Okay, y’all sent my muse off a tangent, and this is what you get… 🙂
Usual caveats, comments appreciated, as always.
Matt picked the old man up at the airport a little before five. “Day late, John?”
“Yeah, we had to take care of something. What’s for supper? Billy’s pilots didn’t have time to get anything on the airplane, and we didn’t stop to eat before we left. I’ve had two packs of crackers and coffee all day.”
Matt laughed. “I’m not sure. Felicia was muttering something when I left. We got the cows moved, and I’m here to tell you those damn cows you got from Mexico are about fifteen kinds of ornery. They do not like being herded anywhere. Ernesto about wore out his horse riding drag when they kept trying to turn back. Cruz had to ride back and help him a couple of times.”
“They working out okay?”
“Yep. Felipe and Cruz are hard workers, and they get along fine with Ernesto. Felipe’s sister came up this weekend, and I think they’re going to be here a while longer.”
They pulled into the ranch yard and the old man got out, reached in the back and pulled his bag out. “That’s okay by me. You got enough to keep them busy?”
“If we replace that fence on the north forty, yes. And it needs it.”
“Go ahead.” The old man carried his bag up the steps, opened the door, and was met by Yogi, who jumped on him, whining and licking. “Down dog. Dammit, sit Yogi!” Yogi finally sat, only to have Boo Boo come charging down the hall as Matt laughed.
Over a supper of pot roast, corn on the cob, and snap beans he told them about the reunion and getting Mrs. Hill’s house fixed up. That got him hugs from both Jesse and Felicia, and nods from Aaron and Matt, with comments about taking care of their own. Jace and Esmerelda managed to feed the dogs without a fight, but Matt junior managed to drop his cup of sweet tea, which caused both dogs to investigate the liquid, tracking it all over the kitchen.
Jesse and Felicia both jumped up, got the dogs outside, and wiped up the mess, grumbling about a clean floor and having to mop it again. Matt made the mistake of chuckling, and Felicia handed him Matt junior, “Here, he needs a diaper change. You laugh at me, you change while I mop.”
Matt grimaced, “Gah, boy what are you eating?”
Junior giggled, then grunted and smiled in answer. Matt just shook his head and headed for their house, holding junior well away from him as Felicia said, “That’ll teach him to laugh at me.”
Things had settled back to normal for a week or so, but everyone in Texas was watching the weather as the predictions had not one, but two hurricanes potentially hitting Texas, one coming up from the Gulf, and one from the Pacific.
The next morning, the old man’s phone rang in the early morning darkness. He rolled over, flipped on the light and sat up by the third ring, saw the North Carolina prefix, and realized it was Megan’s number. He swiped it on and hit speaker, “Megan?”
A trembling voice came out of the speaker, “Mr. Cronin, I hate to…bother you, but I don’t know who else to call. Somebody is…well…has followed me to work, and followed me home again this morning. I…think…I think it’s one of the goons that works for Springs.”
“Are you okay?”
“So far. But it’s scaring me. And he…threatened grandma day before yesterday.”
“I can’t think of any other way to describe it. He came to the house real early, pounding on the door. I’d only been home an hour or so, and just got to sleep. Him and the…goons, well, I’m not sure I can say forced their way in, but they were sure as hell trying to intimidate grandma into selling. He said something about nice house, too bad if something happened to it—”
The old man interrupted, “Are you sure that’s what he said?”
He heard her sigh. “I’m pretty sure that was it. I don’t think they heard me walk into the den, so I was probably fifteen maybe twenty feet away. Springs is really pissed at grandma for fixing up the house and your paying the loan off. He offered her fifty thousand for the house, take it or leave it, and a week to make a decision. Ever since, I’ve…been followed.”
“Have you called the police?”
“They say there isn’t anything they can do without my identifying the person. And he never comes into the light or gets close enough that I can get a license plate.”
“You can’t see the plate in your rearview mirror,” he asked.
“No, sir. We only have license plates on the back.”
“Let me make some calls. I don’t want to scare you, but do you carry a pistol?”
He heard another sigh, “No, I’m not allowed to carry one in the hospital, or have one in the parking lot. But I do have a permit.”
“Screw them. Carry one in the car. Does your glovebox lock?”
“Um, I think so.”
“Carry in your purse, lock it in the glovebox before you go to work. I’m going to call Billy and see if he knows any lawyers down there. Restraining order might calm him down.”
“Oh thank you! Anything would help. I…thank you.”
“Get some sleep. Let us work on this, okay?”
The old man hung up and sat thinking for a couple of minutes, then started writing information down in the wheel book he kept on the nightstand. Once he’d finished, he got up, stretched, and headed for the kitchen. Turning the coffee on, he took a quick shower, dressed, and poured a cup of coffee before heading for the front porch. He let the dogs out to run, and sat down, pulled out his cell phone and dialed Billy’s home phone before he put it on speaker and set it on the little table next to him. A couple of rings later, he heard Mama Trần’s voice, “Why you call this early?”
He smiled. “Mama Trần, it’s John Cronin. I need to talk to Billy.”
