakable. And it had been, until Tucker. Somehow the man had swept the girl off her feet. She’d turned her back on everything, Izzy too. And she was using drugs. Marijuana, Izzy knew for sure. Meth, she hoped not. They hadn’t spoken in over a month and it was breaking Izzy’s heart.

Her doctors repeatedly told her it was important to carry around a positive attitude, but she couldn’t, she just couldn’t.

“ That way.” Alicia pointed to a parking garage on the opposite side of the street.

“ That’s not where we parked,” Amy said.

“ Yeah, I think it is. We went in on the other side. And we went into the casino over there, too. Look!” she pointed up. “We crossed over up there, where those shops were, then we took the escalator down. Come on.” Alicia started out at a brisk walk, toward the garage. “Let’s get the car and get out of here.”

“ I can’t go back to my apartment.” Amy followed her friend into the garage. “I can’t stand the thought of being alone.”

“ Third level.”

“ Wait a second.” Inside the garage, Amy felt safer.

“ What?”

“ That was my grandmother up there shouting about Lila Booth wanting to kill me.” She took in a breath, tried to reason it out, couldn’t. “How could she have known that? We’re hardly speaking.”

“ I thought you were so close, the look alike thing and all.”

“ We were, but she didn’t like me going out with Tucker.”

“ And guess who was right about that?” Alicia said.

“ Don’t rub it in.”

“ Think she was telling the truth up there?”

“ Nana doesn’t know how to lie.”

“ Then you’re right, you can’t go home,” Alicia said. “And after what happened back there, you probably shouldn’t go to your grandmother’s. Maybe you should stay with me and hide out till we can figure this out.”

“ We?”

“ Yeah, we. We’re friends and friends help each other.”

“ Okay,” Amy said.

“ I think I better drive,” Alicia said.

“ I can.” Amy loved her little yellow VW. Loved it so much that she never let anybody else drive it, but all of a sudden the effects of all the wine she’d had were front and center. For a few minutes, she’d been scared sober, but she wasn’t, not really. “You’re right. You drive.” She fished her keys from her purse, handed them over.

“ We’re safe now,” Alicia said after she’d unlocked the doors and they were in the car.

“ I don’t know, I’m more nervous now than I was the other day with you in Tucker’s bed.”

“ I have just the cure.” Alicia pulled a joint out of her purse.

“ No, not now.”

“ Come on, it’ll loosen you up.” Alicia flicked her Bic.

Izzy thanked the stars they were having a warm October, because since she’d left home without her handbag, she had no money and she didn’t want to stiff the valet. For a normal person home was about a half hour away on foot, for her, twice that. She started out. She’d walk a block over to Sierra, take that up to College, turn right and in a few blocks, she’d be home.

She started across the street when a Harley riding vampire screeched around the corner, driving like Hell was on his tail and gaining fast. Izzy jumped back to avoid being run over, tripped and, on the way down, threw her hands out in front of herself to break her fall, skinning them on the pavement.

Down the street the Harley rumbled on. The driver either hadn’t seen Izzy or hadn’t cared. She didn’t know which was worse. She struggled to her feet, palms bloody, feeling like they were on fire. The walk home was going to be agony, but she’d become used to hurting. Thankfully, tonight she’d been freed from the cancer’s pain. It came and it went. She wanted to be home before it came again.

At Sierra she saw a couple more vampires. They were out in force tonight. This couple was crossing Sierra, heading toward her. He was tall, with longish black hair. It almost looked real, but Izzy had become quite the authority on spotting wigs.

The girl was wearing a wig too, but her face wasn’t made up as his was and she wasn’t wearing the fangs. Even in this light Izzy could see the sort of natural beauty that surrounds pregnant women. She looked happy. Probably was.

The sound of screeching tires pierced the night and for an instant Izzy thought the Hog riding vampire was back, but then an older yellow Volkswagon came careening out of the Silver Legacy’s garage.

“ Look out!” Izzy screamed, but she wasn’t in time, the car plowed into the couple, knocking them aside, then it sped around the corner and was out of sight. It happened too fast for her to get the license number.

“ Marlan are you alright?” Izzy heard the man say.

“ Kissan, the baby!” the woman said. She was in distress.

The man called Kissan got up, helped the woman to her feet.

“ We have to get out of the street.” He guided her to the sidewalk and to Izzy.

“ You shouldn’t move,” Izzy said.

“ It’s done,” the man said.

“ Kissan, she’s coming!”

“ You’re sure?” he said.

“ She’s sure,” Izzy said. “I’m going to need your help. Come on, take off your coat, we’re going to need it.”

“ You’ve done this before?”

“ No, never, but I’ve seen it done. I can do it.” She took the coat, spread it on the sidewalk, then to the woman. “It’s going to be okay, Marlan. Lay down, I’ll help you.”

“ You know her name?”

“ I heard you, just now.” She helped Marlan down onto the coat, leaving bloody patches on the woman’s sleeves where she’d gripped her.

“ You’re hurt,” Kissan said.

“ It’s minor.” She looked up at Kissan, he had a serious gash on his left cheek and blood was pouring from under his wig. “Take the wig off.”

He did. Underneath it he had a blue scarf wrapped around his head, almost like a turban. He had a gash on his forehead, too, right above his left eyebrow.

“ You’re going to need stitches, but they can wait, your wife comes first.” Izzy started to examine the woman.

“ You can do this?” Kissan said.

“ I’m a doctor.”

“ I thought you said you’d never done this before.” He had a slight accent, but she couldn’t place it.

“ I’m not that kind of doctor.”

“ What kind then?”

“ I was a heart surgeon. I’m retired.”

“ Because of the cancer?”

“ How did you-”

“ Kissan,” Marlan shouted. “She’s coming now.”

“ It can’t be,” Kissan said, “her water hasn’t broken,”

“ Sometimes the baby’s head plugs the cervix. Sometimes it doesn’t break till active labor.”

“ But she’s not due for two weeks.”

“ Kissan, quiet,” Marlan said. “She’s coming now!” She had the same strange accent as her husband. Their names too suggested that they were foreigners. She wondered where they were from.

“ You ran those people down.” Amy screamed when they’d hit the people, then sort of went into shock, but it didn’t last long.

“ Yeah, pretty scary.”

“ We should go back.” They were several blocks away now.

“ There was someone on the sidewalk,” Alicia said. “I’m sure they’ve already called 911.”

“ But we hit them.” They were on the freeway now.

“ Yeah, but we can’t go back. We’re trying to get away from someone who wants to kill you, remember?”

“ But-”

“ No buts. There was someone there. Besides, we weren’t going fast enough to hurt anyone.”

“ Yes we were.”

“ No we weren’t,” Alicia said. “I’m sure they’re okay. Besides, even if we go back, there’s nothing we can do, except get ourselves arrested for being stoned, not to mention the hit and run or the fact that someone’s trying to permanently put out your lights.”

“ I guess you’re right,” Amy said. Then she tried to put it out of her mind, but it didn’t want to go.

“ Is this your first baby?” Izzy said.

“ Yes.” Marlan was breathing hard, almost out of control. “First one.”

“ You’re going to have to slow your breathing down. Can you do that?”

“ Yes, yes, okay.” She took in a breath, held it, let it out.

“ No, not like that, breathe evenly, don’t hold it in.”

“ Alright, I can do that.” She did.

“ How far apart are your contractions?”

“ There is no apart.” Marlan was speaking through gritted teeth. “It’s just one long pain.”

“ Is she going to have the baby now?” A new voice. Izzy turned toward it. A small crowd had gathered, some were in costume, some were not.

“ I need some of you to take off your jackets, shirts too. I need to make a pillow to slip under her hips.”

“ I can help.” A man pulled off his sweatshirt. “Come on, people,” he said. “Let’s fill it up.”

Other’s took off, pulled off or shucked out of their jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts. The man gathered enough clothing to make two pillows. Izzy slid one under Marlan’s hips and the other under her head.

“ Can someone call 911?”

“ Already did,” the pillow man said.

Izzy hoped they’d get here in time.

“ I feel like I have to go to the bathroom,” Marlan said.

“ Shit or pee,” Izzy said.

“ The first one,” Marlan said. “I really have to shit.”

“ I thought we might get lucky and the paramedics would get here in time. But it’s not happening. What you’re feeling is the baby moving through the birth canal. She’s creating pressure on your rectum. She’s on the way, Marlan and there’s no stopping her now.”

“ Really?”

“ I’m going to have to undress you.”

“ It’s okay, I’m not shy.”

She was wearing a black dress, specially made for the occasion, Izzy supposed. She was going to have to cut it away.

“ Does anybody have knife?”

“ Yeah.” A vampire in a white tee shirt pulled a switchblade from a hip pocket, thumbed its trigger, flicking it open. He’d donated his jacket and black dress shirt and he was still giving.

“ So many vampires.” She took the knife.

“ Everybody loves a vampire.” He looked rough, not somebody you’d want to meet on a dark night if you had a fat wallet in your pocket.

“ Okay, Marlan, I hope you’re not too attached to this dress.”

“ Don’t worry. Hurry!”

Izzy cut away the dress at the waist, exposing Marlan to the crowd. She exposed a gaping flesh wound on her left thigh as well, probably where the car had hit her.

“ I need a pressure bandage,” Izzy said.

“ My shirt.” The hard looking vampire, who’d given up his blade, pulled off his white tee.

“ The vampire who keeps on giving,” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, Doc. Save the kid.”

“ I will.” She balled up the tee shirt and without thinking applied it to the wound and too late realized she done a blood to blood mistake.

“ It’s okay,” Marlan said, as if reading her mind. “I don’t have anything that can hurt you and nothing you’re carrying can hurt me or the baby.”

“ I need to sterilize my hands, does anybody have anything that can help?”

“ I have a flask of Johnny Walker Black in my pocket,” the now shirtless vampire said. “Will that do?”

“ Unbelievable.” Izzy held out her hands. “Can you pour it over them?”

“ Sure.” He reached into his other hip pocket, pulled out a sliver flask, poured the whiskey over her hands.

“ Stings,” she said.

“ Looks like it would,” he said.

“ Right.” She turned back to Marlan, still bleeding a little. She’d do her best not to mix any more blood, but she was afraid the damage had already been done.

The area around Marlan’s vagina started to bulge out.

“ Can you push for me?” Izzy said. “Not too hard right now.”

“ Yes.” Marlan pushed.

“ Are you feeling contractions now?”

“ Yes, only seconds apart.”

“ Push between the contractions, not at the start, okay?”

“ Okay.”

Another contraction. Marlan pushed and all of a sudden Izzy could see the baby’s head. She was crowning. Izzy hadn’t expected it to happen so fast. It was unusual for a first child. But then again there seemed to be a lot of unusual going on with this couple; this crowd, too.

“ Okay, Marlan, I need you to blow through your mouth at the peak of your contractions.”

“ You think I’m going to push too hard. I won’t.”

“ Alright.” This was one pretty savvy woman.

“ Okay then, take slow breaths and breathe deeply.”

Marlan obeyed as she gently pushed between the contractions.

“ It’s coming,” someone from the crowd said.

“ Really?” Marlan was smiling.

“ Really!” Izzy guided the head out, saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck.

“ Oh my God!” a woman said.

“ It’s not a problem.” Izzy reached her index finger between the cord and the baby’s neck, gently loosened it and the baby’s head slipped through the loop Izzy had made as she started to make her way silently into the world.

Izzy held the baby’s head in her hands, supporting it, guiding the baby as she turned her head to the side.

“ It’s time, Marlan.” Izzy steeled herself. “One more push.”

“ I’m ready.”

And then the baby came, crying into the world.

Lila watched Eisenhower deliver the baby from the safety of the parking garage as she pulled on a pair of latex gloves. Then she pulled the pistol from her backpack. She never used the same kind of weapon twice. And she never carried it far from the scene of the crime, preferring to drop them in the nearest trash can.

However, this was Reno and there were security cameras everywhere. She was lucky to find a spot not covered to watch Eisenhower birth the baby from, but she didn’t want to trust carrying the weapon to a trash can and be recorded dropping it in. She’d have to leave it here.

It almost seemed a waste to lose such a good weapon on such an old woman, but Lila’s mind was made up. She sighted in on Eisenhower’s chest, aiming for the heart. She watched for a few seconds, thinking this was a fitting ending for a heart surgeon. Then she pulled the trigger.

Chapter Three

Izzy was cold. She curled her knees to her chest, subconsciously seeking warmth and found none. She moaned, dreaming of snow. She was outside in a brisk Reno winter. She was naked, lying in the snow. Her teeth were chattering, she was powerless to stop it.

She had to pee and now she was in one of the campgrounds on Highway 49, between Susanville and Shasta City in Northern California. She was in front of an outhouse, but the door was jammed. She had to get in, couldn’t. She had clothes on now and she wet herself and all of a sudden she knew she was dreaming and that she’d just wet the bed.

“ No,” she muttered, awake or in her dream, she didn’t know. Her throat was dry, like she hadn’t had a drink in forever. “No,” she muttered again. She had a headache, like she’d had too much wine, but the deep pain she’d been living with for the last few months was gone. She had to be dreaming, otherwise it would be front and center, reminding her of the cancer that was going to take her life in a few month’s time.

But it didn’t feel like a dream. The hangover was real, but she couldn’t remember drinking enough last night to cause it. The cold was real, too. She’d never been cold in a dream before, not like this. And the warm wet between her legs, that was real.

She opened her eyes to a hazy, green, cocooned kind of place. She was under the covers and the light was on, filtering through a green sheet.

She didn’t have green sheets.

She wasn’t in her bed.

She pulled the sheet back and gasped.

She knew where she was straightaway. She’d been here before, several times, though it had been years. She recognized the fans whirring above her head, the green room, the sterility of it. She looked right, saw that familiar door. She looked left, saw a body covered in a twin of the sheet which covered her.

She sat up in a panic, threw the sheet aside. She was naked and her right toe had been tagged. She was in the hospital morgue at St. Catherine’s, waiting to be transferred to the county morgue. She didn’t feel dead. On the contrary, she felt more alive than she had in years. Then she saw her legs and gasped.

“ What the-”

These were not old lady legs. She looked down at her breasts. They’d been sagging for the last three decades, but they were jutting out now, like a teenager’s. And her nipples were hard, like she was sexually excited.

She was excited, alright.

And she had to be dreaming.

But the puddle of warm urine she was sitting in felt real.

She pinched her cheek. That felt real. She pinched her thigh. That felt real. She took a deep breath, waiting for the pain to shoot through her lungs. Didn’t happen.

She bent forward, surprised to find she could reach the toe tag without bending her knees. She’d studied ballet when she was young. Back then she could touch her head to the ground without bending her knees. She pulled off the tag, instinctively knowing her body was in that kind of shape now.

There was a case number on the tag. That she expected. Date and time of death too, she also expected. Cause of death: Gunshot wound to the heart. That was a shocker, she’d expected cancer.

She looked down again at her breasts. Beautiful and perfect, no sign of a gunshot wound.

She shook her head, testing the hangover, which seemed to be gone now, but something not gone was the mane of hair that swished around her shoulders. She tugged on it, expecting the wig, but the hair was real.

“ Okay, Isadora, let’s figure this out.” She got off the gurney, half expecting her legs to buckle. They didn’t. She picked the sheet up off the floor, went to the deep sink, ran some water on a dry part of it, cleaned the urine away.

She wanted a mirror, wanted to see her face, but that would have to wait. She needed to get out of here before someone discovered she wasn’t dead, before they discovered that something very strange had happened. She’d been around long enough to know if she were found-dare she even think it, with her youth restored-that they’d lock her away. Then they’d poke, prod, test and retest her till they found the secret.

She didn’t want to be poked and prodded.

She didn’t know why this had happened, but it had. She’d always taken things as they’d come, played the hand she was dealt. Lately she’d gotten some bad cards, now she’d been dealt a royal flush. These were her cards now and she was going to bet them like there was no tomorrow.

To do that she had get out of this room, away from this hospital. But first she needed clothes. Fortunately she knew the hospital as well as she knew her own home. She padded to the door, opened it. The office was empty. She went to the door, checked the hallway. Not a soul, but for how long?

She jogged down the corridor to the stairway. Safely inside the stairwell, she went up two flights, opened the door a crack, saw an intern with blood on her scrubs enter the intern’s locker room. That was her goal.

She counted to thirty, guessing that would be enough time for the woman to shed her scrubs and get into the shower. Then she gave herself a count to fifteen, before stepping out of the stairway and crossing to the locker room. Inside, she heard the shower running and she found the woman’s locker open.

Izzy pulled out a pair of scrubs, stepped into them. She spotted a couple pair of grey Nikes, one pair well worn, one pair obviously new. She grabbed a pair of socks, put them on, then slid her feet into the new pair. Her new body demanded the new shoes, but unfortunately they were a little tight. Beggars can’t be choosers, she thought as she laced them up. In less than a minute after she’d entered the locker room, she left it and was back in the hall, heading this time for the elevator, which would take her to the ground floor and freedom.

She decided to leave the hospital through the emergency room exit, but when she got there she saw attendings, interns and nurses galore, standing at the ready. Something bad had happened and they were waiting to try and right some of the wrongs.

“ What happened?” Izzy heard a young nurse ask.

“ Gangbanger shot into a car full of people, caused a major accident at the Spaghetti Bowl,” a much older nurse answered.

She couldn’t leave with them standing there, not dressed the way she was. And she couldn’t turn her back and walk away either. She was wearing scrubs and though she had no name tag around her neck, she looked like a doctor. All she could do was stand and wait till the casualties arrived, then make her way out of the hospital during the confusion.

She heard sirens. Any minute the ER was going to be a beehive of activity. She couldn’t stand around unnoticed. She’d be required to do something. She looked around, headed for the restrooms. She’d hide out in the women’s till it was safe for her to make her exit.

Inside the restroom, she picked a stall, went in, closed the door, sat on the toilet to wait and her mind went straight to the fact that not only was she not dead, but she wasn’t old anymore. This was impossible. How could such a thing have happened? God, aliens, a youth ray turned on her by some genius scientist? Whatever, it couldn’t last, could it?

She closed her eyes, watched psychedelic images swirl around on the inside of her eyelids. Reds and greens and blues like she’d never seen before. Was she on drugs? Was this whole thing an hallucination? Whatever it was, she had to figure it out.

And she had to get ahold of Amy and warn her about Lila Booth. Maybe she already had, but maybe Amy hadn’t been at that ball last night.

Was it only last night? Or had she been in some kind of suspended animation? No, it wasn’t that. She’d been in the hospital morgue, that she knew for sure. And there was only one reason she’d’ve been there with a toe tag. She’d been dead.

Thinking about it was giving her a headache. She had to do something. It was time to go. She got off the toilet. She’d be home soon, then she could figure it all out.

When she left the restroom, she was confronted with orderly chaos. Everybody seemed to be busy saving lives, doing what doctors and nurses did in an emergency. She started for the exit.

“ Where’s Dr. Shaffer!” the young intern Izzy had seen earlier shouted. “If he doesn’t get here quick we’re gonna lose this one.”

“ What is it?” an older doctor, one Izzy didn’t know, one who looked like he had a foot in the grave, said.

“ Look at this X-ray, she’s got a bullet in her heart.” She was sweating bullets. “It’s beyond me.”

“ Me too,” the old guy said.

“ Shaffer’s halfway between here and Carson City,” a woman in black said, black skirt, black blouse. “He’s twenty minutes away.”

“ Shit,” Izzy muttered. Then, “I’m a heart surgeon, maybe I can help.” She moved passed them. The patient was a young woman, she was on her side, nude from the waist up. There was an entrance would in her back, no exit would. “Let me see that.” She snatched the CXR out of the intern’s hands, looked at the chest X-ray. “Double shit.”

“ Who are you?” the older doctor, named Irwin Shaw, according to his nametag, said.

“ I’m going to need an OR,” Izzy said. “OR 3 would be good.” She gave the older guy a look. “You any good?”

“ Who’s asking?” His hands were shaking.

“ You shouldn’t be here.” She recognized the symptoms. He was a drunk in need of a drink. “I don’t want you anywhere near my OR.”

“ How about you?” She turned to the intern. “Who are you and have you ever assisted in open heart surgery?”

“ Kathy Wells, and yes, I’ve assisted Dr. Shaffer several times.”

“ If you’re good enough for Aaron, you’re good enough for me,” Izzy said.

“ Wait a minute!” Shaw said.

“ I don’t have a minute.” Izzy turned to the woman in black. “You must be Aaron’s right hand woman, Belinda Quinn, right?”

“ Yes.”

“ Fine, get me a perfusionist, an anesthesiologist, the best two surgical nurses you can muster up and get them all into OR 3.”

“ I don’t know, Dr. Shaffer will be here in twenty minutes.”

“ And this young woman will have been ten minutes dead.” Izzy turned to the intern. “We’re going now.” Back to Quinn. “Do your job.” To an orderly who was watching. “Let’s move her on up.” She clapped her hands. “Now, do it now!”

“ Yes, ma’am.” The orderly went to the gurney.

“ Dr. Shaffer’s not answering his cell,” Shaw said.

“ I said move it, Belinda.” Izzy felt the walls closing in.

“ Okay, okay,” Quinn said.

“ There’s a bullet in my heart?”

“ What?” Izzy said. “She’s conscious?”

“ Where’s my daughter? Is she okay?”

“ She has a daughter?” Izzy said. “Where?”

“ Your little girl is fine.” Kathy Wells pointed and all heads turned to the other side of the glass wall. There was a little girl there, four or maybe five years old. She was alone.

“ For God’s sake, get her!” Izzy said. “Bring her here.” She turned to Shaw. “You do it!”

“ Who are you?” Shaw was getting to be a real pain.

“ Get the girl,” Quinn said. Then to Izzy, “Well, who are you?”

Izzy was stuck. She’d stuck herself in where she didn’t belong, but she hadn’t any choice. She had to say something, had to make it believable.

“ I’m Dr. Linda Eisenhower. My mother is Dr. Isadora Eisenhower,” she said, making up a fictional daughter. “I’m sure you’ve heard of her, because she practiced here for years.”

“ I came after she left,” Quinn said.

Shaw was approaching with the girl.

“ What are you doing here?” Quinn said.

“ I practice in London, at St. Thomas,” Izzy lied. “Aaron’s trying to recruit me. I was going to observe him today and talk after.”

“ Good enough for me.” Shaw was back with the girl.

“ So, you’re not licensed here?”

“ Mommy!” The child was frightened.

“ Is it true? Am I going to die if I don’t get an operation right away,” the woman on the gurney said.

“ Yes,” Izzy said.

“ Then do it.” She was very weak. It was a miracle she was conscious.

“ Blood pressure is 84 over 42, down from 95 over 55,” Kathy Wells said. “We have to do something!”

“ She’s passed out,” Shaw said.

“ Save my mom,” the child said.

“ We will,” Izzy said.

“ You can’t operate in this hospital,” Belinda Quinn said.

“ Heart rate is up from 110 to 120.”

“ Shit, we’re going now,” Izzy said. “We’ll worry about the legal after.”

“ Okay.” Quinn nodded to the orderly. “Take her up.”

“ Are you gonna make my mommy better?” the child said.

“ I am,” Izzy said.

“ Promise?”

“ Yeah, I promise.”

The orderly and Wells started moving toward the elevator with the patient.

“ I’ve paged Dr. Stanley, he’s the best perfusionist in Reno,” Quinn said. She had a Blackberry in her hand. “He’s in the hospital and on his way to the OR. I’m paging Dr. Seger now.”

“ Ralph Seger,” Izzy said. “He’s good.” He was the best anesthesiologist she’d ever worked with. He had to be in his seventies. She didn’t know he was still working. He’d recognize her. Damn. Still, she’d said she was her daughter and she’d kept her family life to herself. Ralph wouldn’t know she didn’t have a daughter. Maybe she could pull it off. She had to pull it off.

By the time she’d prepped and got to the OR, the patient had been prepped and the perfusionist was there and ready.

“ I’m Dr. Eisenhower.” She introduced herself.

“ I’m Dr. Stanley, call me Stan.”

“ Your parents didn’t?”

“ They did.”

“ A Performer, good, gotta love Medtronic,” Izzy said, referring to the heart lung machine. It was a third the size of what she’d been used to, so it could be used closer to the patient and at table height. She’d heard a lot about it, had been waiting for it when she’d retired years ago. She’d never used one. Still, she was a heart surgeon. If Dr. Stanley could do his job, so could she. She’d be alright. She had to be alright, she’d promised a little girl.

“ She’s tachypneaic and her breathing is decreasing,” Kathy Wells said.

“ Then we’d better get going,” Dr. Stanley said.

“ I’m set here.” It was the anesthesiologist, Ralph Seger.

“ I believe you knew my mother,” Izzy said, continuing the lie.

“ You look like her, though a younger version.”

“ Thanks, I think,” she said. “She’s ready, the patient?”

“ She is,” Seger said.

“ Then let’s do it.” To Kathy Wells. “We’re going to do a median sternotomy and we don’t have the luxury of time.”

Izzy made a six inch incision down the middle of the chest and all of a sudden she was home. She’d done this more times than she could count. This is what she’d been born to do and she did it well.

It was as if she were on automatic pilot when she cut along the breast bone and set the retractor. Once the heart was exposed she sighed.

“ Are you ready, Stan?”

“ Yes.”

“ Good.” Izzy cannulated the ascending aorta and venae cava, then cross clamped the aorta as Seger administered the cardioplegia, which would stop the heart.

“ Okay, Kathy Wells. The patient is on bypass and is doing fine. We can slow down now.”

“ That was fast,” Seger said. “You’re good.”

Once the heart was drained of blood, Izzy stepped aside.

“ You have good hands.” Izzy said to Wells.

“ You noticed, with all you were doing?”

“ It’s my job.” She smiled beneath the surgical mask. “I’d like you to palpate the heart.”

“ Me?”

“ This is a teaching hospital. You’re here to learn and I’m a teacher.”

“ Okay.” Kathy Wells slid her hands under the heart.

Aaron Shaffer burst into the OR.

“ What’s going on here?”

“ Not now, Aaron,” Izzy said. “I’ve a student with a heart in her hands.”

“ You what?”

“ Aaron, calm down or leave the OR.”

“ Nobody talks to me like that in my hospital.”

“ It’s my OR. Built with money I brought into this hospital.”

“ Who are you?”

“ I’m the first girl you ever loved. The one you couldn’t have, because the stars weren’t aligned. Because the time and place were wrong. God has given us a second chance. Don’t blow it. Stand back and let us save this young woman’s life.”

“ Iz?”

“ Don’t say a word. If you ever loved me, don’t say a word.”

“ Right.” Aaron stepped back, stunned.

“ I feel something,” Wells said. “In the distal septum.”

“ That’ll be the bullet,” Izzy said. “You’ll need to make a transverse incision-”

“ In the apex of the left atrium,” Wells said, finishing Izzy’s sentence

“ Right,” Izzy said.

“ Okay, I got it.”

“ Can you close, or do you want me to do it?”

“ I’ll do it with a running 3–0 Prolene suture.”

“ Good, then reinforce the entry wound with a 3–0 pleggeted Prolene suture. Can you do that?”

“ Piece of cake,” Wells said.

“ Aaron,” Izzy said. “I’m feeling a little faint. Can you close up after she’s finished with the heart.” She turned to face him, met his eyes and though they were both wearing surgical masks, she could see the astonishment painted all over his face.

“ Ha, ha, how?”

“ Don’t stutter. I’ve told you about that.” She smiled.

“ You were-”

“ Not now. You have a patient.”

“ But-”

“ It’s a miracle.” She started for the door. “We’ll talk when you finish.”

Outside the OR, she pulled off her gloves, then made for the stairs. It would take them an hour or so to finish and she had to be long gone by then.

Chapter Four

Detective Bob Mouledoux, called Mississippi by friend and foe alike, drove the unmarked Crown Vic into the parking lot at St. Catherine’s. This was his first case in Robbery/Homicide and he wanted to impress his new partner, Joe Friday, who everyone who’d earned the right called Peeps, because early in his career he’d busted prostitutes by peeping in the windows of a motel they were known to use. These days prostitution was legal and they mostly looked the other way when girls plied the trade illegally.

Although only a day in Robbery/Homicide and only a cop for a couple years, Mouledoux had earned the right. Three months ago Mouledoux and his partner, an out of shape windbag named Reymundo Galvez, rolled into a gunfight. Three bad asses hopped up on meth had robbed a convenience store on Virginia, shooting and killing the girl behind the counter. They’d also shot a cop attempting their getaway, a young woman with a couple kids. And they’d had her partner pinned down.

Mouledoux floored the cruiser, smashed into the pickup they were hiding behind, jumped out of the ride, screaming like a banshee. One of the three was on the ground, knocked down by the collision. The other two were stunned. Mouledoux shot and killed them all.

Galvez demanded a new partner, believing the suits were going to crucify Mississippi Bob Mouledoux, but the gangbangers had killed a nineteen-year-old girl and shot down one of their own, which didn’t sit well with those in charge because they were cops too. Galvez got his new partner. Bob Mouledoux got Robbery/Homicide and the right to call Joe Friday by his nickname.

Mouledoux glanced over at Friday, who had his head back against the headrest. If his eyes had been open, he’d be staring at the headliner, but they weren’t. He was asleep.

“ Hey, Peeps, we’re here.”

“ Yeah, alright.” Peeps was a good cop, who’d taken endless ribbing because of his names, his real one and his nickname. “Park over there.” He pointed to the handicapped parking by the emergency entrance.

“ Yeah, sure.” On his own, Mouledoux would’ve found an empty spot in patient’s parking and walked, but Peeps was known for using any perk he could get.

They entered through the emergency room, walked straight through, Peeps showing the way. He’d been here before, probably several times. This was Mouledoux’s first. At the reception, Peeps told everybody’s great aunt, a woman named Elizabeth Chandler, according to her badge, that he wanted to see Dr. Romero about the Eisenhower homicide.

A few minutes later they were ushered into the office of the President and CEO of St. Catherine’s, an athletic looking man with a full head of ash grey hair and skin so white it looked like he hadn’t seen the sun in forever, named Aaron Shaffer. He was a doctor and his office was large and afforded him a prime view of Reno’s downtown casinos. Must be gorgeous at night, Mouledoux thought, as Dr. Romero introduced them to the hospital’s CEO, then to Simon Drake, the hospital’s attorney, and lastly to Dr. Elizabeth Jordan, the attending who’d treated Isadora Eisenhower in the emergency room.

“ As you know, we had a busy day here yesterday,” Shaffer said after they were seated.

“ Yeah, the accident,” Peeps said. “I can imagine.” There’d been a random, gang related shooting, which caused a multi-car accident at the Spaghetti Bowl, where Interstate 80 and Highway 395 crossed. Several injured; fortunately no fatalities.

“ Yes, so you can imagine the confusion here.” He looked first toward Peeps, then toward Mouledoux. Both cops met his eyes straight on.

“ Yeah, we get the idea,” Peeps said.

“ I had Dr. Romero ask for you for a reason, Detective Friday.”

“ He told me it’s sensitive and I’m known for keeping my yap shut. We get it.”

“ And Detective Mouledoux?”

“ I can keep my yap shut, too. We’re cops, we don’t go broadcasting our investigations.”

“ Yet I read about so many of them in the press.”

“ You called me because you trust me,” Peeps said. “You can trust Detective Mouledoux as well.”

“ Okay, but if any of this gets out the press will go crazy. The public too. There will be a feeding frenzy like none before.” He sighed, the way only a troubled man can. “At the present only the four of us know what I’m about to tell you. Well, the four of us and Isadora Eisenhower, of course.”

“ Wait a minute,” Peeps said. “She’s dead.”

“ Is she?” Shaffer said.

“ Well, isn’t she?” Peeps said.

“ We don’t know for sure and that’s the problem.”

“ Where’s the body?” Peeps said.

“ It’s gone.”

“ Someone stole it?” Peeps said.

“ Not exactly,” Shaffer said.

“ Well, it didn’t get up and walk away.”

“ As I said, that’s the problem. We think it did.”

“ We’re outta here!” Peeps said.

“ Wait a minute, Joe,” Mouledoux said. “He’s serious.”

“ You’re kidding?” Then to Shaffer. “So what’s the deal, you pronounced her and she wasn’t dead? You thought she’d been shot through the heart, but you made a mistake? It was only a flesh wound, so the patient got up and went home?”

“ Not exactly,” Shaffer said. “I’d like to show you part of a video we took of one of our surgeries this morning.” He put a disk into his computer, then rotated the screen so the detectives could see it.

On the screen, a woman was on the table and a team of surgeons and nurses were around her. A young female doctor was about to cut into the woman’s chest. She paused, turned away from the patient, lowered her mask, took in a deep breath, then wiped sweat from her brow with her scrub sleeve and, for an instant, the camera caught a frontal view of her face. Shaffer stopped the tape.

“ I know that woman.” Mouledoux hadn’t known Amy was a doctor. He’d thought she was a full time student. She must be taking classes as a hobby of some sort. Must be nice to have that kind of spare time. “She used to live in my complex.”

“ I know her, too,” Peeps said. “She just broke up with someone I know. Her name’s Amy Eisenhower.” He paused for a second. “Wait a minute, she related to the missing body?”

“ This might be easier than I’d hoped.” Shaffer tapped his keyboard and the screen went dark. “Detective Mouledoux, what color are Amy Eisenhower’s eyes?”

“ Blue.”

“ You sure?”

“ I’m a detective with a great memory for faces. Besides, she’s a pretty girl. I’m sure.” Mouledoux paused for a second. “Hey, wait a minute-”

“ Hold up, Detective,” Shaffer said, cutting him off. He turned to Peeps. “Is he right, Detective Friday?”

“ Oh, yeah, they’re definitely blue, the bluest eyes you’d ever wanna see.”

“ And you wanted to say, Detective?” Shaffer turned to Mouledoux.

“ The doctor on the screen, her eyes are brown.”

“ Yes, they are.” Shaffer tapped his keyboard again and the young doctor’s face was back on the screen.

“ Contacts,” Peeps said.

“ No,” Mouledoux said. “I don’t think that’s what Dr. Shaffer wants us to take away from this meeting.”

“ It’s not?” Peeps said.

“ No, it’s not,” Shaffer said. “Isadora Eisenhower was the finest heart surgeon I’d ever laid eyes on. She had the greatest hands, steady and true. She never doubted she could save a patient and her record is unmatched. But like us all, sometimes she’d lose one, but unlike the rest of us, it would hit her hard. She treated every patient like family.

“ When I came here, she took me under her wing. She saw something in me no one else did. She used to tell me I’d go far, that I’d be a great surgeon one day. If not for her, I’d probably be an old country doctor. Not that that would’ve been such a bad life.”

“ And you’re telling us this, why?” Peeps said.

“ I must have assisted Dr. Eisenhower hundreds of times, I know her work better than I know the layout of this office. Yesterday, when I learned there was a doctor performing open heart surgery in my hospital, who wasn’t on staff, I couldn’t get to that OR fast enough. I went in there to bust heads and I found Isadora Eisenhower, the only woman I ever loved, instructing one of my interns, who had a heart in her hands and Izzy Eisenhower was younger than she was on the day I met her, forty-five years ago.”

“ Holy fuck!” Peeps said.

“ This is a Catholic hospital,” Shaffer said. “But we’ll make an exception.”

“ It’s gotta be some kind of trick,” Mouledoux said.

“ Last night,” Dr. Jordan said, “Isadora Eisenhower presented with a chest wound. It looked like the bullet had smashed right on through. Smack through her chest, smack through her heart. She should’ve died when she was shot, but somehow her heart was still working. She was alive when she came here, but she didn’t last long. I called it and they took her body away.”

“ And now,” Drake the attorney said, speaking for the first time, “it looks like she woke up in the morgue, minus about fifty or sixty years, donned a pair of scrubs, performed open heart surgery, then vanished.”

“ That’s spooky.”

“ Yes, Detective Mouledoux,” Shaffer said, “that’s spooky. So, you can see why we don’t want this getting out, can’t you?”

“ Yeah,” Mouledoux said, “you’d be jammed with people looking for the Fountain of Youth.” He looked around the room. “Every doctor and every hospital in the world would be. It’d be chaos.”

Leaving Aaron to close had been a stroke of genius. It had given Izzy time to get out of the hospital and with her new found youth, she was able to run like the wind. She’d made it home, sweating like a marathoner, in under fifteen minutes.

In her house, she stripped off the scrubs and stuffed them in a paper bag. She didn’t think Aaron would be able to keep what had happened to her quiet for long. He’d try to honor his promise, but there were cameras in the OR. And those cameras, combined with her missing body, painted one heck of a picture. Then there was the anesthesiologist, the intern and the nurses who’d assisted her during the surgery, too many people to keep quiet. She had to get out of town.

She’d jumped into a pair of Levi’s. Pulled on a Wolf Pack sweatshirt, put on her own Nikes, glad to be shed of the too tight shoes. Dressed now, she stuffed some clothes in an overnight bag, went to the kitchen and wolfed down some enchilada leftovers. She’d been famished.

Then she grabbed her iPhone and called Amy.

“ Nana,” Amy answered on the first ring. “I think I’m in trouble.”

“ Not as much as I am.”

“ No, I’m in worse,” Amy said.

“ Listen, Amy, this is important. Don’t talk, just listen. Can you do that?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Remember that special place I used to take you when you were little, your favorite place in all the world?”

“ Yeah.”

“ I need you to go there now. Don’t ask why, just trust me. I’ll pick you up in half an hour. That’ll be 5:00 dead on the money.” Izzy figured she couldn’t run back to the Silver Legacy, get her car, then get to the meeting place any sooner than that. “Can you be there in thirty minutes?”

“ Yeah, sure.”

“ And Amy, one more thing and this is very important. Destroy your phone right now. Don’t just leave it, destroy it, make sure the GPS chip inside is toast. Use a hammer if you can get one.”

“ Nana?”

“ Can you trust me on this?”

“ You’re scaring me.”

“ I’ll explain when I see you. Just trust me.”

“ Okay, smash the phone, meet you at our special place. Got it.”

“ Good girl.” Izzy ended the call, took her iPhone out to the garage, got a hammer from her tool kit and gave it five whacks. Back in the living room, she opened the front blinds and turned on the TV as she always did, to fool a would be thief. That done, she locked the door, then took off toward the Silver Legacy at a dead run.

***

“ So how come you didn’t hold her,” Peeps said. “You coulda called security and restrained her till we got here.” He looked at his watch, “Shit, It’s only been twenty minutes since Dr. Romero called me and said you had a homicide here. Woman shot through the heart, he’d said.”

“ Yeah,” Mouledoux said, “he’s right. The woman was already dead, we coulda had a cup of coffee, some donuts, taken our time, because you acted like there was no hurry. And we still made it here in less than half an hour. If you’d’ve said it was important, maybe we coulda got here in time to make a difference.”

“ I wasn’t able to call right away.”

“ Why not?”

“ Because she had me close and because,” his voice dropped, “she asked me to keep her secret. She didn’t have to say what secret; it was pretty obvious.”

“ And you told her you would?” Peeps said.

“ Of course, we’re friends. We’re close. I used to be in love with her.”

“ Yet you called us right after you finished the operation,” Mouledoux said.

“ I think she knew I would, because as soon as she was sure the patient was out of danger, she stepped away from her and told me to close. Then she left the OR.” He sighed that troubled man’s sigh again. “There was nothing I could do and she knew it. I sent one of the nurses for a resident, who could take over, but that took twenty minutes or so. Then I had Dr. Romero call you.”

“ So she’s got an hour on us,” Peeps said. “Give or take a few.”

“ She’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” Shaffer said. “She knows what what will happen to her.”

“ Whatdaya mean?” Peeps said.

“ He means that her life’s over,” Mouledoux said. “They, we, are going to hunt her down. Then they’ll lock her up like a lab rat and they’ll do every test they can think of till they find out how she got young again. And even if they find out, they’ll never let her go, because once they have the secret, they’ll want to keep it secret.”

“ I don’t understand,” Peeps said.

“ Think about it, Joe,” Mouledoux said. “Just imagine for an instant that you could make a concoction from this woman’s blood. One shot of this stuff and you’re young again, maybe immortal. You think people are gonna want this?”

“ Well, yeah!”

“ Everybody’s gonna want it. They’d kill for it.”

“ I can see that,” Peeps said.

“ And nobody would ever die.”

“ So?”

“ I’m afraid,” Shaffer said, “that Detective Mouledoux is right. A secret like this has to be locked away.”

“ Because?” Peeps said.

“ Because,” Mouledoux said, “if nobody ever died, we’d run out of food pretty quick. The world wouldn’t be able to keep up. There wouldn’t be enough houses, cars, schools or anything else you can think of; the world would run out.”

“ So they’d lock her up?” Peeps said. “And nobody would get it?”

“ Oh people would get it,” Mouledoux said. “If your last name was Clinton or Kennedy or Bush or Obama, you’d get it. Or if you had a billion bucks, you’d get it. Or if you maybe knew or blew the right people, you’d get it. But us ordinary folks, we wouldn’t get it. Do I have that about right, Dr. Shaffer?”

“ That’s not for me to say.”

“ But you want it for yourself, right?”

“ That thought hadn’t entered my mind.”

“ Then why’d you call us?” Mouledoux said.

“ We had a gunshot wound,” Shaffer said. “It’s the law.”

“ No, you had Dr. Romero call my partner, because you thought we’d cooperate, that we’d hop to and pick up Dr. Eisenhower, who apparently has committed no crime, done nothing wrong.”

“ For her own protection,” Shaffer said.

“ And what did you want us to do after we picked her up? Take her to the cop house, book her? Or did you want us to swing by here and drop her off?”

“ I’m not sure I appreciate your tone,” Drake the lawyer said.

“ And I don’t understand why you’re even here, because for the life of me I can’t see how the hospital can suffer any liability over this.”

“ We pronounced her dead,” Dr. Jordan said. “We we’re going to send her off to the county morgue.”

“ She could sue,” Drake said.

“ Alright, you’re only interest in Dr. Eisenhower is her safety and the hospital’s liability. I get it,” Mouledoux said. “I don’t believe it, but were going to go along with you anyway, because this is too big to get out. She can’t have gotten far, we’ll pick her up and we’ll bring her back. It stinks, but we’ll do it.”

“ We’re going to go along with them?” Peeps was getting it now.

“ Yeah, Joe. It’s best.”

“ I’m glad you understand,” Shaffer said.

“ So, who you gonna call after we bring her in?”

“ Nobody, we just need to contain this.”

“ And those tests I was talking about?”

“ Only if she wants them,” Shaffer said. “This is a hospital, not a prison.”

Mouledoux didn’t believe anything coming out Shaffer’s mouth. The doctor was exuding anticipation. The man had the pasty white skin of those painted vampires he’d seen on the street last night and like Dracula, the man wanted her blood. He wanted to be young again. Who wouldn’t?

The lawyer too. He wanted the woman’s blood as badly as Shaffer. Mouledoux could see it in his eyes. Romero wanted it as well. That’s why he’d called Peeps. They were hoping Joe would round the woman up, bring her back and keep his mouth shut for old time’s sake. Peeps probably owed Romero some favors and Shaffer knew it, otherwise they wouldn’t have brought him in. Dr. Jordan, she seemed sincere, but they couldn’t keep her out of it, because she’d treated Eisenhower.

Maybe he could trust her, but the others, not a chance.

He tapped Peeps on the arm, got up. Peeps got out of his chair too.

“ Maybe she’s running, but maybe she’s not. Maybe she’s still in the hospital somewhere or maybe she just walked on home. You got an address?”

“ Yes, she lives on Putnam, off Washington, by San Rafael Park; 581 Putnam Drive.”

“ That’s maybe a thirty minute walk, maybe a little longer. Chances are we’ll probably find her there if we leave now.” He turned to go, then turned back to Shaffer. “This is a big hospital and there’s a good chance she’s hanging around here someplace, you should check.”

“ We will, but I think she’s gone. I hope you find her before word gets out and somebody else does.”

“ We’re the only ones who know,” Peeps said. “If none of us talk, how can the word get out?”

“ Oh, somebody else knows,” Mouledoux said.

“ He’s right,” Shaffer said.

“ Who?” Peeps said.

“ Whoever made her this way,” Mouledoux said. “He knows. Some scientist somewhere, operating out of a secret lab, or maybe some top secret government types. Somebody. Somebody did this to her and she probably knows who.” Mouledoux was at the door. He opened it, held it for Peeps.

Mouledoux retraced his steps and in a few minutes they were in the parking lot. There was a ticket on the ride. Mouledoux laughed.

“ What’s so funny?” Peeps said. “You’re the one who signed it out.”

“ Swell.”

“ Don’t worry, I’ll handle it.”

“ Thanks.” If there was anyone who could get a parking ticket fixed, even parking in a handicapped zone, it was Peeps. “Christ, one woulda thought the meter maid woulda seen it was one of ours.”

“ They don’t pay them to think.”

Ten minutes later they pulled up in front of Eisenhower’s two story house. There was no car in the driveway. However, the blinds were open and Mouledoux could see a big screen TV on inside.

“ Think she’s home?” he said.

“ Hard to tell.” Peeps said. “TV could be to fool anyone thinking of breaking in.”

“ Let’s find out.” They got out of the ride, went to the front. Mouledoux rang the bell and got no joy. He tried again. Still no joy.

“ Don’t look like she’s here,” Peeps said.

“ No, it doesn’t.” Mouledoux went to the gate to the side yard. It wasn’t locked. At the side of the house, he saw a side door for the garage, tried it and found it unlocked. He shook his head, entered.

