Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
At the side yard, he reached over the top of the gate and unlatched the locking mechanism from its cradle. The gate swung silently. He advanced to the corner of the house and peered over a planter full of barrel cactus. Karen looked cold, hugging herself in the damp air. He issued a low, warbling whistle. She hurried over.
“What’s the situation?”
“He’s inside with Cindy.”
“I don’t know.”
“Has he hurt her?”
“I don’t know!”
“My Mustang’s down the block.”
“I can’t leave Cindy.”
“I’ll handle this.”
“Karen, please. Get going.”
Anger begin to stir as he pictured Cindy being brutalized by the guy. It tightened his body with adrenaline, threatening to overwhelm him. He closed his eyes, slowed his breathing, and relaxed his hands. When he’d calmed his mind, he removed his shirt and dropped it to the deck. He didn’t want to give his opponent anything to grab.
He pulled his handgun and followed the rear wall of the house, his movements precise and silent. At each dark window, he paused and listened. All quiet. No sound at all. Working his way through the maze of potted plants and patio furniture, he approached the sliding glass door. Detecting no movement, he slipped inside.
He heard it right away. A man’s voice. Muffled, from down the hall behind a closed door.
Another surge of adrenaline swept through him, this time under his command. A smile touched his lips. Nathan McBride, in his environment.
The next sound banished the smile, an unmistakable sound of a hand slapping flesh. Nathan kicked the door so violently it tore away from its hinges. Fully clothed, Cindy cowered on the floor in a corner, her legs tucked against her chest. The left side of her face showed a fresh impact.
The man leaning over her whipped around and squinted. “You.”
Just as Nathan recalled, this guy was solid muscle and huge, taller by an inch or two. With his shaved head and hourglass torso, he looked like a bouncer. To anyone else, he might’ve looked intimidating. To Nathan, he was three hundred pounds of hamburger with an amphibian’s brain attached.
Nathan stepped forward and slapped him with his free hand, a wet, meaty impact on the man’s cheek. He moved back and waited for the reaction he knew was coming.
He looked Nathan in the eyes, looked at the gun, and then looked him in the eyes again.
“What, this?” Nathan tossed the Sig Sauer onto the carpet at the man’s feet.
His expression confused, the bouncer looked down at the gun and unconsciously wiped his nostrils with his thumb and forefinger. Cocaine.
If this guy had any sense of reality, he would’ve surrendered right then and there, because he was now face-to-face with a shirtless opponent, covered in menacing scars who looked like he belonged in a bare-knuckle, cage-fighting match on an alien war planet. But this man wasn’t thinking straight. No doubt he was accustomed to winning fights. Well, that was about to change.
Ignoring the gun at his feet, the bouncer lowered his head and charged.
Nathan saw it coming.
He sidestepped and shoved the man into the wall. The guy’s head struck the drywall and left a cereal-bowl impression in its surface. Nathan kicked him in the ass, making the impression deeper. The man grunted, cursed, and yanked himself free.
Nathan stepped back. “It’s a little cramped in here,” he said. “Shall we finish this in the living room?”
Nathan gestured toward the door and moved aside, allowing the bouncer to exit the bedroom first. He pointed at Cindy. “Stay here.” Following at a safe distance, he sensed his opponent disappear around the living room corner more than he saw it. Then he heard a metallic sound and knew what it was.
The fireplace iron.
Nathan took loud, deliberate steps down the hall and stopped four feet short of the corner. The poker’s black form
and penetrated the wall where he would’ve been had he kept going. He kicked the bouncer’s arm, pinning it to the wall, and had the satisfaction of feeling the mid-ulna and radius bones snap. The hand released the iron and fell away.
“That’s gotta hurt,” Nathan said. “Had enough?”
He stepped into the living room and the bouncer charged again, surprisingly fast, but not fast enough.
Nathan ducked low before thrusting upward with all his strength.
The man literally flew over Nathan’s back and landed with a grunt. He rolled onto his belly, tried to get up, and seemed surprised when one of his arms didn’t work.
“Broken,” Nathan said.
“You’re a dead man.”
