I ran along the flagstone path toward the boat when the last explosion happened. A freight train rushed past me, piercing the air next to my right ear. My eardrum almost exploded under the pressure. In front of me, the branch of a small leafless tree sheared and fell to the ground with spatters of blood.
I caught my fall as I slumped to the ground, skinning my right knee.
Being shot was the last thing I remembered before my world went black.
It might have been a few minutes or a few hours, but when I opened my eyes, the life I’d known for all those years was still there.
I reached to check the side of my cheek as I heard the familiar Flamenco. I pulled my hand away from the side of my face and the gobs of blood I saw on my way to the flagstone, seemed only a trickle, like a nosebleed.
I’d been shot, but I survived.
I made my first moves to see if everything was still working. My right knee pained me, but in general I was okay.
The music drew my attention. The sound took me back to my store, before the flood, when I watched Cassandra. The music calmed my frayed nerves.
The situation inside must be under control or they wouldn’t be playing music, and wasn’t that stomping and the clicking of castanets? The thought of Cassandra dancing drew me and I turned away from safety of the boat and walked back to the house.
A ragged hole the size of a quarter had pierced the exact middle of the door. Drawn in by the flowing music of the guitar, I opened the door. My heart jumped as Cassandra spun and twirled, leaping and stomping, snapping her castanets. The music flashed and flared, then came to a dramatic finish. Cassandra did a few last stomps with her heels and ended her performance.
My hands came together in automatic response and my applause filled the silent room. It spurred the others to join in.
Cassandra glanced at me, took a long bow and ran into the kitchen.
The applause was dying when Cassandra came back with a wet towel and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. “You’ve been hurt.”
“It’s just a scratch.”
She pointed at the bench against the west wall. “Sit here and let me clean you up.”
“It’s your ear.”
“What about my ear.”
“The lobe is missing.”
“The lobe. Is that all?”
She dabbed at my ear. “It seems to be, but it’s bleeding a lot. We’re going to have to put pressure on it to stop the bleeding. It might hurt.”
I smile. “It’s only my ear. I thought the whole side of my head was missing. Ouch, what are you doing?”
CHAPTER #14 STALWORTH’S REVENGE
“I wouldn’t try to get up,” said the tall guy, pointing the gun at that crazy man, Trunk.
When I started into my dance, I’d completely forgotten Harry was lying on the floor. I was so shaken from the turn of events, dancing seemed to be my only way to release tension.
“I’m shifting positions,” Harry said, then turned his gaze in my direction. “That was an amazing performance. Where did you learn to dance like that?”
He sat up. “No kidding. That was wonderful. Who’s your teacher?”
“She give private lessons?”
What was Harry pulling?
“You’ll have to find out for yourself, now won’t you?”
He slumped back in position. “No reason to get testy.”
“No reason to get testy? You come in here with a gun the size of Alaska and you say there’s no reason to get testy.”
“I didn’t mean to shoot it.”
I point at him. “Don’t you get it, Mr. Trunk? Guns are never meant to be fired.”
“Nobody got hurt.”
“By the skin of your teeth, nobody got hurt. But my nerves are ruined. I don’t know if you’ve looked around, but there are six large holes in my house, one of them right through my grandmother’s front door. She hauled that door from the old house in Chicago. That door’s been in my family for five generations.”
Harry shrugged. “I’ll replace the door.”
My voice level rose higher than it had since grandma Stikes died. “Don’t you understand? That door can’t be replaced. It’s a family heirloom.” Ten years of holding in every sleazy little trick pulled on me. Ten years of calling the police and not getting a response. They all wanted me out.
I had a lot of built up frustration. What was coming to the surface was only the tip of the iceberg. “I can’t believe you sanctimonious bastard. You act like you’re innocent.”
Harry shrugged again, which enraged me more.
My voice rose. “I know who you are. Your dirty tricks have been hurting me for years. I know who poisoned my well and who tried to burn my house to the ground, twice.”
I grabbed the gun from the tall guy, flipped it around holding it by the barrel, “I ought to stove your head in right here and we might call it even.”
I pulled my arm back to give him a whack. It would have felt good, but I came to my senses, looked around and tossed the gun back to the tall guy.
“What, do you get some kind of kick out of messing with a single woman trying to live her life in peace? Don’t you know the court battle was not my battle? It killed my grandmother. It was her battle.”
Harry got an odd look. “But, you’re still living here on the fifth fairway.”
“You’re damn right I’m still living on the fifth fairway. You and your little development buddies killed my grandmother. If that’s not reason enough to continue living here, then I don’t know a better one.”
There was a long silence. I looked around the room and everyone was staring.
He spoke in a quiet, sheepish tone. “I only wanted to know who teaches that kind of dancing.”
