Robby and Len had agreed to help Teddy and Barry hang a tire near their treehouse, so that they could use it as a swing. Robby was standing toward the back of the yard with Len a few feet from him. Teddy had just gotten the wheelbarrow out from under the back porch and was ready to load the tire onto it. It would have been easier for either Robby or Len. Teddy hadn't asked for help and had instructed them a couple of weeks ago, that from now on that if he didn't ask they weren't supposed to help, they hadn't offered.
Suddenly Robby spun around, in a full three hundred and sixty degree turn. He hit the ground on his back, his right shoulder covered with blood. Len was already jumping toward him, when the second bullet arrived and caught Len in the back and passed right through him barely missing Robby. His controlled jump turned into an ungainly leap, but he still managed to do what he intended, which was to cover Robby with his body.
Teddy realized what had happened and had known for months that something like this was always a possibility, didn't panic. He yelled, loud enough to be heard inside, but not so loud as to be unintelligible. “Mom, Robby and Len have been shot!!!”
He saw Len jump as a second bullet hit him and passing through him, it deflected a tiny bit. Instead of killing Robby, this one hit him on the left side of the head just as he was starting to turn it, so he could breath. He lost consciousness instantly. With his mouth and nose covered by Len's smothering weight he began to die, unable to breath.
Teddy realizing that someone was still firing, grabbed the wheelbarrow and running towards his brother and Len turned it over on top of them, then scurried back into the cover of the porch, diving under it.
Inside the house, Hary moving quickly, said urgently to Barry, “Call Norm, tell him there's a sniper in the bell tower, then call 911.” Continuing to move she slipped a key over her head and stuck it into an almost invisible keyhole just inside the front door and turned it. Instantly the small gun locker clicked open and she grabbed her rifle, already loaded and except for a bullet in the chamber, ready to go. She rectified that lack by chambering a round and shoved the safety to off.
An expert sharpshooter, she had long since calculated the sight lines around her home. The most likely place from which someone in the backyard could be hit was from the church bell tower, unless they were in the closest house on either side.
Behind her Barry had picked up the phone and hit the speed dial for Norm Peters' private emergency number. Norm answered it with tenseness in his voice, “Peters.”
“Norm this is Barry, Mommy said to tell you there's a sniper in the bell tower. I've got to go, I've got to call 911.” Barry said quickly and a little unsteadily, afraid and uncertain.
Hary had in the meantime broken out a pane in the side window, resting the rifle on the pane divider, she made a quick sighting for the bell tower. With satisfaction, overlying the fear and anger, she saw a head and a rifle and she began firing, as soon as she was sure she would hit somewhere near the bell tower. Though she would have liked to take the shooter out herself, right now she was more concerned with distracting him from doing any more shooting. She in fact did more, she actually creased him, though it was minor, it drove him down out of the church tower.
Behind her Barry had speed dialed 911 and reported the shooting and given their address and had been told to stay on the line until the Emergency Medical Team arrived.
Meanwhile Norm had directed the daytime patrol cars to St. Stephen's Anglican Church. All four of them were there or on the way with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Hary's shooting drove the sniper right into them as he exited the door, two of them were in the parking lot, officers out and shotguns at the ready. The other two were just coming into the parking lot. He had nowhere to go, but elected to fight anyway and got off a couple of rounds before two shotgun blasts almost tore him in half.
Back at the house, Hary could hear the sirens on the road, as she jammed her rifle back into it's home and slammed the door. By the time she ran to the back of the house, the EMT, were gently rolling Len off of Robby.
Len's wounds were bad, but they had gone right through him and while one had hit a lung, overall he was in fairly good shape. Though it would probably take five or six months before he was totally recovered. Robby's heart and lungs weren't functioning and they were worried about the head wound. There was no way to know right now how serious it might turn out to be.
Ten minutes later, with Robby breathing and his heart beating, though neither were as strong as the medics would have liked, they were headed for Cormier General Hospital and a Medevac helicopter which would transport them to a private Clinic in Prescott.
The phone rang and I answered it in my usual way, “Reynolds.”
“Sam this is Edward. Turn on the news.” Edward told me.