“ We got no warrant,” Peeps said.

“ This woman’s in trouble,” Mouledoux said, “and it’s our job to help if we can.”

“ You’re saying we shouldn’t do what you said, you know, take her back the hospital.”

“ Fuck no. I find her, I’m gonna advise her to get a one way ticket to Rio and to never come back.”

“ But what about the chaos you said would happen?”

“ It’s gonna happen anyway.”

“ I don’t understand.”

“ You think that lot back there can keep their mouths shut? Christ, that Dr. Shaffer promised Eisenhower he’d keep her secret, then as soon as he possibly could he has Romero call us and he spills his guts. If he can’t keep his word to someone he respects and used to be in love with, you think we can trust him just because he says we can?”

“ I hadn’t thought about it.”

“ And that fucking lawyer. I’ll give you odds he’s got a half dozen P.I. s on the job looking for her.”

“ Look.” Peeps pointed.

“ Smashed her iPhone,” Mouledoux said. “She’s on the run.”

“ So what now?”

“ You’re the senior detective. How should I know? I’m the new kid on the block.”

“ You can spend the next couple three hours digging into her past,” Peeps said. “Find out if she’s got friends she trusts. I’ll check with the granddaughter’s ex, see if I can get a line on her.”

Peeps Friday knew an opportunity when it knocked and this one was banging away at his door with a sledge. He didn’t believe for a second the preposterous story about that old bat getting young again, but this was exactly the kind of information Mansfield Wayne paid good money for and if there was one thing Peeps Friday coveted, it was good money.

He shivered a bit as he got on 395 and headed south. It had been a long time since he’d been out to the Wayne estate and he was always apprehensive when he went there. Going through the gates was like entering the embassy of a foreign country. Maybe it was only four or five acres at the top of Saddlehorn Drive, but inside those gates old Manny Wayne was the law and his security guards, who were fiercely loyal, would skin you alive and serve you to his Rotweiller guard dogs if he asked them.

Maybe he should have called first, Peeps thought as he turned onto Mount Rose Highway. He’d gone back to the hospital and gotten the disc from Dr. Shaffer, telling him he’d copy it and get the original back to him. Shaffer hadn’t wanted to give it to him, but he’d had no choice. Neither had Peeps, becasue Manny needed to see the disc. Manny, like himself, may not believe what was on there, but maybe he would. One thing was for sure, he darn sure wouldn’t believe the story if Peeps told him over the phone. Seeing is believing, he told himself.

But he didn’t believe it.

But he hoped Manny Wayne would.

Mansfield Wayne was just leaving the john, which because of his enlarged prostate he was visiting a lot more than he liked, and about to make his first martini of the evening, when Gerald, the major on duty, he liked to give his guards rank, rang him and told him Peeps Friday was at the gate. It was 5:00 and he had his first drink at 5:00 straight up and his second at 6:00, seven nights a week, without fail. He spent the two hours, from 5:00 to 7:00, in thought. He didn’t like to be disturbed and those who knew him, knew this. So, he carried a touch of irritation with him when Peeps showed up at the door.

“ Mr. Mansfield, I have something for you,” Peeps said.

“ Mr. Friday, you know about my private time.”

“ This can’t wait, Mr. Mansfield. Because of the hour I was going to take this to your son, but with all due respect, sir, this is too big for Tucker. I had to come straight to you and I had to come as soon as I possibly could.”

Mansfield Wayne was a quick study and what he saw told him Peeps was about to burst. Peeps was greedy, but he wasn’t stupid. If he said he had something too big for Tucker, then he did.

“ Come in, Peeps.”

Chapter Five

“ Get your slobbering face off my shoulder.” Amy pushed Hunter’s face away and the Siberian husky sat back in the backseat with a woof. Amy turned, looked back at him. She could swear the dog was sulking. “I’m sorry, don’t feel that way. I didn’t mean it.”

In an instant Hunter was back on his paws, looking at her with his odd eyes; one blue, one brown. His fur was a solid dark grey, almost black, but not, save for his white face and the insides of his ears, which were also white. He looked ghostly. A friend, who danced at the Men’s Room with Alicia, got a job in New York and couldn’t take the dog. So Alicia, the Southern girl with a heart of gold, said she’d take him.

From what Amy had gathered it wasn’t working out. Alicia wasn’t really a dog person. She liked her freedom. Liked to be able to take off on the weekends or whenever on the spur of the moment. She couldn’t do that with a big dog. Not unless she took him along and she didn’t seem to be up for that.

“ Okay, boy,” Amy said. “You can come back.” And in an instant Hunter had his head back on Amy’s shoulder, staring, as Amy was, out the front window as she piloted her car into the park.

“ He likes you,” Alicia said as Amy made a left.

“ There’s a gazebo up ahead by a little lake; more like a pond, actually. Nana and I used to feed the geese there. That was my favorite place in all the world.

“ Really?” Alicia said. “A pond in the park? That’s your favorite place?”

“ Yeah, I was a kid, but I wasn’t stupid. I knew my parents didn’t want me, didn’t even love me. But Nana did. She was an important doctor, but she found time every day to take me out here, to be with me, to show me she loved me. No matter if she had to do a transplant or teach someone else how to do one that day, she always worked me in. That’s why it’s my favorite place.”

“ I can get that. My parents were way into their own power trips. My dad was a big time criminal lawyer in New Orleans and my mom owned a restaurant on Bourbon Street. They never had time for me.”

“ That’s too bad,” Amy said. “And it’s too bad I messed things up with Nana by going out with that sleazy Tucker Wayne.”

“ I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. Bob Dylan said that.”

“ Yeah, well, he was right.” Amy saw the gazebo she used to love so much, still did, truth be told. She pulled off the road, parked next to it.

“ I don’t see anyone and it’s a minute after. You don’t think she left?”

“ No, Nana wouldn’t do that. She’ll be here.” And as she completed the sentence, her grandmother’s Jeep-like Dodge Raider turned the corner, coming toward them. She pulled up next to Amy’s VW, parked, got out of the car.

“ Holy shit!” Alicia said. “She looks just like you!”

“ Yeah, holy shit,” Amy said.

“ Woof.” Hunter sort of half barked, then went to the woman with her face and Nana’s car, sniffed her hand, turned and faced Alicia and Amy, as if to say he belonged to this stranger now.

“ I didn’t know you had a twin sister,” Alicia said.

“ I don’t,” Amy said. Then to the woman with her face, “Who are you?”

“ Who do you think I am?”

“ You’re the spitting image of Amy, except for the eyes.” Alicia said. “Is it possible for identical twins to have different colored eyes?”

“ No.” The woman said.

“ Why not? Hunter’s eyes are different colors, so if he had a twin, why couldn’t it have two blues or two browns?” Alicia didn’t seem the least bit startled by this woman.

“ It doesn’t work that way,” the stranger said.

“ Woof.” Another half bark from the dog, probably because he’d heard his name. The animal looked up at the stranger and it seemed like something passed between them.

“ David Bowie eyes,” the stranger said.

“ Yeah, kinda,” Alicia said.

“ Why do you have Nana’s car?” Amy said.

“ Because I’m your grandmother.”

“ That’s impossible.”

“ Yesterday I’d’ve said the same, Pumpkin, but now, well now, I don’t think I can.” She gave Amy a smile she’d know anywhere. And those brown eyes were Nana’s eyes. Impossible as it was, this woman was her grandmother.

“ You haven’t called me that in a long time.”

“ Double holy shit!” Alicia said. “This is right out of late night radio.”

Emotions Amy couldn’t understand were rippling through her body. She had questions and was about to ask one, when Nana pasted her car with a scowl.

“ I’d know that car anywhere. You were the ones who ran down that couple last night on Sierra.”

“ We did that,” Alicia said, “but don’t blame Amy. I was driving. We were afraid, because you, or rather an older version of you, was screaming out that someone was trying to kill her. I know I should’ve stopped, but I saw someone on the sidewalk and I knew they’d call 911. There wasn’t anything we could do, except stop and maybe get Amy killed.”

“ And where did you get that car, young lady?” If Amy would have had any doubts that this was her grandmother, that tone of voice would have taken them away.

“ Tucker bought it for me.” Amy winced when she said his name.

“ Tucker!”

“ Don’t worry, Dr. Eisenhower.” Alicia said. “They’re not seeing each other any more.”

“ I’ve got a lot more on my mind right now than Tucker Wayne,” Nana said.

“ Wow,” Alicia said. “I was a little clairvoyant with that Dylan quote, wasn’t I, Amy?”

“ Yeah, I guess you were,” Amy said.

“ You’re really finished with Tucker?” Nana said.

“ She really is,” Alicia said.

“ I thought he was going to let me go,” Amy said. “We had it worked out.”

“ That was before his hit woman Lila Booth saw a tape of you copying files from his computer.”

“ There was a camera?”

“ How could you be so stupid?”

“ I wanted to leave him and I thought I needed insurance. It turned out I didn’t.” She was scared now. In the last few months she’d heard stories about what could happen to you if you crossed Tucker Wayne. “I’ll call him up. I’ll give it back.”

“ He already has it. Lila broke into your apartment.”

“ That bastard,” Amy said.

“ He is a bastard,” Nana said, “but he’s the one who warned me that Lila was coming after you last night. If it wasn’t for him, you’d be dead now. Anyway, I’m glad you’re through with him. Now we have to go.”

“ Where?” Amy said.

“ Far away.”

“ Because that Lila Booth person is trying to kill Amy?” Alicia said.

“ I can probably fix that, eventually,” Nana said. “Mostly we’ve got to disappear because of what’s happened to me. Once it gets out, you can imagine what they’d do to me.”

“ Well yeah, the government alone, they’d be pretty interested,” Alicia said.

“ So we’ve got to get on the road,” Nana said. “The sooner we’re away from here, the better.”

“ Excuse me,” Alicia said, “but wouldn’t you be better off hiding, you know, someplace close by, where whoever might come after you would never look. Someplace safe, rather than drive away to who knows where, with spooks and spies and Lila Booth hot on your trail. I’ve seen that movie and somebody always gets killed.”

“ Who is this person?” Nana said. It was odd thinking of her as her grandmother, but despite the way she looked now, it was Nana, of that Amy was sure.

“ She’s my friend Alicia,” Amy said.

“ So, Alicia,” Nana said, “do you have anywhere specific in mind?”

“ Yeah, my place. You can hang till this Lila Booth person and whoever else is looking for you are convinced you’ve disappeared, then you can leave. Like, when it’s safe.”

“ It could be a long time.”

“ No worries. I’ve got lots of room, plus I make tons of money, so you all won’t be a problem.”

“ She does have a big house,” Amy said. “I think it’s a good idea.

Izzy followed Alicia out of the parking lot with the dog riding shotgun. When they’d decided that she and Amy would follow Alicia and Hunter to Alicia’s, the dog seemed to object. He went to Izzy’s car, parked himself by the passenger door and wouldn’t budge. He was her dog now. She knew it. The dog knew it.

So Amy got in the yellow VW with her friend, Hunter jumped into Izzy’s passenger seat when she opened the door, sat straight up, like it had been his place forever.

“ There is something very strange going on here, big guy.”

“ Woof,” the dog answered.

“ And I suspect you might know more than you’re letting on.”

Five minutes later, Izzy parked alongside the girls, who had pulled into a driveway of a two story yellow house three blocks from the university. She was about to shut the engine off when Alicia got out of the VW.

“ You should park in the garage.” Alicia pointed to the garage doors, a double and a single. She had a three car garage and Izzy wondered how many cars she had in it. “I’ll just be a minute.” Alicia pulled a set of keys from her pocket, went to the front door, keyed the lock, entered the house.

Seconds later the double door went up and Izzy’s unasked question was answered. One car, a flashy red BMW sports car. And a lot of stuff. Amy pulled her VW in, parked next to the Beemer as the single door went up. Izzy pulled in, parked next to a mound of cardboard boxes. She was barely able to squeeze her little Raider in.

“ What’s in the boxes?” Izzy said.

“ Everything, including the kitchen sink,” Alicia said. “I’m an eBay junkie.” She laughed. “Sadly, I’m a neat freak, too, so there’s no room for most of this crap in the house.”

“ Then why do you buy it?”

“ I don’t know,” Alicia said. “I can’t seem to help myself.” Alicia wasn’t poor, didn’t appear to be watching her money. She lowered the door and Izzy and the dog followed her into the house.

“ Nice,” Izzy said once inside. The furniture was expensive, from the love seat and sofa in the living room to the designer lamps and the paintings on the wall, which all looked like original art.

“ You’ll be safe here,” Alicia said as Amy came in the front door.

“ I don’t know if I’ll ever be safe again,” Izzy said.

Mansfield Wayne paced his living room, with a wooden ruler in his right hand and with every third or fourth step he smacked the open palm of his left. He needed to feel the pain, needed to feel alive. He was seventy-seven years old, the same age as Isadora Eisenhower and, like her, he had terminal cancer. Cigarettes were the cause of his, Eisenhower, it seemed, was the victim of bad luck. He probably deserved his fate. She probably didn’t deserve hers.

Still, if one of them were to be spared, it should’ve been him. He ran an empire which employed thousands. Who was she? A woman concerned only for herself, that was plain to see, because if she had an ounce of concern for others in her condition, she’d’ve shared her secret. Nobody should be allowed to keep something like that all for themselves. It wasn’t right.

“ Stop it, stop it, stop it!” He flung the ruler across the room. He was Mansfield Wayne. He didn’t have to justify his actions. Yet, here he was trying to justify what he was about to do. He didn’t do that. He was a man who took what he wanted and who fought like hell when somebody tried to take what was his. Eisenhower had something he wanted. No, something he needed, needed desperately. He was going to find her, learn her secret and take it.

He thought back on what Peeps Friday had told him. It was a fantastic story, an unbelievable story. Mansfield didn’t believe in the supernatural. Didn’t believe in ghosts. Didn’t believe in God either. If he couldn’t see it and touch it, it didn’t exist for him. But this did.

He could spot a liar at fifty paces. Peeps Friday was a lot of things, but he was no liar. Peeps may not believe in what he’d seen on that DVD, but he was telling the truth about how he got it. And from what he’d said, those doctors believed what they’d seen. Still, he wanted to make absolutely sure. He had to know if Lila had shot Isadora Eisenhower. He had to hear it from her own mouth.

The doorbell rang.

“ Finally.” He went to answer it.

“ I came as fast as I could,” Lila Booth said.

“ Not fast enough!”

“ Mansfield, I work for you, but I don’t have to. You don’t get to use that tone of voice with me.”

“ Yeah, yeah.” He waved a hand in front of himself, started for the kitchen. His martini had been interrupted, it was time to rectify the situation.

“ I’m serious. I am not one of your lackeys.”

“ Sorry,” he said. “You want one?” He held up the shaker.

“ You know I do.”

He made one for himself, one for her.

“ It’s good,” she said after taking a sip.

“ Glad you like it.” He went to the dining room, took a seat at the table. She did, too.

“ So what was so urgent that I had to drop everything and come right over?”

“ Tucker says you went rogue, that you’re going to take out Amy Eisenhower, without clearing it with him. Or more importantly, with me.”

“ I’m trying to keep my temper here.” She slid her hand into the backpack she always seemed to have with her. He hadn’t noticed it earlier, probably because he’d been too excited to pay attention. She had a gun in there, probably more than one. She was the only person in the world who could get close to him armed. His security had been warned to leave her be when she approached him. She was never searched, never would be. She was a coiled snake without a conscience, but she was his snake.

“ Hold your horses. I’m not upset.”

“ Then why am I here?”

“ I’ll get to that.” He took a sip of his martini, trying to slow the conversation down so he could get his bearings. “But first I want you to know how much Tucker and I appreciate all you’ve done for us.”

“ I don’t go rogue.” She eased her hand out of the backpack. “Amy Eisenhower copied Tucker’s files to a CD. I got it back and I decided to take care of her before she got a chance to go to the authorities. And I decided to do it gratis, something I never, ever do. I was willing to do this for you, because Tucker was out of the country. Because I couldn’t get through to you. And because of our long association. But I made a couple mistakes.”

“ Go on.”

“ One, I left a message on Tucker’s voice mail. That was stupid, because he still had feelings for the girl. He told her grandmother, who threw a spanner into my plans.”

“ And the other mistake?” This is what Mansfield had been waiting for, hoping for.

“ I let my temper get the better of me and I took out granny. Shot her through the heart.” She shook her head. “It was a stupid thing to do. A waste of a good weapon. A waste of my talent. And I put myself at risk for no reason.”

“ You shot her through the heart.”

“ Yes.”

“ So it’s true.” He sighed. For the first time in many months he felt hope. A great weight had been lifted from his shoulders.

“ Yes, she’s dead.”

“ I’d like to thank you for that.”

“ You wanted Granny dead.”

“ Yes. You’ll get your usual fee for that.” He gave her a smile, something he didn’t do often these days. “I would’ve wired the money as soon as I’d heard she’d been taken care of, but I had to hear it from you, that it was you who took care of it.”

“ I didn’t expect this.”

“ It’s okay, we appreciate everything you do for us and the last thing I’d want you to think is that we’d take advantage of you.”

“ That’s nice to hear,” Lila said.

“ Now about the granddaughter, Amy Eisenhower. I don’t want her dead.”

“ Don’t tell me you’re going soft because Tucker has feelings for her.”

“ Hardly.”

“ Then what?”

“ I want her alive.”

“ So you want me to leave her be.”

“ Not exactly. I’d like you find her and bring her to me. Alive. Double your usual fee.”

“ Go on.”

“ You get the extra money for two reasons. One, because you don’t get to kill her. I know how much you like to do that. And two, because this is between you and me, I don’t want Tucker to know.”

“ Why not?”

“ Because he has feelings for the girl, because she’s betrayed his trust and because now it’s personal. There was a time when I didn’t need you, because I took care of my own problems. I’m too old and too sick to go out and find her myself, so I need you for that, but I want to get my hands dirty with this one and I want to enjoy it. I want you to bring her here, drugged, with her hands cuffed behind her back.”

“ Why, Mansfield, I’m impressed.”

“ There’s more.”

“ Amy has a twin.”

“ No she doesn’t!”

“ Not a sister. A cousin, at least I think she’s a cousin. She’s also named Isadora. They’re identical, except for the eyes. Amy’s are blue, the cousin’s are brown. I want her, too, same way, drugged up and hands cuffed behind her back. I believe they’ll be together, so if you find one, you’ll find the other.”

“ Two of them,” Lila said. “That’s going be harder.”

“ And that’s why I’m paying you double your usual fee for the cousin as well.”

“ You’re being very generous, Mansfield.”

“ These women took something from me.” He met Lila’s eyes straight on. Like him, she could spot a liar. “Now I’m going to take something from them.” He wasn’t lying, he was going to take something from them, something precious. “Can you do this for me?”

“ Yes.”

Lila Booth’s liar radar was on full alert. He wasn’t lying to her. However, he wasn’t telling her the whole truth either, but he was offering too much money for her to decline. He probably knew that.

She preferred dealing in death. Dead people don’t testify. Still, she was confident she could find the girls and complete her mission in short order, thanks to the GPS tracker she’d put on Amy Eisenhower’s car. Its software was linked to Google Earth, so a couple minutes on her computer when she got home and she’d have Amy pinned down. And if the girls were together, as Mansfield said they would be, then all she had to do was round them up.

“ And to make your job easier, I have a gift for you.” Mansfield got up from the table, went to an antique hutch, opened the cabinet, took out a wooden box. He brought it to the table. “The box is teak. I had it made to house a special weapon.” He gave her a grin, not like the smile he’d favored her with earlier. This was his getting even grin, she’d seen it before and she was afraid of it.

He opened the box.

“ This is an X-2 Gauged CO2 pistol.” He was holding the pistol and looking at it the way a mother might a newborn. “It’s made out of 6061 machined aluminum, so it’s tough and reliable and it’s the best dart pistol money can buy.”

“ It looks like Han Solos’ blaster.”

“ Maybe, but this blaster doesn’t kill. It shoots a tranquilizing dart.” He reached back into the teak box, brought out a couple darts. “These babies are loaded with five cc’s of Ketamine mixed with a powerful sedative. Shoot the girls with these and they’ll go down and they’ll be out. When they wake up, I want them here.”

“ You’re asking a lot.”

“ That’s why you get the big bucks.” He handed her the gun. “How’s it feel?”

“ Heavy.”

“ Three pounds.”

“ I like the feel of a good weapon.”

“ The beauty of this pistol is that it’s almost silent,” Mansfield said.

“ That’s good,” Lila said, “because it’s a single shot weapon. I’ll have to reload before shooting again, so doing them in their sleep is best.”

“ Yes, you wouldn’t want to wake them.”

“ Don’t worry, I won’t.”

“ There’s a half dozen darts there.”

“ I’ll only need two.”

“ Take them all, just in case. You never know what might come up.”

Home, she booted up her computer and smiled. This was going to be the easiest money she’d ever earned. Amy Eisenhower was only a few blocks away. Her car was anyway. She checked her watch, 5:45. Too early, besides she liked to work late. In this case, 4:00 in the morning would be perfect, they’d be asleep. She could shoot them in their beds, bind them and drive them over to Mansfield’s at first light.

Chapter Six

Izzy lay awake in the king size bed. So much bed for only one person. Too much bed for her to fall asleep in. Besides, she wasn’t the least bit tired. She wondered why, because she hadn’t had any sleep since she’d walked out of the morgue twenty-four hours ago. She should be dead to the world.

Maybe it was her new found youth. Maybe her young body didn’t need as much sleep as she’d been used to. Or maybe she was never going to sleep again. She hoped that wasn’t the case, because lying in the dark, listening to the quiet, was dull going.

If she were home, she could get up and read or watch television, but she hadn’t thought to raid Alicia’s library and she didn’t want to turn on the television that was on the bureau opposite the bed, for fear she’d wake the girls in the next room.

Girls in the next room. That bothered Izzy. Alicia only had two beds in her large house. She’d converted one of her four bedrooms to a gym and another to a computer room. So Amy had to decide who to sleep with and, since the girl had spent the first four years of her life sleeping with Izzy, Izzy assumed they’d be sharing the big bed. But Amy said she’d be more comfortable sleeping with her friend.

Izzy never would have suspected someone as beautiful as Alicia of being gay. She looked like every man’s fantasy. And she never would have known if the girls hadn’t told her how they’d tricked Tucker Wayne into letting Amy go without a fight.

She smiled up at the dark ceiling. That was actually pretty smart. Tucker had probably been flattered. She could just see him with his chest puffed up, bragging to his friends about this gorgeous lesbian who had chosen him to straighten her out.

She wondered if Tucker could call Lila off. And if he could, would he? He’d said on the phone that they were even now, so Izzy thought not. Amy had stolen from him.

“ Damn,” she muttered. She’d left home so quickly, she’d forgotten to take her guns. She hated guns, was thought of as an anti-gun nutcase by all who knew her, even though she’d been born into a family of hunters. Her father and brothers had all carried. She’d been shooting as long as she’d been walking. But when she’d helped work on two girls who’d suffered multiple gunshot wounds, during her second week as an intern, she’d changed. Those girls died and along with them Izzy’s love of shooting had died, as well.

But Lee, her husband and the love of her life, was best friend to her brothers, hunted with them, fought with them, loved them almost as much as he’d loved her. When he’d died, she gave her brothers all of his guns, save the Glock, which she kept in her safe. That safe also housed a wallet gun her nephew Jeff got at a gun show in Las Vegas.

Two years ago her family had gathered at her house for Thanksgiving and later that evening, Jeff had had a little too much too drink. When she’d helped him up to the bed in one of her guest rooms, he’d grabbed the pillow, hugged it, rolled onto his side and passed out. She saw the bulge his wallet made in his back pocket, so she took it out, thinking to set it on the nightstand next to the bed, when she discovered it wasn’t a wallet at all. It was a small gun, a little Ruger, cleverly concealed in a leather holster resembling a wallet.

She’d taken the gun, put it in the safe along with her passport, other important papers and Lee’s Glock. Jeff, along with everyone else in her family, knew how she felt about guns, so in the morning he didn’t mention it. Neither did she.

As much as she hated guns, they’d come in awful handy if Lila Booth were to catch up to them. She sat up, heard the dog stir. He’d been sleeping by the side of the bed, but he was on all fours now, alert.

Alicia lived on Ralston, near the university. Izzy could walk over to Sierra, go up a couple blocks, then go through the park and enter her house through the back gate. If she didn’t turn on the lights, anybody who might be watching from a parked car out front wouldn’t know she was there. She could go in the back door, up the stairs to her room, open the safe, get the guns and be back well before dawn, without the girls ever knowing she’d been gone.

She sat on the edge of the bed. It had been a chilly night, but still, and she hated a stuffy room, so she’d cracked the window. She’d been lying awake in sweatpants, sweatshirt and thick running socks, as a hedge against the cold. She pulled off the sweatpants, stepped into her Levi’s. She’d been wearing her favorite Wolf Pack sweatshirt and decided to keep it on. She loved the Wolf Pack, UNR’s football team, and never missed a home game. She’d been going for years and they’d called her their good luck charm. She hoped the sweatshirt would bring her luck tonight.

She picked up her Nikes, then started for the bedroom door with the dog at her heels.

“ No, boy, you’re not coming!”

But the dog was thinking along different lines. As soon as she’d opened the bedroom door, he shot through, scurried down the stairs and was waiting for her by the front door. The door was bolted shut. A sturdy bolt. Izzy thought for a second, she could lock the door after herself, but she couldn’t throw the bolt. Plus, if she did lock up after herself, how would she get back in.

She backed away from the door, went to the kitchen and on into the garage, the dog at her heels.

“ I said you’re not going!”

At the side door, she pulled back the bolt, opened the door and the dog shot out.

“ Well, maybe you are going.” She pulled on her Nikes and followed Hunter out into the night, thinking that at least she wasn’t leaving the front door unlocked. And she’d be back in less than an hour, so she wasn’t too worried about leaving the house unprotected.

Outside, the air was brisk, the sky clear. She looked up, sighed as she spied the Big Dipper. She’d always loved the stars and even at her age, she still gloried in the Star Wars films, even the badly reviewed, “Phantom Menace.” True Anikan should have been older in the film, but even George Lucas can’t get it right all of the time.

“ Beam me up, Scottie.” She hugged herself. Then said, as she’d done countless times before. “I just wish you were out there, that you could take me away.” It had always bothered her that some poor guy from Kansas would complain how he’d been abducted against his will, when she was down here dying to go. If they were out there, why didn’t they pick her? Like life, it was so unfair.

At Sierra, she checked her watch. A quarter to three and the street was deserted. She heard a car coming from the south and stepped behind a tree as it approached. Hunter seemed to understand, because he moved behind her as a police car cruised on by. In her past life, the life before yesterday, she considered the police as friends and protectors. She wasn’t so sure anymore.

“ Come on, boy.” She started up the street, headed in the direction the police car had gone. Two blocks later, she came to the park’s eastern entrance. The park was closed, the gate was down and barred against traffic, but a person could step around it and she did. Hunter did, too.

She’d heard that sometimes kids hung out in the park after dark, but the back of her house bordered on the park and she’d never seen them. Folks said coyotes crossed under McCarren from the hills and came into the park at night, looking to catch the wild geese that hung out there. She’d heard them often enough, but she doubted they caught many of the geese. They were tough birds.

But she didn’t see any geese as she moved along the road and that was odd, because lately they’d been out in force, slowing traffic to a crawl, daring the cars to run them down as they took their own sweet time getting out of the metal monsters’ way. Maybe they went somewhere else at night. Or maybe the coyotes were about and the geese had hightailed it elsewhere, not wanting to do battle with them.

All of a sudden she was glad she had Hunter with her. She didn’t know why, couldn’t wrap her mind around it, but she knew the dog would protect her, that that was why he’d been so eager to come along.

“ Good, boy,” she said.

The further they got into the park, the more eerie it became. The lights on the ranger station, club house and museum were out. She could see them from her bedroom window and she’d never been able to pinpoint exactly when they went off. It seemed no matter how late she stayed up reading, they were on when she fell asleep and when she woke, usually before the dawn, they were out.

There was no breeze. No sound. It was as if she were in another world. Her footsteps were silent, the sound seemingly gobbled up in the night, but when she got to the gate behind her house, the hinges creaked to beat the band, sending a screeching fingernails on blackboard sound jackknifing up her spine, chilling the back of her brain.

She stood stone still, listened to the night, trying to hear if other humans were out, wondering if she’d disturbed anyone, but the night stayed quiet. As far as she could tell, her neighbors were all safely snug in their beds, dreaming away.

All of a sudden a cold breeze, coming from the north, chilled her. She turned, looked up. There were clouds in the northern sky. It seemed a storm was coming in. They hadn’t had any snow yet this year. It was due and it looked like it was coming.

She and the dog went through the gate and she screeched it closed, pushing it against the wind, which was strong now and getting stronger.

She went to the back door, the wind at her back and Hunter at her heels. She keyed the lock, was about to open the door, when the dog moved between it and her, waiting for her to open it.

“ No!” she whispered. “You stay here.” She was only going to be inside for a couple minutes tops and she was going to be stealthy and quiet, in case there were watchers out front. The last thing she needed to be doing was chasing a dog around in there.

The dog looked up at her, whined.

“ No, sit!” Though she was whispering, she was firm.

But the dog didn’t sit. He persisted in trying to block her entry. Either that, or he was being insistent on going in first. Either way, Izzy wasn’t having it.

“ I said sit!” She grabbed the fur on both sides of his ghostly white face and pulled him away from the door. She pushed down on his haunches. “Sit!”

The dog did.

“ That’s better.” But when she went back to the door, the dog was there before her, whining.

“ Sit!” she pointed back to where she’d taken the dog. “Now!”

Hunter gave her a baleful look, moved aside, sat.

“ That’s better.” She turned the key, entered into the kitchen, making sure to close the door after herself. She didn’t want the dog sneaking in.

Inside, she went to the stairs, stopped. Something wasn’t right, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. A smell seemed out of place. A hint of mint. An imaginary spider as real as any she’d ever been afraid of crept up her spine, stinging her back with every frozen footfall.

She made herself into a statue, ears attuned to the house, eyes getting used to the dark. She heard not a sound, save her shallow breathing. Her heart was racing, threatening to thump out of her chest. Cold sweat trickled from under her arms. Her hair felt like it was on fire. She wasn’t alone in the house.

Her first instinct was to turn and run back the way she’d come, lead the intruder into Hunter’s jaws. But she fought it. Whoever was in here with her was being silent as granite.

Why?

She strained her ears. Heard nothing and now even that smell of mint seemed to be gone. Could she have imagined it? She inhaled the night. No, it was there. Barely, but it was there. But did that mean there was somebody inside with her?

No, she was sure there was nobody in the house, because if there were, they’d’ve surely struck by now. More than likely somebody had been and gone, leaving his minty smell behind. She wanted to call out, find out for sure, but she resisted the urge.

Instead, she started up the stairs, went straight to her bedroom, then to the closet where she saw that her shoes, which had been neat little soldiers at parade rest on the floor in front of the safe, had been pushed aside. Somebody had been here, had found the safe, not hard to do as it was a two foot square thing on the closet floor. She hadn’t needed to hide it, as she had no jewelry to speak of. She’d only needed it to keep her back up hard drive and important papers safe from a fire. And to keep the guns safe. Her shoes had been in front of it, her winter sweatshirts had been folded on top of it. They too had been thrown aside.

She dropped to the floor, trained the tiny LED flashlight she kept on her keychain at the dial, dialed in the combination. Safe open, she took out a small Ruger. Officially called a lightweight compact pistol or LCP, Izzy had given it the name Elsie Pee. A couple weeks after she’d confiscated it, she’d gone to Shields, just about the largest sporting goods store on Earth, and bought a box of the new Buffalo Bore 380 Auto +P Jacketed Hollow Points. If she was going to have a gun in her safe, she needed to know if she could rely on it if the day ever came, though she never imagined it would.

Izzy wasn’t a fan of hollow points, because of the damage they could do, but she didn’t trust any of the other ammo on the market made for the little gun. She never wanted to fire it, never planned on firing it, but if she ever did, if she ever had to, she wanted to stop whoever she was shooting at and the ninety grain jacketed Hollow Points made by Buffalo Bore would stop any man. Not like the Glock would. That would rip an attacker a new asshole, make him dead fast, but the little Ruger could be carried in a lot of situations where the Glock would be impossible to conceal. Especially with the wallet holster her nephew had made for it.

She put a magazine in the weapon, racked the slide, chambering a round, then she ejected the magazine, slid another round in it, then reinserted it. That gave her seven shots, six in the mag, one in the chamber. Satisfied, she slipped the gun into the wallet holster, stuck her finger through the hole in the center of the holster, fingered the trigger. Perfect. The weapon would look like a wallet in her hip pocket, but instead of money it held seven rounds of hurt.

As she was left handed, she slipped the wallet gun into her left hip pocket. Then she got out the Glock. It was a death making machine, a Glock 23, the official service pistol of the FBI. It held thirteen rounds of 40 caliber ammunition, yet only weighed about two pounds loaded. And though it was just shy of seven inches long, it was too big for her to conceal, unless she had it in the purse, where it would be hard to get at.

As she had with the small Ruger, she chambered a round, giving her fourteen rounds. She was an anti-gun nut, but she wasn’t stupid. Lila Booth was on the warpath, wanting her granddaughter dead and someone, probably Lila, had shot her last night. Plus, there was the problem of her new found youth. People were going to be after that. She needed protection.

Armed, she felt safer. With the Glock in hand and now with her eyes used to the dark, she looked around her closet, her clothes were neatly hung, just as she’d left them. Whoever had broken in either didn’t have the time or wasn’t inclined to rip the place apart in his search for who knows what, but he did think she might have something of value in the safe. Why else clear out the space in front of it? And why clear off the top of it? Had he been planning on carting it away, to open later? A strong man could do it, she supposed, or maybe two, or a man with a dolly. It wasn’t bolted down.

Maybe he wasn’t so strong. Maybe he was coming back with help or with a dolly.

Time to go.

She glanced around her bedroom on the way to the hall and the stairs, saw that it was undisturbed. Did that mean whoever had broken in was good at his craft or that he’d known about the safe and had come right to it?

She was still trying to work it out when she got to the stairs. If the man had known about the safe, how come he hadn’t had the ability to take it away? Was it bad planning? At the bottom of the stairs, she was still working on it when a horrible thought struck her. What if he had come equipped to take the safe? What if he had a dolly? Or worse, what if there were two men and they had planned on carrying it out, but then she’d interrupted them?

What if they were still in the house?

Out of nowhere a fist wrapped around the Glock, ripping it from her hand.

She smelled mint on his breath as she dashed back up the stairs.

She was at the top, when he grabbed her by the foot, jerked her backward. She fell on her stomach, used her hands and elbows to protect her face and chest as he pulled her down the stairs.

“ Don’t resist, Izzy.” It was Shaffer. After years of the man’s ass kissing, she’d know his voice anywhere. “It’ll go much easier if you cooperate.”

Chapter Seven

The man with mint on his breath flipped her over as someone turned on the light. The bright light stabbed her eyes and that-combined with the shooting hurt radiating out from the back of her head, caused because Minty Breath turned her hard, twisting her legs as he did it, smacking the back of her head into the bottom step-had disoriented her for a flash of a second. Thank God she’d gone for carpet on the stairs, because had she listened to her designer and gone with hardwood, the bastard could have cracked her skull.

She was about to let out a scream, when he’d slapped her.

“ Stay quiet!” His voice was rough, like he’d smoked too many cigarettes. Squinting against the light, she saw it reflecting off Minty’s shaved head, almost as if he’d oiled it. Recognition hit her like a wrecking ball. It was Eric Ackerman, the cigar smoking wise ass who worked for hospital security. She hadn’t seen him since she’d retired, over five years ago, but she’d know that oiled head anywhere. He’d been the butt of many jokes.

“ It’s best if you do as he says,” Shaffer again.

“ Where’s your red-faced girlfriend?” Izzy said to Ackerman, spitting the words between gritted teeth.

“ I’m right here,” Niles Lundgren said.

“ Did Aaron tell you girls that breaking and entering is a crime? Not to mention assault.” Though Ackerman and Lundgren tried to project tough guy images, they were lovers and everybody who’d worked at St. Catherine’s back when she was on staff knew it. Izzy was surprised they were still there. They were both cop wannabes and talked incessantly about how they were going to get on the Reno Police Department as soon as there were openings.

“ Smart mouth gonna get you in trouble.” Lundgren grabbed her left arm, Ackerman took her by the right and they more dragged, than lifted her into the living room, where they deposited her in one of the antique wing chairs she’d had facing the sofa. She never did like those chairs and she liked them even less right now. Her designer had insisted they were the perfect compliment to the room. White suede Chelsea wing chairs, they were as ugly as they’d sounded, but she’d been pulling seventy and eighty hours a week at the hospital back then and didn’t have the time or inclination to argue, so she’d been stuck with them. Time and again she’d promised herself she’d get rid of them, but like so many things in her life, she hadn’t found the time to get around to it.

Shaffer took a seat on the sofa, facing her, the gay guards stood behind her, with Ackerman holding the Glock. She wanted to spit in Aaron Shaffer’s face, tell him where to get off, but Lundgren had been right, her smart mouth would only get her in trouble. She needed to calm down, wait for an opening, an opportunity to get her hand into her back pocket.

“ You can understand why we’re here, can’t you?” Shaffer said.

“ No, Aaron, I can’t. I told you I’d call you and you gave me your word you’d keep quiet about what happened to me.”

“ Too many people saw you in the OR. They knew you weren’t on staff and they’d heard us talking. It was only a matter of time before someone put it together.”

“ Nobody knew me.” Izzy clenched her fists. “I told you I’d be in touch, that we’d figure this thing out. Didn’t you believe me?” She had to gain his trust.

“ Everything that goes on in the OR is recorded. Like I said, it was only a matter of time before somebody figured it out.”

“ You’re in charge of the hospital. If anybody could make those tapes disappear, it’s you.”

“ Water under the bridge,” he said. “We are where we are and we’re running out of time.”

“ Oh my God, what did you do?”

“ I was worried something might happen to you. I wanted to make sure you were protected.”

“ Who did you tell? Besides your gay lapdogs, that is.”

Ackerman slapped the back of her head with an open palm.

“ Ouch.” She really was going to have to watch her mouth.

“ Don’t anger them. It won’t help you.”

“ You didn’t answer my question.” She knew if she kept at him, he’d tell her. He was a weak man. Izzy had been surprised when they’d made him CEO of the hospital. They could have done much better and they couldn’t have done much worse.

“ I had Dr. Romero call somebody he trusts on the Reno PD.”

“ So Romero knows? You told Romero? Christ, why didn’t you just call a press conference?” Romero was a good doctor, but he was a gossip.

“ That may have been a mistake on my part.”

“ Who else knows?” She had to keep at him, keep him talking, until she got a chance to make her move.

“ The young doctor who worked on you in the emergency room, the hospital lawyer.”

“ And the cops, so what you’re saying is everybody knows. I wouldn’t be surprised if the men in black are on their way as we speak.”

“ Which is why we have to get you to the hospital ASAP and run some tests. We need to figure this out before they take over.”

“ I’m not going to the hospital,” Izzy said. “They’ll lock me up, stick needles in me, run tests ad infinitum. They’ll test me to death.”

“ We won’t tell them you’re there,” Shaffer said. “That’s the beauty of it. Everybody will be out looking for you and you’ll be right under their noses. Hiding in plain sight, so to speak. We’ll figure this out and once we do, you can quietly disappear, go to Mexico or South America, someplace where they’ll never find you.”

“ And who’s going to know I’m in the hospital, besides you and tweedledum and tweedledee here?”

“ Watch it!” Ackerman said. “Wouldn’t want another slap.”

“ Aaron is that how you plan on getting me to cooperate, by letting this goon smack me around?” Damn, she wasn’t being smart. She had to think of a way to get the goons behind her to relax, to maybe come round front, so she could see them.

“ Who’s going to test me, Aaron?” Izzy said. “Who’s going to keep quiet about this?”

“ I’ve got someone I can trust.”

“ What about them?” She raised a hand, pointed over her shoulder, back at Ackerman.

“ We can be trusted.” He laughed. “The doc’s gonna take care of us.”

“ What did you promise them, Aaron, immortality?”

“ Something like that,” Ackerman said.

“ What choice did I have?” Shaffer said. “I had to get a jump on this thing.”

“ Because?” Izzy said.

“ Come on,” Shaffer said. “Somehow you’ve stumbled onto the secret of the ages. It’s worth billions. People won’t grow old. Better, old people can become young again. Think of it.”

“ Is that the kind of world you want, one where nobody dies, where everybody stays young forever?” Izzy sighed. “There’ll be a population problem pretty quick, don’t you think? Food shortages. Riots. Perhaps this is a door best not opened.”

“ Don’t be obtuse!” Shaffer said. “This isn’t going to be for everybody.”

“ You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?”

“ Yes, but sadly not quickly enough.” Shaffer smiled. “That’s why time is so important. We have to move before others can.”

“ And you have the advantage, because you have me.” It wasn’t a question.

“ Exactly.” He started to get up. “We need to go now.”

“ I can give you the secret.” Izzy motioned for Shaffer to sit back down. “You don’t need to run any tests. Let me go and it’s yours.”

“ I’m all ears.” Shaffer plopped back on the sofa.

“ It’s a drug.”

“ I don’t believe that.”

“ It attacks the DNA, makes it reverse itself. It takes about a week.” She didn’t have a clue how DNA worked, much less if it could be reversed, but she had to make him believe. “But you suffer through a few hours of horrible pain just before it kicks in, before the change happens.” She tried to look sincere. “I can only liken it to heroin withdrawal, only much worse.”

“ So you didn’t come up with this drug on your own?”

“ I didn’t come up with it at all.”

“ What do you mean?”

“ I was just the human guinea pig. You know, since I was dying of cancer and all. Nothing to lose and everything to gain, but frankly, after I’d seen the pain it put the monkeys through, I expected the drug to kill me.”

“ So there’s a lab, with scientists?” Shaffer looked doubtful. She hadn’t sold him yet.

“ Of course, you didn’t really think I concocted this up in my kitchen? I’m a doctor, not a scientist.”

“ So where’s the lab?”

“ In El Segundo, but it doesn’t exist anymore. There was an accident. Actually not really an accident, but there was a fire. It was on the news.”

“ I don’t remember that.”

“ The one the PETA people started, because of the animal experiments.”

“ I remember something about that,” Ackerman said. Izzy didn’t know how, because she was making the whole thing up. Power of suggestion maybe.

“ The two principles, Doctors Johnson and Swift were killed. That’s a little tidbit they kept off the news.”

“ Yeah, I didn’t hear about that,” Ackerman said.

“ And you know this how?” Shaffer said.

“ Think about it,” Izzy said.

“ I’m at a loss,” Shaffer said.

“ You were there!” Ackerman said.

“ Maybe you’re not as stupid as you seem,” Izzy said, thinking the direct opposite.

“ You’re crusin’ for another brusin’,” Ackerman said.

“ So with Johnson and Swift dead,” Izzy said, ignoring him. “I’m the only one who can recreate the drug.”

“ How did you get out?” Shaffer said.

“ The fire started in the front, I went out the back.” She sighed. “Then I took off.”

“ Why did you run?” Shaffer said.

“ Because, I’d just taken the drug and I knew word would get out if it worked and I’d be in the same fix I’m in now. You want to lock me away, take my blood, do tests, figure out how to make the Fountain of Youth drug.” She shook her head, feeling her long hair as it swished about her shoulders.

“ So the research is destroyed?” Shaffer said.

“ Not all of it.” She smiled, looked Shaffer straight in the eyes. “I have the formula. It’s complicated and I can’t make heads or tails out of it, but someone could.”

“ And for it you want?”

“ Let me go. That’s all I want. You can have it, but I walk out of here, go far away and you never come looking and you never tell anyone.”

“ Deal.” He said it so fast his lying eyes almost didn’t have the time go give him away.

“ And you’ll keep your word?”

“ I’ll keep my word.”

“ You guys are witnesses,” she said to Ackerman and Lundgren, trying to broadcast sincerity. Trying to sound like a trusting airhead.

“ Where is the formula?”

“ In my wallet.” She reached her hand to her hip pocket as Shaffer leaned forward. She hoped that Ackerman behind her was as eager as Shaffer, because if he wasn’t, if he had the Glock trained on her, she was going to wind up dead.

“ Get it!” Shaffer said. “Let me see it!” Anxiety oozed out of his mouth.

“ Alright.” She arched her head back, locked eyes with Ackerman, standing behind and above her as she reached her left hand into her hip pocket, index finger finding the hole in the center of the wallet holster. She loosely wrapped it around the trigger and eased the holstered gun out of her pocket. Eyes still glued to Ackerman’s she brought the gun up fast. Shot him under the chin.

“ What!” Lundgren shouted, his voice almost as loud as the gunshot.

Shaffer lunged for her, but she was out of the chair in a flash, charging toward the small laundry room which opened to the garage. The garage had been converted to a library, with several rows of bookshelves. She ran through fiction A to E, found the electric meter, opened it and pulled down on the main breaker, shutting off the electricity to the house, turning everything dark.

“ Eric!” she heard Lundgren cry. “She killed him!” He was wailing like a man tormented. Somehow, she’d never thought of them being in love.

She also had never dreamed she’d be able to kill a man. She’d done it without thinking. She’d done it with eyes wide open. She’d seen the back of his head explode, seen the blood shoot toward the ceiling. It had happened in the blink of an eye. Then she moved, still without thinking, fearing the falling blood. She ran toward her books, instinctively shutting off the power to the house.

