I’m not proud of the fact, but I did. I turned tail and ran back the way I’d come, then took off of the track to wade into the shallow water at the lakes edge to hide in the tall weeds and flickering shadows next to the walkway. I didn’t go under the arch, that would be the first place I would look, and probably the first he would as well. I knelt in the muddy water, holding Shameless next to me with my fake arm to keep it out of the water. I clung to him and shook, the hood of my sweatshirt pulled down to cover most of my face and keep my eyes from shining white in the shadows. I held my right index finger against my lip in the gesture I’d used to teach Shameless to be silent and still. God love him, he obeyed. It wasn’t usually his best thing, but this time, he obeyed perfectly. And while I felt his muscles tighten as footsteps approached, and his hackles raise, he didn’t make a sound. Even though his lips pulled back to expose his teeth, he didn’t growl, didn’t move a muscle.
A flashlight swept the shadows under the little bridge looking for us and I was glad we weren’t there. It swept nearby, across the reedy weeds, revealing some deadwood and a couple of Canada geese that shifted irritably.
He didn’t find us, but he knew we were there.
Irish–I hadn’t been called by that nickname since the service. I hadn’t much liked it then, which was probably why it had stuck.
“Yeah, I saw you. And I know you saw me.”
He paused. “You’ve got a dog.”
Jared Winston always said he didn’t “like” dogs. The truth was he was afraid of them. He’d been mauled by a neighbor’s dog when he was ten or so–and while he’d never admitted it outright, I got the impression it was after he’d tormented the poor beast.
“I don’t like dogs. But you know that. Just like I know you. You’re such a tight ass. No way you’re going to be able to walk away from this. Doesn’t matter how much you owe me. Your sense of ‘right and wrong’ won’t let you let it go.”
I didn’t answer. First, I wasn’t stupid. Second, I didn’t have one. I did owe him. But he wasn’t wrong. He’d murdered that man. I’d seen him do it. No way at that close range the poor bastard would’ve survived. Jared was good at killing–just like everything else he did, and thorough. The man was dead. If Shameless or I moved, or made a sound, he’d kill us too.
“I don’t have time for this now. Sun’s coming up. But we’ll talk. Soon.”
I waited a long time before I left the water. The sun was well up by then and Shameless had grown increasingly restless. Soaked to the skin, bug bitten, and worried, I hurried to where I’d parked the car before starting the run.
It was unlocked.
Had it been unlocked before?
I didn’t think so. But I wasn’t sure.
I swore. Maybe I was just being (more than usually) paranoid.
Maybe I wasn’t.
Jared Winston is a scary bastard. I’ve seen what he is capable of, and it had worried me, even back when we were supposedly on the same side. Now, clearly, we weren’t. And while I’m relatively bad-ass, I have limits. He really doesn’t.
I drove home pondering what I should do. Once there, I gave Shameless a wash down, then myself a long, hot shower—both to get clean and to try to relax. The latter didn’t work. My muscles were still in tight knots when I heard the ruckus in the back yard.
Shameless and Norman were going at it.
I exited the shower swearing, and continued the blue language as I rapidly toweled myself sort-of-half-dry and pulled on clean clothes. I was damp and barefoot when I thundered out the back door and off the deck, just in time to witness the de-tailing of the panicked rodent. Wounded, terrified and angry, he took off up the tree, leaving a trail of blood on the bark and a celebrating wolfhound behind.
“Oh dear God what a day.” I sighed. My dog had obviously gotten the best of the altercation, but he had some deep scratches that would need tending, and the vet would probably want to give him a rabies booster.
“Shit. It had to be this morning you caught him?” Shameless pranced around with his prize in his teeth, bloody, but unbowed and certainly unrepentant.
“Fine. Let me get some shoes on and we’ll get you to the vet.”
I didn’t smell gas when I was getting ready to leave. The dog didn’t react either. I suppose that doesn’t mean anything, but the gas company deliberately puts that scent in to what would normally be an odorless gas just to make sure people have warning and can get clear in case it builds up enough to set off an explosion.
I didn’t smell gas before I left. But while I was sitting with Shameless in the waiting room of my vet three blocks down I heard the explosion, felt the building shudder in response, and smelled fire and death. My head went back to another time, another explosion, remembered terror and pain . . .
Shameless brought me “back” licking my face, leaning against me, whimpering hard–anything and everything to get my attention, bring me back to him, to the here and now.
“Good boy. Good boy.” I croaked out a bare whisper from a throat that felt torn. Had I been screaming? Maybe. Shit. I must have. The vet and the nurses were staring at me.
“It’s okay.” The doctor lied and shot a meaningful look at his staff. “It’s fine.”
No. It really wasn’t.
“Sally? Any idea what that was?”
“Sally, his assistant, was standing outside the open front door to the clinic. I could hear sirens wailing in the background, coming closer.
“Looks like something happened a couple of blocks away. There’s all kinds of smoke. Maybe it was a gas explosion.”
“Well, whatever it was, we need to get back to work.” The vet tried to sound businesslike, but there was a tiny tremor in his voice. He was tough, and hid it well. I doubt any of his staff noticed. But they hadn’t been in battle before.
God help me. I had.