“He not up. I go wake him. You wait.” He heard a clunk as the phone was put down and laughed as he heard her yelling down the hall, “Billy Moore, you get up! You have phone call!”
A couple of minutes later, he heard a grumbling Billy, “Who the fuck is this?”
“It’s me, John. Shut up and listen. Megan and Mrs. Hill are having problems with Springs.”
“Hang on, lemme get a pad of paper.” He heard the phone clunk down again, then Billy picked it back up, “Go.” The old man read through his notes, and Billy finally said, “Okay, I’ve got this. That sumbitch is beginning to piss me off, it’s bad enough he’s picking on an old lady, but threatening the granddaughter is over the top. Let me make some calls. Gimme Megan’s cell again, too.”
The old man gave it to him, and Billy hung up without another word. The old man said softly, “I just hope this doesn’t get anybody killed. Billy…maybe I should call him back. No, I put the ball in his court, time to let him do that lawyer thing.” And hopefully not the intel connections and psyops thing.
Billy hung up the phone a cursed, causing Mama Trần to ask, “Now what you mad at?”
“You know if Colonel Nuyen is still alive?”
“Of course he is, he too mean to die. Why you ask?”
“I need to talk to him.”
“Please, Mama. I need to find out if he’s got any connections in North Carolina.”
Billy sipped his coffee and explained the situation with both Megan and Mrs. Hill, and Mama Trần started banging pans and mumbling under her breath in Vietnamese that was too fast for Billy to follow. He ate quickly, and got ready for work. As he headed out the door, Mama Trần said, “You go daughter’s restaurant for lunch. He meet you there.”
“Thank you Mama,” he replied as he closed the door and sighed, Maybe I shouldn’t have told her all that. She’s pissed. And when Mama gets pissed it ain’t pretty.
As soon as he got to work, he used his research tools to find everything he could about Springs, and looked up lawyers in North Carolina. Finding one he knew, Billy called him and started the paperwork for restraining orders for both Mrs. Hill and Megan. He looked at his watch and saw that if he wanted to make the call he needed to make, he had about twenty minutes to do it, otherwise it would be one before he could get the person he wanted to talk to. “Luann, I need to run meet with a client offsite. I’ll be back around one.”
She smiled, “Gotcha boss. Enjoy your extended lunch, and remember no more three martini lunches.”
“Luann! How could you think such a thing of your illustrious—”
Her laughter interrupted him, and he just shook his head, “Okay, I give. One beer, maybe.” He drove down to the waterfront, found a payphone, and called a number in D.C. he’d memorized long ago. “I need you to run Springs, Clayton Rufus. Business and personal.”
The voice on the other end said, “Send it.” Billy gave him the information he had, and was told, “Twenty-four hours.” Billy hung up and walked back to his truck, whistling. Thirty minutes later, he pulled up in front of the restaurant.
He walked in and Han pointed him toward the back. A one table sat there, more or less shielded from the rest of the restaurant, and retired VC Colonel Nuyen sat quietly sipping his green tea. “Chào buổi sáng, Colonel,” Billy said as he bowed slightly before sitting.
Nuyen smiled up at him, “Your Vietnamese is still atrocious Billy Moore. I prefer English. What did you do to get Mama Trần on the, how you say, warpath?”
“Billy sighed. “I knew I shouldn’t have told her everything. I need…somebody in North Carolina to put the fear of God into some people.”
“Tell me more. I know a few people out there.”
An hour later, and three carryout boxes for Luann, Billy and the colonel shook hands. “I’ll have the money tomorrow night.”
“Just give it to Mama Trần, she will get it to me.”
“And probably take her cut,” Billy said with a laugh. The colonel shrugged and smiled as he walked away.
Bo sat in his pickup, bored to tears, but at least he was getting paid. He saw Megan walk out of the hospital exit, and reached down to start his truck when something went around his neck and he suddenly couldn’t breathe. What the fuck? A voice hissed in his ear, “You make bad decision. You no follow nice lady anymore.” Suddenly there was somebody in the truck with him, and he dimly felt his hand be picked up and placed on the steering wheel. The next thing he knew was pain, bad pain from both hands. He shook his head and reached down to start the truck, then screamed as his broken fingers hit the key.
Twelve hours later, after finally getting Bo out of the hospital and back to his apartment, Springs and his other enforcer, Malcom walked into Springs’ secluded house on five acres. They walked into the kitchen and Springs said, “Grab a couple of beers. That dumbass says he has no idea who did that to him, but it has to be somebody that figured out what he was doing. I’m going to have that smarmy little lawyer, Peterson get this bullshit restraining order lifted. How the hell they knew to take it to Judge Hartmann is beyond me, but I’m paying Judge Abrams enough to get him to pull it.
Malcom handed him a beer and sat down as Springs took a swig. “Get a couple of boys from the crew tomorrow and we’ll go visit the widow Hill again. I’ve already got the architectural plans approved for the new house on that lot than needs to be completed by Christmas, and she’s just in the way now.”
“What do you want us to do, boss?”