It had been a stupid move, because now she was trapped. She was as blind as her pursuers. She couldn’t even escape through the side door, because it was deadbolted shut. True, she had the keys, but how could she find the door, much less the lock, in this pitch black.

“ I’m coming for you!” Lundgren shouted. “I’ve got the gun.”

The Glock.

Shit.

She had to get out of here, but the only way out was that side door and even if she could find it now, Lundgren wouldn’t give her the time to open it. He’d do to her what she’d done to his lover and who’s to say she didn’t deserve it. She didn’t have to kill him.

Yes, she did. They were going to lock her away. There had been no other way.

Still, she’d killed him. Made him dead. He’d wanted to be young forever and now he was dead forever. She shivered. A gun made you a god. She didn’t like it, but she’d had no choice. Them or her. They’d made the rules, she was just playing the hand they’d dealt.

She heard the front door open, then close. Somebody had left, who? And more importantly, why? Had they gone for reinforcements? No. More than likely they were afraid the gunshot was going to draw the police. They’d left her with a body and the gun that had killed him. Young again only to spend her life behind bars. Somebody had gone out that door, both of them or only Shaffer?

As if to answer her question, she heard breathing.

It seemed to be coming from all around her. Someone was in here with her. Lundgren, had to be. Shaffer had cut and run, like the coward she knew him to be, but Lundgren had stayed to avenge Ackerman. In a way she couldn’t blame him. From what she’d known of them, neither Lundgren nor Ackerman had been too bright. Couldn’t even make the cops after all these years. Shaffer probably promised them eternal youth, riches, more. Now Ackerman was dead. Lundgren had lost not only his dreams, but his lover as well.

He wasn’t leaving, cops coming or no. He was going to see this through.

And he’d gotten in here without her hearing him. Maybe he wasn’t too bright, but he was stealthy. Plus, he had fourteen rounds to her seven. She had good bullets, but his were better. She had to end this quickly or she was going to be joining Ackerman in the hereafter.

“ Hey, bitch.” Lundgren was whispering and his voice seemed to be everywhere, like his breath. How come she couldn’t get a fix on it?

The bookcases were made out of solid oak. The were beautiful to behold and she was pretty sure they’d stop the Glock’s forty caliber slugs and she knew for certain they’d stop the little Rugar’s rounds.

She picked up a book. A thick one and tossed it toward the side wall, toward where she imagined her computer desk would be. It landed with a crash, followed by three quick gunshots which roared through the garage like a jet engine. If she hadn’t killed her iMac with that lucky throw, Lundgren just did.

Her eyes, bathed in pitch black, were light sensitive and she saw a red glow with each shot, but not the muzzle flash, because she’d been behind a bookcase. She grabbed another book, moved to another row. Tossed it.

He fired twice, lighting himself up with the muzzle flash.

She fired once, but not before the black reigned again. She dropped to the floor as a shot flew over her head, going through the garage door. She could just imagine it slamming into the house across the street.

He’d fired six rounds, leaving him eight. She’d fired once, leaving her six. She scooted back toward the breaker box, hugging the floor. He fired twice more, both shots missing by inches, both going through the garage door, shooting off into the night. The people across the street were not her favorite neighbors, but she didn’t want them hurt.

“ You’re dead, bitch!” He screamed it, a mournful wail that might not wake the dead, but the neighbors were getting an earful. Old Thelma Prescott, her nosey neighbor on the left, had surely called the police by now.

She reached into the bookcase, got another book, tossed it across the room. He didn’t fire.

“ Not gonna fool me again.” He had six rounds left, leaving them even. But his were deadlier. And if he wasn’t going to shoot off into the night anymore, she had a problem, because eventually, if he was any good at moving around in the dark, he was going to find her. And since he’d managed to get into the garage without making a sound, she’d have to assume he was good at it.

If she just knew where he was. She needed an edge, otherwise she was going to die in the dark. Then she had an idea. How to get her edge.

She felt for the wall behind her, then breathing quietly as possible, so that her breath was silent even to God’s ears, she inched her way up the wall, till she was standing next to the breaker box.

She steadied herself, back against the wall, reached to her side, felt the breaker box, eased her hand down to the main, took a deep breath, held it.

She flipped the switch.

And the garage filled with light.

Lundgren was facing away from her, but he was lizard quick in his reaction, turning fast. But she was already firing. One, two, three rounds into his side as he turned. Four, five and six, she stitched into his chest. Shock and horror filled his face as he glared at her for an instant, then fell forward.

Out of ammo, she shoved the wallet gun back into her pocket. She looked for the Glock, but he’d fallen on it. She was about to push the body aside and get it when she heard sirens off in the distance.

Time to go.

She started for the back, heard sirens in the park. She ran for the front door, grabbed a breath and stepped out into the cold.

“ Don’t move.” It was Shaffer and he had a gun stuck in her back. “This is a forty-five automatic. It may be World War II vintage, but it’s very deadly. So if you want to stay alive, we are going to calmly walk down to my car, you’re going to drive.”

“ No,” she said.

“ I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

“ I don’t think-”

A roar that sounded like it came from the bowels of Hell filled the night and from out of nowhere Hunter sprang, grabbing Shaffer by the gun arm, pulling him down. Shaffer tried to fight him off, flaying at the dog with his other hand, but the dog was too strong.

The forty-five went flying, landing on the lawn. Izzy ran for it, grabbed it, then turned toward Shaffer, who was on his back, limp under the dog.

“ Let him go,” Izzy commanded.

Hunter released, growled, stepped back as Izzy went to her knees. Shaffer lay still, eyes wide. His face spoke of a torturous agony.

“ My heart,” he said. Then nothing.

Izzy checked the carotid. No pulse. He was gone.

“ Fuck.”

“ What’s going on?” It was Thelma Prescott, her noisy, old, drunken neighbor. “That man’s hurt!”

Sirens filled the night. Getting louder.

“ Time to go.” Izzy started for the end of the street at a run, the dog at her heels, when a squad car came screeching around the corner, siren blaring.

Izzy stopped, caught in the black and white’s headlight.

Two cops got out of the car, doors open, shielding them as they trained their guns at her.

“ Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” one of them shouted.

“ On the ground, on the ground!” the other one was shouting, too.

Then they vanished.

One second they were there, the next they were not.

“ Come on!” Izzy said to the dog and they took off at a dead run.

Chapter Eight

Lila Booth parked on Ralston, across the street from a two story yellow house. The university was a couple blocks away and most of the neighborhood looked like it housed students, but a few of the homes looked upscale and this was one of them. According to her tracker, Amy Eisenhower’s vintage Volkswagen was in the garage.

Lila usually tooled around town in a flashy 1966 E Type Jag. She loved her little Darth Vadar black XKE. It was showroom perfect, would do a hundred and fifty without batting an eye, and it was a convertible. But when she was working, she used a bland Crown Vic, the same car preferred by police departments nationwide. It had a big trunk and was reliable and nondescript. The car was, of course, black.

It was 4:00 AM straight up. The sky was overcast and it was cold. A breeze was blowing from the north, promising even more cold to come. Lila loved Reno in the summer, but not so much in the winter. She was well off and usually took long winter vacations to the islands, both the Caribbean and the Hawaiian, but this year she’d stayed home, as Manny was worried about Tucker, afraid his son wasn’t thinking clearly, afraid he was making bad decisions. In short, Manny had been afraid he’d need Lila to clean up after his son.

She’d tried to reassure him that Tucker was a big boy, that he’d had his head screwed on straight. But Manny had insisted she stay close and she owed him, so no tropical sun for her this winter. She’d thought Manny was erring on the side of paranoia, but as it turned out it was caution, not paranoia that Manny was erring on the side of.

She got out of the car, slung her backpack over her shoulder, went to the front door, like she belonged. She was a pro with the picks and the lock surrendered to her expertise in seconds, but even though the doorknob turned, it didn’t open as the door had been bolted shut.

She saw a side gate, used it and at the back door she again tried her picks and again the lock gave up to her and again the door had been bolted from the inside. Damn. People were just a touch too security conscious these days.

Nothing for it but to use a window. But she soon discovered they were barred. Motherfuck. Now what?

The garage. She went to the side door and would wonders never cease, it was unlocked. She stepped inside, saw there was a bolt on the door, but someone had forgotten to throw it. The door had been left unlocked, unbolted. Big mistake.

She eased the door closed after herself, smiled when she saw Amy Eisenhower’s VW and Dr. Eisenhower’s Dodge Raider. Jackpot. She turned her eyes to a red Beemer sports car. Those weren’t cheap. She wondered what the person who owned it did for a living. She also wondered if he or she had just moved in, because there was a ton of stuff stored in new looking cardboard boxes.

Taking her eyes away from the cars and boxes, she saw the door to the house, was afraid for a second it might be locked and bolted, but it wasn’t. The door led into a well appointed kitchen and Lila gasped. Whoever lived here had her stove. The Grand Palais made by La Cornue. Two ovens, one gas, one electric, both with airtight seamless doors. The ovens cooked with radiant heat, Lila knew, because she was a gourmet chef when she wasn’t out killing people. The stove cost over forty thousand dollars. Only a true gourmet would have one. A gourmet with plenty of discretionary cash. This stove was yellow, which matched the kitchen, Lila’s was, of course, black.

Lila decided she had to know whoever owned this stove, man or woman. Like Lila, this person had taste. She hoped Mansfield Wayne wasn’t going to harm this woman. She had to be a woman, Lila decided and she wondered if she had brown eyes, if she was the brown-eyed version of Amy Eisenhower, Manny was so interested in.

With her eyes still on the yellow stove, Lila set her backpack on the kitchen counter by the sink. The sinks were granite and they looked like they were molded into the counter. This lady had class, easily as much as Lila herself, much more than the Waynes, Mansfield and Tucker.

With the backpack open, Lila took out the dart gun, almost regretting what she was about to do. That wasn’t like her. She had no feelings; that’s what made her so good at what she did.

But before she sought out the bedrooms, Lila wanted to learn a little more about this woman. She opened the kitchen cabinets, found Japanese style dishes. In the silverware drawer she found expensive, but tasteful, flatware and several sets of chopsticks. Pots and pans were All-Clad, about the best you could get. Lila was impressed. This was an ideal kitchen.

She was stalling and she knew it. Time to go to work. She went up the stairs. The first bedroom turned out to be a home office, the second was made into a gym with a pretty impressive treadmill. How they’d fit in the room, Lila didn’t know, unless they’d taken it apart and reassembled it. The treadmill faced a wall mounted flat screen. Lila imagined a runner who didn’t like running in the cold, so she ran inside during the winter.

In the third bedroom, she found an unmade bed and that made no sense, because the woman who lived here didn’t seem the type to leave it that way. So why was the bed unmade? She got her answer when she checked the fourth and last bedroom. Two women were asleep in the same bed. Apparently the lady of the unmade bed got a little lonely during the night.

Cousins, that didn’t seem right, but it wasn’t Lila’s job to judge. She was here for a reason. She pulled back the covers without waking the women, found they were both wearing flannel pajamas. She stepped back and shot one of them in the ass. The girl moaned, jerked then lay still. The gun was virtually silent, making not much more noise than popping the top of a Coke can.

Lila reloaded the dart gun, moved around to the other side of the bed, shot the other woman in the rump. She jerked too, but this one stayed silent, didn’t moan.

With the girls drugged, Lila went downstairs. She needed one of the cars in the garage out and hers in. In the kitchen she found a key hook under a cork board. There were two sets of keys on them. One of the sets had an old VW key on it.

In the garage, she found the switch for the electric door and she moved Amy Eisenhower’s Volkswagen to the street. The spot remaining looked a little tight for her Crown Vic, because of all the boxes. The other set of keys were for the Beemer and she parked it on the street as well.

She got out of the Beemer, thinking how modern it was, even though it seemed to be trying to look like a classic. Give her the real deal any day. She pocketed the keys, studied the neighborhood. It was quiet, quieter than she would have expected, considering the fact that mostly students lived in it.

Good for her though. She didn’t want any prying eyes.

She backed the Crown Vic into the garage, then closed the door. She smiled to herself as she opened the trunk. Considering her line of work, one might have expected that she’d had a body or two in it in the past, but she hadn’t. This was going to be a first. Well, not bodies, not really; they weren’t dead.

And that gave Lila pause. She was being paid a bundle not to think, but she couldn’t help it. Manny wanted these girls alive. But why drugged? Then it hit her like a hammer upside the head. He didn’t want them talking to her. He was afraid of what they might say, of what she might learn. He didn’t trust her.

She slitted her eyes, fought fisting her hands as she felt the anger bubbling up. What could those girls possibly know that Mansfield didn’t trust her with? She’d pulled Tucker’s fat ass out of the fire more times than she cared to count. She’d killed for Mansfield, killed for Tucker, too. If Manny couldn’t trust her, who could he trust?

Stupid question.

There was nobody he could trust, except maybe Tucker and until right now, her. He was paying a small fortune to keep whatever these girls knew from Lila. Why?

It had to be more than money, because she’d handled more money for the Waynes than most people make in a lifetime, in a dozen lifetimes. So what could it be? Lila wanted to know, but unfortunately she’d already tranked the girls.

That was too bad.

Nothing for it now, but to load them up and deliver them to Manny. But she’d keep her ears open, because there was something weird going on.

Upstairs, she grabbed Amy Eisenhower in a fireman’s carry, took her downstairs and gently laid her in the trunk. Just a few minutes ago, she’d’ve tossed the girl in like a sack of meat, not caring how many bones got broken. But now, now she wanted to know what was going on.

She had a place in Virginia City the Waynes didn’t know about, maybe she’d take the girls there, find out what the big secret is. Manny could wait a day or two. Who knows, if it was big enough, maybe she’d do the girls and bury them out in the desert. She could always tell Manny she’d couldn’t find them, that they’d blown town, disappeared.

Back up in the bedroom, she pulled the other woman to her, then stopped. This woman was supposed to be Amy Eisenhower’s double, except for the eyes, but she didn’t look a bit like Eisenhower, so who was she?

And where was the brown-eyed double?

“ The other bed,” she said aloud. The double had been sleeping in the other bed, but she was gone now. Where?

Izzy ran past the black and white, with Hunter leading the way. He turned right at the corner and made for the park. She was on his flank. He was taking it easy, so she could keep up. Izzy knew this to be true, because he could’ve easily left her behind.

He turned away from the lit ranger station, led her to a copse of trees, then stopped. She was panting to beat the band. He was quiet, hardly breathing at all.

“ Good job, Hunter,” she said and the dog wagged his tail. He had saved her life, but Shaffer had died in the process. Still, Hunter hadn’t killed him. But if he were ever identified as the animal that brought Shaffer down, they’d probably put him to sleep. Heck, who was she kidding? If they caught her, they’d probably put her to sleep as well.

She heard more sirens off in the distance. Then the sound of a helicopter. More cops were coming. She needed to be on her way, because they’d be searching the park. Her breath caught, she started down the park road that led behind her house and the homes on Putnam Drive.

Those cops, they’d disappeared. Vanished. Went away before her eyes. How could that have happened? And she’d killed. How could she have done such a thing?

A car screamed into the park, turning off Sierra, coming toward her. The gate was open now. She stepped off the road, but the dog did not. She moved behind a tree as the lights caught Hunter. The dog turned, ran back the way they’d come, then turned into the park as the black and white chased after him. Hunter was leading them away from her, giving her a chance to escape. He was one smart dog.

She ran toward the gate and Sierra. All of a sudden she remembered the gun in her hand as another black and white approached, lights on, siren silent. Without thinking, she tossed the gun off to her left onto the dark grass.

The black and white slowed as it approached the open gate, stopped.

“ Can I help you?” she said as a young officer rolled down the passenger window. She tried a smile, hoped she was projecting sincerity, if not that, innocence.

“ We’re looking for a woman with a big dog, maybe a German Shepherd,” a young officer said. “You see them?”

“ Yeah.” She pointed into the park. “They blew by me running like bats outta Hell.” She widened her smile, showed some teeth. “But you guys are gonna have to hurry, because there were two men in a car just like yours hot on their asses.”

“ She have a gun?” the officer said.

“ I didn’t see a gun.”

“ Come on!” the driver said. “We gotta go.”

“ You boys be careful,” Izzy said.

“ Always,” he said. Then the driver hit the gas and they took off into the park. She didn’t know how long it would take them to figure it out, but she was guessing they would and when they did, they’d be coming right back after her, but she intended to be back at Alicia’s and safely tucked into bed before it hit them that they’d been pretty doggone stupid.

She retrieved the gun, then ran down Sierra to College, made a quick right, then a left onto Ralston, where she slowed to catch her breath. At Alicia’s, she started for the back gate and the side entrance to the garage, but came to an abrupt stop when she saw Amy’s vintage Beetle. And parked in front of it, Alicia’s Beemer. This wasn’t right, why would the girls take their cars out of the garage?

And if they were up, how come the lights weren’t on.

Something was wrong.

Izzy tightened her grip around the gun in her left hand. The last thing she wanted to do was to kill anybody else, but she would if she had to. She hoped there was a logical explanation for those cars being out front, but try as she might, she couldn’t think of one.

At the side gate, she stopped, listened, but the house was quiet. Had she not seen the cars parked in front, she’d’ve walked right in, but walked right into what? She pulled back on the latch and even though she eased it back, it clicked on release, not loud, but the sound seemed to reverberate through her.

She would have left the gate open, but she was afraid the wind would blow it closed and the last thing she wanted was the sound of the slamming gate advertising her presence, so she eased it shut after herself and again she felt the sound was unnaturally loud. She hadn’t thought of it as loud when she’d left, but she did now. She hoped, if there was an intruder inside, that they hadn’t heard, because she wanted the advantage of surprise.

At the side door, she found it unlocked, like she’d left it. She eased it open and it too sounded horribly loud, but Izzy knew it wasn’t. Were her ears more sensitive to noise? Was that part of this age reversal thing that was going on with her?

Door open, Izzy moved into the dark garage, easing it closed after herself. She was surprised at how well she could see. Almost as if the room were being lit by a hurricane lamp. What was happening to her eyes? All of a sudden she could see in the dark and what she saw was a four door Ford sedan like the police drove. No extra antennas though, so it wasn’t an unmarked cop car.

The trunk was open.

Izzy approached, saw Amy inside, hands tied behind her back.

They’d found her. She didn’t know who they were, but there was only one reason she could think of for Amy to be bound and in that trunk. Somebody-who knew about what had happened to her, about her sudden youth-wanted the secret and they’d come here, hoping to capture her alive, but instead they’d gotten Amy.

She heard someone moving around upstairs. She took a breath, held it, listened and instinctively knew the sounds were coming from Alicia’s bedroom. How could she know that?

Seeing in the dark, enhanced hearing, what next?

Gun in hand, she started up the stairs, moved down the hall toward Alicia’s bedroom. Holding the forty-five out in front of herself, she moved past the bathroom, stopped at the door to Alicia’s master suite, peeked in the door, saw Alicia in the middle of the bed, hands bound behind her back with some kind of plastic cable tie.

“ Ouch.” Something stung her. She ran a hand to her rear, pulled out a dart. Turned and saw Lila Booth holding a strange looking gun. Izzy pointed the forty-five at her, but Lila ducked into the bathroom.

Why? She had that gun, it didn’t make sense. Izzy was thinking at the speed of light. It was a dart gun, like rangers used on bears. It only had one shot. Soon she’d be as out of it as Amy and Alicia. She couldn’t wait for that. She had to act. She had to do something. Now!

She tossed the forty-five on the bed, charged down the hall, reached the bathroom door as Lila Booth emerged, dart gun reloaded.

Lila pulled the trigger. The dart hit her square in the chest, just below her breasts. Izzy ignored it, grabbed the dart gun by the barrel, ripped it from Lila’s hand, tossed it behind her, heard it hit the wall as she shoved Lila into the bathroom.

But Lila was turning to the side as Izzy shoved on past. Izzy hit the toilet with her shins, fell, head hitting the towel rack.

Lila grabbed her by the hair, jerked Izzy to her feet, wrapped an arm around her neck, chocking her.

Air! She was suffocating. She needed air. She stomped on Lila’s foot.

Lila grunted, but held on.

Izzy slammed an elbow into Lila’s stomach, felt the whoosh of air flee the woman’s lungs, hot on the back of her neck, but still Lila held on.

Izzy hit her with the elbow again, then again and then she realized she wasn’t breathing. Lila had choked off her air, but instead of making one last desperate struggle, a sort of calm descended over Izzy. It was as if she were someone watching from afar, almost like she was outside her body, seeing the struggle from above, however she wasn’t, but somehow she knew exactly what to do.

She reached a hand over her shoulder, grabbed Lila by her long hair and with a strength she had no business having, she bent into a crouch and pulled Lila over her shoulder and finally Lila let go, her body landing on the toilet bowl.

Izzy, with her hand still fisted in Lila’s hair, backed out of the bathroom, dragging the stunned Lila Booth after her. She’d intended on dragging the woman into the bedroom and somehow binding her so she could question her. She was thinking at light speed again. She was in the present. She was in the future. She was in her body. She was out of it.

All of a sudden she felt dizzy, nauseous, her stomach muscles clenched, she gagged, then vomited all over her captive as she doubled over, letting go of Lila’s hair.

And Lila reacted like a scalded cat, cat quick and cat smart. Despite the fact that she was covered in vomit, she grabbed Izzy’s left foot, jerked and Izzy felt as if the ground was being jerked out from under her as she fell onto her back.

Lila jumped on top of Izzy, vomit from her hair dripping onto Izzy’s face. She grabbed onto Izzy’s wrists, tried to pin her, but Izzy bucked, driving her pelvis upward, knocking Lila aside.

Lila scrambled backward, back toward the bathroom, pulled a gun. She must have had a holster in the small of her back.

“ Don’t move!” She had the gun pointed at Izzy’s chest. Both women were sitting on the floor, facing each other. “How come you didn’t shoot me when you had the chance?” Lila Booth said.

“ I don’t know, maybe I should’ve.”

“ Tables are turned now.”

“ You’re not gonna shoot the golden goose.” All of a sudden Izzy couldn’t take in enough air. She started panting. Her body seemed to be demanding oxygen now and she was having a hard time getting enough. She felt a pain in her chest, right about where Lila had her pistol aimed. She still had the dart in her. She pulled it out, started breathing normally. “Not very effective.”

“ That would take down a bear.” Lila Booth was out of breath, too. “It put your friends right out.” She wiped vomit from her forehead with the back of her hand. “But it didn’t affect you and that makes me curious.”

“ Yeah.” Again thinking faster than any human should be able to, Izzy put it together. Lila was the one who’d shot her. She didn’t die and somehow her masters had learned of it. They needed her alive. “You shoot me in the heart and I not only survive, but I walk out of the hospital over half a century younger than I went in and you’re wondering why your tranquilizer dart doesn’t knock me out.” Izzy smirked. “Well, I’m wondering, too.”

“ You’re Isadora Eisenhower?”

“ Oops.” Lila hadn’t known.

“ Dr. Isadora Eisenhower, the seventy-seven year old heart surgeon?”

“ Call me Izzy.”

“ This is a shock.” Lila looked lost in thought for a second, but her gun never wavered. She sighed. “And I find it hard to believe.” Then, “You assumed I knew.”

“ You didn’t?”

“ I’m still not believing it. But at least it explains why Mansfield wanted me to drug you and the other one. He didn’t want me talking to you. He didn’t trust me.”

“ Mansfield Wayne?”

“ Yeah. The old bastard himself.”

“ Guess he thought you’d want the secret for yourself.”

“ He has cancer, so I can see how this would intrigue him.” Lila scooted back against the wall, got to her feet. “I’ll trade you cars.” She reached into the front pocket of her jeans, withdrew a set of keys, tossed them to Izzy. “Your friends are going to be out for a while. If I was you, I’d get the one in the bedroom back there, toss her in the trunk and get outta town.” She smiled, but it didn’t look friendly. “I’ll take the BMW, tell them not to report it stolen and I’ll forget to tell to Mansfield you’re driving my Crown Vic.”

“ Why?”

“ I don’t like being lied to.” Lila crossed the room, picked up the dart gun.

“ But aren’t you his stepdaughter?”

“ Not really, though he did kind of raise me, but I still don’t like being lied to,” Lila said. “Besides, he’s not really like a father figure, never has been. He’s a user, but then I guess I am too. I suppose we use each other.”

“ That’s kinda sad.”

“ It is what it is.” This time her smile did look friendly. “And something more, maybe I’m walking away because the girl back there has a Grand Palais. I’d like to meet her someday, maybe share a few recipes.” Lila Booth nodded her head, went for the stairs. “I’m out of this now. You’ve got nothing to fear from me.” Then she took the stairs to the living room, threw back the bolt on the front door, went through it and was gone.

Izzy pushed herself to her feet, heard the Beemer turn over, then roar away. She shook her head, muttered, “What in the world is a Grand Palais?”

Chapter Nine

“ A Grand Palais.” Lila Booth shook her head as she piloted the Beemer around the corner onto College. “I let them go because of a stove?” She laughed. She’d never walked away from a job before. Never cared for anybody before, so how come she’d let them go because of a little lesbian who had good taste?

And now she was headed over to Isadora Eisenhower’s, because even though she’d let the women go, she couldn’t tell Mansfield that. Theirs was a strained relationship. She pushed him, but never too far. He pushed back. But she wouldn’t kid herself. The last person she wanted on her bad side was Mansfield Wayne. So she had to go through the motions. Fortunately, she hadn’t told him about the GPS in Amy’s car, so going to Eisenhower’s house would be a natural thing to do.

She’d go there, break in, snoop a bit, report to Mansfield and tell him the woman had flown the coup. But when she turned onto Putnam, she knew it wasn’t going to be so easy. The street was packed with cops. Seven Reno PD vehicles, a crowd of gawkers and a body on Isadora Eisenhower’s front porch.

What happened here?

She parked, took her phone from her backpack, called Mansfield.

“ Good news, Lila?” He’d answered on the first ring.

“ I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m parked across the street from Dr. Eisenhower’s. The street is full of cops and there appears to be a dead body on the doorstep.”

“ What?”

“ Gotta go, I’ve attracted the interest of local law enforcement. A cop’s motioning for me to roll down my window. Later.” She ended the call.

By the time Izzy caught her breath, Lila Booth was gone, leaving her in a quandary. A few actually. What to do with Alicia? Bring her or leave her behind? And should she flee with her Raider or take Lila Booth’s big car? And was she safe here or should she be on the road ASAP? And if she took to the road, where could she go?

Action, she told herself. She had to move.

She got up off the floor, went to the bedroom, having decided to bring Alicia along to wherever she was going. She hoped Mansfield Wayne, or anybody else who was after her for the secret, wouldn’t want to be bothered with the girls, once they knew she was well and truly gone, but she couldn’t count on it.

In the bedroom, Izzy scooped her arms under Alicia and was surprised to find out how light the girl was. She had no problem lifting her and carrying her down the stairs and out into the garage, where she laid her in the trunk next to Amy. Riding back there in their condition wouldn’t do them any harm and Izzy reasoned it was better than having them passed out in the car for others to see and maybe wonder about.

She loved her Raider, but she was going to have to leave it. She hoped Lila Booth was being truthful, because taking her big Ford was the only sensible thing to do. She closed the trunk, pushed the button to raise the garage door, got in the car, pulled out onto the driveway, was about to hit the gas when her lights caught Hunter’s odd eyes. She reached over, pushed open the passenger door.

“ Get in.”

The dog did and they drove off into the night; to where, she didn’t know.

Lila rolled down the window, looked up at a cop, who looked too young to grow facial hair.

“ I’m Officer Marshall. Can I help you, ma’am?” the kid cop said.

“ I hate it when people call me ma’am,” Lila said. “It sounds so old.”

“ Do you have a reason for being here? Do you live around here?”

“ No. I do a blog,” Lila lied. “I saw all the police and thought there might be a story.”

“ I’m not sure you should be here,” the cop said.

“ Is that a body?” Lila pointed toward the porch.

“ Yeah.” Marshall puffed up.

“ Do they know who he is?”

“ I don’t think so.”

“ Jeez, was he murdered?” Lila was trying for wide eyed and impressionable.

“ Don’t know, but the others were.”

“ Others?”

“ You didn’t hear it from me.”

“ No.” She ran her thumb and forefinger across her lips, as if she were sealing them.

“ There’s two others in the house. Both shot up.”

“ Really?” He was bursting with the urge to tell and Lila knew there was no stopping him now. This was probably the most exciting thing to happen to him since he’d become a policeman and from the sound of it, the most exciting of his whole life. “Bullets were flying all over the place in there.”

“ A shoot out?” Lila said, but she needn’t have prodded him, because he was itching to tell her.

“ Major, a major gun battle, like you wouldn’t believe. It’s like something out of a movie and you know what really makes it seem like a movie?”

“ What?”

“ There’s a girl involved. Young and beautiful according to the woman next door. She took off with a big dog, went into the park. And that’s not all.”

“ There’s more?”

“ There’s two cops missing.”

“ Where’d they go?”

“ They’re gone, nobody knows.”

“ What are you doing, Marshall?” An older black cop said.

“ Nothing, Harper.”

“ Ma’am,” Officer Harper said, “unless you got business here, you need to move on. This is an active investigation.”

“ She’s with the press,” Marshall said.

“ No she’s not,” Harper said. “Not with a car like that.” He turned his attention away from Marshall. “Who are you ma’am?”

“ A woman with a blog who wants to know what’s going on here.”

“ Move on,” Harper said.

“ I’m a citizen, I’ve a right to know.”

“ Lady, we’re taking the wacko next door in for questioning, we could just as easily take you in as well.”

“ I take your point.” Lila started the car, backed up, turned and went back the way she’d come, passing an unmarked Crown Vic on her way.

“ Nice car,” Mouledoux said as a red BMW sports car passed them by. “Pretty girl, too.

“ Didn’t get a look at her,” Peeps said.

Mouledoux parked, got out of the Crown Vic, started for the house, decided to have a look at the abandoned ride.

“ They’re gone,” a uniform said. “I’m Marshall.”

“ Where?”

“ Craziest thing, the neighbor, who’s been drinking, but not that much, says she saw them disappear right before his eyes.”

“ Say what?” Mouledoux blinked.

“ That’s right,” Marshall said. “One minute they’ve got this woman covered, they’re yelling at her to drop her gun and get on the ground, then poof, they’re gone.”

“ Gone, like they were vaporized, turned to nothing with a ray gun?” Peeps said.

“ More like they got beamed up,” Marshall said. “That’s the neighbor talking, not me.”

“ The one who’s been drinking?” Peeps shook his head, walked away, heading toward the grey house and the dead man on the front porch.

“ That’s the one,” Marshall said to Mouledoux. “Nuts, I know, but they’re gone.”

“ So find ’em.”

“ Yeah, right away, sir,” Marshall said, sarcasm dripping off the words.

“ Or not.” Mouledoux smiled. He liked people who talked back to authority.

“ Bobby.” Peeps was calling to him from over to where the victim was. “You have to see this.”

“ What?” He started toward Peeps and the vic.

“ Look who it is,” Peeps said when he got there.

“ Now that’s very interesting.”

Izzy felt a chill ripple up her spine as she turned onto 395, heading north, like someone had just walked over her grave. Someone was thinking about her and they weren’t thinking good thoughts.

The sun would be up in an hour or so and she wanted miles behind her when it got light. She hoped they wouldn’t find out about Johnny till she’d been and gone. As far as anybody in Reno knew, Johnny wasn’t in the picture, because years ago, when Amy was only seven, the two of them decided it would be better to tell her school, and anybody else who asked, that Johnny, her son and Amy’s father, was dead. So they’d killed him off in the First Gulf war, right after Amy had been born. Sadly, he’d died without ever seeing his daughter. Her mother, they’d killed in childbirth.

In reality, Amy’s mother died with a needle in her arm with Johnny passed out in the next room. Junkies both of them. Johnny stayed addicted for years, wanting nothing to do with his daughter. Then he met a woman with a heart black as death, but she’d gotten him clean, married him and made three kids, who Izzy had never seen. Roxanne thought she had married into money. After all, Izzy was this famous heart surgeon, but when Izzy didn’t lavish gifts on the couple, they turned vicious, trying to get Amy in a custody battle.

But Izzy had money and lawyers and had raised the girl since infancy, so she’d won and in retaliation her son and daughter-in-law shut her and Amy out of their lives. Now Johnny was the warden of California’s High Desert State Prison outside of Susanville. Izzy didn’t know, nor did she care, about Roxanne. Any woman who would keep a grandmother from seeing her grandchildren, wasn’t worth thinking about.

Her plan: check into a motel, get the girls out of the trunk and into a bed and wait till they came to. Then she’d call Johnny and tell him it was time he stepped up to the plate. His daughter needed him now. He was going to have to take in the two girls and keep them safe. She hoped he’d do it, that he still had some feelings for Amy.

Maybe he’d changed. It was possible, she thought. If Lila Booth could change in a flash of a second, then perhaps the passage of so many years had softened her son. Izzy could only hope.

Lila Booth pulled over and lowered the top. What’s the point of a convertible if you can’t ride with the top down on such a clear night? It was chilly, but not too cold. She decided to pick up a sweatshirt at the Circus Circus gift shop, then take a long drive.

Back on the road again, she thought about Izzy Eisenhower. She had a new respect for the woman. She’d killed three people and was still functioning like a champ when they’d had their encounter. Not many people could do that.

She turned into the Circus Circus parking lot. From here she could see the Silver Legacy and the parking garage from which she’d shot Eisenhower. The woman hadn’t stayed dead. What kind of miracle was that? Plus, she’d shed half a century. That really was miraculous. This was a woman Lila didn’t want to hunt down, because the odds were better than even that the hunter could become the hunted and for the first time in her career, Lila wasn’t sure who would be the victor.

She was about to get out of the car, when she saw a late night couple leave the Circus Circus. They were coming toward the parking lot. Lila couldn’t help but smile. He was wearing a loud, red Hawaiian shirt and she was wearing a matching dress. Their last vacation must have been in Waikiki or maybe Maui. She hoped Maui. She liked it better.

She’d forgotten the car was bright red, the same color as the man’s shirt. She was sticking out like a black bear in the snow. For a second she chided herself, but then she let it go. So what if she was in a bright car on a clear night? She wasn’t on a job. In fact, she never would be again. She was going to retire. She’d just decided. She had enough money. It was time to enjoy it.

The vacationing couple strolled in front of the car, saw her and waved.

“ I just won two thousand dollars,” the man said.

“ Gotta love Reno,” the woman said. They looked like they were in their sixties, aging vacationers who’d hit it lucky. Now they’d go home and spread the news about how they’d struck it rich in Reno.

“ Coming back next year?” Lila said.

“ You bet, this is way better than Hawaii.”

“ Ah, Hawaii.” She’d been right about that. “Waikiki or Maui?”

“ Both,” the man said. “But this is better.”

“ Not if you lose,” Lila said.

“ You’re probably right about that.” The man waived. They got in a new Chevy Cruze, a rental, and drove off. Lucky people, she thought. And she was lucky, too. She’d been in a high risk job for a decade and she’d made it out alive. Now to get that sweatshirt, maybe drive to Virginia City, have a little fun, maybe even do a little gambling herself.

She raised the top, was about to get out of the car, when her cell rang. She checked the display.

“ Hello, Mansfield.”

“ I just got off the phone with one of the cops on the scene.” Mansfield sounded like a horny eighteen year old with a hard on trying to bust his zipper. “She killed three people. What are you going to do about it?”

“ Who killed three people? Amy, the kid who goes to UNR, or her mysterious brown-eyed cousin?” She sighed into the phone. “It doesn’t matter. This is too high profile for me. I’m out of it.”

“ We had a deal.”

“ You know, Mansfield, I’m getting the impression you’re keeping something from me.”

“ Lila-”

“ Think carefully, Mansfield. Because if you lie to me now, you’ll never see me again.” She smiled. “Oh heck, go ahead and lie, you’re never going to see me again anyway.”

“ You don’t want to make an enemy of me, Lila.”

“ Hanging up now.”

“ I’ll give you five million dollars.”

“ Whoa!” That was a shocker. “You’ve got my attention.”

“ Bring me the girl and the money’s yours.” No beating around the bush now. “I’ll transfer it to whatever bank you want.”

“ Just alive, not drugged?”

“ You know, don’t you?”

“ I do.”

“ It’s like a death glitch,” Mansfield said.

“ Say again.”

“ You know, like when your computer screws up, you call it a computer glitch. I’m calling this a death glitch, because it looks like Mr. Death screwed up with Dr. Eisenhower.”

“ Okay, I don’t need to know anymore.” She closed her eyes, fisted a hand on the wheel, gripped it tight. She was going back to work. That had to be the shortest retirement on record. “What about Amy?”

“ Forget about Amy. I could give a shit. Just get me Isadora Eisenhower. Can you find her?”

“ I think so.”

“ You wouldn’t double cross me, would you? That wouldn’t be good.”

“ Mansfield, I’m a behind the scenes girl, not the sell to the highest bidder kind. I’ll get you your girl, you have my word and you know once I give it, I don’t break it.”

“ I knew I could count on you.”

“ I’ll get back to you when I have her.” She clicked her phone closed and sighed, because it wasn’t exactly true what she’d told him about keeping her word. She’d given it to Isadora Eisenhower, promised her she’d leave her be and now she’d just broken that promise. She’d just sold the one bit of integrity she’d allowed herself, but she’d done it for a whole lot of money.

“ Sorry, Dr. Eisenhower.” She had to go home now and get her laptop, because the GPS tracker she’d put on Amy Eisenhower’s car wasn’t the only one she had. She kept one on both her cars, in case they got stolen. And that was unfortunate for Isadora Eisenhower.

Although the dead in the house, who had been identified as Eric Ackerman and Niles Lundgren, security guards at St. Catherine’s, had been shot to death, Dr. Shaffer didn’t have a mark on him. The whack job neighbor said a dog had attacked him and Shaffer’s coat had been ripped, but the dog hadn’t broken skin. Heart attack was what first came to mind.

Mouledoux had no doubt about who’d killed these men. Dr. Isadora Eisenhower, but how could he go to the chief with that? He’d need a copy of that DVD and he’d need Doctors Romero and Jordan to back him up. That sleazeball Drake, too. The chief was a lawyer himself, he’d believe Drake. Hell, maybe he wouldn’t. Mouledoux was having a hard time believing it himself.

Back at the station, he logged onto his desktop, found Simon Drake listed in the white pages; convenient. Romero and Jordan were as well; very convenient. He didn’t want to wake the doctors before the sun came up, but he might enjoy getting that Drake character out of bed.

He looked around for Peeps. But the man had gone home. Couldn’t blame him, they’d been on the job for seventeen straight. Peeps had a wife and kids who needed to see him at the breakfast table on occasion. Mouledoux didn’t need his partner for this. Besides, Peeps was a go by the book, don’t rock the boat kind of cop. He wouldn’t enjoy rousting Drake like Mississippi Bob Mouledoux would. Truth be told, Peeps would argue against it.

Mouledoux grabbed his coat and ten minutes later he was ringing the lawyer’s bell, but the man didn’t answer. Either he wasn’t home or he was deaf. He was about to leave when his spine felt like an icicle was sliding up it.

Shaffer was dead.

The icicle got colder.

Mouledoux went to the front window, peeked in, saw nothing untoward. He went around to the side of the house, busted a pane in one of the dining room windows, unlocked it and climbed through. If he was wrong about this, they’d have his badge, but the coppery smell of blood coming from the kitchen told him he wasn’t wrong.

Chapter Ten

Lila knew she’d have to dump the car, but dammit, it was growing on her. She’d sort of thought of it as a symbol of her new life, one where she wouldn’t have to remain in the shadows. But she was going to have to keep on being low key, at least until she delivered Dr. Eisenhower to Mansfield Wayne.

Five million dollars! Manny must really believe there could be a death glitch, like the grim reaper could fuck up. Okay, he did screw up with Dr. Eisenhower, because she was alive and very young. That was a fact. She’d seen her with her own eyes, talked to her. Now where was she?

She pulled into her driveway, instinctively reached for the glove box and the garage door opener, which wasn’t there. Dammit, she’d left it in the Crown Vic. She hadn’t been thinking, but in her defense the situation had been a bit stressful; a bit unusual too.

She got out of the car, was at her door when the idiot Harvey Weinstein from next door called out from his front porch. He was approaching Alzheimer’s, but until he got there, he was and would remain the unofficial neighborhood watch.

“ Hey, you got a new car.”

“ Yeah.” She hated neighbors, especially Harvey, couldn’t understand why they couldn’t mind their own business.

“ Nice.”

“ Thanks.”

“ You gonna come over Friday for the potluck?”

“ No, Harvey, I’m going to be out of town.” She gave him a glare. He invited her to some neighborhood function at least once month. She always declined, but he never stopped inviting.

“ Maybe next time,” he said as she keyed the door.

“ Maybe.” She went in, closed the door after herself, but dammit she wasn’t closing Harvey out, because she was going to have to face him when she opened the garage to move the car in. In the garage, she hit the button for the garage door, went out to the car and there he was, standing next to it, leaning on his cane as he ran run a hand over the hood.

“ Harvey!” This was a violation of her space and she didn’t like it. He belonged over on his porch, not in her driveway.

“ There was a time I’d’ve loved a car like this. One like your Jag, too. That’s quite a car.”

“ Yeah, it is.” She looked into his eyes, tried to intimidate him with a stare, but instead she was the one who was being affected. She’d never really looked at him before. He was just that old annoyance from next door. But now, for the first time, she was seeing old Harvey Weinstein and he was a man covered in sad.

“ I suppose you think I’m a bother, that maybe I need a dog or something, because I’m always minding everybody else’s business, like I got no real friends.”

“ A dog might be good,” Lila said.

“ I been thinking about one. Not a girlie dog, something big, like a German Shepherd or maybe a Rottweiler. A dog would be a good companion and if I had one maybe I could keep to myself a little more, not bother everybody so much.”

“ Tell you what, Harvey, I’ve gotta be on the road in an hour, I’ve been up all night and all I have time for is a quick shower and a fast breakfast. If you could fix something up and have it ready in twenty minutes or so, you’d be doing me a big favor.” Whoa, stop, what was happening here? Had she just invited herself over to Harvey’s?

“ Bacon, eggs, sourdough toast, fried tomatoes and potatoes, that okay for you?” His smile was a block wide. “You’re not a vegetarian are you?”

“ No, Harvey, I’m not a vegetarian.”

“ Okay, you take that shower and leave breakfast to me.” He hustled back to his house, was inside in a flash. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad old guy, after all, she thought as she pulled the car into the garage, where it was going to have to stay, because when she left, she’d be taking her Jag. It was like an old friend, one she could count on.

Showered, Lila knocked on Harvey’s door with a little trepidation. Why? She was a stone cold killer. She wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything. Maybe she’d been a little afraid of Izzy Eisenhower, kind of hard not to fear a woman who couldn’t die. But Harvey Weinstein was an old man. Maybe it was because she lacked certain social graces.

“ Hey, come in.” He was still wearing that smile as he answered the door.

“ I will.” She followed him into the house and into a neat kitchen with a small table and chairs straight out of Leave it to Beaver. “Kind of retro,” she sat at the table.

“ I’ve had the set a long time.” He went to the stove, heaped bacon and fried potatoes onto a plate. “I’m doing the eggs over easy, just take a minute. And that’s all it took. Lila couldn’t remember how long it had been since someone had cooked for her and she found she enjoyed the experience.

“ So, Harvey, exactly how long have you lived here?” The neighborhood was a good one. Lila had only been in it a year, preferring to rent and move on after a couple years. She didn’t like roots.

“ Twenty-five years.”

“ That’s a long time to be in one place.”

“ Yes it is.”

And during the course of the next thirty minutes she managed to get his life story. It wasn’t long and it was sad. He’d been a major in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. While there he met and married a local woman, who’d been killed by a landmine a week later. And a mere week after that he’d been shot through the right femur, turning him into a permanent cripple.

Some had called it a million dollar wound, but that, combined with the death of the woman he loved, had turned him into a recluse. He’d spent the next couple years in and out of the VA, feeling sorry for himself. He’d done more drugs than anybody ever should, got caught, got caught again, and spent thirteen years in prison.

Sentence served, he moved to Reno and bought a house with some money left to him by his mother, who’d died when he was behind bars. He spent the next twenty-two years drunk, until one day he’d killed a deer on 395, which he could’ve avoided, had he been sober. It could’ve been a person, a child.

He hadn’t had a drink since. Quit cold turkey. Quitting the cancer sticks had been harder, took him a year on and off, took him another year to realize he was worth a shit. He’d been clean and sober for three years, hadn’t had a smoke in two and had been wearing a smile for one.

“ Basically, I wasted my life.” He didn’t sound sad, wistful was the right word. Lila felt sorry for him.

“ And you’re telling me this, because?” she said when he finished.

“ Because I was you, back when I got home from the war. The experience changed me, ruined me, ruined most of the rest of my life.” He was still smiling and Lila had never seen a man look more sincere.

“ I’m not drinking. I don’t do drugs. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m not wasting my life.”

“ Maybe you’re not drinking yet, but you’re wasting your life. I can see it in the way you walk when you think nobody’s looking, with your head down and your shoulders hunched. And when you think somebody is looking you give them that defiant stare.”

“ You’re pretty direct.” She was surprised she wasn’t angry.