Reaching for the remote, I turned on the TV. I hit play and then began to rewind the built in internal recorder that I used to record all news programs. It was necessary for business to stay current. I began to get a chill as I began to recognize a place I had been many times. I stopped at the beginning of the story.
The reporter said, “This little town of Benson, Louisiana today became the victim of an apparent random shooting, less than an hour ago. A man and a child were shot. The man is listed as being in serious but stable condition. The child and we do not know whether the victim is a boy or girl, is in critical condition, in a coma at the moment. The shooter was approached by police, but tried to resist arrest and was killed in the process. The families immediately filed a Victim's Privacy of Information injunction, so it's unlikely we'll ever know the identity of those shot, unless it becomes fatal.”
“This little town however, knows who the victims are and they're clearly in deep shock, but in the way of a close community they have come together and aren't saying anything to reporters.”
The scene shifted to show St. Stephen's Anglican Church. With police crime scene tape, all over the place. The reporter said, “We have been told that the shots were fired from the bell tower of this church, from which almost all of Benson is visible. The shooter was caught in the parking lot and tried to shoot his way out and was killed instantly by two shotgun blasts.”
I flicked off the TV feeling sick. “How bad are they, Edward?” I asked.
He told me somberly, “Len's in serious condition, but the bullets were steel jacketed bullets and while one hit a lung, he's in no danger. It'll take a long time to recover however, five or six months.” He paused for a moment, before saying, “Obviously the shooter knew that Len was a bodyguard, though that was only a part of his duties. Robby was the prime target and he used steel jacketed bullets just in case he had to go right though Len and in this case he did. The first shot hit Robby, in the right shoulder and it went right through, not hitting any bone.”
He explained, “The second shot Len managed to get his body in front of and though it went though him, it missed Robby. Len managed to cover him with his body. At that point, Robby was probably still conscious. The third bullet again went right though Len, though it was possibly deflected a little and hit Robby on the left side of the head. He's in a coma right now because of that shot. There's no saying how serious it will be until he recovers consciousness.” A long pause, then Edward said somberly, “Or dies. Teddy realizing that they were still being hit overturned a wheelbarrow over top of them. There are two holes in the metal of the wheelbarrow.”
He explained, “When Len managed to cover Robby he was hit and probably unconscious. Robby was being smothered by Len and when the second bullet hit him, he lost consciousness as well and wasn't able to turn his head. By the time the medics got there, neither Robby's heart nor lungs were working. Fortunately, they're both in good condition, right now. The problem is the coma. They're hopeful that it's not serious. I'll give you the task of telling Jeannie.”
“Coward.” I said, without any heat, still stunned.
I could imagine him nodding, as he said, “True, but at the same time, I've got a lot of people to call. Hary asked me to call you first because of the closeness of Jeannie and Len, but I'm going to be busy. At least I don't have to phone the family, she and Paul will be doing that. Bye, Sam, sorry for the bad news.”
I heard the click as the phone was hung up and I just sat and stared into space for about thirty seconds while the dial tone buzzed on, finally becoming alert enough to hang it up.
It hurt to see him lying in that hospital bed, so small and pale and seemingly hooked up to everything. I kept seeing him up and awake. Either with that twinkle in his big green eyes that meant he was planning a practical joke, or that uncanny wisdom he showed when it was needed. His gentleness with his brothers and little sister Grace and his ruthlessness when it was required.
Suddenly I felt something and looking up I saw his big green eyes were open and regarding me with amusement. He croaked out, from a dry throat, “You look like shit, Mom,” and he winked at me. I had to laugh. Robby didn't swear very often, as I'd been assured by the homework porch group, who would be the ones in the best position to know. It had obviously been intended to evoke exactly the emotion that he had garnered.
I pressed the button that I'd been given in case he woke up and in a few seconds the room was filled with doctors and nurses. Robby took it patiently at first, but after a little while I could see that he wanted to say something. They continued to ignore him as a person and I saw his eyes narrowing and he began to glare and I just waited for the explosion, which wasn't long in coming. I'd been in hospitals and been ignored by the staff, but I'd never had the power to do anything about it.