It was the last thing I would have guessed. Harry Goddamn S. Trunk was interested in Flamenco dancing. Of all the men I knew, William Dickerman excluded, not one was even the slightest bit interested in the Flamenco.
Harry asked quietly, “Who’s your teacher?”
“It’ll be a cold day in hell before I’d be dancing in same room with you, Harry Trunk. If you come around me while I’m dancing, I’ll have a restraining order on you faster than you can think.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Miss Stalworth. I never meant to harm you.”
“Well you’ve harmed me and you’ve harassed me for the last time. When the police get here you’ll be put away for a long time.”
I was sitting in that stupid little aluminum skiff guarding what was left of the front gate, trying to place a call to my boss, when the big cabin cruiser turned at the last second and threw a wake the size of a city bus over me. Lucky I had my rain jacket and pants on, because the water was freezing.
Instead of going back to town, the big cruiser turned around and blasted to the only property not ten feet under water; that ever-troublesome Stalworth property. While I bailed water with frozen fingers, I tried to call home base on my water-soaked walkie-talkie. I’d been trying for twenty minutes with no answer.
I jumped when I heard the familiar crack of muffled gunfire. A minute later, the second explosion echoed across the silent water.
“Hello, Stan. This is Sammy at the gate. Come in Stan. We’ve got a problem, over.”
Last week I’d gotten in big trouble for leaving my post for the twenty seconds it took to step across the alley and get a coke from the vending machine. I almost got fired and I needed that shitty-assed job, so I wasn’t leaving the gate no matter what.
“Hello, Stan. Come in Stan, over.”
I was tired of calling, and there were still two hours left of my shift, but I wasn’t sure I was going to make it before I turned into a solid block of ice.
The third report rolled across the water from the Stalworth property, then the fourth and fifth. When the sixth pop of the gun sounded, I found out later that it plowed through Stalworth’s front door, nicked the earlobe of the druggist William Dickerman and bridged the gap across the water to my little aluminum skiff. It pierced a hole –first in one side, then the other– slightly under the water line, missing my foot by inches.
I was so intent on trying to get my boss on the walkie-talkie, I failed to notice until the craft was three inches deep in water and beyond bailing. I was going down. I called in a mayday, but got no response. I was six inches deep in water when I saw the only solution to my predicament. With some fast thinking, I paddled to the roof of the security shack. As the boat made its last gurgling effort to stay afloat, with my soggy walkie-talkie in hand, I deftly stepped from the doomed craft, balanced on the steel plate bolted to the top edge of the roof and started more frantic calls for help.
I pointed the heavy pistol at Harry Trunk while Stalworth yelled at him for five minutes. I was getting concerned that maybe she might start hitting or kicking him, so I interjected with the only sentence I could come up with. “I thought the police were coming, Ms. Stalworth.”
She turned away from yelling at Trunk and looked at me with a sarcastic grimace. “I couldn’t tell you, Mr. whatever your name is.”
“Kitridge. Sam Kitridge.”
“Look, Sam Kitridge, if they haven’t gotten here by now, I’d say they weren’t coming. The phones are down and I’m sure they have their hands full.”
It was working. The momentary distraction calmed her.
She turned to Trunk, but before she started in, I said, “This gun’s getting heavy. Maybe you could take it for a while?”
She turned back to me with a sneer. “I hate guns. Get someone else.”
I looked around the room, but no one volunteered, so I just let it fall to my side. I could still bring it up and club Trunk if necessary.
Stalworth turned back to Trunk who was still sitting on the floor and started naming each circumstance where the guy had harassed her, but the intensity of her speech was lessened, so I relaxed and sat back in the couch next to Bunny.
Stalworth was working her way back the entire ten years with a pile of complaints and she was naming Trunk in every one.
Trunk pulled another toothpick from his pocket and calmly stayed on the floor. He winced with every new accusation.
It had been a while since the last bullet was fired and the police still hadn’t arrived. Stalworth was going strong. She had a lot of grievances and Harry was being forced to listen to every one. Unfortunately, except the couple romping in the bedroom, so was everyone else.
Every time things looked dangerous, I asked another of my stupid questions. She’d turn to me and toss some snide remark, then return to Trunk, but she would also be calmer. I felt like a fool, but it worked.
All I really wanted was to put the gun down, grab Bunny Olinksi and get the hell out of there. If I hadn’t thought the police would be arriving and that my report would be important, I would have left long ago.
Fed up with the yelling, I did something completely out of character; I stood and screamed,
Both Stalworth and Trunk looked at me.
“Stop this insane bitching. Okay, the guy has made your life impossible and he’s shot up your house, but now we all have some decisions to make.”
“What do you have in mind?” she spit sarcastically.