“ It’s new for me,” he said. “If I could relive my life, I’d do everything different, but you don’t get a second chance at this game, so the next best thing is for me to help keep someone else from winding up a loser like me.”

“ You’re not a loser.” Funny she should say that, because that’s what she’d thought of him, till just a few minutes ago.

“ Yes I am,” he said. “But you gotta go.”

“ Yeah.” She pushed away from the table. “You wanna talk some more when I get back?”

“ I’d like that.”

Back home and at her laptop, she logged on, surprised she hadn’t done it as soon as she’d walked in the door. Boy, that Harvey had really, was really, throwing her off her game.

She checked the tracker on her Crown Vic and found it on the move, doing seventy on 395, going northeast, ten miles from Susanville. Only seventy miles away. That’s just about what she’d figured. Had she not showered, changed and had breakfast with Harvey, she’d be hot on Izzy’s tail, but she’d needed the shower and had enjoyed talking to Harvey, which was nice, because it had been a long time since she’d enjoyed anything. Besides, Izzy was burdened with the two sleepers, who would be out of it for some time to come.

She went to her gun safe, opened it, studied the contents, took out a pair of Glocks. This was going to be her last mission and she wanted a safety, a backup gun. She stuffed one of the weapons and several clips into her overnight bag, the other she slid into a shoulder holster.

She thought about the dart gun in the car, she’d keep it with her, too. It hadn’t worked on Izzy, but you never knew when you might want to put someone out without killing them. She’d never had that opportunity before. True she only had two darts left, but you never knew, she could find herself in a situation where two darts would be better than none.

Next she took out her reserve. She kept a hundred thousand dollars in the gun safe. Ten bundles, a hundred hundreds banded per bundle. Her emergency money. Her escape money. Her just in case money. She put it all in her bag, because something told her she could be moving into a just in case kind of situation.

She shut the safe, spun the dial, went to her bedroom, stuffed a couple changes of clothes into the bag with the spare Glock and the money. Her bag packed, she put on the shoulder holster. Then she put on a duster she’d gotten in New Zealand a couple years back. The coat went down to her ankles, made her look like a girl from down under, but it hid the holstered Glock and it kept her warm when she was zipping along with the top down on days as cold as this.

She picked up her laptop, went out to the garage, where she stashed it and her bag behind the passenger seat in the Jag. She got in the car, lowered the top, thumbed the garage door opener and was on her way, feeling like the loser she was and had been ever since she’d been raped all those years ago in Susanville.

Coming into Susanville, Izzy slowed to sixty-five. She saw a McDonald’s on the left, turned into the parking lot. She was famished. Inside she ordered a half dozen Big Macs to go. Back in the car, she drove a block to the Thunderbird Motel, where she asked for a room off the street.

The sun was coming up, but the parking lot was quiet. She found her room, backed up to it, slipped the card key into the door and was surprised to find the room was much better than she thought she’d be getting for less than a fifty bucks.

Satisfied that everybody was still asleep, she popped the trunk, carrying first Alicia, then Amy into the room and depositing them on the double bed, while the dog stood guard. They looked peaceful.

“ Hungry, Hunter?” She opened the bag, unwrapped a burger, handed it to him and smiled at how quickly he wolfed it down. “Not a picky eater, I see.” She handed him another and it disappeared just as quickly. Then another and it was gone, too. “Okay, I get one now!” Like the dog, she wolfed it down. She had her second one, gave Hunter his fourth.

She eyed the phone. Much as she didn’t want to make the call, she had no choice. She’d tried in the past to get in touch with her son, but Roxanne had always stood in the way. Still, it had been a long time.

She picked up the phone. Called the number. Got a recording. Roxanne’s voice.

“ We’re not home. Please leave a message.”

Izzy hung up. She hadn’t counted on that. Still, maybe it was better this way. She desperately wanted to meet her grandchildren, but even if Roxanne would have relented, she could hardly see them like this, with the years melted away.

She thought for a minute, then picked up the phone.

“ Hello,” she said after hearing Roxanne’s message again. “This is Izzy, I’ve got Amy and a friend with me and I’m at the Thunderbird Motel downtown. The girls have been drugged, shot with a tranquilizer dart and I suspect they’ll be out for a while. I’m in trouble and can’t stay. The girls are in trouble too, though not because of anything they’ve done. Someone wants to use them to get to me and that someone may hurt them if I don’t do what they want.”

She paused for a second, trying to think of what to say next.

“ I can’t do what they want. It’s not possible. So, Johnny, you need to step up and be Amy’s dad. You need to keep her and her friend out of sight till I call and say it’s safe. I hope it won’t be too long. Bye.”

“ Izzy, don’t hang up.”

“ Roxanne?”

“ We don’t need to get involved in your trouble.” Same Roxanne, mean spirited. A sour person.

“ I’m writing you a check for fifty thousand dollars.”

“ What?”

“ These girls need to be kept safe and out of sight for two months. I’m post dating this check for December First. If you and Johnny have kept the girls safe for that long, you can cash it. If not, I’ll stop payment.”

“ You said two months.” Roxanne sounded a little less hostile now.

“ I’m writing another check for a hundred thousand dollars and dating it January First. If the girls are still safe and out of sight, you can cash it.”

“ Well, if it’s for Amy’s safety.” Roxanne actually sounded not bitter.

“ One more thing,” Izzy said. “My will. I’ve left each of your daughters, my grandchildren, who you’ve not allowed me to see, a trust to pay for their education. If they go to college, they get it paid for, living expenses, tuition, the whole bit. If they don’t go, they get a hundred thousand dollars each on their twenty-first birthday. I’ve split the balance between Amy and St. Catherine’s.” She paused for effect. “If these girls are safe on the New Year, I’ll change my will, cutting out St. Catherine’s and dividing my estate between Johnny and Amy. I’m an old woman and we’re talking about an awful lot of money.”

“ Thank you.”

“ I don’t like you, Roxanne. You’re a control freak who has completely taken over my son and probably warped my grandchildren’s minds against me. But if you keep these girls safe, you and Johnny will get your money. If any harm comes to them, I will make sure your fate is the same as theirs, no matter what it costs.”

“ I’ll do what you say,” Roxanne said.

“ Fine, come now. I’ll be gone before you get here.”

“ You can trust me,” Roxanne said.

“ I hope so.” Izzy hung up and smiled as she wrote out the checks. She had eight hundred dollars in the account, give or take a few bucks. Roxanne had been sticking it to her for a long time, it was about time she got some back.

She put the checks on the nightstand next to the bed, left the door unlocked, got in the car with the dog and moved it to the far end of the parking lot. Roxanne drove up and parked in front of the room fifteen minutes later. She got out of a late model Ford Explorer along with her children, three girls aged nine, eleven and thirteen.

Izzy had never seen them before. She longed to go and tell them who she was, but they’d never believe her. She wanted so badly to enfold them in a deep hug, tell them she loved them. But she couldn’t, so as soon as they disappeared into the room, she drove out of the parking lot, got back on the road and headed north.

Detective Bob Mouledoux had a bad feeling. The odds of both Dr. Shaffer and his lawyer’s untimely deaths not being related were astronomical. Using his cell he called Dr. Jordan and received no joy. He tried Dr. Romero, got no joy there, either.

“ Not good,” he muttered. Then he called the station, reported what he’d found, asked for assistance and told his sergeant what he feared.

Fifteen minutes later the crime scene van arrived. Five minutes after that he got word that Romero had been murdered. Shot between the eyes. And five minutes after that he heard about Jordan. She’d been strangled.

Four victims all killed differently, but all killed by the same person. Mouledoux was sure of that and as far as he was concerned, the newly young Isadora Eisenhower was looking pretty good for the crimes.

A sudden thought struck him. He and Peeps were apparently the only other souls who knew about Dr. Eisenhower’s transformation. What if Dr. Eisenhower was going after them next? He called his partner at home and Peeps answered after several rings.

“ Am I ever glad to hear your voice,” Mouledoux said and he told him about Dr. Eisenhower’s murder spree.

“ Christ,” Peeps said. Then, “What now?”

“ I think we gotta find that DVD Shaffer showed us.”

“ I’m on it,” Peeps said. “You?”

“ I’m going to track down the granddaughter,” Mouledoux said. “Then I’m going to see if I can locate any other family. I’m betting she’s on the run, we just gotta find out to where.”

“ I’ll get dressed and get over to St. Catherine’s. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’ve got the disc.” But when Peeps called him back forty-five minutes later he had bad news. The DVD was gone. There was no video record of the surgery the mysterious young doctor had done. Dr. Shaffer had logged it out and hadn’t returned it.

Peeps said he had gone through Shaffer’s office and hadn’t found it. He went by Shaffer’s house. The place was a wreck. It had been tossed. If someone had been looking for the DVD and if it had been there, they’d found it.

“ Swell,” Mouledoux said into the phone. “We got an APB out for Dr. Eisenhower, but everyone’s looking for a seventy-seven year old broad with cancer. You and me are the only ones alive who know what we know and we can’t tell anybody, because we’ll get laughed right out of the job.”

“ We could link the murders to the granddaughter. They look the same, except for that eye business.”

“ And what do we do if they catch her, the granddaughter? Besides, I’m guessing if she’s still alive, she doesn’t have a clue, because if she did, I’m betting she’d be dead.”

“ You think we’re next?” Peeps said.

“ If she knows about us, she might try, but we’re cops, we got guns and that’s exactly what we want.”

“ I’m going home to get a shower and kiss the wife and kids. See you at around 10:00 or so.”

“ Right.” Mouledoux closed his phone.

It hadn’t been hard for him to convince the powers that be that Dr. Eisenhower was, at the very least, a person of interest, though everybody except him had a hard time accepting the fact that a dying seventy-seven-year-old woman could be responsible for six deaths in one night.

He needed that DVD, but he was beginning to believe he wasn’t going to get it. Dr. Eisenhower had been ahead of him every step of the way. Now she was gone to who knows where, probably turning herself into an unrecognizable child. Christ, he didn’t see how they were ever going to catch her.

Then he had an idea. The flaky neighbor who had been drinking. But first he had to drop by Dr. Eisenhower’s and check out her computer.

An hour later he was home with the jpeg files he’d copied from Isadora Eisenhower’s computer. There were several shots of Amy and others in Dr. Eisenhower’s backyard on several different occasions. It looked like they did weekend barbecues for friends, sometimes just the two of them. Dr. Eisenhower wasn’t in many of the shots, so Mouledoux assumed she was the photographer and she was pretty good.

And fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Mouledoux was pretty good at Photoshop. He could put a cow on the Moon and make it real. So, putting Amy in a photograph with herself, then changing the eye color on one of them was dead easy.

Back at Dr. Eisenhower’s, he deleted the originals, set back the computer’s clock, then copied his copies with the two Amy’s into one of the files that had been taken only a couple months back. Now all he had to do was to get a warrant, find the pictures and bingo, the whole world would be on the lookout for young again, brown-eyed, Isadora Eisenhower.

After resetting the system clock, he went next door to prime Thelma Prescott, but when he knocked it wasn’t her who answered.

“ Who are you?” Mouledoux didn’t flash his badge. He didn’t have to. This guy was as shifty looking as they came, the kind who could spot a cop clear across the casino from whatever table he was cheating at and be out the door, before a jack rabbit could jack.

“ Robbie Finch.” The man was wearing a purple shirt with a miniature sheriff’s badge pinned to his shoulder, but the man was no sheriff, no cop, not even a wannabe. Just a shark trying to curry favor with any law enforcement official he might come in contact with by showing his support.

“ What’s with the badge?” Mouledoux pointed to the man’s collar.

“ My dad was an L.A. County Sheriff. Killed in the line of. This was his, I wear it in his memory.”

“ Ah,” Mouledoux said. Then, “I need to talk to Thelma Prescott.”

“ My mother, she’s pretty traumatized about what happened last night.”

“ Yeah, I got that, that’s why I told her I’d come by today for her statement, rather than having her come right on downtown, you know courtesy of the RPD.”

“ That was considerate of you,” Finch said.

“ Different last names,” Mouledoux said.

“ My mother outlived two husbands. My father was the first.”

“ Ah.” Mouledoux smiled. “You tweaking?”

“ No.” Finch was sweating. His pupils were dilated. He was fidgeting. He was lying too. His mother was a drunk and he was a tweaker still living at home.

“ Listen, Mr. Finch, I don’t want to make your mother’s life any more difficult than I have to. She was pretty loaded yesterday and I should’ve taken her in.”

“ She might have had a few drinks.”

“ Yeah and a little meth.” Mouledoux was sinking the hook. “I’m betting if I were to come inside and have a look around, I’d wind up taking you two down to the hoosegow. Wouldn’t that be something, mother and son sharing a cell?”

“ You’d need a warrant.” If fear had a smell, Finch would be reeking.

“ And I have one, but I don’t necessarily want to use it.” He tried to look sincere. “I’d rather tear it up and I would if somebody could corroborate your mother’s story.”

“ Anything to help the police.” Finch reached up to his collar, fingered the badge. “What do you need?”

“ The problem is nobody seems to know anything about this mysterious woman she saw running off with a gun in her hand.”

“ Nobody seems to know what happened to the two cops either,” Finch said.

“ I’m taking this one thing at a time. I need the girl. Maybe she can explain what happened here. We know she killed two, maybe three people, maybe more. Then you’re right, there’s those missing policemen to think of.”

“ So you think the cops vanished, like my mom said?”

“ I don’t know what to think, but I know this, I need someone else who has seen this cousin of Amy Eisenhower, who could pass as her twin sister, otherwise I’m going to have to think your mother was a bit too under the influence, maybe illegally. So if you knew anybody who’d seen these two look alike girls together next door, say maybe a couple months ago, that’d really help the case.”

“ Jeez, yeah, I saw ’em. I thought they were twins.”

“ You see Dr. Eisenhower taking pictures of these girls, you know, like maybe you were looking outside that back window there?” Mouledoux pointed toward Eisenhower’s backyard.

“ Come to think of it I did.”

“ You’ve been a big help.” He turned to go, turned back. “You should know I appreciate you telling me this and that it’ll help catch a killer.” Mouledoux smiled. “And you should also know it’s against the law to lie to a police officer. So, if anybody else comes asking-”

“ I’m not stupid, Detective Mouledoux.”

“ I never thought you were.”

Chapter Eleven

Izzy felt like she was running on emotional overload as she pulled into the gas station in McCloud, a tiny Northern California town nestled among tall pines. The sunrise promised to be gorgeous. Lately she’d been spending her mornings enjoying every one as if it might be her last; sunsets too, because at the rate the cancer had been moving through her body, they could’ve been.

She got out of the car, reached into her oversized purse, pushed the forty-five aside, got out her wallet, withdrew a credit card, but stopped herself as she was putting the card in the pump. She jerked her hand back as if she’d been scalded. What had she been thinking? Hadn’t she told Amy to destroy her cell phone, because she didn’t want her tracked? Hadn’t she seen enough detective shows on television? Use the card, tell them where you are.

Oh shit! She’d used the card to rent that motel in Susanville. How bloody stupid. She was going to have to be more careful, because she was sure they’d track her there and now they’d know she was heading to California, where they’d figure she was either going north, to Canada maybe, or south to L.A. and perhaps Mexico beyond.

She put the card back in her wallet, started for the convenience store and the cash register inside.

“ I’d like to fill it on three,” she told a smiling teenager. He had hair yellow as the sun she’d been watching so much these past few weeks. It was long and framed a freckled face with twinkling blue eyes and a golden smile. He was watching CNN on a small ceiling mounted television.

“ Sure thing.” He tapped on a computer screen as she laid three twenties on the counter. “That little girl’s gonna live. They say it’s a miracle.”

“ The one they got out of the well?”

“ Yeah, she rallied during the night. It looks like she’s gonna make a full recovery.”

“ That’s great.”

“ Yeah, it’s good when you can start the day with a positive news story.”

“ It is.” She returned his smile. “I’ll be back for the change.”

“ Okay.”

When she got back he was still engrossed in CNN, but his smile had been wiped away, replaced by a furrowed brow.

“ Something happened to the girl?”

“ No, breaking news,” he said. “Someone went on a killing rampage in Reno.”

“ What?”

“ Six people dead. Three doctors, a lawyer and two security guards, plus another doctor is missing and presumed dead. They all worked at St. Catherine’s Hospital.” He looked worried. “My mother’s there. She’s having cataract surgery.”

“ Did they catch the killer?”

“ No, she’s still at large.”

“ She? A woman?”

“ They’re calling her the Slaughter Queen.”

And for the next five minutes or so Izzy watched newscaster Nick Nesbit on the overhead television with the freckle faced kid and learned that the Slaughter Queen had killed two hospital security guards and hospital CEO Aaron Shaffer at Dr. Isadora Eisenhower’s house. Seventy-seven-year-old Dr. Eisenhower was missing and presumed dead. From there the Slaughter Queen went on to kill Dr. Carmin Romero in his home and then onto young Dr. Elizabeth Jordan. Three doctors dead and one missing, but that wasn’t enough for the Slaughter Queen as she’d also killed the hospital’s lawyer, Simon Drake. Six dead, one missing and who knew who else was on her list.

Nesbit, who looked as serious as Izzy had ever seen him on television, went on to say the killer was somehow related to Dr. Eisenhower, perhaps a niece, they weren’t clear on that, but the police had pictures and they hoped to have them distributed to the media within the hour. Meanwhile they had this description: she was Caucasian, had shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, was very attractive, weight about one fifteen and was about five-six.

“ Maybe her medical insurance didn’t cover her doctor bills,” the kid said.

“ What makes you say that?”

“ She killed the lawyer, too.”

“ I can’t believe a woman could do that.” But she could half believe it, even though she didn’t say it, because she’d killed the two security guards and though she hadn’t killed Shaffer, she’d watched him die. But the others, Romero, Jordan and Drake. She knew them. Who could’ve done it? Someone who knew about her, because the odds were way too far out of the ballpark to assume the crimes weren’t related.

Back in the car, she continued north for about fifteen minutes. When the road met Interstate 5, she went north, got off at Mount Shasta and found a Rite Aide drugstore, where she started for the hair dye. She’d always wondered if blondes had more fun. She didn’t think she’d be having very much of that, but she needed a change.

Then she saw a display of scissors and all of a sudden she knew how she’d disguise herself, because that’s what she had to do, alter her appearance as radically as possible. She picked up an electric shaver, like the one she’d used to shave her head after she’d started chemo, then she went looking for the mascara. Though dying her hair blonde had been her first idea, she’d’ve had to rent a motel room. Plus it would take a lot longer to dye her hair than it would to cut it off.

The hair had been nice, but it had to go, because she had no illusions about whose picture they were going to be showing on the news. Shaffer’d told someone and that someone had told someone else and eventually, pretty quickly actually, someone had probably gotten the bright idea to use a photo of Amy. And Izzy, except for the eyes, looked just like her. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if they’d doctored a photo of Amy, giving her brown eyes.

Leaving the Rite Aide, she got back on the freeway, taking the off ramp at the Weed rest area. It was early and except for a couple truckers sleeping in their cabs, the rest stop was deserted. In the restroom, she plugged in the shaver and gave herself a quick bootcamp type haircut.

Taking the mascara out of her bag, she lightly applied some under her eyes, then on her eyelids, trying for a gaunt, goth kind of look. Maybe a girl on drugs, maybe a girl with cancer, the kind of girl one looked away from, the kind people didn’t want to notice.

Satisfied for now, she surveyed her mess. Hair in the sink, hair on the floor. Fortunately it was thick and long and easy to pick up. She put it in the trash with a sigh. It had been so long since she’d had hair and this hair had been beautiful. Such a shame.

Back at the car, she wanted to be on her way, but the dog hadn’t been out for quite a while, so she opened the door and Hunter took off, shooting across the rest area to the open field beyond. For a second Izzy wondered if he was coming back. He’d saved her life with Shaffer and she owed him, but a life on the run would be easier alone.

But after a couple minutes, Hunter came bounding back. He jumped into the backseat and Izzy was on the road again. She needed ammunition for her guns, because they, whoever they were, were going to be coming after her and she needed to be ready.

Years ago she’d had an affair with a married man in Medford. Not her proudest moment, but it had been so long since she’d had a man in her bed. She’d met him on a consult. He was a few years younger and better looking than any man had a right to be. He was a young heart surgeon with a future and he had the sweetest grin.

That he’d been using her to get out of podunk Medford never crossed her mind. That he’d been married should have been a clue, but he’d seemed so genuine and genuinely in love with both her and his wife. The poor man had seemed torn and she’d been so stupid. After she’d recommended him for an opening at prestigious Massachusetts General, he and his wife left town and she’d never heard from him again.

She’d put him, Mass General and the shitty town she’d met him in out of her mind. But now, as she was heading north on Interstate 5, she was glad she knew her way around Medford. She knew where to get the ammo she needed, the clothes she needed and where the seedy motels were, the kind that wouldn’t ask for a credit card if you had some extra cash.

She took the first of the two Medford off ramps, turned west on Barnett, then right into the WinCo parking lot, where she pointed her car to a line of stores to the right of the supermarket, parking in front of Ace’s Guns.

Inside, she found just about the seediest man she’d ever imagined could hold a job. He looked like he belonged sleeping under an overpass somewhere and he smelled like he’d bathed in gin.

“ Can I help you?” At least he had all his teeth.

“ I don’t know.” Something about him wasn’t right. “Maybe I should be asking you that question.”

“ Don’t let the getup fool you.” He smiled and she saw a twinkle there. “I got a meeting with the IRS coming up at 10:00.”

“ And that’s how you dress? You’re really going to impress them.”

“ I haven’t paid any taxes since ’73. My plan is to tell them I’ve been homeless. Think they’ll buy it?”

“ I would’ve.” She returned his smile. “But how do you know I’m not a revenuer?”

“ Now that’s a term I haven’t heard in a long time.”

“ Well, how do you know?”

“ I can smell ’em and, lady, you smell way too sweet to be a tax man and you look too pretty to be a cop. But you got a look of desperation about you. You’re a girl on the run.”

“ I’m a girl with a couple guns who wants as many clips, bullets in ’em, that you can get for me. And I need ’em before you go off to meet the tax people.”

“ Who you running from?”

“ You name it.”

“ What did you do?”

“ Nothing, but they’re going to say everything?”

“ You’re not going to get far. Your picture is all over the TV. The internet, too.”

“ Shit.” She clenched her fists. “But I cut off my hair, darkened my eyes. I don’t look the same. Double shit. They have no pictures. They faked it.” How could she ever hope to elude them. “How the hell did you spot me?”

“ You’re too clean. You don’t look road weary and you don’t look like you been rode hard.”

“ Are the cops on the way? Did you push some kind of alarm button when I walked in?”

“ Nah.” He smiled with his eyes, but not his mouth. “You’d a done what they said, you’d a walked in here, shot me, took what you wanted and been gone. Besides, revenuers ain’t the only bastards I can smell out. You’re on the run, but you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“ I killed two people, caused a third to have a heart attack.”

“ You have a good reason?”

“ Jeez, I can’t believe I’m telling you any of this.” It made no sense talking to him, but then everything that had been happening to her made no sense. “I gotta go.” She started for the door.

“ Without your ammo?”

She stopped, turned back and faced him.

“ I am in trouble and most likely I’m going to be dead very soon. I’ve got two guns, one empty, one almost empty. I can’t use my credit cards, can’t get at my bank account. When my money’s gone, I’m going to be a sitting duck, but when they catch up to me, I’d like to give the hunters a run for their money.”

“ Wait.”

She stopped, watched him come from behind the counter, go to the door, lock it. For a second she thought he was locking her in, but the look on his face told her he was locking others out.

“ Name’s Nate,” he said. Then “Come on to the back.”

“ I don’t have a lot of time.” But she followed him into a back room anyway, where she saw a small desk with a couple coffee cups on it.

“ Everyone’s got time for a good cup of coffee.” He opened the top desk drawer, took out a thermos, then a flask. “Take a seat.” He motioned toward a chair, then poured a couple cups. “Irish whiskey.” He poured a generous shot from the flask into each cup. “I’m not gonna ask what kind of trouble you’re in. I saw it on the news. And I’m not gonna ask did you do it. Some of it you told me, but I know a frame when I see it, ’cuz I been spending my life under the radar ’cuz a one.” He pushed a cup toward her, lifted the other as if to toast.

“ Really, I’m in a hurry.”

“ Have a drink, relax for a minute. You’re safe here.”

“ Alright.” She took a chair, then picked up the cup.

“ Safe passage.” He clinked her cup.

“ That about says it all.” She took a sip.

“ Don’t it though.” He took a bigger sip. “Now show me your guns.”

An hour later she parked in front of the local Goodwill store. Nate had given, not sold her, five clips for the Rugar, loaded and ready to go and a dozen for the forty-five. A lot of money to give away, she’d told him and he told her to forget it. “Besides,” he’d said, “if I can’t fool the tax man, I’m most likely going to jail, anyway.” She hoped he’d be okay. He was a nice man, who’d helped her when he didn’t have to.

In the Goodwill store, she remembered what Nate had said about her not looking road weary enough, so she bought a couple pair of black jeans and several black tee shirts. She found a pair of black, low top Converse tennis shoes that fit and she found a ratty looking black sweatshirt that had a vee cut out of the neckline. Dressed in her new clothes, she’d look the part.

Now all she needed was a plan.

Lila Booth saw the McDonald’s on the right as she came into Susanville. She pulled into the parking lot, went in to use the restroom and splash water on her face. According to her laptop, Izzy Eisenhower was in Medford, had been for the last forty-five minutes or so. It was about three hours to the Oregon border, another twenty minutes to Medford. If the woman stayed put, Lila could catch up to her around noon, provided she got right back on the road.

But she had something to do first.

She hadn’t seen her mother in a dozen years. Not since her stepfather had raped her. She’d left town that night, hitchhiked to Reno, where she found living on the streets was hard. After two weeks of sleeping in San Rafael Park at night and begging spare change during the day, she met Mansfield Wayne, a truly evil man, but he’d been good to her.

He’d found her begging outside of the Sands Casino. He wouldn’t give her any money, but he’d offered to take her to the truck stop next door and buy her lunch. And during that lunch she’d sensed something about Mansfield Wayne, sensed his true nature. But despite that, she sensed that he’d never hurt her. He was evil yes, but he had class.

And he was patient. He had a way about him, something that made you want to confide. Usually to your detriment, but it wasn’t so with Lila. She’d been young and easy for him to probe. She’d told him everything.

The next day he drove to Susanville and put a bullet into her stepfather’s brain, earning Lila’s undying loyalty. Fortunately for her mother, she’d been shopping at the Grocery Outlet or he’d’ve killed her, too.

He’d raised her as if she were his daughter. Tucker was older and already out of the house, going to school back east. Yale. So it was just the two of them in that big rambling house up on that mountain.

Theirs had been a stormy relationship, but they’d been close. He’d turned her into a killer, but she’d never regretted it, never looked back, never spoke to her mother again, had never been back to Susanville again. But now she was driving through and she couldn’t pass by without seeing her.

A dozen years, a long time. But even though she hadn’t had any contact with her, she’d kept track. She knew her mother had gotten married again, to a man named Martin Stover. Lila hoped number three was better than number two. She hoped her mother was happy. Everybody deserved to be happy.

Back in the Jag, she mentally chided herself for not putting the top up and locking the car. A stupid oversight. She was really off her game, she thought as she checked behind the passenger seat. The bag and laptop were still there.

“ Come on, Lila, keep it together,” she mumbled.

She started the car. In a couple minutes she’d be face to face with Mr. and Mrs. Martin Stover. She hoped her mother would be glad to see her.

Edith Stover held the rolled dollar with a shaking hand as she snorted the white powder. When she’d met Martin they’d used hundreds and were snorting coke. Now they were using singles and snorting meth. She preferred chasing the white dragon, but Martin got into one of his crazy fits last night and broke the pipe and Edith hated slamming. She was afraid of needles, afraid of AIDs, so snorting was the way to go.

Martin slammed first, then snorted right after his initial rush.

She sighed as the high flowed through her. There was nothing like it. Better than coke. She bent down to the coffee table, did the other line as the girl started screaming from the other room. Martin and his hookers. She’d been a bit put out at first, but he kept her in meth, so as far as Edith was concerned, he could fuck every teeny bopping whore from here to Reno if he wanted. What did she care? She got hers plenty.

Besides, she liked watching. She got up to check on the action, but was interrupted by the doorbell.

Who the fuck?

She went to the door, opened it.

“ Hey, Mom.” It was Lila, dressed like a refugee from a cowboy movie. All she needed was the hat.

“ What’s with the coat?”

“ After all this time and you still trash talk about the way I dress.”

“ What do you want?”

“ Nothing.”

“ You took Gary’s love away, then got him killed.”

“ He raped me.” Always the same with Lila.

“ Nothing’s changed,” Edith said. “It’s always been about you. I guess it still is.” She was about to tell her to get on back to wherever she’d come from, when the girl screamed again.

The scream ripped through Lila. All of a sudden she was thirteen again and Gary Rose was raping her. Horror seized her. It was happening all over. She pulled the Glock from the shoulder holster, pushed her mother aside, stepped inside the house, started for the bedroom.

“ No!” her mother grabbed her gun arm with a crab like grip, spun her around. “He’s mine!”

“ Get away.” Revulsion poured over Lila like black paint. She latched onto her mother’s fingers, pulled them back, heard one break, but the older woman’s grip was strong as death. She held on. “You go away!”

“ Stop it.” Lila bent her fingers back farther, heard another break. Her mother was crazy strong, crazy period. Without letting go of her mother’s hand, Lila spun to the right, elbowed her face, stepped away as her mother fell to the dirty carpet, but still the woman held on, dragging Lila to the floor with her.

“ He’s mine,” she hissed, deadly as any snake.

Lila grabbed back onto her mother’s gripping hand and this time she let out a scream when Lila squeezed and bent the fingers back. Finally her mother let go and Lila rolled away, jumped to her feet, charged toward the bedroom, where she found a monster of a man raping a wisp of girl.

“ Get off!” Lila sounded like a banshee to herself as her scream tore through the room. The man stopped fucking the child, pushed himself off, turned to face Lila and she shot him through the heart and like a lightning flash, her memory came flooding back. Her mother had been watching when Gary Rose had raped her.

She had been a part of it.

“ Noooo!” her mother came shrieking into the bedroom.

Lila shot her three times in the chest, watched her body dance backward, smash into the doorjamb, collapse dead on the floor.

“ Fuckin’ hell,” the girl on the bed shouted.

“ You’re alright now,” Lila said. “He can’t hurt you anymore.”

“ He wasn’t hurting me.”

“ What?” Lila’s ears were still ringing with the sound of gunfire and she wasn’t sure she was understanding what the girl was saying.

“ He was paying me.”

Chapter Twelve

Izzy went from the Goodwill thrift shop to the Grocery Outlet supermarket next door. She needed a plan and she needed some time to herself to make one, some thinking time and she wasn’t going to get it on the run. She needed to hunker down. More than that, she needed to wind down and the best way to do that would be with a bottle of Cabernet.

It had been years since she’d sworn off drinking. The affair with the slimy surgeon had driven her to a couple bottles of expensive wine a night, sometimes more. She’d been afraid of becoming an alcoholic, afraid of ruining her career, so she’d quit, hadn’t touched a drop in more years than she cared to remember.

Tomorrow she’d deal with her problems, but tonight she was going to relax with a couple glasses of Cab, get a good night’s sleep and in the morning, she’d deal.

At the wine section, she picked up a bottle that looked promising, then she wandered the isles, picked up several cans of corned beef hash, got a can opener and started for the checkout. Cab for her, hash for Hunter.

Back in the car, she started for the Springfield Suites she’d seen as she’d gotten off the freeway. She pulled into the covered area for new guests, opened the door, started to get out when Hunter woofed.

“ Sorry, you gotta stay till I work this out.” Initially she’d planned on staying in one of the sleazy motels on Riverside, but she didn’t have it in her. She wanted a roachless room, clean sheets and a warm bath, which was just what the doctor ordered and she should know, she was the doctor.

“ Can I help you?” The girl at the front desk was maybe old enough to drink, had a fresh scrubbed look, a genuine smile and a nametag that said, “Emily”.

“ I need a room for the night for me and my dog.”

“ I’m sorry, no pets.”

“ I can’t use my credit card either.”

“ That’s another problem.”

“ I can pay cash.”

“ We need a card and we still don’t take pets.” The smile faded.

“ If I use my card my husband will find me. If he does that, he’ll kill me. I can’t leave the dog in the car and I’ve been on the road for twenty-four straight. I can pay cash, the dog’s well trained, quiet and doesn’t have fleas. Nobody will even know he’s here.”

“ I could lose my job.” The smile was a frown now.

“ I’ll give you five hundred dollars.” She sighed and paused for effect. “I’ll sneak the dog in, he won’t leave the room and we’ll be gone before sunup.”

“ I can’t take your money.” She opened a drawer, took out a key card. “The last room down the hall, 113, on the left. It’s been booked for two weeks, starting this morning, but the woman called and said she can’t make it till tomorrow. She comes up from Sacramento a couple times a year to visit her granddaughter, who stays with her. They stay here for the indoor pool; the kid’s a swimmer.” Her smile was back. “If you park by the back, wait till no one’s looking, you know, be sneaky about it, you can get the dog in without anybody seeing.”

“ I can pay you.” Relief flooded over Izzy.

“ No, it’s on me. Well, on the hotel actually. But since we have to hold the room anyway, they won’t be out any money. But you gotta be out before sunup, because it’ll be my ass if anyone sees the dog. Also, Mrs. Leahy will get here around 7:30 or 8:00 and I won’t be here and since the room’s clean, there won’t be any maid service. So if you need a shower, you’ll have to use the green towels from the pool and you’ll have to wipe down the bathroom and can you sleep on top of the covers-”

“ Whoa, Emily, you’re going a mile a minute. I get it, I’ll leave the room the way I find it. Mrs. Leahy will never know I was there. Neither will anybody else. Thanks a bunch, you’re a lifesaver.”

“ It’s because I know what you’re going through. I was in an abusive relationship, too. I was lucky to get out.”

“ But you’re so young.”

“ Not any older than you.”

Izzy started to disagree, then it struck her that she wasn’t seventy-seven anymore, so she said, “Yeah, I guess I just feel old. It’s been hard.”

“ I hear that.” She handed over the key card. “Good luck and keep Bowser out of sight.” Then, “You can drive round to the side. The key will unlock the door. It’ll be the first room on your left.”

“ Got it, thanks.” Izzy went to the car, drove around to the side, parked, waited till the coast was clear. Then, with Hunter at her heels, she made for her room and once safely inside, she found some paper plates inside the microwave. She opened a couple cans of hash and fed Hunter. While the dog was eating, she pulled the forty-five from her purse, set it on the nightstand, just in case, then she dropped on the mattress and was quickly asleep.

Stunned, Lila stared at the girl, who should’ve been screaming, but wasn’t. She got out of the bed, covering herself with a pillow, but never taking her eyes off the gun in Lila’s left hand.

“ You don’t have to kill me,” the girl soothed. “I’m a professional. I know how to keep my mouth shut. You can put the gun away. I won’t say a thing. I didn’t see anything.”

“ I’m not a child,” Lila said, “and I’m not crazy. So change your tone of voice. I’m a professional, too.”

“ So, you’re not going to shoot me?”

“ Of course not, though I should.” She shook her head. Of course, she should shoot the little vixen, but she couldn’t. What was happening to her? First she lets the Eisenhower woman skate, then she warms up to old Harvey and now this.

“ Is it okay if I get dressed?”

“ Yeah.”

Lila watched as the girl shimmied into her panties, pulled on a tee shirt, stepped into a pair of faded jeans.

“ Shoes are in the living room.”

“ Okay.” Lila backed out of the bedroom, smelled sex on the girl as she passed, smelled fear, too. “I said I wasn’t going to shoot you. I meant it.”

“ Good.” The girl went for the sofa, sat, picked up and put on a pair of tennis shoes. “So now what?”

“ I’m going to get on down the road, before the neighbors call the police.”

“ I got no way outta here. He picked me up. Can you drop me?”

“ No.”

“ It’d be cool if you could.”

“ Fuck. Get your shit and let’s go.”

“ Got no shit. I’m ready.”

“ After you.” Lila held the door.

“ Cool car,” the girl said.

“ Yeah.”

“ Surprised nobody’s out. You’d think with the noise your gun made, someone woulda noticed.”

“ Nothing surprises me anymore.” Lila started the car. “Maybe they’re all at work. Maybe they thought it was a car backfiring or maybe they knew it was gunshots and they just don’t give a shit.” Lila gave a quick look to the neighbors, both sides and across the street and saw no curtains pulled aside. If somebody was looking, they were being careful. Still, it was time to change the plates on the Jag, maybe even get rid of the car.

“ I vote for they don’t give a shit,” the girl said.

Five minutes later Lila dropped her at the McDonald’s at the east end of town. Then she was off again, heading west to Medford, Oregon and Izzy Eisenhower, but only a couple miles outside of town, right after she made the right turn onto Highway 49, she knew she wasn’t going to make it. She would need all of her wits when she met up with Eisenhower. Right now she was afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. She saw a sign for a rest stop twenty-two miles up the road.

She could go that far, but not much further. At the rest area, she parked in the farthest spot from the restrooms, put up the top, closed her eyes and went straight to sleep.

The sun was straight up when she woke. The clock said 12:30. She started the car, put the top down. It was a gorgeous day. The sky was cloudless. It was unseasonably warm for November. The road had just been repaved. There was no traffic. It was as if she were alone in the world. The snow on the side of the road, combined with the tall pines and the sun filtering through them, made her feel like she was in a magical place.

She pushed the Jag up to sixty-five, seventy, seventy-five, decided to hold it at eighty. She’d be in Medford in time for dinner, then she’d find Eisenhower.

She turned on the radio, wondered if she’d find a rock station. She found the news instead, learned about a lot of dead people back in Reno.

Mansfield had called on his government friends, the black ops kind. There was no other explanation. He was pulling out all the stops. If Lila didn’t find Eisenhower before the end of the day, they would and she’d be out her five million. That bastard.

A shadow moved over her. She looked up, saw a helicopter flying low. It was only a momentary distraction, but it was enough, eyes back on the road she saw the deer, saw it an instant too late. She clutched, slammed the stick into second, popped her foot off the clutch, hit the brakes as she turned radically to the left, hoping to spin the car around and maybe hit the animal a glancing blow in the process or maybe not hit it at all.

Had she started a fraction of a second sooner, she might have been able to keep control of the car.

“ Oh fuck,” she muttered, car going sideways heading for the deer, which seemed too stunned to move. Then, just before impact, the animal leapt out of the way. Still spinning the wheel, she heard the horns. A semi was bearing down on her, coming from the west.

The roaring truck beast filled her sight. She saw the driver, black as night, a determined look in his dark eyes. He was fighting the behemoth he was driving, but the metal monster’s wheels screeched in protest against the man trying to tame it.

Still spinning the wheel, she hit the accelerator, hearing her own wheels screech, smelling the burning rubber, the truck’s and her own, as she spun through her one eighty, with the truck so close the sound of it’s engine drowning out the world. Foot still on the accelerator, the wheels found purchase and the car shot away from the braking semi like a scalded race horse, flying back the way she’d come.

Safely away, she pulled over to the side of the road to let the truck pass, but instead the driver pulled in behind her. She got out of her car as he climbed out of his cab.

“ Holy shit, that was close!” He was basketball tall, with the darkest skin she’d ever seen on an American black man. He was wearing a military green field jacket and faded Levi’s. He looked tough. He looked old.

“ Yeah, sorry.”

“ Saw the deer. You did real good.”

“ Thanks.”

“ You’re shaking,” he said.

“ No, I’m not.” She didn’t shake. She was as cool as they came. God didn’t make anybody cooler than her.

“ Yes, you are.”

She held her hand up in front of her face, expected it to be rock steady, but it wasn’t.

“ You’re right. That’s not like me.”

A shadow passed over her. She looked up, that chopper was still up there. Hovering. The black man was looking skyward as well. He pulled a set of miniature binoculars from one of his large jacket pockets.

“ Birdwatching’s a hobby.” He put the binoculars to his eyes, said, “Not good.”

“ You think?” she said.

“ Man up there’s got a gun and they ain’t police.”

“ You’re right, not good.”

Lila could tell the helicopter wasn’t military, more like the kind the TV traffic reporters used. It was high enough that under ordinary circumstances, she wouldn’t have given it much thought. She could hear it, but she lived close to the airport and was used to planes and helicopters. Anybody who lived near RNO automatically blocked out those kinds of sounds, but now those whirling blades were beating a thundering tattoo through her brain.

The helicopter did a three sixty, banking, like the passenger was watching them.

“ What kind of gun?”

“ Say again,” the black man said.

“ You know, what kind of gun did you see up there?”

“ Mac 10.”

“ Shit.”

“ You piss anybody off lately?” he said.

“ Maybe, you?”

“ Once upon a time there were some bad people might’ve wanted me dead. Not anymore.”

“ They’re here for me.” Lila sighed. “I think they’ll wait till you leave. You should go.” She reached into her coat, pulled the Glock from the shoulder holster, but kept it concealed from the men in the chopper, however the man next to her saw it. She figured he’d hightail it on out of there pretty quick.

“ You really think they’ll let me go?”

“ Don’t know, maybe.”

“ They know you got the piece?”

“ Maybe.”

“ So maybe it ain’t gonna be a surprise. Maybe they’re expecting you to pop a few caps at ’em.”

“ Maybe.”

“ Okay, Katie, shake my hand, like you’re telling me goodbye. Then I’m gonna walk on over to my rig, climb in my cab and while they’re focused on you, I’m gonna blow the motherfuckers outta the sky.”

“ My name’s Lila.”

“ Sorry, you reminded me of someone.” He smiled down at her, held his hand out. “Shake my hand, now.”

She grabbed his big hand, squeezed tight.

“ It’ll be okay, Lila.” He released her hand.

“ Sure.” She watched him sort of shuffle back to his truck, get in and as if on cue the helicopter dropped from the sky. Apparently she’d been wrong about them letting him go. Mansfield probably had told them not to leave any witnesses.

She dove behind her car, expecting automatic fire from the helicopter, but instead she heard one gunshot, she turned toward the sound of it, saw the old black man standing next to his truck, with a rifle pointing skyward.

Lila looked up. The chopper was stationary, but it wasn’t. It seemed locked in place, but the body was whirling around, like the blade was still, driving the body below it. Did he get the pilot? Was he dead? Wounded? Could the gunman control the plane?

And as if in answer to her unspoken questions, the chopper stopped it’s ring around the rosy craziness and started climbing, backwards. After only a few seconds that felt like an eon, the flying machine stopped its climb, was stationary and hovering, like a praying mantis about to strike. Then, like a dive bombing mosquito, it started downward, hungry for blood. It seemed to be heading straight for her.

Lila brought the gun up, was about to pull the trigger when the chopper banked into a clockwise circle, still coming down, but just above the treetops it leveled of, continuing to circle, but unlike the last time it circled above her, this time she had the sense that the machine was out of control. It rose up about a hundred feet, started spinning around again, then headed down. It looked like it was going to crash into the trees, but at the last second up again it went, back into a clockwise circle. Then it banked left, flying sideways. Buzzing like a wounded dragonfly.

Again Lila thought it was going into the trees, but again the pilot managed to pull it up before impact. For a fraction of an instant it looked like he was going to save the chopper. It stopped in place, looking like those countless traffic helicopters she’d seen on television. She could almost imagine the passenger holding a camera instead of a Mac 10, reporting that the highway was free and clear, save for a semi and a sports car parked on the side of the road.

She wondered what was going on up there. If there really was a gunman, as the black man had said. She had only his word on it, but she believed him. From her position behind the Jag, she looked over at him as he fired another round and the chopper immediately started downward, heading straight for the man with the rifle and this time she knew there would be no pulling up, it was going crash.

And it did, slamming into the black man’s semi, disintegrating into an exploding ball of heat, fire, flying metal and glass. It was as if a volcano had erupted next to her. The heat of the blast was scorching, the sound deafening, like she was in the middle of sonic boom caught on fire and the fire was sucking the oxygen right out of the air.

Had she not instinctively dropped behind her Jag, she’d’ve been killed, of that she had no doubt. She got up, ears ringing, fighting to get a breath. She was about to move away from the burning mess, when she thought of the man. Surely he was as dead as the men in that chopper, but she had to know for sure. He’d saved her life, she couldn’t walk away from that.

Staying low, because the air seemed better closer to the ground, with an arm wrapped in front of her face, she moved from behind the passenger side of the car, surprised to see the big man face down on the ground in front of the driver’s side door, his back covered in blood. He must have run and taken a flying leap as she was ducking behind the car, which would be going up in flames any second if she didn’t move it.

She dropped to the ground next her savior and he was her savior, she knew that to be true. The men in the chopper had come for her. Old Mansfield Wayne had sold her out. It was the only thing that made sense. She hadn’t seen the gun, but anybody who could shoot the way the bleeding man on the ground could, who acted so fast, so calmly in a crisis, was a truth teller when it came to men in helicopters wielding Mac 10s.

She reached for his neck, put a couple fingers on a carotid, felt a pulse.

He groaned.

“ Hey, can you hear me?” She couldn’t hear the sound of her voice. His ears had to be ringing, too. If she couldn’t hear herself, he couldn’t hear her either. She knew moving him was dangerous, but if she didn’t get him out of here pronto, he’d die.

She didn’t know if she could lift him into the car without his help. She lowered her mouth to his ear, shouted, hoping he could hear her through the deafening ringing.

