Giselle stood in the breezeway of the bookstore holding the door open, waiting for her boss, a late-middle-aged woman with a completely reasonable fear of walking to her car late at night. Once they had sandwiched themselves between the inner and outer sets of locked doors, Giselle bent to dig in her backpack.
“That’s just unreal,” Judy muttered as she watched Giselle perform the same ritual she performed every night they closed together: Ripping the Velcro. Wrapping the wide elastic bands tight around each thigh. Checking to make sure rounds were chambered.
Giselle chuckled as she stuck one Glock in each holster. “You know what they say. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.”
Judy snorted. “I s’pose you’re right. I needed those last summer and didn’t have.”
“I’m sorry, Judy,” Giselle murmured. Finished with her task, she straightened and shrugged into her backpack and Judy unlocked the outer doors. Giselle preceded her out into the oppressive heat and humidity of a July night in Kansas City. “I do appreciate your understanding about this.”
“Opinions change once you’ve been assaulted. I just don’t want to get dragged into—” She waved a hand toward Giselle’s legs and shuddered. “Whatever it is you’re involved in.”
Giselle chuckled. “I’d tell you the story, but you wouldn’t believe a word of it.”
Judy laughed, and with the snick of the lock and the arming of the security system, they set out toward Judy’s car. Giselle walked on the outside of the sidewalk and at Judy’s pace. By the end of a twelve-hour shift, Judy could barely make the two blocks to her parking spot.
“Judy,” Giselle said gently, “maybe it’s time for you to find something different to do.”
“Ah, I can’t, Giselle. I’m trapped by my salary and benefits. I couldn’t make this kind of money anywhere else and I have to have health insurance.”
Giselle said nothing; she certainly knew what it meant to be overeducated, overqualified, underemployed, and with few immediate options. She laughed wryly. “I’m a Post-hole Digger, working second shift as a clerk at a bookstore.”
“Mmmm, I know what you mean. PhDs in literature don’t leave you a lot of choices if you won’t head straight back into academia.”
“I would, but the publishing part gives me hives.”
Giselle’s humor faded and the familiar melancholy of all she had lost overcame her, interrupted when Judy gasped. Giselle glanced at her. “What’s wrong?”
Judy gestured weakly ahead, her body stiff with fright. Two men sprinted toward them and Giselle said, “Judy, you’ve met them. They’re my cous—”
Giselle whirled, whipping her Glocks up out of their holsters and into her grip.
There, a man crossing the street and striding purposefully toward her, his hand behind his back to pull out a weapon.
“Don’t even think about it,” Giselle snarled, both guns pointed at his chest; he stopped short in surprise. A dark figure to her right caught her attention. She snapped that gun in his direction. One gun in each hand, she stood for a microsecond, her arms outstretched, her feet spread wide, instantly calculating distance and height. She saw a flash out of the corner of her eye and pulled both triggers.
She hit the ground conscious, but twisting and in agony. She took in the whole scene, dissociated and watching the aftermath of what she had done as if in a dream. Two men, dead. By her hand. It had taken only a second, possibly three, from the time she’d turned to the time she’d pulled the triggers to the time she’d gotten blown off her feet.
Somewhere behind her, her terrified boss cowered and sobbed at the base of a wall.
Somewhere above her, a bullet had embedded itself in the tree trunk behind Giselle, probably the same one that had bored through her shoulder.
Somewhere beside her, Knox flipped open his cell phone and called 911.
In front of her, Sebastian ripped off his tee shirt, dropped to his knees, and frantically wrapped the fabric around her shoulder, held it tight, made her hurt worse. She groaned.
“C’mon, Giz,” he murmured when she couldn’t hold her eyelids open anymore. “Stay with me, princess. C’mon. Hey, do you remember that kid who bet long odds on the wildcard spot for the ’83 NFL playoffs and couldn’t pay up?”
Yeah, that wasn’t something she was going to forget. Ever.
Knox now squatted behind her, working to get another wad of cloth between her right hip and the sidewalk. She grimaced when he lifted her and whimpered when he gently settled her weight back onto that hip.
“What happened to him, Giselle?” Knox asked, stroking her hair.
Sebastian took a baseball bat to his knees.
“What? I didn’t hear you. Talk, Giselle. Stay with us.”
“S’b’s’n broke legs,” she whispered, her teeth beginning to chatter. “Cold.”
“Shit, she’s going into shock,” Sebastian muttered, “and so’s her boss. Knox, go see if she’s hurt.” Giselle missed the warmth of Knox’s body behind her, his hand in her hair. “How much did he owe me on that bet, Giz?”
Ten thousand dollars.
She swallowed. She could barely move her mouth. “Ten K.”
Sirens wailed through the night, coming closer and closer. She still couldn’t open her eyes, though tears began to leak out.
“I know, princess. Stay with me now. We’ll get you to the hospital, get you warm. What was my most outrageous vig ever?”
A hundred and seventy-five percent on three days.
“C’mon, Giz, talk to me. What’s the answer?”
She had a vague awareness of the sound of an ambulance parking and people rushing, but underneath, she heard Knox hiss, “Shit. Fen was watching.”