“I don’t really know, but I do know you’ve been yelling at him for a long time. It and that insane mating in the bedroom is getting on my nerves. We need to decide what we want to do with this guy.”
At the same moment I finished my sentence, the banging and moaning from the bedroom reached a crescendo and stopped.
I pointed at the bedroom. “Let’s get everyone out here and make some decisions.”
* * *
I held pressure on my missing earlobe while the tall guy got up and handed the pistol to the waitress.
She held it by the barrel with her fingertips like it was a greasy car part. “What am I going to do with this?”
With his back to us walking down the hall, the tall guy said, “Brain him with it if he moves.”
He banged on the bedroom door. “Hey, we need you out here.”
Although it was muffled, Ms. Keating said in a much more husky voice than I’d ever heard. “We’ll be out when we’re damn good and ready.”
The tall guy knocked on the door again. “We got some talking to do before the police get here and we need you to be part of it.”
“I don’t have anything to say,” the dopey surfer guy’s voice echoed down the hall.
The tall guy said, “Were deciding what to do with Trunk.”
There was a silence, then rustling.
Both the surfer guy and Yamelda spoke at the same time. “We’ll be right out.”
The tall guy stomped up the hall and sat close to the waitress. When he spoke, it was with a voice of authority.
“Considering no one got hurt, we’re left with a lot of choices.” He put one finger up. “We turn Trunk over to the police, if they ever get here.”
He put a second finger up. “We figure out a way to forget this whole episode ever happened.”
“Ever happened,” Cassandra shouted. “This nut-case comes into my house and blasts it to pieces and you want to act like nothing happened.”
“You really want to go through another court battle?”
She put a hand on her hip. “So?”
“We charge this guy and we’re all going to court right along with him and get up on the witness stand. All of our personal quirks are going to be public as the lawyers try to destroy our credibility. It’s the way the system works.”
She got a worried look. “You’ve got a point.”
Harry Trunk grinned.
I turned to Trunk. “I wouldn’t smile so quickly. You got a lot to make up for.”
Trunk looked at me. “I’m not smiling, William. I’m nervous.”
Harry slipped his hand into his coat pocket, pulled out a toothpick and placed it in his mouth.
Yamelda Keating walked in. “This guy is a nutcase. I say we lock him up and throw away the key.”
Harry grumbled, “You would say that.”
The tall guy pointed at Trunk. “If we’re going to get through this, you’d better keep out of it.”
Harry shrugged. “I’ll shut up.”
Cassandra turned to the tall guy. “I think Mr. . . What is your name?”
“I think Mr. Kitridge has a point. If we charge him with anything we’re also going to have to sit in the courtroom with him.”
Yamelda pulled out her compact and looked in the mirror. “What do you have to hide?”
Kitridge stood, walked to the window and looked out. “So, since it was you he was after, and it was your house he shot up, what do you want to do?”
“Certainly, he pays for repairs.”
The waitress spoke for the first time. “What about your front door?”
Cassandra walked to the door and put her finger though the hole. She turned and faced us. “A bullet hole will add to the history. I may not even have it repaired.”
Kitridge turned from the window. “He pays for repairs. It’s a good start.”
The ugly guy spoke up. “He has Dog Man’s anklet fixed and he pays medical expenses, disability too.”
I touched the side of my face. “How does he pay for my missing earlobe?”
Yamelda spoke in her commanding tone. “Through the nose.”
We all looked at Yamelda, then down at Trunk.
Harry whispered. “It’s only fair.”
Kitridge swept his right hand. “Some kind of compensation for each of us for the trauma.”
Surfer guy takes a deep breath and exhales. “We ought to let bygones be bygones. I vote to let the poor bastard go.”
Yamelda looked at him with cow-eyes and reached for his hand. He pulled away and took a step to the right. “Hell, nothing really happened. What’s the big deal?”
For a split second Yamelda got a hurt expression, then looked at us. “The big deal is, Trunk is a certifiable nut case. We let him go and we’d be liable if he goes off the deep end again.”
Kitridge looked at her. “Good point.”
The waitress blurted. “We make sure Mr. Harry Trunk doesn’t go off the deep end again by having him commit himself for a given period of time.”
Harry grimaced. “I’m not going to a nut farm.”
Kitridge turned to Trunk. “I’d keep out of this.”
Yamelda laughed. “Why not, Trunk? You’d fit right in.”
Kitridge grimaced. “No need to get personal.”
She spun and glared at Kitridge. “He almost killed us. It’s as personal as it gets.”
A long silence permeated the room. The spell was broken when I spoke. “Let’s look at this as a business deal. If Mr. Trunk agrees to all our terms, then he gets to stay out of prison. If he doesn’t, then we turn him over.”