“ I need you to stand up, only for a second. I’m going to use a fireman’s carry to try and get you into my car. Do you understand me?”

He moved his hand. Good enough, she’d take that for a yes.

“ I’m going to roll you onto your back.” She grimaced, because she knew it was going to hurt him, but she had no choice. She grabbed him by a shoulder, flipped him over. With him on his back, she fisted his field jacket by his upper chest and pulled him up into a sitting position, then with a strength she didn’t know she possessed-and she worked out, was in shape-she got up and pulled him to his feet. He put an arm on her shoulder, struggled to hold on as she wrapped an arm around his waist.

With her free hand, she grasped his wrist and raised his right hand above his head as she knelt in front of him and pulled him onto her shoulders, by bringing his arm around her neck and over her shoulder. Now the big man’s legs were dangling over one of her shoulders, his head over the other. She moved her arm from around his waist, bringing it to the back of his knees as she stood up.

He was heavy, but she was strong.

She moved around to the passenger side of the Jag, thankful the top was down and she dumped him like a sack of potatoes into the passenger seat. She hoped there were no broken bones, hoped she hadn’t hurt him too badly, as she hurried around to the driver’s side of the car.

Once in, she started the car and pulled away from the burning semi. About a quarter mile away, she did a Y turn, pointed the Jag west, hit the accelerator, shifted into second at thirty, clutched and slammed the stick into third at sixty as she flew by the ball of flame that was the helicopter and the big man’s truck.

She hoped this guy could hold on till she got to Medford, because they were in the middle of nowhere now, no hospital to be found and she wouldn’t be looking for one in Yreka. He was going to have to make it till they got to Medford, lots of hospitals there. Izzy Eisenhower was there, too. And there was no doubt in Lila’s mind that Mansfield Wayne had betrayed her and that pissed her off.

He must have decided if he turned to his behind the scenes, black ops contacts that he could get his hands on Eisenhower for a whole lot less than the five million he was offering her.

The man had a chance to be young again and he was looking to do it on the cheap and apparently that meant getting rid of her. Fifteen minutes ago she was willingly doing his bidding, but he’d double-crossed her. Now she had a new mission in life. Save Izzy Eisenhower and send Mansfield Wayne straight to Hell.

Chapter Thirteen

Izzy came out of a dream fog, checked the clock. Three fifteen. She hadn’t been asleep long and she hadn’t slept for over twenty-four hours before she’d hit the bed, but she felt as rested as if she’d been under the covers all the night long and halfway into the day.

She sat up, decided she didn’t need to drink the wine after all and that she didn’t need a workout. Apparently, all she’d really needed was a few hours rest. That and a shower. However, she was mindful of what the girl at the desk had said. She should use the green towels provided at the indoor pool and she should wipe the bathroom down. Good advice, because she had her own reasons for not wanting to leave any traces of her stay behind.

Under the covers. Whoops, she’d promised she’d sleep on top of them, but somehow during her slumber she’d kicked her shoes off, pulled back the covers and slipped between the sheets. She didn’t remember doing it, but she did remember how cozy she’d felt. Odd.

“ Hunter.” She looked around the room, didn’t see the dog, till he came in from the living room part of the suite. “There you are.” She smiled. “You gonna be good while I go and get some towels?”

She expected a woof response, because the dog was smarter than any animal had a right to be, but he only stared at her.

“ Come on, not gonna talk?”

Silence.

Then it hit her.

“ Right, no dogs allowed.” He couldn’t know that, could he? Maybe, he was one smart dog. “Okay,” she slipped a shoe on, “I’m gonna be right back.” She put on the other shoe, left the room, headed down the hallway to the lobby and the pool off to the right.

At the lobby, she saw the girl who’d checked her in.

“ Hello, Emily,” Izzy waved at the girl.

“ Uh, hello.” She offered Izzy a forced looking half smile.

“ Something wrong?”

“ No.”

“ I’m just gonna get those towels from the pool.”

“ Okay.”

Izzy used her key card to get into the pool, smiled as she entered the warm room. There were children frolicking in the pool, adults in the Jacuzzi. The humidity was almost tropical. Too bad she didn’t have a bathing suit, she’d’ve loved to get in the water, do a couple laps, soak in the Jacuzzi, feel safe.

She picked up a couple towels, headed back to her room. Back in the reception, she waved at Emily, who gave her a little wave back. Izzy met her eyes, saw fear and she wondered if Emily had been speaking in the past tense when she said she’d been in an abusive relationship, because right now she was giving off the aura of a battered woman. She wanted to ask the girl if there was anything she could do, but she had her own problems and they were pressing.

Back in her room, she decided to check the news before she took the shower. She flipped through the channels, found Nick Nesbitt anchoring his daily CNN report. She had the sound off, was about to turn it up, when her granddaughter’s picture flashed on the screen.

She gasped, dropped the remote. She gasped again when she realized it wasn’t Amy, because the eyes were brown, not blue like Amy’s. As she’d feared earlier, somebody knew exactly what had happened to her, knew enough to fake a photo of Amy, to change the eye color. She was in more trouble then she’d thought and she’d thought she was in trouble deep.

She had to get out of here, get on the road. But to where, she didn’t have a clue.

Lila had been driving hard, driving fast for the past three-quarters of an hour. A couple miles past the flaming wrecks, she stopped, got out, made the man in her passenger seat as comfortable as she could, raised the ragtop.

“ Shit,” she muttered. With everything that had been going on-the helicopter crashing into the semi, the wounded man who’d shot it down-her adrenaline had been sparking on overdrive, the only thing she could think about was the task at hand. Now that she was safely away, she saw the damage to her car. The back of the Jag looked like it had been through a war. It was covered with dings, divots and scratches where debris from the explosion had hit it. One of the taillights was broken.

“ Someone’s going to pay.” She wasn’t muttering now. She was mad.

Back in the car, she got back on the road, keeping the speed at a constant eighty-five, till she got to McCloud, where she slowed to fifty-five through the small town, then back up to eighty-five.

She passed two logging trucks as if they were standing still just before she came to Highway 5, the freeway that went from the Mexican border in Southern California all they way through the Golden State to Oregon, Washington and Canada beyond. Which was where she’d be heading if she were Izzy Eisenhower. Lots of space to get lost in up there.

On the freeway, she had to hold her speed down to seventy-five, because unlike the two lane highway she’d just turned off of, it was crawling with cars and trucks and well monitored by the Highway Patrol and the last thing she wanted was to get pulled over. Even if all kinds of government bad guys weren’t after her-and right now being paranoid seemed appropriate-she’d have a hard time explaining the bloody man riding shotgun.

She was hungry, wanted to stop at Micky D’s in Yreka, but she kept on. At the Oregon border, the speed limit dropped to fifty-five and she slowed to sixty-five as she started up toward the Siskiyou Pass.

“ So, have you taken me prisoner?”

“ You’re awake.” She sighed. “I didn’t know if you were going to make it.”

“ Take more than a little explosion to take me out.”

“ Tough guy, huh?”

“ Been called that once or twice.”

“ How’s your hearing?”

“ Okay, I covered my ears as I dove away.”

“ Been in a situation like that before?” Lila said.

“ Two tours in Vietnam when I was a kid. Some things you don’t forget.”

“ Okay, so you’re hearing okay. I just got mine back. For a while there I thought I might be permanently deaf. Ears are still ringing, though.”

“ That’ll stop.”

“ So, how are you?”

“ Beaten up, back hurts.” He shifted in his seat. “But I’ll be okay.”

“ Awful bloody.”

“ Something hit me just before I hit the ground, metal, glass, I don’t know. Punched me like there was no tomorrow.” He reached a hand behind his back, under his field jacket, pulled it back out. “Nothing there. Cut me though. Bleeding has stopped, so it’s not bad. I’m guessing it was a metal fragment, big enough to knock me down and out and bounced off. That’s good, though. If it would’ve been smaller or if it would’ve been glass, it would’ve penetrated and that would’ve been bad.”

“ Sorry about your rig.” She moved into the fast lane, passed a couple trucks.

“ Yeah, that’s a bummer.” He winced. It hurt more than he was letting on. “Lucky I was traveling empty. No paperwork about destroyed cargo.”

“ But you lost your truck.”

“ That’s gonna be hard to explain, but I’ll figure something out. Maybe I stopped because the engine sounded funny. Helicopter hits my truck. Good Samaritan picks me up, takes me to a hospital.”

“ How come you didn’t call 911.”

“ No phone.”

“ How come we didn’t stop in Yreka?”

“ We didn’t?”

“ Behind us, we’re in Oregon now.”

“ Really? You didn’t head straight to the nearest hospital?” He winced again. “You are in trouble.” He looked out the window. “Yeah, we’re in Oregon, sure enough.”

“ You shot that helicopter out of the sky. That was pretty cool. You were pretty cool.” She was at the top of the pass now, passing several trucks which had pulled off in the brake test area. “But what I don’t understand is why?”

“ Actually, I shot the pilot. His passenger had a Mac 10. In my experience guys with Mac 10s in low flying helicopters don’t take prisoners.”

“ But is wasn’t your fight.”

“ Anytime there’s a damsel in distress, it’s my fight.”

She glanced over at him and he hit her with a smile so real it was as if she’d been smacked by a ray of sunshine.

“ I’m Black,” he said.

“ No shit,” she said.

“ It’s my name.” He laughed. It came from his belly. “Last time I introduced myself that way to a young lady, who said what you just did, ‘No shit,’ it changed my life. She was a gunslinging girl in trouble, too.”

“ Katie?”

“ Yeah, Katie. She was fast on the draw, hit what she shot at and when she killed a man, she didn’t look back, didn’t cry over it. Course, those she killed had it coming.”

Lila gave the man a glance, put her eyes back on the road, shifted into the fast lane and passed a truck on the winding road down into Ashland.

“ Don’t believe me?” His voice was low now, conspiratorial, almost a whisper. “No reason you should. Most folks who carry concealed never use their weapon. Most are braggarts or cowards, trying to impress with their gun or trying not to be afraid. Of course, most are men. Most women I’ve met are against guns.”

She gave him a scowl, then put her eyes back on the road as she slid back into the slow lane, in front of the truck.

“ Don’t look at me like that, just stating facts.”

“ Whose facts?”

“ Mine. My opinion, based on my experience.” He laughed again, a chuckle this time. “Women who carry are either in trouble or deal in trouble. Either way, someone crosses them better look out, because unlike a lotta men with a gun hidden in their clothes, a woman with a gun is a mighty dangerous animal.”

“ I think I resent that statement, Mr. Black.”

“ It’s just Black.”

“ First or last name?”

“ Both, I only got the one name.”

“ Like Cher?”

“ No, she’s got two names, Cher Bono, everybody knows that. I only got the one.”

“ On your birth certificate, you only have one name?”

“ Yep, just the one.”

“ Cool.” She swung back into the fast lane, passed another truck. Moved back to the right as the road turned straight, Ashland ahead, then Medford. She’d be there in fifteen or twenty minutes. Then she’d have to figure out how to lose Black and deal with Izzy Eisenhower. “So, tell me about Katie.”

“ Ah, Katie. She was, is, one for the record books. But I don’t think I want to talk about her. She’s been out of the limelight for a long time.” He sighed. “I’ve said too much.” Again a sigh, heavier this time. “You can drop me in Medford. I got a friend owns a little music store by Harry and David’s.”

“ Out of the limelight?” She turned to look at him, met his eyes for longer than it was safe, considering she was driving. “You can’t be talking about Katie Sullivan.”

The look in his eyes and his silence confirmed it for her.

“ You are, aren’t you?” She put her eyes back on the road, slowed some as she was closing on a black SUV with government plates. “Tell me about her.”

“ I can’t.”

“ You don’t have to tell me where she is or even if she’s still alive. I just wanna know about her, what kind of person she was. How she survived what she did.” She took the first Ashland offramp.

“ This ain’t Medford?”

“ I’m starved.” She pulled into a McDonalds parking lot. “Fancy a Big Mac?”

For the last quarter hour Izzy had been sitting on the edge of the bed, eyes glued to the flat screen TV. Other than the photo of her, the police didn’t seem to know any more than they did when she saw the story back in McCloud.

She had to do something.

But what? And what about Amy? Whoever was after her would eventually get Amy. That wouldn’t be good.

One thing for sure, she couldn’t go flying off the handle. Just getting in the car and driving wouldn’t be smart. She needed a plan. She needed help, too. Maybe it hadn’t been such a bright idea, dropping the girls off in Susanville. Amy couldn’t be much help, because now they shared the same face, but her friend Alicia would’ve been.

She thought about going back, recruiting the girls, but she’d dropped them there for a reason, because she’d wanted Amy safe. But now, with the stories on the news, she wouldn’t be. What if her daughter-in-law saw the news and called the police? She probably wouldn’t. She’d be afraid she’d lose the money. But it was possible.

Izzy had to go back. But first she had to eat. She called reception. Asked for the number of the quickest pizza place in town and ordered a large Hawaiian, extra ham and no pineapples on one side. She’d split it with Hunter, then get on the road.

Lila pulled into the drive thru behind a police car. Cops gotta eat, too, she thought. At the window, she ordered a Big Mac meal. Black did the same, but added an extra burger. Lila paid, then pulled into the parking lot. She thought about lowering the top, it was a gorgeous day, but seeing that cop made her decide against it.

“ So, Black, you knew Katie Sullivan. I find that hard to believe, but a few hours ago I’d’ve never believed a trucker I met by chance would shoot down a helicopter and save my life. The odds of us sitting here together are a bazillion to one, because I have worshipped Katie Sullivan ever since she killed those cops and disappeared. I know in my heart they were after her somehow. That they were somehow connected with that serial killer Ronny Stark. And since it’s come out that the cop she killed in El Paso was about to rape his stepdaughter, that makes Katie a hero in my book, not a cop killer.”

“ Mine too,” Black said.

“ But they never caught her. And Ronny Stark, who’d raped her and left her for dead, stopped killing and they never caught him either.”

“ What’s your point in all this.” Black bit into his burger, took almost half of it in one bite.

“ I don’t want to know where she is or anything like that, but I’d like to know if she’s doing okay, if she ever got her revenge, if she got the bastard.”

“ Her story is pretty unbelievable and better left untold,” Black said. “Safer for her.”

“ I’m not the kind of girl who tells.” She took a bite of her burger, small compared to his, but big for her. She was hungry. After a few seconds of silence, she said, “I’ve got a pretty unbelievable story of my own to tell.” She smiled. “How about if I tell you mine, you at least tell me if Katie Sullivan is doing alright, if she killed Ronny Stark.”

“ Your story have anything to do with a helicopter that recently crashed into my truck?”

“ Yes it does.”

“ Then you tell me your story and I’ll see after if I can trust you with Katie’s secret.”

“ Fair enough.” And she told him everything. She told him about her rotten childhood, about her stepfather and how she’d just killed her mother and her latest husband. She told him about the Waynes, Tucker and Mansfield. She told him how Mansfield had rescued her, then turned her into his private killer. She told him about Izzy Eisenhower and how she was all of a sudden young again. She told him about the dead back in Reno. She told him how she was supposed to get five million dollars for delivering Izzy alive to Mansfield Wayne. She told him how she thought Wayne had double crossed her. How she thought he’d called in his government pals, that that’s who she thought was up in that helicopter, government spy types who were off the books, or on them, she didn’t know for sure. She told him too much, more than she’d ever told anybody about herself. Something was happening to her and she wasn’t exactly sure what it was.

“ Real Coast to Coast AM kind of stuff,” Black said.

“ Yeah, weirdness to the extreme.”

“ Any of it true?”

“ Every last word.”

“ You want to know something funny?”

“ Yeah?”

“ I believe you.”

“ Really? Why?”

“ I had a radio in that truck. I know the official version about what’s going on in Reno. You story kinda jibs with that.”

“ But that’s not why you believe me, is it?”

“ No, it’s not. I believe you because I do. You don’t look like a liar to me. Besides, only an idiot would sit here and spin a yarn like that if it weren’t true and you don’t seem like an idiot. Then there’s that helicopter.”

“ So are you going to tell me about Katie?”

“ Do you know where Dr. Eisenhower is now?”

“ She’s in Medford.”

“ You know where?”

“ I got a GPS on my car, which was, the last time I checked, parked at the Marriott Suites.”

“ You remember the black SUV that was in front of us when you turned off the freeway.”

“ Shit, it had government plates.”

“ There were a couple more just like it in front of it. Three of ’em.”

“ Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She tossed the rest of her burger, her coke and fries out the window, fired up the car as Black tossed his food away, too.

Chapter Fourteen

Izzy figured she had fifteen or twenty minutes before the pizza arrived. Time enough for a quick shower. She raised an arm, sniffed under it. “Holy crap!” She picked up the green pool towels, started for the bathroom, but stopped before entering.

“ What the-” the words caught in her throat when she saw her reflection in the mirror above the washbasin. Her hair, the lovely, long trestles she’d cut off, it was back in all his auburn glory. “How?” It made no sense. She’d hacked it off, made herself look like a meth queen and now, as if by magic, she looked like a prom queen. What was up with that? Was she going crazy? It wasn’t possible.

But then again, a lot of not possible stuff had been happening to her.

“ Shake it off, Izzy,” she told herself.

In the bathroom, she pulled off her clothes, turned on the water, set it for as hot as she could stand it and stepped under the spray. She pulled the shower curtain and sighed, thinking of the line Mary Magdalene sings to Jesus in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar:

Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to

Problems that upset you oh don’t you know

Everything’s alright yes everythin’s fine

And we want you to sleep well tonight

Let the world turn without you tonight

If we try we’ll get by so forget all about us tonight

She so wanted to forget about everything that had happened to her. Earlier she’d hoped she could drink a bottle of wine, rest for the evening, really forget about everything. But now she knew she wouldn’t be getting her peaceful night. However, she wanted a few minutes at least. She wasn’t Christ, but she thought even he would be struggling under the weight of her problems.

She felt the hot water needles against her back. She closed her eyes, hummed the lyrics to Mary’s song. How she’d loved that record when it came out, oh so long ago. She’d been in med school, with her whole life ahead of her.

And it looked as if she had her whole life ahead of her all over again. How crazy was that?

“ Stop it!” she told herself, but she couldn’t help it, her mind wasn’t going to let her have even a few minutes of peace. Something crazy was going on and she was at the very heart of it.

She leaned back into the spray, let the hot water cascade over her hair. She ran her fingers through it. Having hair again was wonderful. Being better was wonderful. Being young again was wonderful. But having her hair back, Lord that was great.

“ Oh, my God!” She gasped. No wonder Emily had that look on her face. It had been meth queen Izzy who’d checked into the Marriott, but it had been the prom queen version of herself Emily had seen just now. She’d been transformed during her nap, back into the lady killer on all the news channels.

Had Emily recognized her as the woman wanted for murder? And if she had, did she know that the meth and prom queen were the same person? Maybe not, but maybe so.

She shut off the water, grabbed a towel, dried off as she left the bathroom.

“ We gotta go, Hunter. We gotta go now!”

Lila took the first Medford off-ramp, followed it around toward the City Center, but made a right into the Marriott Suites parking lot.

“ There’s my car.” She pointed to her Crown Vic, was about to park next to it, when she saw three black Suburbans. Government SUVs. One man was standing guard by the government cars, but her Crown Vic, parked four spaces away from the Suburbans, was unguarded.

“ Doesn’t look like they know about the car,” Black said.

“ Yeah.” Lila wondered what she was still doing with this Black character. She should’ve dumped him the second she found out he was okay, but she didn’t. He’d proven his worth with that helicopter, maybe he would again. She hoped so, because it looked like she was going to need all the help she could get.

“ You wanna save the woman or you wanna walk away?” Black said.

“ What do you think?”

“ Then get out of the car and start running.”

“ What?”

“ Head for the roller rink on the other side of that field there.” He pointed. “Once you pass the rink, cut right to the Fred Meyer store on the far side of the parking lot. In the store, lose the coat, then go to the deli and order something to eat. Don’t be in a hurry. Act like you don’t have a care in the world.”

“ You’re going to set them after me, aren’t you?”

“ Don’t get caught.”

“ Shit.” She got of the car, took off at a dead run.

“ It’s her!” Black shouted. “The killer woman. The Eisenhower woman!”

“ What?” the man watching the black SUVs said as Lila streaked past. She looked over her shoulder. Black had his arm outstretched, his finger pointed at her as she ran. The government man was shouting into a radio no bigger than a cell phone. She had to give it to Black, that old man thought fast on his feet.

She turned away from the scene behind, faced forward, pumped her arms locomotive quick, using them to force her legs to move faster, because any second there was going to be a passel of FBI agents in her wake. Fortunately, she was a runner. And double fortunately, they wanted Izzy Eisenhower alive, so they wouldn’t be shooting at her. At least she hoped not.

A shot rang out, loud as a Navy jet breaking the sound barrier, as she rounded the skating rink. What the fuck? Now she was out of the sun and in the shade of the building, with it between her and the gaggle of FBI agents she was sure were on her trail.

Ahead of her, she saw a group of stores, a garden store, a hardware store, more on the right. A Subway and a Mexican restaurant on the left. Further on a Taco Bell and a gas station. To the right, across an endless parking lot, the Fred Meyer store.

She ran past the roller rink, was exposed as she dashed toward the parking lot. Any second she expected black SUVs to come flying into the lot, blocking her path. She tried to pour on more speed, but the long duster was holding her back. Not only that, the coat made her stand out like blood on a white carpet. She would never make it to the Fred Meyer store in time and if they came after her with guns, her goose was going to be cooked.

She saw a red trash can in front of the hardware store, only seconds away. She headed for it, reached under her coat as she ran, pulled her shoulder holster’s quick release. She was going to have to lose the Glock as well, along with her custom designed holster. She pulled them off, coat and holster as one, as she ran. At the trash can, she pushed open the slot on the top, dropped them in, then slowed to a walk just as two black SUVs came careening into the parking lot, shooting past the Taco Bell like hungry wolves.

Lila was unarmed and felt naked. She was out of breath, exposed and scared, a new feeling for her. She desperately didn’t want to get caught, because after the incident with the helicopter, she knew these guys would either shoot her or bury her so far in their prison system, she’d never get out.

One of the SUVs went right, toward the gas station and the Fred Meyer store. The other one came straight for her. She took a deep breath, exhaled, forced herself into a leisurely pace as the SUV pulled alongside.

She stopped.

The guy riding shotgun lowered his window.

“ You seen a woman in a long coat, maybe running?”

“ Who wants to know?”

“ Government business.”

“ How do I know that?”

“ Because I told you.”

“ Sorry, not good enough for me.” She was trying for haughty, hoping they’d see her as a stuck up bitch, who thought she was better than them.

“ FBI.” He flashed an open wallet, showed his creds, which looked pretty official from where she stood.

“ Well then, I saw a woman in a brown coat, one of those kinds you see in old cowboy movies. She the one you’re looking for?”

“ That’s her.”

“ She got in a car that was parked in front of Radio Shack.” Lila pointed. “Over there. Took off like a bat out of you know where. Maybe a minute, no less than a minute ago, just now.”

“ Kind of car?”

“ An SUV, smaller than the one you got, dark blue, I think, or maybe green.” She knew enough not to be too exact, witnesses who were telling the truth, never were.

“ What kind of SUV?”

“ Say again.”

“ Ford Explorer, Chevy Tahoe, American, Japanese, you know.”

“ No, I don’t. And I’m not trying to be smart. I don’t know cars. My brother’s an expert, me I know photography and art.”

“ You see which way she went?”

Lila pointed South.

The man picked up a mic. “She’s in an SUV, blue maybe green, going south, probably turned onto the freeway.” He turned toward Lila. “Thanks,” he said as the driver hit the gas.

“ Don’t mention it,” Lila said, but the man didn’t hear as they were already halfway across the parking lot, headed toward the street and a mythical woman they were never going to catch.

Izzy poked her head out the door. Saw two men in suits running down the hall, running toward reception. One of them collided into an aging black man, who had just rounded the corner into the hallway. The running suit pushed the black man aside, without even an apology.

The man fell, hit his head against the wall on his way down. Stunned, Izzy watched as the suits disappeared and the falling man thudded onto the carpeted floor.

Every fiber in her being said to get the gun, stuff it in her purse, call the dog, make for the back door and get the heck out of Dodge. But she was a doctor and there was a man down. She turned toward Hunter behind her.

“ Stay.” She closed the door, sprinted down the hall, dropped to her knees at the fallen man. She reached for a carotid to check his pulse, but rattlesnake quick he grabbed her wrist as he moaned, eyes only partially open. “You okay?” She wondered how he could be so fast and appear so out of it.

“ Dr. Eisenhower I presume,” he said, eyes wide open now.

“ Shit.” She tried to pull away, but his grip was too strong.

“ Easy, I’m here to help.” His voice was low, his speech slow, as if he were talking to a skittish animal.

“ I don’t-”

“ We don’t have time for excuses and lies.” He was still holding her in his granite grip. “This place is crawling with FBI agents. Lila Booth has drawn them off, but they’ll be back pretty quick.”

“ I-”

“ I’m going to let you go,” he said, cutting her off again. “You’ve got to get your keys and we’ve got to drive Lila’s car on outta here. We’ve got to do it now. Do you understand? Are we on the same page?”

“ I’ve got a dog.” She didn’t know why she’d said that.

“ Swell.” He let out a heavy sigh. “Next you’re going to tell me it’s a malamute.”

“ No. He’s a husky.”

“ Almost the same.” He released her wrist. “My name’s Black, Let’s get your dog and get gone.”

She got up from the floor without pain, something she wouldn’t have been able to do a few days ago. She saw him wince, thought about running, but she needed to get Hunter and her purse.

She decided to trust this old man and held out a hand. He grabbed it in a Viking grip and she pulled him to his feet.

“ Thanks.”

“ This way.” She headed back to her room, with the old man right behind. At the door, she remembered the way Hunter had attacked Shaffer. “Sometimes the dog isn’t very friendly.”

“ It’ll be okay, dogs like me.” And Hunter did like him, rubbing up against the big man like they were long lost friends. Scratching between the dog’s ears, Black said, “We’ll go out the back way.”

Izzy didn’t know why she trusted this man, but she did and it felt good, letting somebody else take charge. She sighed, “Right behind you.” She grabbed her things, “Come on, Hunter.”

Lila was at the garden entrance to the Fred Meyer’s store, she went in through the outside gate, passed a cashier, made her way into the store, found her way to the deli, then stopped herself.

“ What the F.” she said aloud. Without a weapon for only a few minutes and she felt naked, exposed and she didn’t like the feeling.

“ Can I help you?” a pleasant looking, freckle faced youth, who was working the deli said. His hair was almost tan, somewhere between brown and blond, like the color of the paper bags on the counter behind him.

“ Can I have one of those?” Lila pointed to the bags.

“ Sure.” The kid cashier handed one over.

“ Thanks, Ted,” Lila said, reading his name off his nametag.

“ No problem.”

“ Be back in a bit.” She took the bag, headed out the way she’d come. She started across the parking lot, to the garden store and the trashcan in front of the hardware store beyond. As she took the casual walk through the lot, stopping for a classic Ford Mustang, she looked around, saw no black FBI SUVs. A little part of her knew she was being stupid, going back, but a bigger part screamed at herself, “Get the gun!”

When the Mustang passed, she continued on, crossed the lot, passed the garden store, was at the trash can, pulled off the lid.

“ Hey, lady, what’cha doin’?” It was a girl, maybe eight, maybe nine.

“ Minding my own business, honey,” Lila said.

“ Leave the woman alone, Jane,” a young woman said, her mother probably.

Lila reached into the can, pulled out the coat and her holstered Glock.

“ Is that a gun?” Mom said.

“ Not a real one.” What a stupid thing to say. Of course she knew it was real.

“ What are you going to do with it?” The woman grabbed her child by the arm, pulled the girl close.

“ Ma’am, you should forget about this. It’s police business.” Lila stuffed the gun and duster into the paper bag, realizing she’d just contradicted herself, by saying something equally as stupid.

“ Whatever you say.” The woman, holding her child by the hand now, turned and left. Damn, if she had a cell, and who didn’t, she was going to be calling the cops, sure as shit. She needed to get back to the Fred Meyer store, needed to meet up with Black and hopefully Isadora Eisenhower and then they needed to get out of this town.

“ Keys.” Black held out his hand as they approached Lila Booth’s Ford. She handed them over and he unlocked the passenger door. She opened it and Hunter bounded into the car, jumped the seat and settled in the back. She got in as Black was opening the driver’s door.

“ Ready?” He started the car.

“ Yeah, where are we going?”

“ Not far, don’t know for sure after that.” He backed up like a man who was confident behind the wheel, shifted into drive and in about a minute pulled into the Fred Meyer parking lot, pulled into a parking space and shut off the engine.

“ We’re going shopping?” Izzy said.

“ No, I gotta go in and pick up Lila. I shoulda told her to wait near the front, but I didn’t. She’s at the deli.” He started to get out of the car.

“ I’m going with you.”

“ Not a good idea.”

“ I’m not waiting here.”

“ What about the dog?”

“ He’ll be fine.” She turned to the back, “Be good.”

The dog met her with his odd colored eyes, answered with a low growl.

“ See, he’s good with it. Let’s go.” Izzy pulled the door handle, stopped herself. “Start the car, I’ve got to lower the window some.” He did as she asked and Izzy lowered the window all the way.

“ You’re sure you want it like that?”

“ This dog doesn’t get locked up. If he wants to be here when we get back, he’ll be here.” She got out of the car, started for the front entrance with Black following. She’d eaten at that deli more times than she could count, liked the fried burritos she could get for a buck. All of a sudden she realized how hungry she was.

“ Slow down, we don’t want to attract attention,” Black said.

“ Right,” she said, as if a seven foot black man who looked like King Kong wouldn’t attract attention, even if he was moving at a snail’s pace.

“ Damn,” he said when they got to the deli section. “She’s not here.”

Izzy went straight to the glass counter, counted eleven beef and bean burritos. Two for her, nine for Hunter.

“ I’ll take those,” she told a kid whose name badge called him Ted.

“ All of ’em?”

“ Yeah, I got a hungry dog in the car.”

“ Got’cha.”

“ We’re in a hurry here,” Black said.

“ To do what?” Izzy said. “Besides, I thought we were waiting for Lila Booth.” Though exactly why she’d want to be seeing Lila wasn’t exactly clear. Still, this guy seemed to be on her side and so far he seemed to be the only one out there who was.

“ Yeah, that’s a problem.” Black looked around, seemed to be thinking. “We’ll give her a couple minutes, then we go.” He seemed pained.

“ But you don’t want to go without her, do you?”

“ No.”

“ Then you’re in luck, because there she is.” Izzy nodded toward the south side of the store, turned back to the counter and handed the kid a twenty.

“ You were supposed to be waiting here,” Black said when Lila approached with a shopping back tucked under her arm.

“ Yeah, well I got hung up.” The words said attitude, but the tone did not. “Dr. Eisenhower,” Lila smiled at Izzy, “we meet again.” To Black, “We gotta go, where’s the car?”

“ Just out front.”

“ Good.” Lila turned toward the kid cashier, “Told you I’d be back.” She favored him with a smile. The kid blushed and Izzy decided maybe Lila wasn’t so bad, after all.

“ FBI,” someone shouted.

Izzy turned to the sound of the voice as Lila pulled a gun from her shopping bag.

“ Whoa!” Izzy said as Lila started shooting.

Chapter Fifteen

Mississippi Bob Mouledoux dove to his right as the young FBI agent in front of him took several rounds. The fed, a kid right out of Quantico named Girard, had been running full force, gun in the air as he shouted out, identifying himself. The woman he’d seen from the backseat of the SUV, who’d obviously misdirected them, shot without hesitation, her gunshots ringing throughout the store. If he’d’ve been a flash of a second slower diving into an aisle of garden supplies, Mississippi Bob would’ve suffered the same fate as the dead fed.

“ You okay, Peeps?” Mouledoux shouted. Hoping his partner hadn’t been hit.

“ Yeah, Bobby, I see you.”

Mouledoux pulled his face from the floor, turned, saw that Peeps had made it to the aisle opposite, had apparently charged into a garden hose display in his dash for cover. He was on top of pile of green and black hoses, but safely out of the line of fire.

“ We got two down, both feds bought it!” Peeps shouted.

Jesus Christ, Mouledoux grabbed for his thirty-eight. The other agent, one with years of experience named Cornwall, was a nice guy. Mouledoux had instinctively liked him. How could this have happened?

Someone was shouting.

A woman.

“ Get out, get out, get out!” she wailed, then three kids and the woman, still shrieking, ran past, scurrying between the aisles he and Peeps were seeking cover in. They were dashing down the center aisle toward the garden exit. They must have jumped over the dead FBI agents.

More shouts, then all of a sudden the cacophony in the store sounded like the aviary at the San Diego Zoo during feeding time. Surround sound screaming.

“ They’ve got guns!” someone shouted.

“ Get down!” someone else shouted.

Mouledoux, on the ground, crept along the aisle, moving toward the center aisle that led from the garden section toward the middle of the store. Before he reached the end of it, he stopped. He was breathing like he’d run a marathon, in and out, like a steam engine out of control on a downhill run, sucking air, hyperventilating. If he didn’t watch it, he was going to pass out.

He looked up at a plethora of weed killers, everything from Round Up to Ortho. And above the rack of weed killers, on the overhead ceiling, he saw a video monitor with a sign under it stating that for the store’s customer’s protection, “Closed circuit video is used in this location. These videos enable us to prosecute criminal offenses which may occur.”

Criminal offenses were occurring right now and Mouledoux hoped they were being captured. Then he thought of his own cowardly self, cringing on the floor. Was he being captured, too? Probably.

Shit, shit, shit, motherfuck. Much as he wanted to lay here, not move till help arrived, he couldn’t. He’d be branded a chicken shit. Which is exactly what he felt like. Hero or coward, however he wanted to be thought of, his choice was now. He had to choose.

He chose hero.

He got up, shouted out at the top of his lungs.

“ Quiet down! You are in no danger.” He felt that was true, but didn’t know for sure.

The shouting, crying, confusion didn’t abate.

“ Listen up! Nobody wants to hurt you!” He shouted loud, booming the words from deep in his belly.

“ Everybody leave the store. Move to the exits now. You are in no danger. The woman with the gun will let you go.” He hoped to fuck he knew what he was doing. “Move out now. Do not panic. Do not run.”

Nobody moved.

He couldn’t blame them, he probably wouldn’t have either. But somebody had to move. He cursed the overhead cameras as he made his way to the end of the aisle.

“ You crazy?” Peeps hissed.

“ Yeah,” he muttered under his breath. He was crazy. He was also a police officer, sworn to protect and serve and right now a whole bunch of people needed protecting, even if they were out of his jurisdiction.

At the end of the aisle, he poked his head around a container of Miracle Grow. The aisle was empty, save for the two dead feds. Girard had half his head blow away. Cornwall did too. They’d been wearing vests, but they hadn’t done them any good. Their blood was spattered over all manner of garden paraphernalia from gloves to sheers.

He looked toward the deli. The woman shooter was nowhere to be seen. He pretty much expected that. She could be anywhere, outside the store even, but he didn’t think so. She was inside. His cop sense told him that was true.

“ Get down!” Peeps said.

Mouledoux dashed across the center aisle, joined Peeps and the hoses. He offered a hand. Peeps took it and Mouledoux pulled him to his feet.

“ You okay?”

“ What’d ya see?” Peeps wanted to know.

“ Two dead Fibies.”

“ She just shot ’em down in cold blood.”

“ Yeah, she did.” And now they had two down, an unsub on the loose in a monster of a store, with who knew how many civilians hiding here, there and everywhere. Still, he had to admit if Girard hadn’t gone charging forward like Sir Lancelot on his charger, waving his Glock like a motherfucking sword, the bitch probably wouldn’t have started popping caps. The stupid fuck got both himself and his partner killed.

It could’ve been so easy. They could’ve simply walked up to her, grabbed her, cuffed her and been done with it. It should’ve been easy. What the fuck were they teaching those yahoos at Quantico?

“ You hear that?” Peeps said.

“ What?”

“ Someone’s crying.”

Mouledoux heard it, too.

“ It’s coming from the next aisle over.” Peeps said.

“ Yeah.” Mouledoux stepped out into the center aisle, quick stepped to the next aisle, passing a display of WD 40 as he turned into an aisle of auto repair garbage that probably nobody needed, save maybe the WD 40, everybody needed that. He saw a little girl on the floor, her mother had a gash on her forehead, but seemed lucid.

“ You okay, ma’am?”

“ I think so.”

“ I’m going to step out into the aisle. I want you and your girl to stand behind me and run for the exit. I’ll block the way.” He was about to do something very stupid, but he had no choice. To protect and serve, sometimes it was a bitch.

“ Are you sure?”

“ Do it now, ma’am.” He holstered his weapon and as he’d done with Peeps, he offered the woman a hand. She took it. He pulled her to her feet and she pulled up her child. “Okay, we need to be kinda quick about this.” He took the woman’s hand again. She was maybe twenty-five, twenty-six and looked like a scared rabbit. Blood was dripping down into her left eye. He brushed it away with the back of his free hand, wiped it off on his trousers.

“ I’m bleeding?”

“ It’s not serious, you’re going to be fine.” He led her to the center aisle. The little girl followed.

“ Are you ready?”

“ Yes,” the woman let go of his hand, picked up her daughter.

“ Are you nuts?” Peeps said.

Mouledoux looked at his partner, nodded his head. “Maybe a little.” He turned toward the young woman. “We’re going now.” He stepped into the center aisle with his hands in the air. The woman followed, stepped behind him, then ran for the exit with Mississippi Bob between her and the shooter or shooters.

“ She’s at the door,” Peeps said. “She’s outside, get back here.”

He was about to do just that when the woman in the brown duster stepped into the aisle with a Glock in hand. She had it pointed at his chest. He kept his hands in the air as Isadora Eisenhower joined the woman. She had a gun too. It looked like a forty-five auto and it too was pointed at his chest. If things didn’t go right here, he could be well and truly fucked.

He heard a siren in the background. If he’d’ve waited a few more seconds the cavalry would’ve been in time to save him. Maybe. But maybe not.

“ Think fast,” the woman in the duster shouted. But she needn’t have, because all of a sudden it was quiet in the store.

Always a fast thinker, Mouledoux shouted at the top of his lungs, “Everybody leave the store! Do not panic! Do not run! Proceed at an orderly pace toward the nearest exit!” He prayed he was doing the right thing. For a second he’d thought about diving for cover, but he knew sure as he knew his name, he’d’ve been cut down. Those women knew how to use their guns. He’d seen that first hand.

“ Now!” he shouted, trying to sound authoritarian. “Everybody leave now.”

A man with two children stepped into the aisle between him and the two women. He was looking at Mouledoux, unaware of the gun bearing women behind him.

“ That’s right,” Mouledoux lowered his hands, hoping the women wouldn’t interpret it as a threat. He kept his hands pointed forward, wanting them to see he wasn’t going for his shoulder holster.

“ Psst,” Peeps hissed. “I gotcha covered.”

Mouledoux resisted the urge to glance over at his partner. The last thing he wanted to do was to spook Eisenhower and her gun toting friend.

More people came into the aisles, employees and customers alike. A giant of a black man appeared behind the women. Eisenhower had gotten herself some serious friends in a very short time.

People were leaving the aisles, coming into the center aisle, heading toward him and the exit beyond. A young couple came up behind the two women and the black man, passed them as if they weren’t holding guns. Then Mouledoux saw they had their eyes on him and the exit beyond. They hadn’t seen the guns.

And as if they’d heard his thoughts, the women hid their guns in their coats and started toward him and all of a sudden Mouledoux knew what they were up to. They were going to walk out with the crowd and disappear. He couldn’t let that happen.

With his right hand he made a downward motion and out of the corner of his eye he saw Peeps drop to the floor. He made a motion with his thumb, pointing to the women and black man heading toward him. Peeps slithered up to the center aisle, poked his head out a few inches, eyeballed the trio, then ducked back, giving Mouledoux the thumbs up sign.

The sirens were getting closer and the group heading toward him picked up their pace. As they got closer Mouledoux looked into their eyes. The black man looked confident, like he didn’t give a shit. Eisenhower looked scared, but the other woman, she had eyes like death. Black as the bottom of a desert mine on a starless night. Killer’s eyes. He didn’t want to fuck with her. He didn’t want to do that. For a second he regretted signaling Peeps, because the way this woman was locking eyes with him, Mouledoux knew if Peeps made a move, Mississippi Bob Mouledoux was going down.

Then they were abreast of him and the woman with black eyes slid the gun from her coat, pointed it at Peeps in the aisle. She’d had the Glock in her hand the whole while, arm hanging loose, weapon pointed to the ground, hidden by the coat. But it wasn’t hidden now. She’d seen him signal Peeps, knew someone was on the floor there.

“ I don’t want to kill you,” she said to Peeps, who had his thirty-eight pointed at her, “but I will,” she said, not the least bit afraid of his weapon. “Slide your piece down the aisle. Make it go far.”

For a second, Mouledoux thought Peeps might cap her, but then Eisenhower showed her forty-five and Peeps, apparently realizing he was a dead man if he fired, slid his gun down the aisle.

“ Your mama didn’t raise a stupid child,” the woman in the duster said as she turned. She began walking backwards, keeping her eyes on Mouledoux as the trio made for the exit. They were going to get away.

As soon as they’d passed the aisle Peeps was in, he got up and charged down it for his thirty-eight. He grabbed for the gun, fumbled it, grabbed it off the floor a second time and ran back to the center aisle.

Mouledoux, with his hands still at his sides, made a stopping motion with an open palm, toward Peeps. Their foolishness, his and Peeps’, was going to get Mississippi Bob Mouledoux killed and he didn’t want that. And all the while that woman in the long coat was back stepping as if she had eyes in the back of her head, while her real eyes, those bottomless blacks, were drilling into him.

Her gun was behind her coat again, but he knew it was in her hand and he knew she hit what she shot at. He was more frightened than all those times he’d been scared shitless during the first Gulf War.

“ Stay back!” he said through clenched teeth, but either Peeps didn’t hear or didn’t want to. He was going to do something very stupid.

Izzy’s heart was thumping in her chest when Lila Booth stepped into the aisle and faced down that policeman. When she was younger she’d had a deathly fear of heights, which she’d conquered by spending a horrible, fearful day climbing Mt. Shasta with her psychiatrist, so she knew fear, but this was much worse. However, terrified as she was, she somehow fought her fear like she did back then and not knowing where her own courage had come from or how she’d summoned it up, she’d joined Lila Booth, pointing her gun at the police officer.

People had listened to him and they’d started filing out of the store without panic and when Lila had started toward the policeman, she went along, staying by her side and when Lila hid her Glock in her long coat, Izzy did the same, hiding her gun inside the thrift store denim jacket.

“ Right behind you,” Black said and she felt the big man’s presence as they made their way toward the policeman and hopefully the exit beyond. Could they really get lost in the crowd? It seemed impossible, but what else could they do? She heard the sirens getting closer. In minutes, probably sooner, the store was going to be crawling with cops, probably SWAT teams.

She had been surprised when they came abreast of the policeman and Lila pointed her gun at the other one hiding on the ground in the garden supply aisle. How she’d known he was there was beyond Izzy. Had she not seen him, they’d’ve been captured for sure.

At the exit, the sirens were piercing. Squad cars pulled up as people started to pick up their pace, as if they sensed something was about to go wrong and they wanted to be out of harm’s way.

Izzy crossed her fingers. They were so close. Maybe they’d get away after all.

Frightened as he was, Mouledoux was furious, too. These women were armed, dangerous and would certainly kill again. He couldn’t let them get away. But that’s what he was doing. They were at the exit and in an instant they were going to fade into the crowd outside and they’d be in the wind.

“ Take the shot!” he said to Peeps.

“ You got it.” Peeps dropped to the floor again, peeked around the Miracle Glow, aimed at the back of the blonde’s head, was about to fire when something heavy landed on his back, causing his shot to go wild.

“ What the fuck-” Mouledoux said as a wolf like animal shot past him. He pulled his weapon as the animal skidded around the end of the aisle and got lost among the patio furniture.

“ Got one of ’em,” Peeps shouted as the black man crashed into Isadora Eisenhower.

Izzy was at the door, then through it, relief flooding through her, they were going to make it, she thought as a shot rang out and Black lurched forward, slamming into her, knocking her to the ground and knocking her wind away as she skinned her hands on the pavement.

“ What?” she gasped the word, barely getting it out.

“ Black’s been hit,” Lila said. “You have to get up. We have to get him out of here.” She offered her hand.

“ Okay.” Izzy grabbed it.

“ Where’s the car?” Lila pulled Izzy to her feet.

“ There.” Izzy was still gasping as she pointed.

“ Shit,” Lila said as a blue and white police car pulled up and the officer riding shotgun jumped out.

“ What happened here?”

“ This man’s been shot.” Lila dropped to her knees, looped an arm under Black’s right shoulder. “We’ve got to get him out of the line of fire.” She turned to the store, pointed to the man with a gun. “There’s a couple crazies in there shooting up the place.”

The officer went for his gun and the man in the store dove for cover.

“ Help me here,” Lila said to the other officer, who was out of the blue and white now.

“ Okay.” He helped her drag Black away from the entrance.

“ Get the car!” Lila said to Izzy.

“ For him?” the officer said.

“ I’m a doctor,” Izzy said, able to breathe now. “We can have in him the emergency room at Rogue Valley before you can have them roll an ambulance.”

“ We shouldn’t move him,” the officer said.