She felt Sebastian start. “What?”
“Look. That’s his Alfa. He was up on the garage roof. He must have seen the whole thing.”
I’m gonna kill him.
“Don’t say that again, Giz,” Sebastian whispered in her ear just as the paramedics shooed him away from her. “At least not where some random cop can hear you.”
She was covered with a blanket, lifted onto a gurney, raised into the air, wheeled to the ambulance, slid inside with a thump or two.
“Do you guys want to go with her?”
“Yes,” they answered simultaneously.
“Oh, no, you don’t, Hilliard,” barked an unfamiliar voice from far away. “You’re staying right here and help me sort this shit out.”
“Yeah, and you— Get rid of the piece. No firearms in the bus.”
She opened her eyes enough to see Sebastian sitting near and he picked up her hand again. She had never seen his handsome face so … not handsome. Old. Haggard. Like Uncle Charlie.
“Jooey?” she whispered.
“She’s fine,” Sebastian murmured, his voice tight. “Scared. In shock, like you.”
He’s taken everything I have away from me, Sebastian.
“Not important right now, Giz. Concentrate on getting through this. Just think, you’ll have some nifty new scars to brag about later on.”
Oh, that’s true.
“She’s still got a slug in her hip,” said another voice. “She’s going to have to have surgery to get it out.”
Sebastian said nothing else, but squeezed her hand. It was a fast trip to Truman Medical Center’s emergency room—
—and an equally fast trip to the Jackson County prosecutor’s office once she was discharged three days later. Executive AP Craig Wells had denied Knox’s request to take her there himself, so she was cuffed and stuffed in the back of a squad car, her hands in front of her only because her arm was in a sling.
The prosecutor was in court, so Wells took it upon himself to put them in a conference room and annoy the hell out of Knox. In the presence of two other APs, he began to run down what Giselle would be charged with. She only watched and listened with detachment, half asleep, too drugged with pain medication to speak and too tired to care. She’d take a jail cell cot at this point if it meant a few hours of sleep.
Finally, Knox said, his voice as hard as she’d ever heard it, “If you charge her, I’ll defend her and I’m quite sure that’s the last thing you want.”
Two of the APs in the room reared away from Knox, but the executive’s face lit up with the scent of challenge.
Even in her dazed state, she understood what a political nightmare that could turn into: the elected prosecutor of one county representing a criminal defendant in a neighboring county.
Knox leaned back in his chair. “Oh, I get it now. You want to make your name on me. Okay. I’ll play that game with you and I’ll even play it on your terms. But. Think of it,” he said. “Beatrix Fucking Kiddo. Bet you got a hard-on looking at the pictures and thinking about what she must’ve looked like that night. Lemme tell ya, she was hot. I got a hard-on watching her whip out those big guns and pull the triggers. And now that she’s survived two gunshot wounds, think what a jury will do when I get finished drawing the whole picture for them in Technicolor—the men’ll come in their jeans and the women’ll all start carrying Glocks on their thighs.”
The EAP reddened and gulped. Knox laughed wickedly.
“Wells!” barked a man from the doorway. “What the hell is wrong with you? I specifically told you I’d handle this personally. Get out.”
So. This was the prosecutor. He came in and shook Knox’s hand like the old buddy he apparently was and sat, flipping the file open on the table to read it. His remaining two APs watched their boss warily for a long few minutes.
“Okay. She can go.”
“Owe you, Kevin.”
“Save it.” He slid a look at the two APs and they left at a jerk of his head. Once the door had closed, the prosecutor looked at Giselle and said, “You managed to get a couple of thugs I’ve been trying to put away for three years now.”
Knox fell back in his chair laughing. Giselle felt about as much satisfaction as she could muster, given her condition.
“Miss Cox, you’ll need to stick around town until the investigation’s wrapped up—” He speared Knox with a glance and Knox nodded his acceptance of the responsibility. “—but otherwise, you’re free to go. I don’t expect we’ll find anything different from what your boss told us.”
“Giz,” Sebastian said the minute Knox practically lugged her in the house, “don’t do anything. Let me take care of him my way.”
She said nothing for a moment, then whispered, “I’m tired and I hurt.”
Knox herded her into her bedroom and carefully undressed her, then turned her bed down and helped her maneuver into a comfortable position. Sebastian raided the Den of Iniquity for extra pillows. Knox brought her a glass of water. “More,” she said once she’d finished that. He looked at her for a moment before coming back with two fresh liter bottles. She finished off one completely.
“I want my mom,” she finally whispered, tears welling in her eyes and running down her cheeks. He finished tucking her in then and she closed her eyes.
“She’ll be home from Alaska tomorrow. We’re going to tell her you got caught in a drive-by.”
“I got her a job up in the county clerk’s office. Pay’s not quite as good but the hours and benefits are better and it’s a desk job.”
“Still in the property room at KCPD. I’ll go pick them up this afternoon.”
“My job? Hospital bills?”
“I have a line on a couple of jobs for you. Fen’ll take care of your medical bills and he put you on OKH’s health insurance.”
“That’s so fucked up,” she sighed and fell asleep.