Nathan spread his arms and looked down at himself.
The bouncer struggled to his feet and lunged forward with a left jab zeroed at Nathan’s jaw. Anticipating the punch, Nathan jerked his head to the right and snapped up with his left elbow, smashing the man’s nose. That was a bingo. For 99.9 percent of Earth’s population, that level of blunt-force trauma did the trick. Party over. Lights out. Send the babysitter home. But this man simply wiped his nose and squinted at the fresh blood on his fingers.
“It was cocked about thirteen degrees to the right,” Nathan said. “It’s straight now. No charge.”
The bouncer grabbed a toppled chair with his good hand and hurled it. Nathan ducked. Behind him, the glass door shattered.
Roaring like a maniac, the bouncer charged a third time.
He never made it.
His foot caught on the corner of the coffee table. Had the fall not landed him squarely on an overturned chair, it would’ve been comical, but his left eye socket made solid contact with the bottom of the chair’s leg. Three hundred pounds of momentum… With a little luck the eye could be saved, provided it wasn’t dangling out of the socket.
The man rolled into the fetal position and cupped his eye with his good hand.
Nathan felt it, a tangible presence evaporating from the room.
This fight was over.
An absurd memory flashed through his mind, something his mother used to say:
It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
He hoped that wouldn’t be the case here. Spending the next fifty years with a glass eye and no depth perception wouldn’t be a fair trade for slapping Cindy. A broken arm and pulverized nose should be punishment enough.
“Come on,” Nathan said. “Let’s have a look. It’s over, okay?”
The big guy staggered to his knees, still holding his left hand over his eye.
“I’m gonna look at that eye. If you try anything, we’ll start over.”
Nathan flipped a wall switch and squinted at the sudden brightness. Clutching his eye, the bouncer looked broken and bloody, like a bully who’d finally met his match.
“Let me see your eye. Easy now. What’s your name?”
He slowly removed his hand. “Toby.”
Blood was streaming out of Toby’s nose and running down his lips and chin. Nathan examined the eye from a safe distance. Fortunately, the impact hadn’t been directly on the orbit itself. It had missed by half an inch, but the skin was laid open on the upper brow.
“Well, Toby, I’ve got good news. You aren’t going to lose your eye, but you’ll have one hell of a shiner. You had a close call here.” He paused to make sure he had Toby’s full attention. “You can blow this experience off, or you can use it to turn your life around, to walk a different path.” Nathan watched him ponder the comment for a few seconds. Toby was a big man—huge, really—and people often associated his kind of size with stupidity. Nathan was also big, not like this guy, but he often felt people treated him as though he was all muscle and no brains.
“I lose my temper,” Toby said.
“I noticed. Did you notice things I said were designed to make you lose your temper?”
“I can’t help it.”
“Yes, you can.”
Toby said nothing.
Nathan crouched down. “Here’s what I do. When I feel anger coming on, and I really want to hurt someone, I stop it by using a mental image. I call it a safety catch. You can call it anything you want. For me, it’s a safety catch. With me so far?”
“Okay. Picture autumn-colored leaves falling from trees and gently settling on the ground all around you. Give it a try. Start by closing your eyes and imagining it.”
To Nathan’s surprise, Toby closed his eyes.
“You’re standing under the trees with your head tilted up, your arms out the sides, palms up. The leaves are falling all around you, brushing against your skin. Breathe in deep. Let it out slowly. See the leaves as they flutter past you. They’re moving in perfect harmony. Each leaf picks up a small piece of anger and carries it away. Take another deep breath and let it out slowly.”
Toby looked pretty calm for a moment, then winced. “Oh man, my arm hurts.”
“You’re just now noticing that?”
Toby nodded again.
“How high are you?”
“A couple lines.”
“Do yourself a favor and lay off the blow. You’ll save a ton of money, and you’ll enjoy life a whole lot more. Life is rich with detail. You need to see the world around you, be aware of its details. You may need some help to quit, but as soon as you realize you don’t need drugs to have fun, you’ll have the problem licked.”
“I’ll try. You fight well.”