“ He’ll bleed out if we don’t,” Izzy said.

“ We should wait,” the officer said as two more blue and whites careened into the parking lot.

“ Now, officer!” Izzy fished into Black’s pocket, pulled out the keys. “The car’s there. Get it.”

Lila grabbed the keys, took off at a run.

“ Too late,” Black said, looking up at her.

“ It’s not too late.” A crazy thought struck Izzy. She looked at her skinned hands, remembering what happened to her the last time she’d skinned them. She turned Black onto his side, ran a bloody palm into his wound.

“ Hurts,” Black said.

“ What are you doing?” the cop said.

“ Checking the wound.”

“ Let’s go,” Lila shouted.

Izzy turned. Lila had pulled up behind the blue and white. To the cop she said, “Okay, help me get him into the car.”

“ I don’t think so,” he said.

“ What’s going on here?” It was an older cop from one of the other blue and whites.

“ She’s a doctor and wants to take him to Rogue Valley Emergency, but I don’t think we should move him.”

“ You trying to think for yourself?” the older cop said, “trying to second guess the doctor?” He looked pained. “Get him in the car!”

“ Alright, alright,” he said and the two cops got Black into the backseat as Izzy ran round to the passenger’s side. She pulled open the door, was about to get in, when Hunter thundered past her, taking the middle of the front seat.

“ Get in,” Lila shouted and Izzy did.

Lila hit the gas and they shot out of there.

Chapter Sixteen

“ Police,” Mouledoux shouted, but he didn’t step into the center aisle. That could be suicide. There were two dead feds, who knew how many others in the store and he and Peeps were the only ones armed. For right now, it didn’t look good. They could straighten it out, but by then it would be too late.

“ Throw out your weapons,” a deep voice shouted back. The Eisenhower woman was getting away and these jerk water cops were letting her.

“ They think it’s us behind this.” Sweat was running down Peeps’ forehead and from where he was in the aisle opposite, he looked terrified.

“ Yeah,” Mouledoux said.

“ What are we gonna do?”

“ I think we should throw out our weapons.” He went to his knees, pulled his piece, put it on the floor, slid it out into the aisle, giving it a healthy push down the center toward the exit.

“ I don’t like giving mine up.” Peeps pulled his thirty-eight to his chest, almost as if it were an infant.

“ Peeps, there’s dead people here. Those cops aren’t gonna be impressed by our badges. They want us to slide our guns away, then they’re gonna want us to lay out spread-eagled on the floor.”

“ We’re cops, for Christ’s sake.”

“ If we were them, we’d already be dead, so let’s not tempt them. Okay?”

“ Yeah, yeah.” And like Mouledoux had done, Peeps slid his thirty-eight down the center aisle, well out of reach.

“ We’re cops,” Mouledoux shouted again.

“ Step out, hand’s high.”

Mouledoux did. Peeps followed.

“ On the floor.” There were six, no seven cops Mouledoux counted facing them down from the exit. How bloody stupid, he thought as he dropped to the floor.

“ Move, move, move!” one of the cops shouted and Mouledoux saw them charging forward. In seconds they were on him, jerking his hands behind his back, cuffing them with cable ties.

“ My shield is on my belt,” he said as he was being hoisted to his feet.

“ Son of a bitch,” one of the cops said. “He’s a cop.”

“ That’s what he’s been trying to tell you!” Peeps tried to shake free of the two men holding him.

“ Let him go,” a plainclothes cop said.

“ You wanna cut these off,” Mouledoux said.

“ Explain.”

“ You just let the fucking shooters go,” Peeps shouted, agitated. “The two women and the black man.”

“ The big guy we helped into the car?” a cop said.

“ Probably,” Mouledoux said.

“ Shit,” the cop said.

“ Go back to the hotel,” Izzy said.

“ Not a hospital for Black?”

“ No, not right away.”

“ You know what you’re doing?”

“ I hope so.”

“ Me too, but why back there?” Lila said as she turned the car in the direction of the Marriott Suites.

“ We’re going to hide in plain sight. It’s the last place they’ll look for us.”

“ Gotcha,” Lila said. “Good thinking.” At the hotel she pulled the car into the same spot it had been parked in about fifteen minutes ago.

“ I’m guessing they’ve already figured out who we are and how stupid they were for letting us get away,” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, probably,” Lila said. Then, “Did you check out? Do you plan on us using the same room?”

“ No, I think the woman at reception might have recognized me. Besides, I was off the books and the people who paid for the room could show up at anytime.”

“ I’ll get us a room.” Lila started to get out of the car.

“ Wait!” Izzy said.

“ What?”

“ If you use your credit card, they’ll be able to track us.”

“ Please. I’ve got more IDs than you can shake a stick at.” She got out of the car.

“ Get a room near the back entrance,” Izzy said after her.

Lila didn’t turn around. She just raised her right hand and waved it as she walked away.

“ Right,” Izzy muttered to the dog, who’d scooted over into Lila’s place behind the wheel.

Lila stopped at a black XKE Jaguar, reached behind the passenger seat and pulled out an expensive looking grip. She slung it over her shoulder, then entered the hotel.

Izzy curled her fingers into fists, fighting an urge to bite her nails. It seemed like she’d been waiting forever when she saw Lila push out through the hotel doors.

“ How’d it go?” Izzy said, when she reached the car.

“ Fine.” Lila didn’t seem tense at all. How’d she do it? “I got us the room by the back entrance. Told the woman I was a heavy smoker and would be going out a lot.”

Izzy started the car, moved it to the spot closest to the rear entrance.

“ Coast is clear,” Lila said and the two woman helped Black, who was conscious and able to assist, out of the car, with the dog following. Lila keyed the back entrance and then the door to their room, 114, which was directly opposite the last room Izzy had been in. Inside, they led Black through the suite to the closest bed.

“ Blood’s gone,” Lila said as they eased him onto the bed.

“ Yeah,” Izzy said.

“ I don’t remember anyone cleaning it off.”

“ No, no one did.”

“ I understand why we couldn’t take him to a hospital, what with a couple dead cops back there, but it seems like we never really had to take him to one, after all. Did we?”

“ Doesn’t look like.”

“ So, when you rubbed your bloody hand into his wound, is that what did it?”

“ I don’t know. It’s just a guess.”

“ Darned good one, it looks like.”

“ Seems so.”

“ Sweet,” Lila said. Then, “I know you think hiding out here is a good idea and it probably is, but we have to do something about the car. I don’t think those cops got the tags, but they’re not stupid, they got the make and model and one of them is more than likely going to remember it’s got Nevada plates on it, so we should move it and I’m thinking we should drop it off by one of the used car lots up the street.”

“ Why?”

“ Because we’ll need to get another car. We’re four, with you and the dog. We can hardly all fit in my little Jag.”

“ I knew that you were going to stay and see it through.”

“ How’d you know that?” Lila smiled.

“ You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t in it till the end.”

“ Yeah, the end,” Lila said. “I’m guessing you don’t have a clue.”

“ Not a clue.”

“ So we’re gonna be like Thelma and Louise, us against the world and we die in glory, that what you think?”

“ Not like Thelma and Louise.” Izzy smiled. “We got a dog.”

“ And a large black man who thinks fast and is very good with a gun.”

“ A couple handy traits. With him and the dog, maybe we can change the ending.”

“ That would be cool.” Lila held out her hand.

“ You’ll stay with me? All the way, no matter what?” Izzy took Lila’s hand.

“ No matter what.” Lila squeezed Izzy’s hand, not too hard, but hard enough so that Izzy knew that whatever happened, they were in it together. “Now, about the car, you take it. I’ll follow. We gotta go now, before they start looking.” Lila glanced down at Black. “Think he’ll be okay?”

“ Yeah, I kinda do.”

“ Then let’s go,” Lila said. “Only instead of taking the car to a car lot, which would just tell them we got another one when they find it, and find it, they will. We’ll take it to the airport and put it in long term parking. They’ll find it there, as well, but maybe they’ll think we got on a plane. Then we’ll drive back and pay cash for something down the road.”

“ Sounds good,” Izzy said.

Fifteen minutes later Izzy parked the Crown Vic between matching white vans at the Medford International Airport. She locked it, then jogged to the terminal where Lila was waiting in the passenger pickup outside of U.S. Air in her black Jag.

“ What kind of car you wanna get?” Lila sounded like a kid at Christmas. Her eyes were sparkling, almost as if she’d been brought back from the dead.

“ Jeez, you look happy.”

“ Yeah, it’s a change for me.” Lila smiled. “A lot’s been going on in my life. I thought I’d been slipping up, getting sloppy, but I don’t think that’s it. I think I’m altering my priorities.”

“ And is that a good thing?”

“ I didn’t think so, but I do now.”

“ Then that’s good. Now let’s go get a car.”

Mansfield Wayne hated depending on others, especially those he considered beneath him, and he didn’t consider himself better than most, just luckier and maybe bolder. But there were those who were cut from a coarser cloth and Peeps Friday was one of them. But sometimes one had no choice.

He pulled his iPhone from his pocket, scrolled through his contacts, tapped on Peeps. The man answered on the second ring.

“ Listen up,” he said after Peeps identified himself. “I just got a call from one of my contacts. Isadora Eisenhower used her card to rent a motel room in Susanville. She’s not there now, doesn’t look like she used the room. But after a little investigation he found out she’s got a son living there.” Mansfield paused, coughed. “I called and got her daughter-in-law on the phone. Seems Eisenhower stashed her granddaughter there. She offered them a lot of money to keep her and to keep quiet about it.”

“ Doesn’t sound like she kept her mouth shut,” Peeps said.

“ I offered her a lot more. Besides, there doesn’t appear to be any love lost between the daughter-in-law and Eisenhower. The woman doesn’t believe Eisenhower will pay. She thinks it’s a trick of some kind, but she couldn’t afford to take the chance, so she agreed to keep Amy hidden.”

“ And you’re telling me, why?”

“ I want you to go and get her, of course. I’ll have a couple of my people pick you up. They’ll also have the money I promised the woman.”

“ Why do you need me?”

“ You’re a police officer. You’re older. You look believable. All qualities my men, good as they are, lack.”

“ So, you’re thinking Amy might not come peacefully, that it?”

“ That’s right. So it’s your job to see she does.”

“ Alright,” Peeps said, but he didn’t sound enthusiastic.

“ Oh and, Peeps,” Mansfield said. “You bring me that girl and I’ll see you get more money than you’re able to imagine.”

“ Yes, sir.” Peeps perked right up. “But having your guys pick me up isn’t going to work very well, I’m in Medford, Oregon.”

“ What?”

“ We were with the FBI. We almost had the Eisenhower woman, but she got away, in large part thanks to Lila Booth.”

“ Say again.”

“ Lila Booth. She’s helping Eisenhower. Looks like they’re a team.”

“ Does anybody else know this?”

“ No, sir,” Peeps said. “I recognized her straightaway, but I kept my mouth shut. I’m not stupid.”

“ Did your partner see her?”

“ Yes, but he doesn’t know her. He doesn’t have a clue as to who she is.”

“ Alright.” Mansfield clenched his teeth. “I’ll give you the address. My guys are driving a white Escalade and they’re leaving from Reno now. They’ll be there in about an hour and a half. I’ll call the Medford airport and arrange a plane for you. How quick can you get there.”

“ Straightaway,” Peeps said.

“ When you land at Susanville, wait at the airport. My men will find you. They’ll give you the cash. Pay off the girl’s stepmother, then bring me the girl.”

“ I won’t let you down, Mansfield.”

“ I know you won’t,” Mansfield said, only half believing it. He sighed, then hung up.

Mouledoux was having a cigarette with one of the Medford plainclothes cops as Peeps took his call. At first Peeps looked agitated, but he seemed to settle down. The guy was a bundle of nerves, this business was maybe too much for him.

Peeps put his phone in his pocket, waved, then approached.

“ I gotta go, wife’s sick,” he said. “One of the locals is letting me take his ride, said it was cool as long as I left it in short term parking.”

“ Cool, he actually said it was cool?”

“ I guess that’s the way they talk in Oregon. They’re very friendly.”

“ And he’s letting you take his unmarked?”

“ He cleared it, but why wouldn’t his chief okay it? They’re friendly, like I said.” Peeps smiled, but it didn’t look real. “You’ll need to be here for a couple days getting this all straightened out. I’ll be back.”

“ Alright, I’ll see you then.” Truth be told, Mouledoux was glad Peeps was going. The last thing he wanted was Peeps bumbling everything up with the feds. If he was going to find Eisenhower, he needed their help. And if she wound up in their custody, so be it. He just wanted to know what was going on, how she got to be the way she is.

“ Thanks, partner.”

“ Don’t mention it.” He took a final drag on his Marlboro, then stubbed it out as Peeps hustled across the parking lot toward the car. He turned toward his smoking pal. “You all think anybody’ll mind if I go over to the Carl’s Jr.” He pointed. “Get something to eat, then go back to my room, get a shower and change.”

“ How long you think you’ll be gone?” the man said.

“ Forty-five minutes, an hour tops. This circus is gonna go well into the night.”

“ Yeah, go ahead, go. I’ll cover for you, just like you’re gonna be covering for your partner.”

“ I’m not the fuck up he is,” Mouledoux said.

“ I can see that.” He smiled. “Go ahead, go.”

Peeps Friday checked the GPS application in his iPhone. He loved that app, didn’t know how he’d ever gotten along without it. He got on the freeway, heading north and got off on the next exit, making a right at Biddle, where he got the surprise of his life when he saw Lila Booth and Isadora Eisenhower blow past in Lila’s black Jag, heading south, away from the airport.

He pulled into the left lane, but there was a divider and it was impossible for him to make a U turn.

“ Damn.” He thumped a hand on the steering wheel. By the time he got turned around, they’d be long gone. Still, he had to try. He swung the unmarked left, jumped the divider, making as close a U turn as possible as the undercarriage scraped the divider.

A horn blared. A tow truck was bearing down on him. Peeps accelerated, almost lost control in the turn, barely avoided sideswiping a white minivan, which was going about fifteen miles an hour under the speed limit. He had to brake to avoid hitting it, instead of accelerating and swinging into the left lane. He could’ve made it. Braking was instinctive and stupid, because had not the honking tow truck’s driver been as fast on his own brakes, he’d’ve plowed into Peeps. As it was he got his truck stopped inches from Peeps’ turning vehicle.

And for reason’s unknown the slow going minivan screeched to a stop, smoking rubber, locking Peeps between the minivan in front and the tow truck behind. He hit the horn, wanting the mini van to get out of the way, but instead of moving, the door opened and a woman old enough and heavy enough to be his grandmother climbed out.

“ Are you crazy?” she shouted, marching toward him like a samurai warrior, cane in hand.

The tow truck driver was out of his truck, too.

“ Police officer,” Peeps shouted as he shut the engine off and got out of the car. “I’m in pursuit.”

“ Bullshit!” the tow truck driver said.

“ Really.” Peeps pulled his badge from his inside coat pocket.

“ Is that how they taught you to drive at the police academy? You should watch where you’re going,” Granny said.

“ Sorry,” Peeps said. “I saw a felon and didn’t think.”

“ You could have killed someone.”

“ He said he was sorry,” the tow truck driver said, voice and tone deferential, now that he’d seen the badge.

“ Can you just move your car out of the way?” Peeps said.

“ Sure.” Granny started back toward her van, completely unmindful of the fact that she’d not only stopped traffic, but that she’d aided a couple felons in their escape. And escape they had, because they were long gone, without ever knowing they’d been spotted.

He got back in his unmarked as Granny was climbing back into her minivan. Behind the wheel, he started his car, pulled around Granny as he reached for his iPhone to call it in. But then he stopped himself. If he called it in, he wouldn’t be getting on that plane anytime soon, wouldn’t be picking up Amy Eisenhower in Susanville, wouldn’t be collecting more money that he could count from old Manny Wayne.

Better to let it alone, he thought. Better to pretend he never saw them. Besides, maybe he’d imagined it. At the next light, he made an illegal U turn and headed back to the airport and that waiting plane.

As Lila piloted her Jag into a used car lot on Riverside, Izzy was struck with the thought that they made a rather odd couple. Izzy had spent her whole life working to save lives and Lila had spent hers taking them. In any other set of circumstances, she’d run from someone like Lila as fast as her feet could fly, but these were no ordinary circumstances and Lila was no ordinary woman. She was a killer, yes, but she was something more. Izzy couldn’t quite nail it down in her head, but there was something to Lila that just plain made Izzy like her.

“ There, I want that car there.” Lila pointed to a sleek looking black car as they were driving by a place called Tommy John’s Pre-Owned Vehicles.

“ It looks like something Darth Vader might drive.” Izzy said as Lila swung the Jag into a quick left.

“ It’s a Dodge Charger. It’s the other car the cops drive.”

“ Other car?”

“ Yeah, most of them either use Ford Crown Vics or Dodge Chargers.” She pulled into the car lot. “There’s sunglasses in the glove box. Not much of a disguise, but better than nothing.”

Izzy popped the glove box, pulled out the glasses, put them on as Lila got out of the car.

“ Hello, ladies.” The voice came from a big man, sporting a Yankee’s baseball hat and a Yellow Hawaiian shirt that was bright as summer on this bleak winter day. “Tommy John at your service.”

“ What’s a car like that doing on a lot like this?” Lila pointed at the Charger.

“ There you go, right off the bat, disrespecting my place of business.”

“ It’s a valid question,” Lila said. The car lot seemed to be one of those places that sold repos and the kind of cars dealers took in trade that weren’t up to the quality one would expect of a new car dealership.

“ What, I can’t have a new car on my lot?”

“ It’s not new,” Lila said.

“ Almost.” Tommy John smiled. “It belongs to my son. He bought it six months ago. Now his soon to be bride is pregnant with twins, so they want something more practical.”

“ Fifteen thousand cash, if you can have us on the road in less than ten minutes.”

“ There’s rules.”

“ Seventeen.”

“ Paperwork.”

“ Twenty and I drive the car out of here. You pay off your son’s loan and keep the difference. I get clear title, because you gave it to me. No record of the money.”

“ And I explain how I got the cash to pay off the loan, how?”

“ Twenty-five and I don’t care.”

“ Thirty.”

“ Done,” Lila said.

“ Then we better hurry,” Tommy John said, “because we’ve already wasted half a minute negotiating.”

“ You can drive a stick?” Lila said to Izzy.

“ Who do you think you’re talking to?” Izzy said. “I learned to drive in my dad’s ’54 Chevy. Do you think it had an automatic?”

“ Oh, yeah,” Lila said. “I wasn’t thinking.” She smiled. “I’ll drive the Charger, you can follow. We’ll be right back.” She turned back toward Tommy John. “I just used up another half minute, so now we really gotta hurry.”

“ Follow me to my office,” Tommy John said and in less than ten minutes they were back. Tommy John opened the driver’s door for Lila, who tossed some papers into the back as she got in the car.

“ It was a pleasure doing business with you Mr. John,” Lila said.

“ Come back any time,” Tommy John said as Lila started the car.

Izzy followed Lila to the hotel, where she parked four spaces away from Lila. She got out of Lila’s Jag with a smile on her face. It was a fun car to drive.

“ Hold it right there, Dr. Eisenhower.” The voice was male, authoritative. A policeman. “Turn around slowly and keep your hands where I can see them.”

Izzy turned, saw a handsome man in a grey sport coat that looked like it had been slept in. For slacks, he wore faded Levi’s. His shirt was white and his tie was loosened at the collar. All this Izzy took in in a heartbeat. She also took in the revolver in his right hand. He was the policeman they’d faced down back at the Fred Meyer store.

“ No, you hold it.” Lila, still wearing her duster, came up behind the rumbled looking plain clothes policeman and from the look in the man’s eyes, Izzy guessed she had a gun at his back.

“ I saw you in the Suburban with the feds,” Lila said as she went to the Jag and got her bag. “You’re not one of them, so who are you?”

“ I thought you didn’t know cars,” the man said.

“ I lied. Again, who are you? And please don’t try my patience and don’t lie, I’ll know if you’re lying.”

“ Detective Bob Mouledoux, Reno PD.”

“ Any you’re here, why?”

“ Specifically, I’m here to change and get a quick shower.” He holstered his weapon. “I’m in Medford because of the youthful Dr. Eisenhower. And, of course, because of the trail of dead bodies she’s been leaving behind.”

“ Dr. Eisenhower,” Lila said, “we need to get out of this parking lot.”

Izzy took the short walk to the back door of the hotel, slid her key card through the device on the door, opened it and Lila led the policeman into the hall. She followed, closing the door after herself.

“ Your room?” Lila said to Mouledoux.

“ One twelve.”

“ Close, that’s convenient,” Lila said. “Let’s go.”

Mouledoux went to his room, slid his card key through the slot. Lila and Izzy followed him in.

“ Now what?” he said as Lila closed the door after him. “And what’s that?” he said, looking at the strange gun in Lila’s left hand.

“ This’ll put you out for a few hours.”

“ I thought you’d just shoot me and be done with it.”

“ I could do that, but if you give me your word you’ll forget about us, pack up and go home when you come to, then I’ll trank you and in a few hours you’ll have your life back. Besides, why should I kill you, if I don’t have to?”

“ Didn’t seem to bother you, killing those feds.”

“ No it didn’t, but then I didn’t have much choice, did I?”

“ You could’ve surrendered.”

“ Man had a gun and he was coming at me.”

“ He was doing his job.”

“ Yeah, well he wasn’t doing it very well.” Lila smiled. “Know this Bob Mouledoux, a few days ago, I’d’ve shot you dead and not cared a wit. But for reasons I don’t understand, I’m going through some kind of change.”

“ I’m glad of that, I guess.”

“ So, give me your word you’re out if it and it’s the dart and not a bullet between the eyes.”

“ You have it. I’m done with this. You have my word on it.”

“ Okay, sit on the bed, better you wake up there, then the floor.”

“ Right.” He did as she said.

“ Please don’t make me regret not killing you.” She shot him in the thigh.

“ Ouch.”

“ You owe me,” she said.

“ I’ll try to remember that.” He grimaced, fell back onto the pillows.

“ I think that went well.” Lila said.

“ Maybe you’re not as bad as I thought,” Izzy said.

“ Maybe not,” Lila said. Then, “Let’s go get Black and the dog and blow this place.”

“ That’s got my vote.” Izzy went to the door, glad Lila was on her side. She slid the card key through the lock, pushed open the door and both women gasped.

On the bed, sitting up with a bewildered look on his face, was a much younger version of Black. He looked beautiful in a devastating sort of way. He was also swimming in his clothes, because he was about a foot and a half shorter. He was also several pounds lighter. He was lean and muscled like an athlete.

“ Holy shit!” Lila said.

“ Yeah, holy shit!” Izzy said.

“ So this isn’t a dream?” Black said.

“ No, it’s not a dream,” Lila said.

Hunter barked.

“ Hey, you’re supposed to be quiet,” Izzy said.

“ Wanna tell me what happened?” Most people would be in shock, but Black seemed to be taking in what had happened to him in stride.

“ You got shot in the back,” Lila said, “and were very close to dying until Dr. Eisenhower laid hands on you, well actually, she mingled your blood with hers and here you are less than an hour later, shorter, but alive and very much younger.”

“ Yeah, my skin’s lighter, too.” It was true, his black coffee skin had turned into a light cafe au lait brown. “I can live with all that, it’s this other thing that’s a worry.”

“ I can see that,” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, me, too,” Lila said.

“ You have blue eyes,” Lila said.

“ I haven’t seen a mirror yet,” Black said. “Been afraid to.”

“ I can understand that.” Izzy sat on the edge of the bed. Lila sat on the other bed.

Not only was he younger, shorter and more fair of complexion, he was female.

Chapter Seventeen

Izzy hadn’t known exactly what would happen when she mingled her blood with Black’s, but she hadn’t expected this. Black healed and younger, yes, because that’s what had happened to her after she mingled blood with that pregnant woman in Reno. She’d been thinking that had to be the cause of her miraculous recovery and sudden youth. That was confirmed now, as far as she was concerned.

But this, this was impossible and she said so.

“ It’s happened,” Lila said. “So it’s possible. Besides, look what happened to you. If you can accept that, you can certainly accept this.”

“ I don’t think I can,” Black said. Her voice had sort of a melodic ring to it. “How do we change it back?”

“ I don’t know,” Izzy said. “I don’t think we can.”

“ Christ.”

“ You’re a chick now, sister,” Lila said. “Get used to it.” She smiled.

“ Not funny,” Black said.

“ How about we call you Blackie.” Lila’s smile got bigger. Clearly she was amused.

“ Don’t like it,” Black said.

“ Tough shit,” Lila said. “You’re Blackie now and I’m guessing Blackie you’re going to stay.”

“ No, I think I’ll just stick with Black.”

“ Suit yourself,” Lila said.

“ It could be worse,” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, how?” Black said.

“ You could be dead,” Lila said. “You would’ve been if Dr. Eisenhower hadn’t healed you.”

“ She’s telling the truth. If I hadn’t done what I did, you’d be dead now.”

Black got off the bed, went to the mirror above the washbasin, looked at herself.

“ Damn,” she sighed. “I’m pretty good looking and those are the prettiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen.” She looked over at Izzy. “I’m thinking our DNA got mixed up. Your white skin, my black, we get coffee with cream. But the blue eyes, you don’t have those.”

“ My granddaughter does. It’s a recessive gene.” Izzy got up from the bed, walked over to her, looked her in the eyes. She was still having trouble coming to grips with everything that had happened. She felt faint.

“ Easy, Dr. Eisenhower,” Black said. “You don’t look so good, maybe you better sit down.”

“ You’ve gone from bewilderment, to rejection, to acceptance awful goddamn fast,” Lila said.

“ Yeah, the courage to accept what you can’t change, or something like that,” Black said.

“ So, now what?” Lila said. “We can’t stay here forever.”

“ I’ve got a winter job up at Howard Prairie Lake,” Black said. “It’s a camping resort up in the mountains east of Ashland. I’m up there all winter, November to April. Other than me, the resort is deserted.”

“ Deserted,” Lila said, “why?”

“ Usually, the place gets snowed it.” Black was still looking in the mirror.

“ Sounds perfect,” Lila said. “We should be going.” She smiled. “And I thought I was going to have to leave my car. If we’re going to be out of sight all winter, there’s no reason why I can’t bring it along.”

“ No reason.” Black turned away from the mirror.

“ What about the policeman next door?” Izzy said.

“ He’ll be fine,” Lila said. “The drug will wear off and he’ll go home.”

“ What policeman?” Black said.

“ That reminds me,” Izzy said. “I left the girls at a motel in Susanville. My daughter-in-law was supposed to pick them up and keep them out of sight. I should call and make sure they’re okay.” She got up, started for the phone, picked up the receiver.

“ What policeman?” Black said again.

Lila told him, then to Izzy, “You think it’s safe to call? Is it possible the cops know about her? Could they be waiting for your call, so they could track you?”

“ I hadn’t thought about that.” Izzy cradled the phone.

“ I’ve got a satellite phone up at the lake,” Black said. “Completely untraceable.”

“ You’re sure?” Lila said.

“ I’ve had my own reasons for not wanting my phone calls traced,” Black said. “I’m sure.”

“ Then it’s settled,” Lila said. “We’ll pack up and hide out at this resort. Dr. Eisenhower can check on her granddaughter when we get up there.”

“ Call me Izzy.”

“ We got nothing to pack,” Black said.

“ Figure of speech.” Lila started for the door, opened it. “Let’s be on our way.”

Izzy took the new Charger. Hunter rode with her. Black rode with Lila and directed her out of the parking lot and onto the freeway, heading south. Izzy stayed right on their tail. At the second Ashland off-ramp, she followed them off the freeway, stayed right behind as they turned left onto Dead Indian Memorial Road and headed up into the mountains.

After about five minutes winding upward, they came to tall pines, a forest right out of Hansel and Gretel, Izzy thought. Fifteen minutes more of the winding road and Izzy saw the lake as Lila made a right. Izzy followed and in a couple minutes was parking next to a log cabin nestled in tall pines, overlooking a mountain lake that took her breath away.

Izzy got out of the car, let Hunter out. The dog took off running and barking toward the lake, as if he knew they were safe, as if he knew he didn’t have to protect her, as if he knew he could just be a dog for a while and chase whatever it was he smelled on the wind.

“ Home sweet home, such as it is,” Black said. “We’ll be safe here for a few months and with a little luck, that’ll give us enough breathing room to figure this all out.”

“ I can’t believe you’re not totally freaking out,” Izzy said. “I would be.”

“ Actually, maybe not, Dr. Eisenhower,” Lila said. “You seem to be doing okay.”

“ You can call me Izzy,” Izzy reminded her. “And yeah, but so much more has happened to him.”

“ You mean her,” Lila said. “And yes, it’s amazing. She’s great under pressure. You should’ve seen him, I mean her, when these bad guys came at me in a helicopter. She was awesome, shot ’em out of the sky. It’s kind of scary how quickly she adjusts.”

“ I’ll say.”

“ When you’re as old as I am,” Black said, “you learn to take life as it comes and when you’ve lived the kind of life I have, you learn to react without thinking.”

Izzy grabbed her upper arms, rubbed her hands up and down them. “It’s kinda cold.”

“ Let’s get inside,” Black said. “I’ll start a fire and fire up the sat phone, so you can make your call.”

But when Izzy called, all she got was a voicemail message. This was the first time she’d heard her son’s voice in more years than she cared to remember. He still sounded the same after all this time as he said they were out and to please call back after 6:00. She sighed. Nothing for it but to wait. She hung up without leaving a message.

“ They’re not home.”

“ That doesn’t sound good,” Lila said. “Your picture is all over the TV and your granddaughter looks just like you.”

“ The message sounded pretty ordinary, not like anything was wrong.”

“ I hope you’re right,” Lila said. Then, “I wonder if that detective is going to call it quits and head back to Reno.” She rubbed a hand through her hair. “So many people give their word when their back is up against the wall and go back on it later.”

“ He had an honest face,” Izzy said. “I bet he keeps it. I bet he gets in his car and goes home.”

“ Again, I hope you’re right.” Lila rubbed her hand through her hair again. “I really need a shower.”

“ Back that way.” Black pointed to a doorway. “Down the hall, second door on the right.”

“ Thanks.” Lila started for the bathroom, muttering, “I do really hope he goes home, because I’d hate to shoot a man with an honest face.”

Bob Mouledoux came out of it slowly, with a groan. His head felt like someone had dropped a refrigerator on it, his stomach like he had the flu and the inside of his mouth was bone dry. His tongue was like coarse sandpaper.

He forced himself off the bed, started for the bathroom. At the sink, he stuck his mouth under the faucet and drank, gulping water like a man who’d been too long in the desert. Thirst satisfied, he felt pain in his thigh, in the same spot a gangbanger had smacked him with a tire iron a year earlier. That left a bruise that hurt for days. This was worse.

And then it all came flooding back. Usually he was faster on the uptake, but his memory was vivid now as he remembered spotting the elusive Dr. Eisenhower in the parking lot as he was heading toward his room. He’d walked right up to her, pulled his piece without thinking and that had been stupid. There were two of them in the Fred Meyer store. He should’ve scoped out the situation.

But he hadn’t.

And that other woman had gotten the drop on him.

He limped to the bed, head a muddle. He assumed whatever drug he’d been shot with was messing with his thinking ability, because instead of calling it in, he was actually thinking about doing as he’d promised. Going home and forgetting about the two women.

But he banished that thought after he’d called Peeps.

“ Where are you?” his partner asked him without even saying hello.

“ At the Marriott Suites, in Medford, came back for a shower.”

“ You’ll never believe what’s happened.” Peeps sounded like a kid who’d just gotten what he’d wanted for his birthday.

“ Don’t keep me in suspense.”

“ Remember I told you Manny Wayne and I were friends?”

“ Yeah,” Mouledoux said.

“ He wants to meet you and trust me, you want to meet him.” Now Peeps Friday sounded even more enthusiastic, as if that were possible. “He’s been on top of this Isadora Eisenhower thing from the get go and now he’s got the means to catch her.”

Oh Christ, Peeps, what have you done, Mouledoux thought, but instead he said, “Tell me.”

“ We’ve got her granddaughter and her friend up at Mansfield’s place.” He sounded smug now and Mouledoux didn’t like where this conversation was going.

“ And why are you where you are and not at the station?” Mouledoux was afraid of the answer.

“ Because Manny Wayne just made me rich as God and he wants to do the same for you.” There it was. Peeps had sold out, was trying to trade Eisenhower for money. Obviously, Mansfield Wayne was chasing the Fountain of Youth. He had half a mind to tell Peeps just what he thought about him and his pal Mansfield, but he held his tongue.

“ Why me? What does he want with me?” he said, instead.

“ Because, with the exception of me and Manny’s hit woman Lila Booth, nobody else knows about what happened to Eisenhower and Manny wants to keep it that way.”

“ Can Wayne hear you now?” Mouledoux thought so, but he wanted to be sure.

“ Yes, he didn’t want me to tell you at first, but I told him you’re our kind of person, that you’d come on board.”

“ What’s he offering?” Mouledoux said, remembering the dead doctors and that dead lawyer. Maybe it wasn’t Eisenhower who’d killed them. If Peeps thought he was on easy street, maybe was dead wrong.

“ More money than you ever dreamed of and an eternity to spend it.”

Again, he thought about telling Peeps where to shove it, but he was a cop and he needed to see it through to the end. And, if at all possible, he needed to keep his word to Eisenhower’s protector, who must be this Lila Booth hit woman Peeps just told him about. But again he said the opposite of what he’d wanted to.

“ Tell Mr. Wayne I’m his man.” He bit his lower lip. He hated betraying his badge, even if only in a lie. “After all, who wouldn’t want to live forever.” He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he was going to get those girls free, without involving the cops or the feds. He’d given his word to this Lila Booth person and Dr. Eisenhower and when he gave his word, he kept it. Besides, Peeps was his partner. The last thing Mouledoux wanted was to see him arrested, tried and sent to prison. He sighed. He’d promised those women he’d stay out of it, but under the circumstances, he reasoned, they’d forgive his continued involvement.

“ That’s my boy,” Peeps said. “I knew we could count on you. How fast can you get up here?”

“ I’m five hours away, maybe a bit more.” He looked at his watch, 4:30. “Give me the address and I should be getting there around 11:00 or so.”

“ Great, let me put Manny on the phone.”

Showered and rested, Lila sipped at her tea. It wasn’t the Earl Grey she was used to, but in a pinch Lipton would do. She thought about her future as she took a second sip. This was the life; a wooden rocker in front of a fireplace, tea with cream, well, evaporated milk, but it was a good substitute, and not a care in the world.

Her house in Reno was secure, but even if it weren’t, there wasn’t anything there she couldn’t walk away from. Her savings were stashed away in Switzerland and the Caymans and that’s really all she needed. That, and the passports in her bag. With those, she could travel anywhere, start over anywhere.

She got out of the rocker.

“ Okay, I’m going down to the lake.”

“ We’ll be here.” Black was engrossed in a camera magazine. She said she’d taken up photography a year or so ago and was getting good at it, but she hadn’t felt she’d had enough years left to be great. Now, it looks like she did.

“ You wanna come, Dr. Eisenhower?”

“ No, but can you take the dog? He could use a little exercise. And for the last time, call me Izzy.”

“ Alright, Izzy.” Then, “Are you sure you don’t wanna come, a walk in the fresh air might do you some good, might clear your head.”

“ My head’s pretty clear. Besides, I want to keep trying my son’s. I’m starting to get worried.” She’d called several times, despite the fact that the voicemail message said to call after 6:00. She was worried and that worried Lila, because Izzy Eisenhower was one cool customer.

“ You got twenty minutes. If he doesn’t answer then, then you can start to worry. Right now, it’s pointless.” She went to the door, turned to the dog. “Coming?”

At the lake, Lila reveled in the solitude as Hunter ran ahead and she wondered what it would be like, to be old, thinking your life was almost over, then to wind up with a second chance. Izzy made the most of her first go round, but it looked like Black maybe hadn’t.

She hadn’t either, but fortunately she didn’t have to wait till she was at death’s door to turn her life around. She’d done some bad things in her life, but that was all over now. No more killing. When winter was through, she’d find someplace to settle and she’d do something worthwhile with her life, make something of the new person she planned on becoming.

“ Lila!” Izzy’s shout sounded desperate, distressed. Lila started for the cabin at a full run. The dog did, too. She saw Izzy and Black on the front porch. They looked okay. A quick look around, everything seemed normal, no black Suburbans. Lila slowed to a jog. It must’ve been the phone call. Amy Eisenhower must be in some kind of trouble.

At the cabin, Lila caught her breath, said, “Your granddaughter?”

“ They have her,” Izzy said. “I have to go.”

“ Tell me.”

“ When my son got home from the prison-”

“ Whoa, stop!” Lila said. “The prison?”

“ He’s the warden.”

“ At the prison in Susanville?” Lila said.

“ Yes.”

“ Ah, okay, go on.”

“ When he got home, he found his wife tied up in the bedroom with a note telling him to have me call Mansfield Wayne and nobody else if I want my granddaughter back.”

“ Of course you called,” Lila said.

“ He says if I come up to his home outside of Reno and give him some of my blood, that he’ll let her go. He says he won’t harm me, Amy or her friend. All he wants is some of my blood.”

“ He’s lying.”

“ I know, but I have to go.”

“ I’ll get my gear.” Lila went inside, got her duster from the closet where she’d hung it, put it on. In the bedroom that had been assigned her, she got the dart gun and the envelope with her cash and papers out of her bag. She took her passports and additional driver’s licenses out of the envelope, put them in the bag, then she zipped it up, slung it over her shoulder. She found a pen on the nightstand, she took the pink slip to the Jag out of the envelope, signed it, put it back in the envelope.

In the living room, she found Izzy and Black, ready to travel, Hunter between them by the door. He was ready too.

Lila turned to Black. “You can’t come.”

“ And why not?”

“ Because there’s something going on here bigger than us, maybe the biggest thing that’s ever happened to mankind. We’re most likely going to be fine, because Manny Wayne won’t expect me to be coming along with Izzy. I know him and how he thinks. His home up on that mountain is almost a fortress and he thinks he’s safe there, that it’s impregnable, but I know it’s weaknesses. I know how to get in and get out without being seen and I know how to deal with Manny. Chances are very good we’ll be back with the girls.”

“ But,” Black said.

“ But in case we’re not, in case it all goes south, somebody who knows about this incredible thing that’s happened to you and Izzy has to survive, has to figure it all out, has to use this thing, whatever it is, for good.”

“ I’m an action kind of person,” Black said.

“ Yeah, I get that.” Then, brushing aside what she’d said, she tossed the envelope on the coffee table. “The title for the Jag is in there along with some cash. The pink slip is signed, so the car’s yours, all you have to do is phony up a bill of sale, that shouldn’t be too hard. I wish there was more I could do for you, but there isn’t. If we don’t make it, you’re going to be on your own.”

“ I’m not a staying behind kind of person,” Black said. “I’m going, that’s final.”

“ Alright,” Lila said. “I can see there’s no talking any sense into you.”

“ Nope,” Black said.

“ Okay, then you can follow us in the Jag,” Lila said, “because more than likely we’re going to need two vehicles. Are you up for a five hour drive? If not, you can ride with me and Izzy can drive the Jag.”

“ I’ve been a long haul trucker for over four decades,” Black said. “I think I can handle the drive.”

“ Good, then we should be on our way.”

“ Let me get my guns.” Izzy said. Lila wasn’t the only one with a carry on bag with a couple guns in it. She went to her room, got her bag, unzipped it on the way back to the living room, pulled out the forty-five. “It’s big and it’s loud and it’ll stop anything short of an elephant.”

“ Good,” Lila said, “because when we get there you’re going to have to think fast, shoot fast and shoot anyone up there who gets in your way.”

“ What are you saying?” Izzy shivered some as she put the gun back in her bag.

“ Manny has a security crew who guards his place. Six men. He’s given them ranks, like they’re his personal little army. The man in charge of this mini army is a major named Gerald. Under him he has one captain, two sergeants and two corporals. No privates in Manny’s army. Gerald and two of the enlisted are on duty from 6:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening. The captain and the other two enlisted take the nightshift. Then there are two Rottweilers. They’re fierce.”

“ Christ,” Black said, “he doesn’t sound sane.”

“ Plus,” Lila went on, “he’ll have his son Tucker up there with him and who knows who else. And I’m guessing he’ll have both his security shifts on duty, because he might be expecting you to try something. Manny Wayne is thorough and he doesn’t take unnecessary chances.”

“ That’s eight men minimum,” Black said.

“ A lot of people,” Izzy said.

“ Yes, eight minimum,” Lila said. “And we’re going to have to kill them all.”

“ What?” Izzy said.

“ That’s the only way you’ll be safe is if everybody who knows about what happened to you is dead.”

“ She’s right,” Black said.

“ But, what if we can get the girls out of there, without killing anybody?” Izzy said.

“ We’re not even going to try,” Lila said. “Manny and Tucker are horrible people. Users, takers, they’ve ruined a lot of lives and I’ve helped. This is a chance for me to atone a bit, to make sure they can’t hurt anyone else.”

“ What about the security?” Izzy said.

“ They’re not nice people either. Manny wanted men who were ruthless and that’s what he’s got. The planet will rotate very nicely without them.”

“ Still, if we don’t have to kill them-”

“ It we don’t,” Lila said, cutting her off, “they’ll come after you. Manny Wayne will never let up and if he dies, Tucker’s just the same. And if they told their security people about you, well they’d rip your heart out and eat it while it was still beating if they thought it would make them like you.”

“ I get it,” Izzy said, but it made her sick to think they were intentionally going to set out to murder eight people. She didn’t know if she could do it, no matter what kind of people they were.

“ The hard part for me,” Lila said, “will be killing the dogs.”

“ What?” Izzy said.

“ Woof,” from Hunter, almost as if he understood.

“ Yeah, the dogs, Hitler and Stalin.”

“ Woof,” again from Hunter.

“ Hitler and Stalin?” Black said.

“ Yeah,” Lila said, “But despite their names, I like them. We were close once. When I was growing up there, I used to sneak out at night, the dogs looked the other way if my treat for them was good enough. Once they sniff me out, they’ll come to me without raising a fuss.”

“ You grew up there?” Black said.

“ Long story.”

“ Don’t tell me this Wayne character is your father,” Black said.

“ No, but he made me what I am. I’ll tell you on the way.” Lila turned toward the door. “Come on, let’s go.”

Lila led Izzy to the Charger. Hunter got in back. Black got in the Jag as Izzy started up the Charger. With the car running, but still in park, Lila got out, pulled her Glock and shot out both front tires of the Jag. Then she hopped back in the car, shoved it into drive and peeled rubber as she shot down the drive. She pointed the car toward the resort’s exit and when they were at it, she stopped, put the car in neutral and turned to Izzy.

“ Holy shit!” Izzy said. “What’d you do that for? I was just starting to like you and now you do something like this!”

“ Because what I said back there is true. One of you has to survive and since Amy’s your granddaughter, I get it that you have to try and help her, though I would have preferred Black on this rescue mission, because she’s darned good with a gun and not afraid to use it.”

“ I’m not afraid to use a gun,” Izzy said, not sure she was liking Lila’s take charge attitude.

“ I know, but are you good with a gun? How much practice have you had? Can you hit what you’re shooting at?”

“ You’d be surprised.” Izzy grinned, despite the fact that she felt awful about Black, who was probably furious.

“ You can hit what you’re shooting at?”

“ Every time.” Izzy tried for smug, but she didn’t think she was pulling it off.

“ That’s good to know.”

“ So let’s get out of here.”

“ Not just yet,” Lila said. “The dog can’t go.”

“ What?”

“ Think about it.”

Hunter whined.

“ She’s right, boy, you have to stay and take care of Black.” Izzy got out of the car. “Come on.”

The dog jumped from the backseat into the front, got out of the car. Izzy scratched him behind the ears. She didn’t want to part with the dog. Hunter had become almost a part of her. It was as if he knew what she was thinking, as if he understood her. “We’ll be back, but just in case we’re not, take care of Black like you’ve been taking care of me.”

Hunter looked up at her, met her eyes and Izzy could almost believe he was about to cry. She held an open hand out and the dog nuzzled it, then he turned and ran back into the resort, she watched him, till he made the turn toward the cabin and was out of sight.

“ I swear,” Lila said, “that is one smart dog.”

Chapter Eighteen

Mouledoux piloted his unmarked up the mountain under a cloud covered sky. But even in the almost pitch black, he could tell he was passing stately homes, most with locked gates in front of their driveways. One of the hazards of wealth, if you had it, others wanted it, so it had to be protected. That and a lot of rich people just plain didn’t like associating with the great unwashed.

He grabbed a glance at the dashboard clock. Thirty minutes to midnight. He’d made good time, despite the fact that he’d had to keep it under fifty during a lot of the drive through Northern California, because the road was warmer than the land it sliced through, so animals liked to rest on it. Twice he almost hit a deer. A coyote shot in front of him just outside Susanville and he’d missed it by inches, its eyes glowing with the reflection of his headlights. And he’d killed a couple rabbits. Bugs Bunny, it seems, wasn’t as adept at getting out of the way of a moving vehicle as were Bambi and Wile E.

As he passed a sign marking the altitude at six thousand feet, it started to snow. Early, he thought. Maybe it was a sign, but good or bad, he didn’t know. Soon enough he’d be in Mansfield Wayne’s lair and he’d find out if he’d made the right choice. He really only had two and he’d been grappling with the decision the whole trip from Oregon. Should he call it in, report Peeps, and come up to Wayne’s with the cavalry. Or should he come alone, play it by ear and maybe save his partner’s ass.

