Authors: Jonathon King
Book six of the bestselling Max Freeman mystery series: Max investigates a conspiracy involving corrupt cops, fraud, and a drug kingpin from his past as he fights to save what he loves most Max is back, trawling the trailer parks and waterways of South Florida, where amid the gorgeous beaches and abundant foliage there lies a stunning range of brutality.
After Max is hired to investigate a conspiracy involving fake claims to Medicare, he quickly realizes the scheme is much more dangerous than anyone assumed. And when the Brown Man, a former drug kingpin who once helped Max nab a serial killer, reappears in a slick new guise, Max must reclaim his street instincts to protect not just the citizens of South Florida, but also his girlfriend, Detective Sherry Richards—the one person he can’t afford to lose.
OU SHOULD HAVE seen it coming—been smarter. Been quicker. Been wiser.
But it always works like that, doesn’t it? It’s only after the fact that you start looking at it from that useless “what if” viewpoint.
you’d seen the signs?
you’d done things differently?
you’d seen it coming and avoided having your legs sheared off by five thousand pounds of speeding metal?
Why couldn’t you see it was all working backward that night? You always liked the night shift, the change in people, the way they walked different, talked different, and looked different: the way they eased up from their daytime drudgery and let loose a little bit. It was at night that people dropped the layer of inhibition that made them a bunch of boring civilians. Working the night shift was always better than punching the clock in the daytime world, with all its mind-numbing rules and procedures.
The other upside is that nighttime is also when the street criminals come out. The same darkness and shadows that make regular folks feel a little more obscure also spike up the chance of shit hitting the fan. As a cop, you can have a little fun busting some asshole for breaking and entering, or holding up a Stop and Rob, or actually attempting a real rape down on the beachfront. But any patrol cop will also tell you that despite the so-called crime rate, real shit doesn’t happen nearly enough in one guy’s sector to keep the boredom from creeping up your spine and making you wiggle your ass in the seat of the car, or making you wanna just get out and run a few laps on the empty high school track under the security lights, or prop your toes up on the front bumper of the patrol car and do a hundred push-ups on the parking lot in front of Fire Engine Company No. 5. You know those pussies are inside watching you from their cushy break room, and that there’s no way they’re gonna come outside and get challenged on how many reps they can do.
So you’re cool with the night shift. But that night, it was all goddamned backward. And you didn’t see it coming.
Instead of covering your usual sector, you were gonna have to shift gears, because the local highway patrol division was short three troopers. The sergeant told you that you had to drive out of the neighborhoods and do a few runs down I-595, ‘cause there’d been some bullshit reporting of speed gunners doing hundred-mile-an-hour blow-downs from the tollbooth at the entrance of Alligator Alley; some poor civilian might freak out and get whammed in the contest. Yeah, whatever.
Now instead of creeping the streets, you were doing the opposite, laying a speed trap on the interstate, cruising the inside lane at fifty-five m.p.h., and occasionally pulling off onto the shoulder with the lights off, waiting—being bored out of your fucking mind. No speeders. No high-speed chase—just the opposite. Nobody’s shooting more than five or ten m.h. over the posted limit, and what the hell, you ain’t wasting your time running
down. So you pop some super protein tabs and crank up the iPod, which is completely against the rules, and you’re listening to some good old classic AC/DC when there in the rearview is some driver whose got to be doing thirty-five m.h. in the middle lane, screwing everybody up.
You’re watching, and it makes you cringe just to see how slow this idiot’s going. Then just as the car passes, you see the driver’s profile: one of those old white-hairs leaning toward the windshield, eyes squinting and nose nearly touching the steering wheel as though that extra six inches is going to allow her to see a hundred feet further down the road. And then you hear the horn of the guy coming up behind her, who has been fooled by the taillights of her old Lincoln Town Car. Unexpectedly, those lights come racing up into his face, he hits the horn as he swerves past the old lady, and there goes that
of sound that gets bent by the Doppler effect.
Shit! Now you’ve got to do something, right? You are out here with the fucking mandate to stop accidents from happening, right?
So you pull the iPod buds out of your ears, and on go your headlights. On go the spinning blues on the light bar, and out you pull onto the interstate to catch up to Miss Marple. Everything is backward. You’re not chasing some hopped-up nineteen-year-old flier; you’re stopping your grandmother for going too slow.
Cussing, you push the patrol car to fifty m.h. to catch up. For now, you stay off the siren, not wanting to scare the shit out of the old lady. You slow up just behind her and slide just to her outside mirror so she can’t miss the spinning lights now flashing into her car’s interior and making everything pulsate in blue, even her white hair. Sure enough, she doesn’t slow down a bit. Other cars around and behind you are slowing because they can see the damn lights. And like most drivers in the world, their natural tendency is to slow down when they see a cop, because God forbid they did something wrong, or were running ten miles over the limit themselves. So they all slow down for thirty seconds. But once they see it’s somebody else getting yanked, they all jack it back up to seventy.