“Like I said, it’s all about details. I knew you were on some sort of amphetamine high because your pupils were too small for the ambient light in the room. I knew you were right-handed because you used it to wipe your nose. You’re right-footed because you took your first step toward the door with your right foot. I wanted that info in case you were a kickboxer. I knew when you were going to charge because your eyes gave you away. Stuff like that. It can save your life. It’s all about the details.”
“Those scars all over your body?”
“What do they tell you?”
“Somebody did that to you on purpose.”
“Why did they cut my stomach and back?”
Toby thought about it a few seconds. “No major arteries.”
“You were a soldier and got captured, they tortured you.”
“Sit tight for now. You’re going to need some stitches and that arm needs to be set. When you get to the emergency room, don’t lie to them. Tell them you were in a fight. Observe the doctors and nurses closely. Learn from them. Ask them questions. Ask them what they’re looking for when they examine your eyes and take your blood pressure. Ask them how broken bones heal.”
Toby said nothing, just looked around the room as if he were already seeing things from a new perspective.
“Make sure the vision in your left eye doesn’t become blurred or doubled over time. If it does, see a specialist right away, okay? Your retina got jarred. Hopefully, not too badly. I want you to wait here while I bring the women back in. They’re human beings, Toby, not just objects of entertainment. They have feelings. Like you and me.”
“I should leave.”
“Not yet. You need a few butterfly bandages to control the bleeding.” Nathan retrieved a clean washcloth from the kitchen and folded it into a quarter of its original size. “Hold this over the cut with pressure. Is your truck an automatic or stick?”
“Think you can drive?”
Nathan patted his shoulder. “Details. Start noticing them.” He retrieved his 9-millimeter from the bedroom and told Cindy to follow him. They left the house through the front door and found Mara and Karen sitting in his Mustang.
“Party’s over,” Nathan said.
Karen climbed out and hugged Cindy. “Are you okay?” She looked at Nathan. “Is he gone?”
“No, but he will be soon. I think you’ll find he’s sorry for what he did.”
She stared at him for several seconds. “We’ll see about that.”
He led the women back into the house. As Nathan hoped, Toby apologized and offered to pay for all the damage he’d caused. Karen said she’d forego the money if he agreed to never come back and they struck a deal. When Nathan was sure things had cooled down and Toby was no longer a threat, he motioned for Mara to follow him. Once outside, he removed his wallet and handed her a wad of hundred-dollar bills. “To cover the damage.”
She was reluctant to take the money, but accepted it with thanks and a long hug.
“You could’ve hurt that guy a lot worse than you did.”
Nathan didn’t respond.
“Did you want to?”
“At first.” He answered her unspoken question. “I saw something in him.”
Mara stared for several seconds, hugging herself in the cool air. “If you ever want to talk, I mean, you know, just talk.…”
He turned to leave.
“I’ll call you soon. Thanks, Mara.”
He retrieved his shirt from the rear deck and pulled it on. On his way back to his Mustang, he diverted over to Toby’s truck, pulled a business card from his wallet, and set it against the Plexiglas cover of the speedometer where it wouldn’t be overlooked. It was a dual message he was sure Toby would understand. He slid into his car and waited. Sitting there, he ran the whole encounter back through his mind. Mara was right. He could’ve hurt Toby, hurt him badly. He knew the consuming rage Toby felt. Knew it well. But over the years since his captivity, he’d learned to control it, to use it like a tool and make it work for him, not against him. Maybe Toby could too.
His cell rang. “Harv. Sorry about that.”
“No worries. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. I’ll call you right back.”
“You got it.”
Toby walked out the front door a few minutes later, his right arm hanging uselessly. Using compact field glasses he kept in the glove box, Nathan watched Toby grab the business card from the dashboard. The big man stared at it for several seconds before backing out of the driveway. Keeping his headlights off, Nathan followed Toby’s truck until it was clear of the neighborhood.
He called Harvey back.
His partner answered after the first ring. “All right, tell me what happened.”
“One of Karen’s girls got slapped around by that big guy I told you about last week.”
“I put a reprimand in his personnel file.”