He hung a right at Radium Road, as per his instructions. There were no homes on this road, stately or otherwise. It seemed deserted, spooky, as it wound up the side of the mountain. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t below freezing, so the snow was melting as fast as it the road, but the landscape on both sides of it were getting a dusting. Tall pines lightly covered in snow reminded him of Christmas and he wondered if he’d blundered so badly coming up here that he’d be unemployed, or worse, incarcerated by the time the holidays arrived.

Maybe he should turn back. Maybe he’d made the wrong decision. The road curved around a bend and Mouledoux saw lights up ahead. Mansfield Wayne’s estate. He slowed, pulled over to the side of the road, killed his headlights. He’d made the wrong choice, he was sure of that now. He’d been stupid. Wayne had two kidnap victims up there, his partner was complicit in the crime and here he was, Mississippi Bob Mouledoux, joining the side of the bad guys.

Sure, he’d told himself, he wasn’t really, he was going in to try to rescue his partner from the dark side, but that would never fly with internal affairs, his chief or anybody else who might review this afterwards. Heck, he’d never believe it himself. The whole world would think he’d sold his badge for thirty pieces of silver, just as Peeps had done.

It was too late for Peeps, Mouledoux saw that now, but it wasn’t too late to save himself. His partner’s ship had sailed and was sinking fast and only an idiot would board it now.

He picked up the mic to call it in, but the radio was dead. No chatter, no static, nothing, just dead. How was that possible? He’d been listening to police chatter all the way from California.

He reached for his phone, touched the button to wake it from sleep, but it didn’t leave it’s slumber. He pushed it again, got no joy. He pushed the reset. Nothing. Like the radio, it was dead. That too made no sense, as he’d been using a car charger. The battery should have been full.

Nothing for it now, but to go back down the mountain till he could find a landline. That’d take about a half hour, maybe a bit longer in these conditions. Maybe he could stop at one of the homes that didn’t have a locked gate in front of its drive. Yeah, that made sense.

He was about to turn around when someone rapped on his window. Startled he went for his weapon when the passenger window exploded with the sound of gunfire, raining him with safety glass.

“ Don’t!” a man in black shouted as he poked a mean looking riot gun through the space where his window once was. “I blew your window out with my handgun. I just as easily could’ve used this and taken your head off.”

Mouledoux pulled his hand away from the shoulder holster.

“ Hands on the wheel!”

Mouledoux did as he was told.

“ Okay, mind and you live. Nod your head if you understand.”

Mouledoux nodded.

“ That’s good. With your left hand, open the door, keeping your right on the wheel.”

Mouledoux opened the door.

And two beefy hands grabbed him by the collar, jerked him out of the car. A giant of a man threw him onto the road, which wasn’t nearly as warm as he’d imagined it to be when he was avoiding all those animals. The giant pulled his hands behind his back and in a flash of a second he’d been handcuffed with cold metal cuffs, the old fashioned kind that unlocked with a key.

The other man was on him now, a knee in his back as he reached into Mouledoux’s jacket and pulled out his weapon, then he frisked him the way only a professional can. The man found and took his shield and creds.

“ He’s a police officer.” He got off Mouledoux’s back.

“ He the one Mr. Wayne is expecting?”

“ How about it mister, is Mr. Wayne expecting you?” the one who’d shot out his window said.

“ Yeah.” Mouledoux figured the less he spoke to these men, the better off he’d be.

The giant pulled him to his feet.

“ Can’t be too careful,” the man who’d shot out his window said. “Weird shit’s been going on.”

“ Like what?” Mouledoux said. Then, “And can you take the cuffs off?”

“ Yeah sure. I’m Weed, they call me Weedy.” He unlocked the cuffs.

“ And him?” Mouledoux nodded to the giant, who stood seven feet, six if he stood an inch. He had lightning bolts tattooed on both sides of his neck, which set off his monster of a chin, but the massive square jaw and the tattoos were understatements, compared to the flattened nose that dominated the middle of the giant’s florid face. And, of course, he was hairless.

“ That’s Lugar.”

“ What do you feed him?”

“ Ha,” Lugar said, “good one.” Then, “Don’t let my looks fool you. I’m plenty smart. I’m also a mean son of a bitch and I don’t feel pain. Born that way. I can be your best friend or one motherfucking horrible nightmare. Better for you if we’re friends.”

“ Got it,” Mouledoux said. “Meanwhile, we’re standing out in the snow.”

“ Yeah,” Weedy said, “let’s get inside.”

“ You wanna give me back my piece?”

“ Not just yet,” Weedy said.

“ So, we’re not really pals yet, are we?” Mouledoux said.

“ Not yet.”

Mouledoux decided to end the conversation and walked with them, Weedy in front, Lugar behind, to the gated drive. The gate wasn’t like the decorative gates guarding the estates he’d seen as he was coming up the mountain. This one was made of sturdy chain link and had razor wire on the top of it, as did the twelve foot fence that surrounded the property. The place looked more like a prison.

“ Fence is electric.” Weedy pulled a remote from his coat pocket, pushed a button and the gate slid open. Mouledoux half expected a gatehouse and a guard but there were none. There were, however, cameras mounted on both sides of the gate.

“ Pretty thorough,” Mouledoux said.

“ But not tonight,” Weedy said. “Cameras are on the fritz. Phones, both landline and cellular, are out. Cable too, so no internet or TV. But what’s really weird is the radios don’t work, either.”

“ But you got electricity?”

“ Yeah,” Weedy said. “Lights, the fence, this, he held up the remote, they all work. But communications, video and audio, between us and the outside, are all out.”

“ That’s impossible,” Mouledoux said, remembering the radio in his car and his phone.

“ Yeah, impossible,” Lugar said.

“ You check the radios in your cars?”

“ All on the fritz,” Weedy said. “So, you can see why we’re just a little nervous about who comes calling tonight. Why we might want to shoot first and ask questions later.”

Mouledoux thought about telling them about his radio and phone, but didn’t. It was his job to ask questions and get information, not to give it.

“ Bobby!” Peeps shouted out from the front porch as they approached the house. Next to his partner were two men, Mansfield and Tucker Wayne. They looked every bit in the flesh liked they did live at 11:00 and in the Reno Gazette.

“ Mr. Mouledoux.” Mansfield Wayne stepped forward, hand outstretched. Mouledoux took it as Wayne said, “Come this way.” Mansfield led him along a covered porch that wrapped around his mansion to the back. “I like my privacy, Mr. Mouledoux, but I like to sit outside as well and I don’t like to look at that awful fence.” He sounded like he did on television, authoritative, in command, in control.

“ Wow!” Mouledoux said when he saw the view. The backyard was football field large and it bordered on a cliff. Off in the distance and far below he could see the lights of Reno. Rich people definitely lived better.

“ You should see it on a clear night,” Wayne said. “The lights below, dark here, more stars above than you can possibly imagine. It’s breathtaking. I thank God I’m alive to enjoy it.”

“ I can understand that,” Mouledoux said.

“ And we want to keep him alive,” Tucker Wayne said, “because he does so much good for his community and he’s got so much more to give. Can you understand that as well, Mr. Mouledoux?”

“ Sure.” Mouledoux couldn’t help but notice that Peeps, Weedy and Lugar hadn’t followed them to the back of the house, weren’t enjoying the view with the three of them. He was alone with the Waynes. He could take them, of that he was sure, but he wasn’t armed, so taking them down now would only get him killed, because he’d never get past Weedy and Lugar, not to mention Peeps and whoever else Wayne had guarding his little mountain fortress.

“ Peeps assures us you are onboard,” Tucker said. “Is that true?”

“ Depends.” Mouledoux hated that he had to play like he was on the take, but there was no other way now.

“ You will be paid handsomely, Mr. Mouledoux.” Tucker said,

“ Call me, Bobby,” Mouledoux said.

“ That fast,” Tucker said, “you’re not going to ask how much?”

“ Bobby’s a smart man,” Mansfield said. “He knows we’re fair.”

“ So, why do you need me?” Mouledoux said.

“ Two reasons, Bobby,” Mansfield said. “One, outside of you, me, Peeps and Lila Booth, nobody else alive knows about Dr. Isadora Eisenhower. And two, Peeps says you’re awfully good with a gun and before this night is through, there’s a better than even chance we might need your services.”

“ It looks like you’ve got the bodyguard business pretty much squared away.”

“ Looks can be deceiving. I’ve got six men on duty, my whole staff, plus Peeps and now you. Plus, I’ve got Eisenhower’s granddaughter, which might work in our favor, but with all this, I’m not underestimating the opposition,”

And all of a sudden Mouledoux understood. With all his wealth, with his bodyguards, with his electric fence, with his fortress house, with all this, Mansfield Wayne was afraid.

“ That Lila Booth,” Mouledoux said, “she must really be something.”

“ Yes,” Mansfield said. “But Eisenhower has proved to be something too and with the fact that she apparently can’t die, that makes her very dangerous, very frightening.”

“ And now your communications are out.”

“ That’s disturbing too,” Mansfield said.

“ So what do you want me to do?”

“ Same as us. We wait.”

“ Dr. Eisenhower, wake up.”

“ I wasn’t asleep.” Izzy had been resting with her head back, watching a cloudless sky and shadowy pines flying by, as Lila steered them through the night, driving faster than Izzy had ever driven.

“ We’ll be in Susanville shortly, ten miles. I want to stop by your son’s and talk to your daughter-in-law for a few minutes.”

“ I’d rather not.”

“ We need to,” Lila said. “I’d like to know who took the girls.”

“ My son and I don’t talk.” The last thing Izzy wanted to do was to show up at Johnny’s in the middle of the night.

“ Why not?”

“ It’s complicated.” But was it really? Sure she and Roxanne didn’t get along. The woman hated her actually, but over the years Izzy could’ve worked it out. But she hadn’t. After she’d won Amy in the custody battle, she’d shut her son and his witch of a wife out of her life.

“ I’m sorry to hear that.” Lila turned to Izzy, flashed her a quick smile, then put her eyes back on the road. “Really, I’m sorry, Dr. Eisenhower, but I need to get some kind of idea what we’re up against. I need to know who took your granddaughter, because Manny has people he can call on, dangerous people. He’s done it already, sent some black op types after me in that helicopter. If Black wouldn’t have been there, I wouldn’t be here now.”

“ Damn.” Izzy felt cornered and she didn’t like it. “Why can’t you call me Izzy?” she snapped.

“ Testy.” Lila slowed as they approached Highway 44. She stopped, made the left, turning toward Susanville.

“ Well?”

“ I don’t know. I think it’s because I respect you.”

“ Really?” Izzy knew she shouldn’t have snapped at her. But just the thought of seeing Johnny and Roxanne made her feel ill.

“ Yeah,” Lila said, “and that makes you the first person I’ve ever respected.” She laughed. “But I’ll try, Dr. Eisenhower, if it’ll make you feel better.”

“ I don’t know what I’m going to say.”

“ You’re not going to say anything.”

“ What?”

“ You look like your granddaughter, remember? And she’s just been kidnapped from them. So you can’t go showing up out of nowhere looking like her, with those big brown eyes. You’re going to stay in the car, out of sight.”

“ What are you going to say to them?”

“ I’ll keep it simple. I’m a friend of Amy’s. I have a message for her from you. I’ll be in and out in nothing flat.”

Fifteen minutes later Izzy slouched in the passenger seat, while Lila talked to Johnny and Roxanne, who were lit up under a porch light. It was dark and cold, but they hadn’t invited her in.

Johnny had gained weight. So had Roxanne. Izzy smiled, despite the situation. Johnny had always had a thing for thin girls, had always told her he’d never wind up with an overweight, fatty, fatty two by four and that’s exactly what he’d wound up with. Maybe there is a god, after all.

Or maybe Johnny had changed. Maybe he wasn’t as shallow as she’d remembered. Maybe he’d learned there was more to people than what was on the outside.

On the porch, Roxanne was gesturing, talking with her hands as well as her mouth. Johnny was silent. That was typical. In every relationship he’d been in that Izzy could remember, he’d been sort of a whipping boy. Pussy whipped, that was the term. He lacked self-confidence. She didn’t know why, but it was true and it made her feel guilty, like she’d failed.

Izzy couldn’t take her eyes off him. He was her son and she’d failed him. How come she hadn’t realized that years ago? She wished she could get out of the car, talk to him, make it right.

They went in the house, Lila came back to the car.

“ Good news, I think,” Lila said as she was buckling up.

“ How so?”

“ There were four of them.” Lila started the car, backed out of the driveway, headed back the way they’d come toward the center of town and the road to Reno. “One of them flashed a badge. He was a Reno cop and from his description it could only have been Peeps Friday. He’s one of Manny’s cop friends. Actually, the man fawns over Manny and Manny likes fawners. The others were part Manny’s private security force, Gerald, his number one and Weedy and Lugar. Weedy’s a schemer. Lugar’s a giant. All three are dangerous men, who Manny hired away from Blackwater, one of those security firms the government uses in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

“ You got them to tell you a lot,” Izzy said.

“ There’s more,” Lila said. “After they put the girls in their car, Weedy came back to the house, tied up your daughter-in-law and left that note for your son. You know the rest. But what’s interesting is that up until that point, they were acting like they were taking the girls in for questioning because they were looking for information about you. I guess they were acting that way because they wanted the girls to cooperate.”

“ And why is this good news?”

“ Because, and I’m guessing here, but I think I’m right, if Manny sent his own people here, that means he hasn’t called in any more of his black op friends. He’s figured out his mistake, has made some excuse to whoever he called up to send that helicopter after me and he’s called off the dogs.”

“ Why would he do that?”

“ Because, Izzy, see, I can call you that,” Lila made a left and was back on the highway, headed toward Reno, “because he doesn’t want anyone else to know about you. He wants to be young again and he’s figured out if your secret gets out, it might not happen because the government would take an active interest and once they got their hands on you, they’d be the ones eliminating anyone who knew what your blood can do, instead of Manny Wayne. Heck, he’d probably be the first person they eliminated.”

“ They’re never going to leave me alone, are they?”

“ No, Izzy, they’re not.” Lila stopped at the light by the McDonald’s on the east side of town. “Are you tired? Can you drive a bit?”

“ I’m wide awake. I don’t seem to get very tired, so yeah, I can drive.”

“ Good, because I’m bushed.” Lila turned into the Micky D’s parking lot and they traded places. Back on the road again, she said, “Wake me when we get to Reno.”

“ You can sleep?”

“ When you do what I do, you have to have a hunter’s nerves. You have to be able to grab sleep whenever you can. I’ve trained myself to be able to turn off in an instant and I’m doing that right now. See you in Reno.” She closed her eyes and true to her word, she’d turned off.

Izzy didn’t feel she could zip through the night at the breakneck speed Lila had been doing, because in her experience deer were often out on this road after dark, deer and the police. The stretch between Susanville and Reno was a favorite prowling ground for the California Highway Patrol and the last thing she needed was to be stopped and asked for her license, because she sure as heck looked nothing like the picture on it.

An hour and half later, where the two lane highway turned into four at Hallelujah Junction, just before the state line, Lila woke up.

“ How we doing?”

“ Fine. We’re low on gas. I thought I’d stop at Bordertown.”

“ Good. I’ll take over there.” And at the Bordertown casino, which bordered on the state line, they filled up at the casino’s pumps and Lila took the wheel.

“ You have a plan?” Izzy said, once they were back on the road.

“ Short of killing the dogs, killing Manny and Tucker, killing their bodyguards and killing anybody else who might be up there, besides your granddaughter and her friend, no.”

“ So you were serious?”

“ What, when I said we were going to have to kill them all? ’Fraid so.”

“ Can we do that? And even if we can, should we?”

“ Now’s not the time to ask those kind of questions.”

“ Then when is?”

“ I guess there isn’t a good time.” Lila sighed, as if she were bearing a heavy burden. “Look, Izzy, I know this isn’t easy for you. I don’t mean the getting young again business, that’s gotta be scary. I mean the killing business, especially since you’re a doctor. But these are bad men. Manny and Tucker are as evil as they come, I know and I know you know it, too. The bodyguards were all Blackwater killers. Wayne only hires the best, the most ruthless. Peeps Friday, well maybe you could shed a tear for him. He’s a greedy, weaselly kind of man who hasn’t a clue as to the Wayne’s real nature, but he’s sold his soul, so he has to be prepared to pay the price. Believe it or not, the hardest thing for me will be killing the dogs.”

Izzy smiled, despite the situation. Lila was more human than she cared to admit. She’d been a stone killer, had decided to quit, but was turning herself into a killer again because of the trouble Izzy was in. She was doing it for her. And despite it all, despite what she was going to do, she felt tenderness toward the dogs, mean Rottweilers that would probably tear a baby’s head off just for sport.

In the city, Lila drove to an average looking house in a neighborhood not too far from where Izzy lived. She pulled into the drive, parked.

“ Come on, we’ve got to get some things.” Lila opened her door, paused, “And bring your stuff.”

Izzy grabbed her bag from the back, got out of the car, followed Lila into the house, up a staircase and into a bedroom that had been converted into a home office. Lila slid open the closet door, revealing a large safe. She opened it and Izzy gasped.

“ Yeah, a lotta guns.” She turned toward Izzy, “Give me that cannon.”

Izzy opened her bag, took out the forty-five. Handed it to Lila.

“ You have extra ammo?”

“ Yeah.”

“ I’ll be needing that, too,” Lila said. “I’ve only got three Glocks, you’ll be using two, I’ll use the third and your ancient forty-five. That way all your ammo will work in both your guns and you won’t screw up, trying to shove a clip in the wrong gun.”

“ You, of course, would never make that kind of mistake.”

“ No, I never would, but don’t take offense, this is my business, it’s all new to you.”

“ None taken.”

“ Here.” She handed Izzy a Glock. “Can you shoot one of these?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Take it.” She handed over the Glock. “I have something else for you.” She reached back into the safe, pulled out a shoulder holster. “I designed it myself. It’s for a lefty. It straps on with Velcro. You can pull it off in an instant. Handy if you want to lose your weapon and holster in a hurry.”

“ Makes me feel kind of dark,” Izzy said as she was putting on the holster, “evil like, sinister.” She forced a half smile as she holstered the Glock, “Pair of lefties, us.”

“ Word sinister comes from the Latin, means left handed.” Lila pulled a couple more Glocks from the safe.

“ I knew that.”

“ Really?”

“ Latin in college,” Izzy said. She’d never thought of left handed people as being sinister or evil, never thought of herself that way either, but if it wasn’t evil they were about tonight, it was pretty darned close. No matter how Lila tried to sugarcoat it by saying how evil the men were they were going to kill, it was evil they were about. Because murder was evil, pure and simple. But was it murder if you were going to rescue someone you loved? Weren’t you supposed to protect them? Still, that’s what the police were for. But they couldn’t call the police, Lila had made that clear. So what else could they do? They had no choice.

“ You look like you’re having doubts.”

“ What do you mean?” Izzy said.

“ Just what I said. You’re frowning, like you don’t approve.”

“ I don’t think I approve and I do have doubts. I’ve lived my whole life healing people and in the last few days I’ve turned into a killer. True, I had no choice, because it was self defense, me or them. But this, we’re planning murder and though I know there is no other way, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“ So, you’re good with this, you’re not going to wimp out once we get started?”

“ They have Amy,” Izzy said. “I’m not going to wimp out.”

“ Alright.” Lila handed Izzy a second Glock. “Can you shoot with your right hand?”

“ Sure, I’m primarily a lefty, but in college I was a switch hitter on the girl’s softball team. Except for writing, I’m pretty much ambidextrous.”

“ Good.” She said, handing Izzy another holster. “I designed this one as well. You wear it around your waist. The second Glock sits over your right leg, like a cowboy’s gun.”

“ Velcro too.” Izzy said. “In case you want to lose it in a hurry.”

“ You’re catching on.”

“ So now I know why you wear the long coat.”

“ I have one of those for you as well.”

“ You think I need it.”

“ The coat not only hides your weapons. It’ll hide your vest as well. They’re professionals, if they get a chance, they’ll be going for body shots, so it’s best they don’t know you’re wearing one.”

“ You have vests?”

“ Got a riot gun and a grenade launcher, too.” Lila held up what looked like a high tech sawed off shotgun to Izzy. “This is an M79, single shot, break-action grenade launcher. It’s loud and deadly. I’ve never used it before, so I’m kind of looking forward to it.” She smiled. “Sadly, I’ve only got two grenades, so we’ll just have to make the best of them.”

“ You’re a bundle of surprises,” Izzy said.

“ That’s not all.” She turned back to the safe, took out a large knife in its scabbard. She withdrew the knife. “Sharp,” she said, “I used to shave my legs with it.”

“ A Bowie knife. Think you’ll need it?”

“ I’ve never needed it yet, but I like to be prepared.”

“ Looks like you have enough stuff here to start a small war.”

“ I don’t know about that, but I’ve certainly got enough to get your girls back.”

“ You think we’ll come out of this okay? The girls, too?”

“ There’s not a doubt in my mind. Maybe we started out as Thelma and Louise, but we’re not them anymore. They were victims who wound up dead at the end of that movie. We’re not gonna wind up dead.”

Chapter Nineteen

Tucker Wayne didn’t seem as happy to have Mouledoux on board as his father had been. In fact, Mouledoux got the distinct impression the man would rather he hadn’t shown up at all. But maybe he was wrong, perhaps Tucker talked down to everybody.

“ We’ll have our men stationed at the front,” Tucker said through a sneer that seemed a permanent part of his face. “Four will be out walking the perimeter at all times, two will be in concrete foxholes with automatic rifles.”

“ What foxholes?” Mouledoux squinted out into the dark. “I don’t see any foxholes.”

“ Exactly,” Tucker said. “Look, there and there,” he pointed, moving his finger back and fourth.

“ Where those bushes are on each side of the property?”

“ Yes. They aren’t real. They cover the foxholes, more like concrete bunkers, really. The men can stand in them and shoot from ground level. My idea, but Dad went for it in a heartbeat.” He was puffing up, proud of his idea, proud he’d pleased his father.

“ Impressive,” Mouledoux said.

“ There’s a tunnel underground from the bunkers to the guard’s quarters over there.” He pointed to single story house off to the left, inside the wired compound and Mouledoux mentally slapped himself, because he hadn’t noticed it when he’d come in. Of course, he’d been preoccupied.

“ That is impressive. Nobody’s getting past them, but four men walking the fence doesn’t seem like the best use of your resources.”

“ It’s not,” Tucker said. “Usually they have radios, so we only have one man out, but communications are out, so we need the men within shouting distance of each other. Besides, we have both shifts on duty, so it’s not like we’re short of talent.”

“ You have any idea why the radios are out?” Mouledoux said.

“ Not a clue.”

“ Could Booth or Eisenhower be responsible?”

“ Don’t see how,” Tucker said.

“ Odd though, the thing with the radios. Kind of an inconvenient coincidence.”

“ But that’s all it is.” Tucker sounded sure of himself, but Mouledoux wasn’t convinced. He didn’t like coincidences, especially the inconvenient kind.

“ I’d like to see the bunkers.”

“ That’s a good idea.” Tucker’s sneer turned almost to a smile, but not quite. “You should meet the men anyway.” Tucker took him around the estate and introduced him to the four other guards, who looked like capable men. However, Mouledoux thought that like Weed and Lugar, they all suffered from the disease of overconfidence.

He’d said as much to Tucker when they were back in the house.

“ Lila’s good,” Tucker said, “but she’s a shoot from the shadows kind of killer. These men have been to war, they know what killing’s really about. Lila shows up here and they’ll take her out, easier than swatting a bug with a rolled up newspaper.”

Mouledoux had wanted to tell him that Lila Booth wasn’t shooting from the shadows when she’d killed those feds back in Medford. She’d met them head on, standing erect as she’d shot them down. But instead he said, “You’ve got the front covered pretty much, but what about the back? You and your Dad gonna take care of that?”

“ No, we’re going to be in the guard house. It’s built like a brick shit house and has a view of the whole estate, from the front porch to the front gate. In the unlikely event anyone gets past the guards, we can mow them down.”

“ But not Isadora Eisenhower.”

“ Yeah, that goes without saying.” Then, “So what do you think of our setup?”

“ As I said, you got the front covered, but what about the back?”

“ Nobody’s getting in that way. Coming up the back of the mountain is a nonstarter. We’ve got razor wire and an electronic fence down below on an almost vertical section of cliff wall. It was a real bitch to build. As for coming around the side, well there’s the fence, twelve feet tall and full of enough juice to ruin your night, and there’s razor wire on top. And then there’s the dogs. The backyard is their territory. And if all that fails, there’s you and Peeps. You’ll be on station in the kitchen, with lights out inside and on outside, you’ll see anything that moves back there.”

“ It looks to me like you’ve got it covered, but they’re not going to come in shooting.” Mouledoux said. “You’ve got Eisenhower’s granddaughter, after all.”

“ Yes, there is that,” Tucker said as they entered the kitchen. “But better ready than sorry.”

“ So where are you holding the girls?” Mouledoux said as he took in the spacious kitchen with its wide window, overlooking the city lights far away and far below.

“ And why would you want to know that?” Tucker slanted his eyes, pinned Mouledoux with a stare.

“ So I don’t get anywhere near them, just in case this whole thing all goes south. I don’t want to wind up in court someday with them pointing their fingers at me.”

“ Not gonna happen,” Tucker said.

“ Covering your ass?” Mansfield said as he came into the kitchen.

“ Didn’t see you there,” Mouledoux said.

“ Makes no never mind.” Mansfield had a cup in hand, filled it. “The girls are upstairs, in Lila’s old room. They’ve been drugged, so they’re sleeping like babies. They won’t be a problem. If it all does go south, as well it might, you’ll be in the clear, if you’re still alive.”

“ Yeah, if I’m still alive.”

“ Chances are very good you will be,” Mansfield said. “But it’s always best to prepare for the worst.” He winked, turned and left the room.

“ What did he mean by that?” Mouledoux said.

“ Who knows,” Tucker said. “He’s sharp as a tack, but he’s a weird old duck.”

“ Lila Booth used to live here?”

“ Yeah, she moved in right after I moved out. My dad took her in.”

“ So she knows the house.”

“ You’re worrying over nothing,” Tucker said.

“ Probably,” Mouledoux said, but he’d seen what Isadora Eisenhower was capable of and he’d seen Lila Booth in action. He’d made a bad mistake coming here.

“ Make no mistake about this,” Lila told Izzy as they made the turn onto Radium Road. “We’re going to get those girls out of there. They’re going to be okay. We’re going to be okay, too.”

“ How can you be so sure?”

“ You have to think positive.”

“ Alright,” Izzy said. “I’ll do my best.”

“ When I lived up there,” Lila said, “I used to like to date, but Manny didn’t like the kind of boys I went out with, thought they were wasting their youth. So I had to sneak out. He’s got his security guys and his electric fence, so he thought I was well contained. But I’m smart, pretty and even back then I knew how to get a man to do what I wanted, without pulling a gun on him.”

“ What do you mean?”

“ The house backs up on a cliff. It’s a sheer drop, four or five hundred feet. I’m not sure exactly, but enough to kill you if you fall. He’s got an electric fence and razor wire down below, just in case some intrepid rock climber decides to come up the back way. Then there’s the fence around the house, electrified naturally. And if that weren’t enough, there are the dogs.”

“ And his security people,” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, but they’ll be guarding the front. That’s where he thinks he’s most vulnerable and for the most part, he’s right.”

“ For the most part?”

“ Remember, I said I liked to date and that I knew how to get what I wanted?”

“ Yeah.”

“ One of the boys I dated worked for the contracter who installed the fence. It surrounds the house and when it gets to the cliff, it turns in toward it, but only for three feet at both sides, because Manny didn’t want to obstruct his view. There’s a post at each side, right at the cliff. The one on the left side of the house is insulated, so that last three feet of fence ain’t putting out any juice.”

“ Really?”

“ Well, it wasn’t when I moved out seven years ago.”

She made a left turn onto a dirt track that was lightly covered in snow. Izzy didn’t know how she could have seen it. She drove for about a hundred yards or so, found a small clearing with a couple spooky looking acacia trees at the end of it. Lila’s headlights lit up a picnic table.

“ What’s all this?” Izzy said.

“ I don’t know how the table got here,” Lila said, “but it’s been here ever since I can remember.” Lila circled the clearing, backed the car between the two trees. It wouldn’t be hidden during the day, but on this dark night, you’d have to be almost on top of it to see it. “Now you know why I like my cars black.” She shut off the engine.

“ Why are we stopping here?”

“ There’s going to be a whole lot of shooting going on,” Lila said. “Manny’s house may be isolated, but it’s not that far away from the ritzy neighborhood we just drove through. Once the action starts, a whole lot of folks are going to be calling 911.”

“ Then the cops are going to be coming up the mountain, how will we get off?”

“ We won’t,” Lila said. “We’ll wait them out here.”

“ I don’t understand.”

“ It looks like there’s nothing here but a deserted dirt track and a whole lotta dark, but there’s an animal path just the other side of this clearing that winds around the mountain, then goes on up near to the backside of Manny’s estate. It’s steep going and we’ll have to crawl along the fence for a bit, being careful not to touch it. When we get to the cliff, we grab the fence on the cliff side of the last fence pole, swing around, being careful not to let go and fall to our deaths below, then we climb around the fence and voila, we’re in Manny’s backyard, easy peasy.”

“ And they won’t see us as we climb around that fence?” Izzy said, trying to picture it in her head.

“ They’ll be looking the other way.”

“ You think?”

“ Pretty much.” Then, “We walk from here.” Lila started to get out of the car.

“ Wait,” Izzy said. “Give me your knife.”

“ What for?”

“ Just give it to me for a second.”

“ Alright.” Lila had the scabbard over her left leg. Gun on the right, knife on the left. She was an Amazon warrior if ever there was one. Izzy was, too. Lila withdrew the knife, passed it to Izzy.

“ Just in case.” Izzy made a small cut on her right forearm. “Now you, give me your arm.”

“ You’re sure?” Lila said.

“ Yeah.”

“ Okay.” Lila held out her arm and Izzy made a cut. Then she rubbed her arm against Lila’s, cut to cut, mingling their blood.

“ Blood sisters now,” Izzy said.

“ For better or worse,” Lila said.

“ For better, we’re going to rescue the girls, like you said, and we’re going to be okay, too.”

“ Yeah, but what if I wake up tomorrow a seven foot tall black man?” She smiled and Izzy could swear she was lighting up the dark.

“ There is that possibility.” Izzy laughed.

“ I know a girl who used to be a man I could hook up with.” Lila was laughing now, but she cut it short, turned serious. “Now it’s time to kick some ass.” She reached into the back, got the grenade launcher, opened the door, got out of the car and slung the launcher onto her back.

“ How long did you say it’s been since you’ve been on this path?” Izzy said, out of the car now too and slipping her arm into the sling, sliding the riot gun around to her back, as Lila had done with the grenade launcher.

“ Seven years.”

“ Think it’s still there?”

“ I’m hoping,” Lila said.

“ Me too.”

“ Whoops, almost forgot the grenades.” Lila went back to the car, reached in, came out with her pouch, slung it over her shoulder along with the launcher. “Ready now.” She startred off. “Stay close, I don’t know how well your magic blood will work if you fall off the the mountain and go splat way down below.”

“ Don’t want to test that out,” Izzy said.

“ We’ve got about a twenty minute hike,” Lila said. “It’s not that far, but part of it’s slow going.”

It started snowing again, a light powder sticking to the ground, not melting, but cold as it was, Izzy didn’t feel it. She felt like her body was on fire, like there was some kind of internal furnace keeping her warm.

“ You cold?” Lila said.

“ No.”

“ Weird.”

“ Yeah,” Izzy said.

“ There it is.” Lila had found the path and now she was going off into the dark like a wraith in the night. And she was a wraith. They both were. Izzy could imagine them in their dusters, with their shoulder holstered guns and side arms, walking down a dusty western street a century and a half ago. John Wesley Hardin and Billy the Kid lookout.

She stayed close behind Lila now, feeling more like a soldier going into combat than an old west gunslinger because, like a soldier, she was carrying a lot of weight. In addition to the two Glocks, there was the vest and the extra clips in her pockets, not nearly as heavy as the weight a soldier carried, but it felt pretty heavy to Izzy right now. And then, of course, there was the riot gun she had slung over her shoulder.

Lila carried even more weight, as she had the Bowie knife strapped to her leg and along with the grenade launcher, she had the grenades.

At first, Izzy thought it was overkill, that they wouldn’t need all the weaponry, but Lila had insisted. Izzy had been worried about hitting the girls with all the bullets that were going to be flying, but Lila had still insisted, saying it was better to have too much firepower than not enough. Izzy had been worried all the weight would slow them down, but Lila had said that once the shooting started and the adrenaline started rushing, she wouldn’t notice the weight at all, besides, she was young and fit, not an old woman anymore, so what was she complaining about?

Mouledoux had a bad feeling, like he was about to have a root canal without any Novocain. Right about now he’d rather be just about anyplace else than this kitchen with Peeps. If Eisenhower or Booth didn’t kill him, which was a distinct possibility, there was a high probability the Waynes would have his lights punched after it was all over. He was toast. There was no good outcome for him here. Peeps was just another slice of bread in the toaster along with him. They were well and truly fucked.

“ I’m not liking this whole set up, partner,” he said.

“ Nothing to worry about, Manny’s got the whole thing covered, just like always.”

“ Like always?”

“ You’re in good with Manny now,” Peeps said. “You’ll see soon enough.”

“ Tell me now.”

“ You do for Manny and Manny does for you.” Peeps went to a kitchen cabinet, took out a bottle of Jack Daniels, sweetened his coffee. “I’m going to tell you a secret.” He smiled. “My wife’s parents left her dick.”

“ Really?”

“ Not a cent, in fact we got stuck with the funeral bills. If it wasn’t for Manny, I’d’ve gone belly up.”

“ You’ve been on the take all this time?”

“ That’s not a nice way of saying it,” Peeps said.

“ Is there a nice way?”

“ I like you, Bobby,” Peeps said. “We make a good team. You’re smart. You’d’ve figured out what was going on sooner, rather than later, so I had to get you on board. Manny was against it at first, said no way, said he’d checked you out, so he wanted me to take you out, like the others.”

And all of a sudden Mouledoux realized that maybe Peeps wasn’t in that toaster, after all. That it was his partner, not Mansfield’s private soldier types, who’d killed those two doctors and the hospital attorney who knew about Eisenhower. He’d come to save a partner who was beyond redemption.

“ I’ll take a little of that.” He held out his cup, studied his partner’s eyes as he poured the whiskey into his coffee and he saw only the affable, friendly guy that was Peeps Friday. How could anyone look so trusting, so honest and earnest and be what he was, do what he’d done?

All of a sudden the warmth inside of Izzy faded away and she felt cold to the bone as the path they were on narrowed and started upward. It was pitch black, then the path made a turn to the right and the city below lit up the night and even without the stars, she could see for what seemed like forever, but her line of sight was all downward and the path now seemed to end at a sheer drop on the left and sheer climb on the right. Did Lila think they could climb that? Izzy didn’t see how.

Lila stopped, turned back to face her.

“ What do you think of the view?” she said.

“ Stunning,” Izzy said. “Absolutely beautiful.”

“ The next part is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie,” Lila said, “and I haven’t done it in a very long time, so it might be more dangerous than I remember.” She took Izzy’s hand, gave it a squeeze. “Are you still up for this?”

“ Yeah, all the way.”

“ Then look there.” Lila pointed toward the wall that went straight up, moved her arm to the left and Izzy saw it.

“ You’re kidding?”

“ It gets wider,” Lila said. “Right there the ledge is only a foot, maybe a bit more. Animals do it, I’ve done it. It’s pretty scary, but doable.”

“ How far?”

“ Not far till the ledge widens,” Lila said. “Maybe fifty sixty feet, then it’s pretty easy going for a hundred yards or so, then it narrows a bit as it goes up to the top, by the southeastern side of Manny’s property. When we get there, we crawl about five or six yards to the fence, crawl along it till we get to the cliff, without touching the fence, that’s important.”

“ I remember,” Izzy said.

“ Then we see how it goes.”

“ Easy peasy, like you said.”

“ Easy peasy,” Lila said. “They say you’re not supposed to look down, but I find it’s better if you do, if you watch where you’re putting your feet, because a misstep would be a bad thing.”

“ Yeah,” Izzy said. “So let’s do it.”

“ One more thing, we can’t use our hands, nothing to hold on to.”

“ I got that.”

“ Luck.” Lila stepped out on the ledge, back to the mountain.

“ Luck to you, too.” Izzy followed and right away regretted the riot gun slung on her back, because she wanted to get as close to the cliff face as possible. But she was afraid to push herself too hard against it, afraid the gun would snag on a rock or shrub or who knew what. She was also afraid if she pushed too hard into the cliff she’d lose her footing, slip and fall. And she was afraid to look down, afraid to move.

“ Come on, Izzy, you can do this.”

“ I can’t.”

“ Yes you can,” Lila said. “It’s not far.”

“ It’s too far.”

“ No it’s not. Just slide your right foot a few inches to the right, follow with your left.”

“ Can’t.” Izzy really thought she had conquered her fear of heights, but it was clear now that she hadn’t. She was terrified, wanted to be anywhere else but here. She could very well die tonight, be blown all to hell by Manny Wayne’s private army and that she could face, but this, this had her paralyzed.

She had to go back.

“ There has to be another way.” She was about to slide her foot to the left, to give it up when she felt Lila take her hand.

“ Close your eyes and trust me.” Lila gave a gentle tug to the right and against what every fiber in her body was telling her, she did as Lila said, she closed her eyes and held onto her hand, not wanting to squeeze too tightly, but she couldn’t help herself.

The first side step required a tremendous leap of faith. She saw herself falling off the mountain, plunging like granite, too terrified to scream as the ground came rushing up to meet her, but she’d made the leap, moved her feet and to her surprise the next step was every bit as hard for her as was the first.

“ I don’t think I can,” she said, then she felt something wet on her face and she opened her eyes. “Oh my God, it’s snowing.”

“ Izzy, you’re panicking.” Lila squeezed her hand. “You’ve come through so much, now’s not the time for this.”

“ I know. I just need a second.”

“ Think about something else.”

“ We’re out on a ledge in the middle of the night and it’s snowing. How can I think of anything else?”

“ Try.”

“ I can’t.”

“ Listen to me, Izzy, I’ve done this dozens of times. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but it’s not the hardest either. It’s not impossible.”

Izzy heard the words, but she was frozen in place. She’d conquered her fear of heights, but here it was, back with a vengeance and that made no sense, because she knew there was a better than even chance that she would wind up riddled with bullet holes once she reached the top and they began their assault, if she didn’t get electrocuted before that, so she shouldn’t be afraid of a little thing like falling off a mountain. Her fear was completely irrational, but it was there and it was locking her up.

“ So what do you think caused this thing that happened to you?” Lila said.

“ What?”

“ You know, what do you think brought you back from the dead? And you were dead, I know, I shot you and I don’t miss.” She squeezed Izzy’s hand again. “Then there’s that waking up young again business.” Another squeeze. “What do you think caused it?”

“ Now? You’re asking me now?” Izzy clenched her teeth against the cold. She was starting to go numb.

“ Just making conversation, till you overcome your fear,” Lila said. Still another squeeze. Her hand in Lila’s was warm. It was as if a heat was radiating from Lila, the warmth moving up Izzy’s arm, killing the cold. “So what was it? Surely you have some kind of idea.”

“ Aliens, I think.” There it was, hanging out there with the snow in the cold, dark air. She’d said what had been hanging around in the back of her mind. “I think it was aliens.” She said it again. Then she told Lila about Kissan and Marlan and their strange accents and how she’d delivered their baby, how she’d skinned her hand and about the blood to blood transfer and, as she’d been doing the telling, she’d felt her fear fading away and by the time she’d finished, it was gone.

“ I thought it had to be something like that. That there was a bigger picture.”

“ You can let go of my hand,” Izzy said. “I’m okay now.” Lila’s heat, wherever it had come from, had warmed and calmed her.

“ I think I’ll hold on for a bit, at least till we get off the ledge.” Lila started moving to the right and Izzy went along with her, eyes open, taking in the city lights below, winking now through the snow.

Then the fog started to roll in.

“ Crap,” Lila said, but she kept moving.

“ It’s a sign,” Izzy said.

“ Of what?”

“ I don’t know, but I think it’s a good thing.”

“ It’ll give us cover when we get there, but it’s a little inconvenient right now.”

“ No wind and it’s not cold anymore,” Izzy said.

“ So where’s the fog coming from?” Lila stopped. “Aliens?”

“ You think?” Izzy said.

“ Couldn’t be. That’s crazy talk.”

“ You’re the one doing the talking.” It was quiet, save for their voices, there were no sounds out there on the ledge. No wind, not a hint of a breeze. No night sounds. It was as if they were in a vacuum.

“ We should hurry this up,” Lila said.

“ Yeah.”

Lila started moving faster, pulling Izzy along with her as the fog started closing in, blacking out the city lights below.

“ Would you look at that?” Mouledoux stared out into the fog, which was rolling in thick and fast.

“ I better get Manny.” Peeps left the room.

He didn’t know how, but all of a sudden Mouledoux knew Isadora Eisenhower and Lila Booth were coming in through the back. Manny Wayne had said it was impossible, but somehow they were going to do it. Cliff, dogs, electric fence, him and Peeps at the window, it made no never mind. That’s the way they were coming and somehow the fog was aiding them.

Keeping his eyes glued on the back, Mouledoux saw the fog stop just short of the house and he couldn’t shake the thought that it was alive. There was something going on here bigger than Isadora Eisenhower and the Fountain of Youth she’d apparently discovered or stumbled upon, whichever, it made no difference, because her rebirth as a young woman was only a part of a bigger picture that he didn’t want any part of, especially now that he’d learned it was Peeps who’d taken out the lawyer Drake and doctors Jordan and Romero and not Eisenhower. True, she’d obviously done those hospital security guys at her home, but looking at it now he saw that it was probably self defense and Shaffer had had a heart attack, Eisenhower wasn’t responsible for that.

She wasn’t a killer, not if you didn’t count defending your life and Mouledoux didn’t. That being the case, he didn’t have a dog in this fight and that was good, because this was a fight the Waynes, with their Blackwater thugs, concrete foxholes, dogs and firepower were going to lose, because those women had something on their side that Mississippi Bob Mouledoux was afraid of.

What it was, he didn’t have a clue, God, ghosts, extra-terrestrials, some kind of voodoo or mother nature herself, Mouledoux didn’t know, but it was mighty powerful, whatever it was, and though he didn’t believe in any of that stuff, his mama hadn’t raised a dumb boy. He’d been confronted with some pretty compelling evidence that one of the former had a hand in this, or something equally as powerful.

Those women were going to be here any minute and they were going to get those girls upstairs and take them out of here and anybody who tried to stop them was going to get dead and Mississippi Bob Mouledoux didn’t want any part of it.

Chapter Twenty

Izzy hadn’t seen such thick fog in Northern Nevada ever. But as a child, she’d grown up near the beach in Southern California, so she was familiar with fog and the eerie feeling of being caught in it.

Her mind went back to a time when she was fifteen years old. She’d been walking the neighbor’s collie, Skipper. It was a Sunday evening and it had just turned dark. They were crossing the baseball diamond in Jose San Martin Park, when the fog rolled in. It was December, three days before Christmas and the park had been deserted, save for her and the dog. It was as if they were alone in the world. She’d been both frightened and exhilarated.

She’d been cold that night in the fog, enveloped in the clammy wetness of it, afraid because she didn’t know which way to go, exhilarated because she felt like she could do anything she’d wanted out in the middle of centerfield-dance, strip naked, make a fool of herself-and nobody would see, so she’d shucked her clothes and swayed nude to an imaginary song, goosebumps peppering her body, while the dog sat patiently, waiting for the song in her head to end.

And when the song was over, she’d put her clothes back on, gave the dog his head and let him lead her home. That was one of her favorite memories, one she’d revisited often as her cancer had progressed.

Izzy remembered that fog. It was an alien thing.

“ Lila wait,” she said.

“ We’re almost there,“ Lila said. “Just a little further and we’ll be at the top.” They’d been going steadily up hill, not at a very steep grade, but up. And the ledge had widened, so Izzy was feeling safer, even though the snow had started to come down harder, but it had stopped with the fog.

“ This isn’t right,” she said.

“ What?” Lila said.

“ This fog.”

“ It is strange, but it’s a good strange. It’ll give us cover.”

“ No, it’s more than strange. This isn’t like fog. It’s dry, like it’s sucking the moisture right out of the air. That’s the opposite of fog. Fog is wet and fog is cold. It’s not cold anymore. And what happened to the snow?”

“ Izzy, this isn’t the time or place for this. We’ve come here to do a job. Let’s just do it. We’ll sort out all this strange shit after. Okay?”

“ Alright,” Izzy said and again she followed Lila, keeping close, because the fog, or whatever it was, seemed to be getting thicker.

“ We’re here,” Lila said a couple minutes later. Then, “They’re still here, after all this time.”

“ What?”

“ My rebar ladder,” Lila said. “My beau put these in, you know, the guy I was telling you about who helped build the electric fence.” Lila raised a hand overhead, grabbed onto a rung that seemed to be coming out of the cliff face. “It’s only about ten feet up, then we’re at the top and just about in Manny’s backyard.”

“ You weren’t sure this ladder would still be here?”