You know this is true because you’re a cop and you know the paranoia you invoke. And you’re kind of proud of it. But what the hell is wrong with this old biddy, who’s not stopping or even slowing down but instead sticking to thirty-five m.h. like her life depended on it.
Then you think: God, I hope this isn’t one of those Chicken Little, the sky is falling, dipshits who’s heard the story of the fake officer who pulls people over with a red light on their dash, and then rapes and robs them. OK, you’ve heard it, too, but never with any detail as to what jurisdiction and exactly what was threatened, or specifically what was stolen. You’re not sure it isn’t just one of those urban legends, like the alligators in the sewer and the boa constrictor in the toilet plumbing. But shit, this broad ain’t reacting at all.
So against all rules of procedure, you finally get frustrated, flick on the siren, and pull around in front of the Town Car and slow down yourself, using this maneuver to make her stop behind you. See what I mean? Backward—just fucking backward.
Now you get out. And against the shine of her headlights, you shade your eyes and walk back to her vehicle. You’re absolutely second-guessing why the hell you even decided to do this, thinking you should have just let her get rear-ended and not wasted your time. But you do, without malice or forethought, just by habit, have your right hand resting on the butt of your 9 mm. Maybe that’s why the old girl is already crying, with her hands raised up into the fabric ceiling of the Town Car, pleading in a high hysterical voice, “Please, Officer, please don’t shoot me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I was just trying to get to the airport to pick up my daughter. I didn’t mean to be unlawful. I’m sorry! Please don’t shoot me!”
“It’s OK, ma’am. It’s OK,” you’re saying, now showing her the palms of both of your hands and spreading your fingers and flapping them down with that international sign language to just calm the fuck down.
“Take it easy,” you say. “I’m just trying to help you, ma’am. Please.”
As you bend to show your face in her window, you see the watery blue eyes and the tension in the wrinkled forehead and the flaccid muscles of her arms shaking with the effort to keep her hands up.
“Please, ma’am. You can put your hands down, please. Just let me see your driver’s license and registration, please,” you say, now falling back into procedural mode and realizing that you haven’t done due diligence by calling in the tag number before making the stop. Now you have to rectify your own miscue.
“I was only concerned, ma’am, that you might be having trouble negotiating the freeway. It is dark, ma’am, and traffic moves fairly briskly along this stretch of road. I was afraid you were traveling at a dangerously slow rate, uh, Mrs. Mitchell,” you say, now looking at the license, which is a renewal she’s probably received through the mail for the last forty years without having to take an eye or reflex test. Her date of birth, you can now see, is 1936.
So after telling her to please stay in the car, you walk around to the back of her vehicle. Backward, right? What the fuck were you thinking? No cop in his right mind makes a traffic stop with his lights spinning
of the vehicle he’s pulled over. But you stand there behind her Town Car, jotting down the license tag number, and then you hear something that registers ever so slightly in the synapses of your brain. The sound of upcoming traffic has changed. And the spray of light from the headlights behind you also changes. Suddenly, the ambient light has instantly decreased by one degree.
You hear the upcoming whine of engine before you see the car. Out of your peripheral vision, the front of an older model grill, the big chromed-up steel ones they used when cars were still solid and heavy, is rushing up in the pull-over lane. The car’s headlights are off. You perceive only a winking reflection in the old grillwork, and you have just a millisecond to turn to face the onrushing steel. Since you’re an excellent athlete, your instant reaction is to try and jump.
You do not hear the impact. Your brain shuts down—all black. All silent, an automatic response by the organism, they tell you later, a response to what your animal system tells you is instant death.
ESUS,” I SAID, and not in the cynical way I usually take the Lord’s name in vain, but with a true amount of awe and sympathy. “He was pinned?”
“When the first highway patrol troopers got there, they could see him in their headlights,” Sherry said. “His torso was still straight up, not slumped over the hood or anything. They said his head was back and his mouth wide open, like he was yelling to the sky. But he wasn’t making a sound.”
“Jesus,” I said again, putting the image in my head, and then having a hard time shaking it out. Maybe Sherry could sense my discomfort, or maybe she just went back to concentrating on the macadam roadway, because she went silent for a while. She hadn’t even gotten to the point of why she was telling me the tale.
All that came out of her now was that rhythmic breathing and the almost imperceptible grunt of effort each time she pushed the wheels of her wheelchair, spinning them forward, her wrists feathering up like a rower does when he’s finishing a stroke in a skull. Her chair would glide for a second while she exhaled, re-cocking her arms and preparing to spin again.
I was riding next to her, peddling in a middle gear on a ten-speed touring bike. When we’d first started coming out here to Shark Valley in the southern Everglades, I actually jogged next to her while she rode the chair. She wouldn’t let me push her—never had. Even the day she left the hospital, only a week after having her leg amputated, she refused to let anyone push her wheelchair.