This posting features Chapter 45 of my ongoing action novel, The Day of the Gun.
He was thinking of Fat Girl, his cat, and wondering whether her eyes glowed red in the dark. She had led a cushy life before his recent home invasion. Had the amateur assassins hurt her? Was she okay? Who was minding the homestead?
With these troubling thoughts, he awoke. He could tell by the amount of light filtering into the room through the curtains that it was morning. Glancing at the alarm clock, he saw that it was 8:18 a.m.
Bolting upright, an electric current shot through his body. His wounded arm screamed into his ear: welcome to another bright, sunny day, jerk!
Wincing, he kicked the covers off his legs and climbed out of bed. Cradling his shoulder, he limped into the bathroom to urinate. Looking at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror, he was overcome by vanity. Damn, I look so old.
Flushing the toilet, he washed his hands and face. He wished he had packed a toothbrush or other toiletries, but creature comforts would have to wait until later. For now, they needed to get on the road.
“Okay, Mary Ellen, rise and shine,” he said as he walked into the room and flicked on the light switch. The lump under the covers remained motionless. “Let’s get some coffee and find a drive-thru for breakfast.”
He noticed 38 cents on the bedside table but the car keys and his wallet were gone.
“Damn!” Racing around his bed, he leaned over the lump and, using his good arm, yanked away the covers. Three large pillows were arranged in a line to resemble a human body, but Mary Ellen Johnston was nowhere to be found.
Steve was livid. “Jesus.” He shook his fists, sending spasms of pain through his injured appendage. The pain was so sharp and intense that he fell back onto his bed.
As he lay there, he reached down with his good arm and felt between the mattress and box spring, pulling the Glock from its hiding place.
Thank God for small favors.
He had no idea how long she had been gone, but chances were good she was already out the door when he woke up during the night. In fact, he was almost positive. Now that his brain was not numbed with pain and fatigue — well, fatigue, anyway — he remembered that her breathing seemed much softer when he awoke to find the lights had been turned off. It was no wonder. Her breathing was soft because she was not in the room. How had he been so stupid? He would never have fallen for such a ruse in the old days.
Relax. You were exhausted. You were in pain.
She had taken his wallet and the car keys; she could be anywhere by now. The question, of course, was where “anywhere” might be.
Sitting up, he fought his way to his feet and slowly lifted the curtain. Gazing into the parking lot, he saw that the Accord was missing.
Just calm down. Think! Would she have gone to the police? Would Tony the Knife’s men have tracked her down?
He reached for the remote control and flicked on the TV. Shuffling through the channels, he found Headline News. An earthquake had struck central Pakistan. Lots of blood and carnage. Kobe had scored big in a critical game. The aging lion still lived to fight another day. The president was announcing a bold new initiative in the war on terror. Let’s prevent another 9/11. The police had no new leads in the hospital shooting — at least no leads they cared to mention.
He sat on the bed. What should I do now? With no money and no car, he was essentially stranded. The gun offered a measure of protection, but he needed something more.
Lifting the handset for the hotel phone, he dialed a telephone number from memory. After four or five rings, a familiar voice answered.
“This is Stacey.”
“Gregg. It’s me.”
“Who?” A pause. “Steve? Oh, thank God.”
“No names, please. You don’t know who might be listening.”
“Where are you? The shooting’s all over the news. The place is crawling with FBI, ATF. Roth swears I know where you are. He’s threatening subpoenas, contempt of court —”
“Let me interrupt you here. I need a favor.”
“You need to turn yourself in.”
“Not before I know what’s going on.”
“Look now, we know it was self-defense. Marciano’s probably behind it.”
“Just listen, please.” Steve outlined recent events and explained what he needed to put his plan into place. His lawyer kept interrupting, and Steve kept overriding his objections.
“Okay. Okay, you win. You’ve beat me down. What? Hold on.” The sounds of talking grew louder. “Hey, I’ve got a client here and my secretary seems to be missing in action. Let me take care of this and I’ll meet you as planned.”
“Okay. Thanks. Be careful.”
The phone call ended. Steve should have felt better — after all, he had mapped out a course of action — but something bothered him. He couldn’t put his finger on it. He had a clear and distinct feeling that time was running out.