Tuesday Tales 03/13/12 “Leg”

One for love, one for truth
One for me, one for you
Where we once were divided, now we stand united
We stand as one… undivided.   ~Bon Jovi

From my work in progress, Undivided:

At the corner of the house, Garrett stepped into the cover of a large evergreen bush. As far as he could tell, no one had moved through the snow in the front or side yards. The backyard was covered with too much evidence of activity to determine if any of it was recent. He had a hunch about the shed, though, and if he was right, it meant the boys had been warned to get out of the house.

The back of his neck prickled as Anna knocked on the back door. If his hunch was correct, she would be invited in and distracted long enough for their quarry to escape. Letting Anna go into the house went against everything in him, especially after she’d told him of the mother’s involvement in the criminal activity of her sons.

Someone had already made Anna a target. Inside the house, she was too vulnerable for his comfort.

“Hi, Mrs. Schaeffer. I’m Anna Jeffries…from the Annapolis Youth Center.”

“Hello, Ms. Jeffries.” The voice was gravelly and harsh but from Garrett’s position, he couldn’t put a face to it. “Would you like to come in?”

As Anna stepped across the threshold, his gut twisted and bile rose to coat the back of his throat.

“C’mon man, where’s that steely reserve you’re so famous for?” John’s words echoed through his memory. They’d been on assignment in Bogotá, their informant, a local girl who’d routinely sold herself for drugs, had been found in the sewer, minus most of her body. Garrett had made it his mission to break up the ring that had ordered her murder.

If anything happened to Anna in that house…

The groan of metal on metal drew his attention. Right on time, the door to the wooden shed inched open. Garrett froze. In a few seconds the door slid open several more inches and two teenaged boys crept out, moving quickly to the street, where they began a nonchalant shuffle away from the house.

The shed door closed behind them.

So…someone had remained behind. One of the boys who lived there? Both of them? Was it one potential suspect or two? Loud heavy metal music erupted from the shed. Nice signal, genius. Giving folks in the house the all clear.

Well, they could shove their all clear up their asses.

“Anna!” he called sharply, hoping she was close enough to hear.

She popped her head out and he gestured in the direction the teens had taken. Without wasting time on questions, she leaped from the back porch and sprinted down to the relatively cleared street.

“Damn it!” Garrett stumbled through the ankle-deep snow in the yard. His knee gave way once under the jarring motion of his slow lope but he caught himself with the cane, thankful he’d snagged it from the car after all. He met Anna at the base of the driveway.

“Where’d they go?” Damn, she was barely breathing hard and he was gasping for every breath.

Garrett squinted at the ground and instantly picked up the two sets of fresh footprints leading off behind an older RV that sat up on cinder blocks, partially covered by a blue RipStop tarp. He motioned for Anna to stay put. He had no hope of detaining either of the boys on his own, but he could flush them from their hiding place. Maybe he’d scare the hell out of them enough they’d run for home.

He skirted the long side then gave an awkward leap into the open.

The two boys scuffled with each other like two of the Three Stooges trying to muscle through a single doorway.

“Shit!” shouted the scrawny one.

The pair of them disappeared to the other side of the RV and Garrett slapped his palm against the back.

“Tom Street! Cody Preston!” Anna bellowed in an authoritative voice. “Both of you stop right there!”

Garrett stepped from behind the RV. Anna stood with the skinnier boy, her hand on his arm the only thing detaining him but he was standing still, in obvious defeat. The second boy was already off up the street.

“You need him?” Garrett motioned with his head, ready to take off in pursuit if it killed him, which it likely would.

“No. I know who he is and where he was. I only came here to get Tom.” Anna reached into her coat pocket and pulled out her cell phone. “You want to talk to your mom or you want me to?”

Tom hung his head, and with a shrug, Anna put the phone to her own ear. “Karen, I’ve got him.” Her lips settled into a grim line. She nodded at whatever the kid’s mom said. “Yep, at the Schaeffers’ house.”

After she hung up the phone, Anna stepped in front of the teenager. He was tall and she had to look up to meet his eyes, but somehow she commanded a sense of authority and the kid seemed to be listening to her, albeit with obvious reluctance.