“Scare her. Bad! If she has a heart attack, well, no skin off my nose. Just make it—” The lights went out suddenly, and he started to stand up until someone grabbed his arm and wrenched it up and back, pushing him back into his chair, even as he heard a grunt and a cracking noise across the table, followed by a thud.
He heard a soft voice say something he couldn’t make out and the lights came back on suddenly. He saw two people dressed in what he could only think of as black pajamas lifting Malcom back into his chair as his head flopped like a doll. He saw one of the men put something around his neck and he drew in a breath to yell, when the pressure on his arm and shoulder suddenly tightened causing him to moan loudly. The soft voice said in a lilting accent, “Now you just sit and be quiet Clayton Rufus Springs. You, Malcom, and your boy Bo have been bad. Very bad.”
Springs said, “What are you talking abo—”
The soft voice interrupted him again. “Oh now, Clayton. You know exactly what I’m talking about. That poor old lady you want to have a heart attack. And her nurse granddaughter you’ve had Bo harassing.”
“I didn’t mean for her to have a literal—”
The pressure increased and he screamed. “Yes you did. You think you’re a big fish because you have money and make payoffs to judges and the police to look the other way when you play your little games. What you don’t realize is you’re not even a tadpole in a puddle in the real world.”
“What are you going to do, kill me,” Springs said through clenched teeth.
“I have that option,” the lilting voice said, and Springs pissed his pants, realizing the voice was serious, and nobody would ever know.
“You can’t,” he sobbed.
“Not yet. Today and tonight are just an object lesson for you. Break one of Malcom’s arms please.” One of the two in the black pajamas did something to Malcom’s arm and he heard a crack as Malcom screamed like a little girl, his arm flopping down uselessly.
“What…what do you want?”
“Stop harassing little old ladies. If anything happens to Mrs. Hill or her granddaughter, you will die within twenty-four hours,” the lilting voice said softly.
“I can’t control—”
“Break one of Malcom’s legs, please.” Malcom pulled against the garrote, choking himself as he tried to simultaneously draw up his legs and protect them with his one working arm, to no avail. One of the men simply kicked Malcom’s leg, and he passed out.
“Oh, and you might want to check your answering machine. You’re secretary seems a bit panicked about the call from the IRS about those hidden accounts you thought you had in the Caymans.”
“Wha…” Springs screamed as he shoulder was dislocated and passed out. The old Vietnamese man behind him popped his arm back in, rolled an eyelid back, and snorted as he gave a command in Vietnamese. The four men left the house silently, walked a half mile to where their car waited, and drove slowly away as the man made a phone call.
Springs snarled at the police captain standing in his kitchen, “What do you mean, no fingerprints?”
“My tech says there aren’t any fingerprints, nor is there any indication of a break in. I’ll put the report in, but,” he shrugged, “This one’s probably going to be unsolved. The tech said you’re dealing with pros.”
“What do you mean, pro what?”
“He got a look at…Bo in the hospital and Malcom tonight. He said whoever did that was professional. He said those ligature marks were just a hair short of killing those two, and their injuries were done in such a way that they’re totally incapacitating, without actually killing them or permanently disabling them.”
“How the fuck does he know that?”
The captain sighed. “He’s a former military intelligence guy. He’s seen that a time or three. He said you’re lucky you’re alive. I don’t know who you pissed off, but I don’t think we’ll ever find them or know for sure.”
“What about all the damn dust he spread everywhere,” Springs asked as he swept his arm around and winced.
The captain shrugged, “Call a maid service. We don’t provide clean up, we just investigate.”
Springs downed the shot of bourbon and leaned back, “What the fuck am I paying you for?”
“Not enough to get in the middle of whatever you started.” The captain put his hat on and stalked out of the house as Springs mumbled to himself.
Two days later, the old man’s phone rang about eleven in the morning. He pulled it out and hit speaker, recognizing Mac’s number. “What’s up, Mac?”
“What the hell did you and Billy do?”
The old man looked down at the phone curiously, “What are you talking about?”
“Oh come on, John. Don’t give me that shit. Why didn’t you tell us about the problems Mrs. Hill was having? We could have handled it locally.”
“Mac, I honestly don’t know what you’re talking about. I got a call, and called Billy. I haven’t heard back from him.”
“So you don’t know Springs is being investigated by the IRS and walking around with his arm in a sling? Or that two of his boys ended up in the hospital with broken bones and were garroted?”
“Um, actually no I didn’t. What makes you think I was involved?”
“Because Megan told me she called you.”
The old man sighed. “All I did was call Billy. Honest, Mac!”
Mac grumbled. “Next time, how about letting us know when shit is going down. We’re here, boots on the ground and all that.”
“I will Mac, but I don’t think there will be repeat. Or at least I hope not!” Shit, what the hell did Billy set up? And why didn’t he let me know? I hate getting blindsided.
Somewhat mollified, Mac finally said, “Well, it’s all good for now. You keep us in the loop, we’ll keep you in the loop.”
“Will do, Mac.”
“K, talk to you later.” Mac hung up and the old man sat staring at the phone for a minute, then shook his head as he dialed Billy’s number. It went to voicemail and he left a message for Billy to call him and explain what had gone on.