“ Not a hundred percent, but the odds were pretty good. After all, it was built by a lovesick young man who wanted to see his girl, who was a virtual prisoner in the castle.”

“ The ladder could have been discovered and taken down.”

“ But it wasn’t, when we get to the top, you’ll see why.” Lila put her foot in the bottom rung, started up and was at the top in short order. “Come on.”

“ Right behind you.” Izzy grabbed onto the ladder and a chill rippled through her, her old fear of heights still raising its ugly head, but she fought it off, went up. At the top, Lila reached a hand out. Izzy took it and Lila pulled her up.

She didn’t know what she’d expected, a palatial estate maybe, but not this. She was confronted with a dense forest of tall pines. Now she understood how Lila’s beau was able to build the ladder without getting caught. Wayne’s estate wasn’t here, so there had been no one to catch him.

“ So what now?” Izzy said.

“ Manny’s place is a ten minute hike that way.” Lila pointed into the trees. “He’s secure in the fact that his home can’t be approached from directly below the back, but we’re almost a quarter mile away here and off to the east. He couldn’t secure the whole damn mountain, that’s why the fence.” Lila started into the trees.

Izzy followed and in seconds she was surrounded by the trees and though they were pine trees and though Christmas was just around the corner, the atmosphere was far from festive. In the fog, the trees seemed like ghostly apparitions, reaching out for her as she brushed past them. In another life, she’d’ve been terrified, but after surviving the last couple days, including the ledge out on that cliff, it would take a lot more than a few trees on a foggy night to frighten her.

Ahead, Izzy saw gauzy strings of light penetrating the forest through the fog.

Lila stopped.

“ We’re here,” she said.

They were through the forest and Izzy saw a hazy circle of light up ahead in the fog and she was struck with the thought that she was dead and supposed to go toward it.

“ That’s it?” Izzy said, knowing it was.

“ Yeah,” Lila said. “I thought we’d be belly crawling from here to the fence, then along it to the cliff, trying not to get electrocuted, but with this fog, it’s looking like we can walk right up, invisible to everybody but the dogs.”

“ You hope,” Izzy said.

“ Hope what?”

“ That we don’t get electrocuted.”

“ Everything else is going our way, that will too.” She reached out to Izzy’s shoulder, gave it a gentle squeeze. “It’ll be okay, you’ll see.”

“ I believe you.”

“ Come on.” And side by side they started toward the light.

Mouledoux got himself another cup of coffee. Took a sip of the steaming liquid as the Waynes, pere et fils, came into the kitchen followed by Peeps.

“ That’s all we need,” Tucker said, looking out at the fog.

“ What do you make of it?” Mouledoux said.

“ It’s fog, that’s all.” Manny Wayne had a monster of a weapon.

“ A Dirty Harry gun,” Mouledoux said, sidetracked by the pistol. “A Smith amp; Wesson Model 29.”

“ You know your guns.”

“ I do,” Mouledoux said. “Four inch barrel, forty-four Magnum. Rare, hard to get.”

“ It’ll kill what I hit,” Manny said.

“ That it’ll do,” Mouledoux said. Then, “It’s weird, this fog, the way it just stops there. It moved in and stopped. It’s clear here, but out there, fifteen or twenty feet into the back, it’s thick as pea soup.” He took another sip of his coffee, as if he needed it, because all his systems were firing on overdrive. “It’s that way on both sides of the house, too. Fog about twenty feet out, but the front is clear. It’s like it moved in, saw the house and surrounded it.”

“ That’s absurd,” Tucker said.

“ Could Lila Booth have done this?” Peeps said.

“ Don’t be stupid,” Tucker said.

“ Look at the dogs,” Peeps said. They were standing guard at the edge of the fog, silent sentries.

“ They don’t seem nervous or afraid of it,” Manny said. “So I wouldn’t be either.”

Then, as if they’d heard them, the dogs went into the fog and it was as if they’d vanished before Mouledoux’s eyes.

If he hadn’t been a hundred percent sure he’d screwed up big time by coming here, he was now.

A couple three yards from it and Izzy saw the fence and all of a sudden she saw the dogs on the other side of it.

“ Wait,” Izzy said. She went to the fence, careful not to touch it. She went down on one knee. “You boys aren’t going to bother us, are you?”

The dogs sat, noses close to the fence, but like Izzy, they were careful not to touch it. Fierce looking though they were, they seemed tame enough now.

“ I don’t think they’re going to be a problem,” Izzy said.

“ I don’t get it.”

“ It’s like it was with Hunter,” Izzy said. “He took to me when he first saw me, like we had a bond. It’s that way with these dogs, too. Don’t you feel it?”

“ Yeah.” Lila stared at the dogs, kind of smiled. “So you think we can just take them with us when we leave? I got a neighbor says he wants a big dog, maybe he’ll take two.”

“ We could do that,” Izzy said.

“ That’s great,” Lila said and Izzy could see the relief on her face. She’d been planning on shooting off her grenades, then shooting the dogs in the confusion and now she was visibly glad she didn’t have to. Killing the men, that she could do without compunction, but killing these dogs, that bothered her.

Izzy got up off her knee, keeping her eyes on the dogs. It really was the same as it had been with Hunter, these dogs were hers to command now. Was it going to be that way with all animals, or just dogs? She shivered, because with Hunter it was almost as if he’d understood her and now she instinctively knew she had the same bond with these two dogs. She’d never thought of animals as intelligent before, she’d been wrong, they were, but in a different sort of way, a way humans couldn’t understand, but that somehow she was beginning to.

“ Are you in lala land or what?” Lila said.

“ I was, I’m back now.”

“ Then let’s get this over with.” Lila followed the fence and Izzy followed Lila till it ended at the cliff face and what looked like a wall of solid grey fog. Somewhere out there was Reno, the most beautiful city in the world as far as Izzy was concerned, but she couldn’t see it. She could barely make out Lila, who was only a few feet in front of her as she reached around the last fence post, grabbed onto the chain link, pulling herself around, spider like, onto the fence.

“ Holy shit!” Izzy said. “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“ Sure you can.” Lila crab crawled on the fence around to the the other side and once safely on the ground, looking almost angelic in the mysterious fog, said, “Now you.”

“ Yeah, now me,” Izzy muttered. She moved to the cliff edge, stared out into the grey nothing, feeling that, despite the fog, a million eyes were on her as she grabbed a breath, reached around the insulated post, grabbed onto the chain link as Lila had done and pulled herself around, jumping off into the nothing fog, pulling herself onto the fence, even as the weight of the duster and all the gear she was carrying threatened to pull her off and to her death below.

Cold lightning jacked from the base of her neck to her tailbone, turning into hot electricity, shooting back up her spine to the very animal center of her brain, where it landed like ice. The fingers of her left hand, holding onto the chain link, were scalding hot and freezing cold at the same time as she hung by one hand in the nothing.

Panicking, she flayed wildly with her right hand and feet as she felt her grip loosening. She was going to fall.

“ Izzy!” Lila shouted. “Focus!”

“ Did you hear that?” Tucker Wayne said.

“ It’s Lila,” Manny said. “I’d know her voice anywhere.”

“ But where did it come from?” Peeps said. “The back, the front, inside the fence or out? It sounded like it just came out of the fog, like it was everywhere.”

“ Your ears are playing tricks with your head,” Tucker said. “They’re out front, where else could they be?”

“ He’s right,” Manny said. “Let’s get out there.”

“ What about us?” Peeps said.

“ Good question,” Manny said. “I’d half thought Dr. Eisenhower would call and come up here in a civilized fashion. We’d talk, she’d work with us and in the end, everybody would get what they want.” He looked toward the floor, shook his head, as if he were speaking about a child who’d failed to mind, like he was about to spank it. “But she’s obviously turned Lila to her side. How I don’t know, because I’d thought Lila was loyal. I’ve done everything for that girl.”

“ I never really liked her,” Tucker said.

“ Oh stop,” Manny said. “You’ve wanted to fuck her ever since I took her in, but she saw through you and wouldn’t have any of your bullshit.”

Mouledoux heard respect and maybe even a little love in Manny’s voice when he talked of Lila Booth and he also heard the derision he felt toward his son. But as much as he seemed to care about Booth, he was willing to throw her to the wolves to get Eisenhower’s secret.

“ Fucking and liking are two different things,” Tucker said.

“ Yeah, yeah.” Manny waved a hand in front of himself, dismissing Tucker as he turned toward Peeps. “Coming up through the back isn’t possible. They’re out front. How they plan on getting in, I don’t know, but Lila’s brilliant, she’s got a plan.”

“ So,” Peeps said, “you want us up front with you?”

“ No, we’ve got the front covered, but there is that one in a million chance Lila could figure a way to get in through the back. You two stay here.” He turned to go, stopped, turned back to face Peeps. “Besides, we need somebody in the house in the unlikely event they get in. Leaving the house empty would be just plain stupid.” Again he shook his head. “I’d planned on staying inside myself, with a couple of my men, but with the communications out and this fog, I need all my men outside, but someone’s gotta be the last line of defense with me, so it looks like you two are it.”

“ You’re staying in the house?” Tucker said.

“ Yes, if Lila gets in, I want to be here to greet her.”

“ What about me?”

“ You’ll be in charge out front.”

“ Alright.” Tucker seemed to swell before Mouledoux’s eyes and it seemed to him that perhaps Mansfield Wayne kept a tighter reign on his son than people realized.

“ I’ll keep watch from the living room window,” Mansfield said, “which covers the right side of the house and Peeps, on second thought, you should come up front with me and take the den on the left side. Fog or no, if those women get past the men out front, we should see them. As far as Lila is concerned, shoot to kill. Wound Eisenhower if you have to, but I want her alive.”

“ Got it.” Peeps seemed to be puffing up like Tucker had only a few seconds ago. What was it with this frail old man that made people turn themselves into lapdogs? Was it the money? Peeps had been a good cop once, now he wasn’t. Mouledoux found it hard to believe he’d been bought for just dollars.

“ You’ll be alone back here, Bobby,” Mansfield said and that reconfirmed everything Mouledoux had been thinking. They didn’t expect a threat from the back and that’s where Manny had wanted him. Old Manny Wayne didn’t trust him and come morning, if he’s successful tonight and gets his hands on Eisenhower and her secret, his fate was going to be the same as Lila Booth’s.

“ Right,” Mouledoux said.

“ Don’t think I have you back here because I don’t trust you,” Manny said, almost as if he’d been reading Mouledoux’s mind, “because I do. Peeps vouched for you and that’s good enough for me.”

“ Okay.” Mouledoux wasn’t believing a word coming out of the old man’s mouth.

“ It’s just that I trust my men more. They’ve been with me a long time.”

“ I understand,” Mouledoux said.

“ Okay, let’s get ready.” Manny turned to go. “Be on your guard, Tucker.”

“ She won’t get by us,” Tucker said and then they were gone.

Mouledoux heard the front door open and close. Tucker was out front now with Manny’s mini army. Any minute now it was going to start.

Izzy clung to the fence for all she was worth. Seconds ago she’d panicked like a schoolgirl face to face with a spider in the sandbox. Lila’s shout brought her out of her panic attack, but only long enough for her to grab onto the fence with her free hand and then, with a superhuman effort, she somehow got toeholds into the chain link.

Then the panic was back. She was frozen with fear, hanging on the fence.

“ Izzy, you can do this,” Lila said. “Open your eyes and look at me.”

She hadn’t realized she’d shut her eyes. She was shutting down. She couldn’t. Not now, not here. She opened her eyes, saw Lila flanked by the dogs.

“ I’m stuck.” She was whimpering and she didn’t like the sound of it.

“ You’re afraid of heights?”

“ Maybe, a little.” She forced a smile.

“ But you made it up the ledge.”

“ It wasn’t easy.”

“ You shoulda said.”

“ I thought I was over it.”

“ You have to come round to this side,” Lila said. “Close your eyes again. Shut out everything. Make your mind a blank and do it by feel.”

“ I’ll try.”

“ You can do it.”

Izzy closed her eyes again, but this time she wasn’t squeezing them shut. She took a deep breath, held it, determined not to exhale till she was on the other side, which was only a couple seconds away, if only she could move.

She felt sweat trickling under her arms, chilling her. But the chill wasn’t from the icy sweat, because the cold night hadn’t been an issue. It was fear, pure and simple. She’d been frozen with it and the chill was as icy cold as an Arctic winter.

Her left hand, the one that had been clinging to the fence while she’d been flaying about during her panic attack, felt like it was on fire, like it had been packed in snow, then shoved into scalding water. It was a useless claw and it was betraying her, because without it, magic blood or no, she was going to die out here, because she couldn’t hold on forever.

“ Listen to me now and put everything else out of your mind.” Lila was speaking in a soothing voice, like a hypnotist. “Move your left hand a couple inches to the left. It’s easy, just a tiny bit, that’s all.” Lila’s voice seemed to wash over her, bathing her in just enough confidence to relax the fingers of her left hand as she defied the impossible and tried to tighten her grip on the fence with her right.

And the fiery pain in her left hand intensified and as if that weren’t enough, her right hand felt like it was on fire now as well and the cold lighting that had been shooting up and down her spine was turning hot. She was racked with sweat, felt it on her hands. They were turning clammy, slippery.

She was locked up, on fire, as if she had a fever and now she was choking back vomit, but despite it all, she moved her hand, not an inch, but all the way to the end of the fence.

Then, without Lila’s guidance, she took her left foot off the fence, moved it to the left, finding another toe hold and now she was spread eagled on the fence.

“ Good, Izzy, you did good,” Lila soothed. “You’re almost there. Now you’ve got to move your right hand, then your right foot.”

Eyes still closed, hands still on fire, feet now too, Izzy started to move her right hand when something grabbed her by the left arm and jerked her off the fence. She was in space, flying, but before she could scream, she hit the ground with a thud, landing hard on her back, breath stolen away with a fast whooshing sound.

She struggled for air, opened her eyes and was racked with stomach spasms as she rolled over, pulled herself up onto her hands and knees, finding herself face to muzzle, staring into the jaws of one of the Rottweilers.

The dog sort of grunted as Izzy turned away from it and vomited, fighting for the breath that had been knocked out of her when Lila had pulled her off the fence, pulling her around to the safe side, where her fall had only been a couple feet instead of a couple hundred.

Heaving finished, she gasped for air, but wasn’t finding any. Lila thumped her on the back, once, twice a third time.

“ Take short breaths.”

“ Yeah,” Izzy gasped out. She felt like she might never get enough air, but in a few seconds she was getting it, in short breaths, like Lila had said. Then she was able to take in more and shortly she was breathing normally.

“ Can you stand?”

“ I think so.”

“ Let me help you up.” Again, Lila took Izzy by the left shoulder, but gently this time, not with the force she’d used when she’d pulled her off the fence.

“ Thanks.” On her feet now, with her breath back, Izzy was surprised that her hands no longer burned. The cold hot fear that had been racking through her was gone. She’d done it, gone out on that fence, faced her fear and had survived. “I’m better now,” she said and somehow she knew she was.

“ So you’re not going to lock up when come face to face with the bad guys?”

“ I’ll be fine.” And she knew she would be. She felt like she could do anything.

“ Good.” Lila pulled the grenade launcher from her back. “So, I can count on you for the rest of this? You’ll have my back?”

“ No, not your back, I’ll be at your side.”

“ Good.” Lila looked into the fog. “The house is that way.” She pointed. “Manny’s men have a small house they work out of about fifty or sixty feet north of the main house. Manny calls it the guard’s quarters, or sometimes the barracks, but it’s not really either, because they don’t sleep over. I’ll try to land a grenade between the two of them, maybe take out one or two of the guards right off the bat, but even if I don’t, they’ll think the attack is coming from the front and as they’re rushing to defend against it, I’ll fire off the second grenade, then we come in the through the back.”

“ Sounds good,” Izzy said. “Let’s do it.”

“ Okay, you ready?” Lila aimed the launcher.

“ Wait,” Izzy felt a tightness inside, like she was having a heart attack. She put her right hand to her chest, under her left breast, pushed against her rib cage, over her heart, hoping to stop the pain she thought would be on her any second. But instead of the shooting spasms of a heart attack, a sort of warm glow seemed to be spreading through her.

“ I feel it, too,” Lila said. “For a second there I thought it was the big one, thought it was all over for Lila Booth, but now I don’t know what to think. I feel pretty darned good and I don’t know why.”

“ Me too.”

“ Think it’s because of your magic blood?” Lila said.

“ It’s your magic blood now, too,” Izzy said. “And yeah, I think it is.”

“ I’ve always known what I did for a living was wrong, but I didn’t have a problem living with it,” Lila said. “But all of a sudden, I’ve got this conviction that what we’re about to do here is right, that it has to be done.”

“ Me too.” Izzy felt one of the dogs rub its great head against her leg. “Them too. They’re with us.”

“ This is weird,” Lila said.

“ Way weird.”

“ You ready?”

“ I am.” Izzy unslung the riot gun, held it in front of herself.

“ You look like a soldier about to go into a firefight.”

“ I feel like one. I feel invincible, too.”

“ Invincible, that’s the word.” Lila aimed the grenade launcher.

Chapter Twenty-One

An explosion rocked the night, the blast as loud as any Mouledoux had heard during Desert Storm and a scream cut through the house. It sounded like Peeps, Mouledoux thought as he grabbed for his weapon while he dropped to the floor, expecting the worst. Soldiers, Amazon warriors, murdering hoards, he expected them all, because all of a sudden it clicked with him, not only the impossibility of it all, but the fact that Dr. Isadora Eisenhower couldn’t afford to let anybody who knew about her live, because as long as there was a living soul who knew her secret, she’d never be safe.

She wasn’t here to negotiate the release of her granddaughter. She was here to wipe out everyone who knew about her and right now that included him. And there wasn’t any doubt in his mind about how this was going to play out. Manny Wayne may have his private Blackwater trained security force, but they were not going to stop Eisenhower.

For a flash of a second he thought about looking for a hiding place till it was over, till Booth and Eisenhower killed the Waynes and their crew, took the captives and left, but even as he was thinking about it, another thought pushed it out of his mind. He couldn’t hide like a coward or flee like one either, because he was a cop, one of the good guys.

He didn’t care about the Waynes or their men and he didn’t care if Eisenhower and Booth got clean away and never paid for their crimes, that was beyond him. But he did care about the two girls upstairs. His fate was unimportant compared to their’s and he was convinced when Eisenhower and Booth breached the house, Manny Wayne would charge upstairs and use them as shields. He’d kill them before giving up.

And that was something Mississippi Bob Mouledoux couldn’t allow.

Ignoring his partner’s wailing, he pushed himself from the floor, went looking for the stairs.

***

Manny Wayne’s enlarged prostate saved his life. He drank a lot of coffee and that prostate had him in the john urinating more than he cared to admit. He had to go and when the urge came, he went. So, he’d left his post at the front window to take a quick pee, was halfway across the room when the deafening sound of an explosion racked the night and the front window blew out, sending shattering glass shooting into the living room. Thousands of slivery daggers peppered his back, sending him crashing to the floor.

The pain was intense, his back felt like it was on fire, his ears were ringing and he’d started peeing his pants as he pushed himself to his knees.

“ Peeps, they’re coming!” Manny couldn’t hear himself shout. He started to get up, still peeing as he realized he’d lost his weapon when he’d hit the deck. He scanned the carpet, saw it on the other side of the room. He scrabbled on all fours toward it, crawling like a baby, pissing all the way.

Magnum in hand, pissing finished, he pushed himself to his feet, fighting to ignore the burning swath of pain that was his back and the cold wet of his crotch.

“ Peeps!” Still deaf, Manny crossed the entryway, went to the den, found Peeps writhing on the floor, face a bloody mess. The man had been blinded, was obviously screaming, but Manny couldn’t hear.

However, he knew the men outside could and like a tortured soldier screaming in pain between the lines, Peeps’ wailing would take a toll on his guards, would unnerve them no matter how well trained they were, and this Manny couldn’t allow.

“ Sorry, Peeps.” He raised his weapon, aimed between the eyes, fired and though he saw the back of Peeps’ head blow off, he didn’t hear the sound of the Magnum in his hand. Had it not been for the kick the powerful pistol was known for, it might have been as if Peeps’ head had blown apart of its own accord, as if Manny Wayne hadn’t done it at all.

Izzy heard the pistol shot as Lila was loading the second grenade into the launcher.

“ What do you think that was all about?”

“ I don’t know,” Izzy said. “Maybe somebody inside is a bit jumpy.”

“ Maybe.”

“ Let’s give them a few seconds to sweat,” Lila said.

“ Trouble is, I’m sweating too,” Izzy said. “I’m all jittery inside.”

“ If I smoked,” Lila said, “I’d give you a cigarette to calm your nerves.”

“ Wouldn’t work.” She took in a deep breath, sucked it into her belly, sighed it out. “But don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

Mouledoux was at the top of the stairs when he heard the shot from below and all of a sudden Peeps was silent.

His first thought was that the women were in the house already, but how could that be? Peeps had a thirty-eight, like Mouledoux’s own and he’d heard them fire a thousand times on the range and in the Nevada desert. If the women weren’t in the house and if Peeps hadn’t fired, that left only Manny Wayne and that cannon he used for a pistol.

It had started.

He hustled down a hallway, checked the first door on his right.

Bathroom.

He checked the second, found an empty bedroom.

Behind the third door and the first on his right, he found a master bedroom, a king size bed facing a glass wall, which on a clear day probably had a gorgeous view of downtown Reno’s colored lights, but today he saw only fog. He was backing out of the empty room, when he heard something knocking about. He turned toward the sound, saw a door, the master bath or a walk-in closet.

He started for it as something banged into it from the other side and he instinctively knew somebody was kicking it.

He pulled it open and found the two girls. Their hands were bound behind their backs with plastic handcuffs and they had grey duct tape covering their mouths, wrapped around their heads. Their eyes were wide open, so apparently Manny had lied about them being drugged.

“ I’ll get you out of here.” He worked his index fingers between the duct tape and Amy Eisenhower’s mouth and pulled it down over her chin, till it was wrapped around her neck, turning it into a grey necklace.

“ Ouch.”

“ Yeah, Amy I know that probably hurt,” Mouledoux said. “Sorry.”

“ Do Alicia,” Amy said.

“ Right.” Mouledoux repeated the process with Alicia, who immediately gasped in as much air as she could.

“ You okay?” Amy said.

“ Get me out of here and give me a gun,” Alicia said. “So I can kill that son of a bitch.”

“ She’s okay,” Mouledoux said.

Then another explosion ripped through the night.

Lila threw the grenade launcher over the cliff, pulled her Glock from her shoulder holster as Izzy unslung the riot gun.

“ You can use that?”

“ You betcha,” Izzy said.

“ You’ve got five rounds, make ’em count.”

“ Make ’em count, yeah, you can count on it.”

“ Then let’s rock and roll.”

“ Okay.” Izzy sucked in a deep breath, inhaling the eerie fog, which seemed to give her courage.

“ We’ll go in through the back, shooting anything that moves. Then we’ll bust out the front door and kill the rest of them.”

“ Got it.”

Like the first blast, the second blast knocked Manny Wayne on his ass. He didn’t hear it, but he felt it as the force of the explosion just outside the front facing window and it blew him across the room. No glass this time, the first explosion had seen to that, and the pain didn’t last long, because he smacked the side of his kauri wood desk with the side of his head and the world went dark.

Lila kicked open the back door with a force Izzy didn’t know a human could possess, ran through a laundry room with Izzy hard pressed to keep up. In the kitchen, Izzy was surprised to see it empty. Lila swept right through it and on into a dining room, then into a spacious living room that looked like it was straight out of a western movie. The front windows had been blown out. There was blood on the carpet.

“ This way,” Lila passed an entry way, went through an open door and into a large room that had been made into some kind of office. Animal heads on the wall. A hunter’s lair. An expensive desk, cowhide couch, hardwood floor with an oval carpet and a dead man in the center of it with half his head gone. A bloody mess.

“ That’s Manny Wayne,” Lila pointed to another man face down on the floor, by the foot of a dark wood desk. Blood covered his back. He looked dead.

“ Two down,” Izzy said.

“ Come on!” Lila spun around, headed out of the room, toward the front door. At it, she opened it, drew the forty-five from her leg holster and with a pistol in each hand, she stepped into the night with Izzy, riot gun at the ready, right behind.

Outside, the night around them was clear, but the mysterious fog ran right up to the side of the house on each side and it was moving in. The area to the fence, far away to the front of the house, was clear as well, but the fog blocked out anything beyond.

“ Your left,” Lila said as she faced right and started firing both guns, stitching up a big man’s chest, turning him into meat.

Izzy turned left, leading with the riot gun. Saw a man in black fatigues. He had a pistol in his right hand and a startled look on his face, but surprised or not, that didn’t stop him from bringing his gun to bear on Izzy, but he was a fraction of a second late. Izzy pulled the trigger and blew his head off as the riot gun kicked her in the gut and she pulled the trigger a second time, blasting away into the night and wasting a shot.

Fighting for air, she grabbed a breath as she tossed the riot gun aside. She pulled a Glock from her shoulder holster, pulled the other from the holster on her hip and now, like Lila, she had a gun in each hand.

“ Four down now,” Lila said.

“ How many more?”

“ Not sure, at least four, five with Tucker.” Lila said. “You alright?”

“ Yeah.” Izzy grabbed a second breath. “Sorry about the wasted shot. Don’t like the riot gun, prefer the pistols.”

“ No time to be sorry.” Lila pointed with the Glock in her left hand to the fence in the front of the house. Two men were running from it, toward them, each with a stubby looking machine gun like thing in their hands. They looked like quarterbacks running for a touch down. Izzy couldn’t tell if they were running toward them or from the fog that seemed to be chasing them.

“ Mac 10s,” Lila said, “very bad.”

They were bringing their weapons to bear even as they ran, but before they could fire they lost the race with the fog. It was as if it had swallowed them whole. It was moving faster than they had been and it was coming for Izzy and Lila.

“ Move, move, move,” Lila shouted.

Izzy went left. Lila went right as automatic fire tore up the front of the house, behind where they’d been standing an instant ago.

“ Now,” Lila said and they both started firing into the mist, where they’d imagined the bodyguards would be, where their fire seemed to be coming from. The girls kept firing till their pistols ran dry, twin Annie Oakley’s standing tall, dusters flapping in the wind that seemed to be driving the fog that was upon them now.

“ On the ground!” Lila shouted and Izzy dropped to the grass. “You okay.”

“ Yeah,” Izzy said. “I’m fine.”

“ You reloading?”

“ Yeah.” Izzy ejected her clips, tossed them aside, slapped in new, jacked rounds into the chambers. “I’m good to go. You?”

“ Yeah.” Lila said. “Stay where you are, I’ll crawl to the sound of your voice.”

“ This way,” Izzy said as she saw Lila belly crawling on the grass, coming toward her like a snake, a pair of guns in each hand, deadly as fangs.

Mouledoux had started for the master bath, to look for something to cut the girl’s plastic cuffs off, when all hell broke loose outside. It sounded like combat, like he was back in Kuwait, back in a firefight.

“ Holy shit!” Amy said, when the gunfire stopped. “What was that?”

“ That,” Mouledoux said, “was your grandmother.”

“ She sounds pissed,” Alicia said.

“ It’s never a good thing to get on Nana’s bad side,” Amy said.

“ Sounds like nothing’s changed,” Alicia said. Then to Mouledoux, “Can you get us out of these?”

“ I was just going to see if I could find something to cut them off.” In the bathroom he found a pair of barber’s scissors, which Manny Wayne probably used to trim his sideburns.

“ Can you hurry?” Amy Eisenhower said. “Because these are on too tight and I’m starting to lose sensation in my hands.”

“ Coming.” Back in the closet, he knelt to the floor, cut the cuffs that were binding Amy’s hands behind her back. Then he did her friend Alicia.

“ Much better.” Amy’s hands were white.

“ Give me those.” Alicia took Amy’s hands in her own, started rubbing the circulation back into them. “I seriously need to shoot someone.”

“ I think Amy’s grandmother is pretty much taking care of that,” Mouledoux said.

“ Think we got ’em?” Izzy’s whisper seemed like shouting, so quiet had it become when the shooting stopped.

“ Yeah,” Lila said, “we got ’em.”

“ You don’t think they’re flat on their bellies, like us, waiting?” They were so close to each other, Izzy could taste Lila’s breath and for a brief instant she felt like they were lovers, like their lives were going to be bound together forever.

“ No, I think they’re dead.”

A scream, more terrifying than anything Izzy had ever heard, pierced the fog. Before she could think or react a giant of a man, with arms longer than her legs, kicked Lila in the stomach, sending her flying as he grabbed Izzy with his monster hands, lifting her from the ground.

“ I have her,” the giant wailed.

“ No you don’t, Lugar!” Lila shot him in the chest. One, two, three times, each round barely missing Izzy as she took the giant down. He fell with a thud, arms flaying. Izzy hit the ground hard, holding both Glocks in tight fisted grips as she rolled away.

“ Behind you!” Lila shouted.

Izzy spun her guns around, firing without looking. By the time she’d seen what she’d done, a scrawny, little man with a big Mac 10 was dead on the ground.

“ Good job,” Lila said.

Izzy was breathing like a freight train. She fought to slow it down. Breathing under control, she said. “You knew him, the big man?”

“ I knew them all,” Lila said.

“ Yeah, I guess I forgot.” She took in a deep breath, let it out slowly. “So how we doing?”

“ Tucker’s still out there and he’s sly as a weasel and mean as a rabid dog. He’s not his father, not as sharp and not as cool under stress, but he knows how to use a gun.”

“ So what now?”

“ Thick as soup, this fog.” Glock in hand, Lila held out an arm. The weapon, along with her hand, disappeared in the grey muck. “What is this shit?”

“ Gerald, Weed, Lugar!” Tucker Wayne’s gravel voice pierced through the fog, like it had the strength of a powerful amplifier behind it. “Wilson, Grey, Smith!” A pause. “Call out your positions.”

Silence.

“ Speak of the Devil,” Lila whispered.

“ So, all down but Tucker?” Izzy said.

“ Yeah, sounds like,” Lila said. “I have to do him by myself.”

“ No.”

“ We could shoot each other in this fog,” Lila said. “So it’s best you stay here and stay low, till I finish it.”

“ No.”

“ Don’t have time to argue, Izzy,” Lila said. “You have to stay put and let me do this.”

“ Alright,” Izzy said.

“ Good.” Still flat on the ground, Lila pointed to the left with the forty-five. “The barracks is that way. That’s where he’ll be, inside waiting.”

“ How do you know?”

“ He’s not as brave or as reckless as his father. He’ll be playing it safe. He’s dangerous, but predictable. I’ll call out when I’ve finished it.” Lila started to turn away, when a low hum rumbled through the fog.

“ I can’t figure out where it’s coming from,” Izzy said.

“ It’s everywhere,” Lila said, “like the fog.”

The fog had effectively blinded them and though the rumbling hum hadn’t deafened them, it was getting louder, like a diesel truck coming down the road, till the sound leveled off, like the truck was running full out, but never getting closer.

“ What the-.”

“ Shhh!” Izzy put a finger to Lila’s lips as shots rang out, slamming into the house behind them. Still flat on the ground, Izzy put her mouth to Lila’s ear. “You were too loud, he heard you.” Just two words, that’s all it took for Tucker to zero in on their position. He was good.

Now Lila put her mouth to Izzy’s ear.

“ You go that way,” Lila pointed left, “to the house. Find the girls. They’ll probably be upstairs somewhere. Once I finish with Tucker, I’ll come to you and we’ll get outta here.” She squeezed Izzy’s arm, then pushed herself to her feet.

Izzy got up too and watched as Lila started off into the fog. No way was she going to leave her. So she followed, expecting any second for Lila to turn around and discover her.

Tucker Wayne had barely heard Lila’s voice through the rumbling noise, he let loose a burst from the Mac 10 in the direction he thought it had come from as the noise got louder, loud enough that it made thinking hard. He had to get out of the barracks. If he hadn’t gotten lucky and taken her out, she’d come for him here.

He clenched his hands around the weapon. He hadn’t gotten lucky. She was too good for that.

He killed the lights in the barracks, turning the building dark as the night. Then, easing his grip on the Mac 10, he moved from the front of the small house, through the living room to the small dining room, then the kitchen and on out the backdoor. He knew Lila Booth very well, but as well as he knew her, she knew him. He wasn’t a coward, but he was cautious. She knew that about him. She’d expect him to be in the barracks, so he wouldn’t be.

With a hand trailing the backside of the house, the way a boy would a picket fence, so he wouldn’t lose his way in the fog, Tucker went alongside it to the south side of the barracks. There was an old sycamore off to the right and in front of the barracks. His plan, if he could find it in the fog, was to move to it, hide behind it and, with the Mac 10 on full auto, shoot Lila Booth in the back when she passed by on her way to the barracks.

He moved round the back of the house, with a hand still trailing it, to the front, then he stepped out into the fog in the direction of the tree he couldn’t see. A few cautious steps and he was there.

But now he had a problem he hadn’t anticipated. He could barely see his hand when he held it out in front of himself, much less the barracks or the main house, which was where he’d imagined Lila would be coming from.

And she would be coming. Of that he was sure. When he’d called out to his dad’s men and got no reply, he’d known she’d prevailed and they were dead. Probably Peeps and the old man as well. He was on his own and he’d need a lot of luck to survive this night.

If only that damn noise would stop and if only the bloody fog would lift.

And as if Satan himself had heard his wish, the rumbling noise quit and it was quiet, like sound didn’t exist. He couldn’t even hear his own breath. And while he was marveling at that, the fog started to dissipate and in seconds it was little more than a haze and sure enough coming through the fog like she didn’t have a care in the world was Lila Booth, looking like a wraith in the mist with that duster and a pistol in each hand.

He could shoot her down now, but the slightest movement on his part would trigger a barrage of bullets. She was panther quick and panther deadly, waiting till she passed and was at the barracks would be the safer bet. The last thing he wanted was to face her head on. That would be suicide.

Izzy had been going in the general direction Lila had set out on. She’d imagined she was only three or four yards behind, but with the diesel like noise that seemed to be coming from everywhere and the blasted fog, she couldn’t be sure.

The noise stopped.

Izzy did too.

The fog started to fade.

Lila was about fifty feet in front of her and off to the left. Izzy had been going almost in the right direction, but not quite.

The cloak of invisibility vanishing, Izzy dropped to the ground as Lila broke right, sprinting like she was running for the tape. In seconds she was at the right side of the small house that Manny Wayne had dubbed as “the barracks.” If Tucker Wayne had been in there, he’d’ve seen her, but he hadn’t shot her.

How come?

And in the flick of an instant Izzy answered herself.

He wasn’t in there.

How come Lila couldn’t see that?

If Tucker wasn’t in the small house, where was he? Izzy looked over to the main house. It faced to the southwest, the barracks was off to its right and about a half a football field in front of it, affording Manny Wayne plenty of privacy while having his security guards not that far away. Could they have missed Tucker when they’d swept through the main house? Could he have been upstairs?

Izzy didn’t see any signs of life over there, so she didn’t think so, because if he’d been there with one of those machine pistols, he’d’ve cut Lila down.

She turned her attention back to the small house. It looked almost like the house she’d grown up in with her parents. It faced to the northeast, had a large bay window dead center in the front of the house, a window to it’s right, which in the house she’d grown up in would have been her bedroom, who knew what use it was put to here. And also like the house she’d loved, there was a front porch on the left, no porch swing here. Izzy imagined a living room on the other side of the front door, but that’s as far as her imagination would take here. This wasn’t the cozy little house she’d loved. There wasn’t any love here. This was a cold place.

Looking at the two houses, Izzy wondered why neither was built facing the northwest, where they’d’ve had a view of downtown Reno and it’s colorful lights. She couldn’t imagine a better view than that. Instead the main house faced the massive front yard which, other than a couple large trees, had nothing spectacular about it, except for the ugly fence that surrounded the property. The view from the barracks took in those trees as well as the main house. It was almost as if Manny Wayne didn’t want to acknowledge the world outside his domain and almost as if he didn’t care about beauty. It was all so desolate and with the exception of those two trees, barren.

Attention back on the small house, Izzy saw that Lila was in motion. Like herself, Lila dropped to the ground. Then she belly crawled along the front of the house. She was snake fast as she slithered under the window on the right, then under the bay window. Once past the windows she pushed herself to her feet, a pistol still in each hand with the one in her left pointed at the front door, like she’d expected Tucker to come bursting out of it.

But Tucker wasn’t in there. How come she couldn’t she see that?

Lila stood to the side of the door, aimed at the doorknob. She was going to blast it apart, but before she could fire, a man stepped out from behind the tree closest to the house.

Izzy shot him through the back.

Chapter Twenty-Two

With the girls free it was all Mouledoux could do to keep them from charging out of the relative, but temporary, safety of the bedroom.

“ We don’t know what’s going on down there,” he said.

“ But we know we don’t want to stay here,” Amy Eisenhower said.

“ Yeah, we know that,” her friend Alicia seconded.

A rolling sound, almost like distant thunder, filled the room. Earthquake was Mouledoux’s first thought. However, as the sound continued, he knew it was something else.

But before he got a chance to wonder about it a burst of automatic fire cut through the resonating sound. For a minute or so he’d thought it might be all over and when the rumbling ceased and a single shot rang out, he knew it was.

Eisenhower and Booth had killed them all and he was next on the list. He pulled his weapon. “I’ll go and see what’s what. You two stay till I get back.”

“ No way,” Alicia said.

“ Yeah, no way,” Amy echoed.

“ I can’t go out there with the two of you,” Mouledoux said, but if he wanted to survive this night, that was exactly what he should do. However, in the oft chance he was wrong, that Manny Wayne and his men had prevailed, then going down there with them would be suicide.

It was a tough decision. If he went down without the girls and encountered Eisenhower or Booth, they’d shoot first and ask no questions. If he went down with them and Wayne and his men were the victors, same thing. He bet on the women.

“ Okay, we’re going down, but I want you two to stay behind me and do exactly as I say.”

“ Yes, sir?” Amy said.

***

Mansfield Wayne groaned as he came to. And though he was in kind of a sleep fog, he was racked in pain. His back felt like the skin had been ripped off. The back of his head hurt like there was no tomorrow. His heart was racing out of control. He couldn’t breathe out of his nose, which was radiating pain.

He felt like he was going to die.

But then again, he was dying, so with an effort most couldn’t muster, he blocked out the pain and tried to focus, which became a lot easier when he’d heard the gunfire from outside. That brought him instantly alert. Still on the carpet, he looked for his pistol, spied the magnum under his desk, crawled to it, grasped it and forced himself into a sitting position, when he’d heard a single gunshot.

Then silence.

“ I thought I told you to go to the main house to find the girls.” Lila stepped off the porch, came toward Izzy with a block wide grin as she holstered her weapons. Izzy thought she looked like an angel.

“ You’re not the boss of me.”

“ Apparently not.”

The fog was gone now and it was quiet, not even a breeze. It was as if the fog and the noise had come of their own accord and had come as allies. Job done and no longer needed, they’d gone.

“ Let’s go find your girls,” Lila said.

“ That’s got my vote.”

Mouledoux was at the bedroom door, about to step out into the hallway, when he got an idea. He turned to the girls.

“ Instead of going down there and maybe getting killed, I think we should move to the bedroom down the hall.”

“ Why?” Amy said.

“ We can wait there till we see who comes up after you. If it’s your grandmother, then all is good. If it’s the Waynes, I’ll be behind them, with this.” He held up his thirty-eight, waggled it. “I’ll have the drop on them.”

“ I don’t like that idea,” Alicia said.

“ Me neither,” Amy said. “I’d rather we just went on down there and if it’s the bad guys, you just shoot ’em.”

“ What?”

“ That way, if Nana is still out there and still alive, you can help.”

“ Yeah,” Alicia said. “She might need our help. So let’s go.”

“ Alright.” And with his weapon in front of him, Mouledoux stepped out into the hallway. He turned back to the girls, who were right on his tail and whispered. “Let’s be real quiet, okay?”

They nodded and he led them toward the stairs.

Manny Wayne was as alert as he’d ever been when he heard the front door open. Who was it, the women or Tucker and his men?

His office door, which led into the foyer, was wide open. Cat quick and cat quiet, he moved behind it, peering through the crack between the door and the wall as Lila Booth and Isadora Eisenhower came through the front door.

He held his breath, willed himself to be quiet, silent as the two women passed by. They were both wearing the dusters that Lila liked and their weapons were holstered. It was over, they’d finished it.

He had grossly underestimated Lila and the Eisenhower woman. How could he have made such a mistake? He tightened his grip on the magnum. They were all dead, Tucker too. Lila would have made sure of that. She must’ve come upon him and Peeps and mistakenly thought he was dead as well. That was her mistake and the last one she was ever going to make.

He moved out behind the women, magnum in hand. It was time for Lila Booth to die. He pointed the big gun at her back, but he couldn’t pull the trigger, couldn’t shoot her in the back, because even after all she’d done, how she’d betrayed him, he was Manny Wayne and back shooting wasn’t his style. Besides, he wanted her to know where it was coming from.

He wanted to see her eyes when he pulled the trigger.

He wanted to savor the moment.

“ Move and you’re dead!” he said and the women froze. “Hands on your heads or I punch a whole through Lila big enough for me to put my fist through.”

The women did as he instructed.

“ Turn around.”

The women did.

If he’d thought the cancer was bad, the pain radiating out from his back was ten times worse. Any other man would be on the floor, but Manny prided himself on the fact that he wasn’t any other man. He’d grown up thinking he was extraordinary, believing it, and the fact that his hand was steady, that the big gun was unwavering, proved it.

“ Did you wet your pants, Manny?” Lila had a sneer in her voice and a smile on her face. She wasn’t afraid. Neither was Eisenhower, but then she needn’t be, she knew he wouldn’t harm her. At least not until he’d learned her secret.

“ Tucker?” Manny had to know for sure.

“ Dead,” Lila said.

“ As so shall you be.”

Izzy braced herself as the sound of a single gunshot ricocheted throughout the room. But instead of Lila collapsing to the floor, Manny Wayne jerked backwards, like he’d been swatted with a sledge. His gun flew from his hand when he hit the floor, body quivering in it’s death throws.

“ I really didn’t like that son of a bitch.” A man’s voice from behind said as Manny Wayne’s body went still.

Lowering their hands, the women turned as a lanky man came down the stairs, with Amy and Alicia following. He had a pistol in his right hand and it was trained on Lila.

“ Dr. Eisenhower, we meet again.” He nodded toward Izzy, but kept his eyes on Lila. Then to her, “Sorry I didn’t keep my word. I tried, but sometimes shit happens.”

“ You got here awful fast, Detective Mouledoux,” Lila said, “considering how we left you.”

“ Yeah, I guess I did,” Mouledoux said.

“ Are you one of Manny’s tame cops, like Peeps?”

“ No, not like Peeps.” He was at the bottom of the stairs now, in the living room, but a respectable distance away from Izzy and Lila. The girls flanked him, Amy on his left, Alicia on his right.

“ He’s a good guy, Miss Booth,” Alicia said.

“ You know me?” Lila said.

“ I heard him talking about you?” Alicia pointed to the dead Manny Wayne.

“ He didn’t want to admit it,” Amy said, “but he was afraid of you.”

“ And well he should have been,” Lila said. She turned toward Mouledoux. “There is no police business here. You can put your weapon away.”

“ I think not just yet.” He kept his gun on Lila, but Amy grabbed the barrel, snatched it from his hand.

“ What-” But before Mouledoux had a chance to react, Lila whipped the forty-five from her leg holster, trained it on the cop. She was fast, like any of the quickdraw cowboys Izzy had read about when she was a little girl.

“ Now I feel a bit more comfortable,” Lila said.

“ Don’t shoot him, Miss Booth,” Alicia said.

“ Yeah,” Amy said. “He was rescuing us.”

“ Really?” Izzy was surprised.

“ It’s true, Nana.”

And to Izzy it did look true. The man could have done the cowardly thing and grabbed one of the girls to use as a shield, but he didn’t. And neither did the girls run from him once he’d been disarmed.

“ We can’t kill this one,” Izzy said.

“ I know,” Lila said, “but it would be so much tidier if we could.”

“ I understand that,” the policeman said. “You need to keep Dr. Eisenhower’s secret safe.” He spread his hands, palms forward, in front of himself. “I’ve already forgotten it.”

“ You gave me your word once before and you broke it,” Lila said. “How can I trust you now?”

“ I didn’t have any choice,” Mouledoux said. “I could have stayed out of it, like I promised, but I’m a cop, these girls were in trouble.”

“ You’re not here because of Izzy’s secret?” Lila said. “You’re not after the Fountain of Youth?”

“ If I was, that would be you dead over there, instead of Mansfield Wayne.”

“ Good point,” Izzy said. “You can put your gun away, Lila.”

“ Not just yet.” She kept it pointed at the policeman. “Izzy and I and these girls are going to have to leave this place before it’s crawling with cops. Then I’m going to disappear, maybe Izzy’s going to vanish too, I don’t know, but I am and so I need a favor.”

“ Ask,” Mouledoux said.

“ There’s an old man named Harvey Weinstein.” She told Mouledoux where he lived. “He wants a big dog. Out back there are two who are needing a new home.”

“ What are their names?” Mouledoux said.

“ They’ll be needing new ones,” Lila said.

“ I’ll see he gets them. Anything else?”

“ You forget all about us.”

“ That goes without saying.”

“ Isadora Eisenhower, are you in there?” A woman from outside shouted. A woman with a strange accent.