“I’m not even going to ask what you were doing hanging out with the Schaeffers.” She dropped his arm with such force the kid was thrown off balance. “And I know you don’t need another lecture about staying in school and staying away from drugs.”

The kid rolled his eyes and shifted on his feet. He kicked some loose some snow around, but said nothing.

Anna blew out a harsh breath, forming a little cloud that wisped into the air. She softened her tone. “Look, you’re smart, Tom. You’re smart and you’re talented. You don’t need to make the choices you’ve been making. I know you want to take care of your mom. I get that! But how are you going to do that if you’re in jail? Or dead? And trust me on this, those are your only two options with the Schaeffers.”

The kid stared over Anna’s head, making a point of not meeting her eyes.

“When you decide you want to get your life together and make something of yourself—something legitimate—then you come and see me and I’ll help you do anything you want to do.”

A silver sedan pulled to the curb. Garrett recognized the distraught mother who’d raced from the church earlier.

“I mean it, Tom,” shouted Anna as he wrenched open the passenger door. “You’re too smart to screw up your life this badly. But if you don’t care about yourself, I know care about your mom.”

Tom got into the car without saying a word, a sullen look on his face.  As they drove off, he stared hard at Anna through the window and mouthed one word. “Bitch.”

Garrett’s hands curled into fists. He’d cross paths with that kid again…soon. And the kid might be the one limping away next time.

“Did this change anything?” Garrett asked, walking back to Anna’s Mustang, as much to find out what she thought as to keep his mind off the searing ache in his knee. The activity of the day made each step on his left leg a fiery nightmare.

Anna glanced up. “No.” Her sad smile tore at Garrett’s heart. “Today changed nothing. The Schaeffers will still be here tomorrow, still dealing drugs, still pulling younger kids into the mix. Tom is still going to skip school and try to get rich quick.”

“So what was today about?”

“Saving a mom.” Sorrow painted her voice. “Karen would do anything for her son—anything to save him from other kids, from drugs…or from himself.” She shook her head and sighed. “But she’s in over her head. She doesn’t take into consideration that one day Roddy Schaeffer is going to kill someone and he won’t care if she’s the mother of a business associate. She would have gone into that house looking for Tom. She’s done it before. So today was more about saving her. And maybe, if we’re really lucky, planting a seed of goodness in a teenaged drug dealer.”

They stopped at the front bumper of her car. “And you’re not in over your head?” he asked softly. “If this kid won’t care about killing Tom’s mother, where does that leave you in the food chain?”

Laying a hand on his arm in much the same way she had with the youth, Anna met his eyes fully now, unblinking. “I’m very much getting in over my head.” She squeezed gently, sending darts of heat rocketing straight to Garrett’s groin. “But it’s not the Schaeffer family that I’m over my head with,” she finished in a whisper.

She released him with a slow slide of her fingers down his arm to the back of his hand and stepped around to the driver’s side of her car. Garrett limped to the passenger door and yanked it open, falling to the bucket seat with a grunt.

As he pulled the door closed, he slammed his leg against the gear shift. “Fu—ah—crap.”

“Are you okay? Did you get hurt today?” She laid her hand on his leg just above the knee.

Light could never travel as fast as the little electrical charge that rushed through Garrett from top to bottom at her touch to his injured leg. Heat radiated off her palm and singed him through his jeans. In any other circumstance, he would have enjoyed the contact, especially after the adrenaline rush from earlier. But her hand was less than an inch from the bulky dressing he had applied that morning and if she felt that, he would have to explain things best left unexplained between them.

He moved a little too quickly to capture her hand and winched, then tried to cover up by lacing his fingers through hers. He probably wasn’t fooling her. So he smiled.

“Not that I wouldn’t enjoy it, sweetheart, but if we’re going to get that close, it’s not going to be in the front seat of a car with four on the floor in front of a house we just raided looking for a missing kid.”

Anna’s cheeks turn brilliant pink as she jerked her hand away. She shook badly enough that it took her two attempts to insert the key into the car’s ignition.

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