Robby knew all of the staff were weres so he was free to do what he wanted and suddenly everyone stopped moving. His words were pleasant, but with a dangerous edge to them, that they probably weren't even aware of. “Now I have a headache and I admit it's severe, however I have the power to hold you unmoving until doomsday, until someone starts paying attention to me.” He looked at the chief physician, “What will it be, doctor?”
“Well, maybe a few questions...” he started to say, when suddenly Blue leapt up on the bed and Robby began to fondle his head and Blue began to purr furiously.
Robby shook his head, wincing as he did so, sayng coldly, “No, doctor, whoever you've had as a patient before, you've never had anyone like me. My room, my rules. You will not need any sleeping or pain medications, Blue here can provide me with either, directly through my mind and they're generally as effective and far safer, since they're natural. If I require something stronger, I'll ask you. Is that clear, Doctor?” he said, biting off his last few words sharply.
The doctor looked at Robby coldly, asking, “Are you usually this obnoxious?”
Robby told him, “No, Doctor, I'm generally much milder, but right now I'm on a hair trigger. I just woke up and my mind wants me to get very very angry. In the process of suppressing my anger until I can do something about it, this obnoxious personality is a part of me. I will try to be more pleasant, but I make no guarantees.”
I figured I'd take a little pressure off of the doctor as the people in the room found themselves able to move again. I asked, “What exactly are you angry about, Robby.”
He looked at me and right at the moment, his eyes were introspective. He said somberly, “I let someone live who knew what I looked like. Someone I shouldn't have underestimated, but did anyway.” Suddenly his eyes were angry and he closed his eyes for a few seconds and when he opened them, again they were calmer. I realized that what he had been talking about to the doctor was the literal truth. His mind was in a battle with itself, to keep the anger in check, until it was the right time to release it.
He continued, saying, “From the doctor's mind I know that I caused Len to get shot and face a long recuperation time. It caused me to get shot, though I can tell from the doctor's mind, now that I'm awake, he isn't particularly worried about my condition. It endangered other family members as well. Now I'll try to be a little more pleasant while you finish your exam, doctor. But remind your people not to ignore me. Most patients have to take it, when it happens, I don't and right at the moment I won't.”
Nurses started coming out of Robby's room with equipment and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, the attending physician came out talking to Hary. Finally he threw up his hands and stalked away and Hary headed for us. Her face was alight with a smile, as she said, “Edward, he wants to see you and Jeannie. Then he'll start seeing family members. Business combined with pleasure first, he said.”
“I thought the doctor wasn't going to let a lot of visitors in right at the start?” I asked, somewhat surprised.
“Robby laid down the law. His room, his rules.” Hary said.
I asked, with astonishment, “You don't mean we actually know someone who can get their own way in a hospital. You know that's almost more impressive than anything else he's ever done.”
She just grinned as Jeannie and I headed for Robby's door. When we entered, he was lying back with his eyes closed. If it hadn't been for the fact that he was rubbing Blue's back I would have thought he had gone back to sleep.
He opened his eyes. “How's everybody taking it?” he asked.
Jeannie answered for me, “Actually pretty good. Blue and Paul are the main reason, I think. Blue was very calm and nobody figured he'd be that calm if you were in any real danger and Paul has been like a rock.”
*Faking it, I'm afraid.* said Blue. *I was just as anxious as the rest of you, but I knew what Robby would want me to do, so I did it.* I knew that normally Blue couldn't talk to humans so Robby must have passed it along.
Robby nodded, wincing a bit as he did so, commenting, “I’ve got to stop doing that. All right, to business though don't think I don't find it a pleasure talking to you as well. First, Len will want someone first rate as my backup until he's fully recovered. How about it, Jeannie?” She took a few minutes before answering, but finally she nodded.
“I'd be proud to, Robby.” she finally said.
Robby said solemnly, “Thank you. I'll try not to get you shot. But if it happens, it happens. That was part of Len's job and he knew it when he accepted it. It would be demeaning, to be sorry he got injured in saving my life, when he's proud of that fact.” and looking into his eyes right now they were serene. He meant what he said. I'd wondered if it would hurt his self-confidence. Well I had just gotten my answer. Not a chance. It was part of him, like his soul and it would be there until he died.
“Please arrange her employment under the same terms as Len's Edward.” Robby said to me and I nodded.
He said, “Now to find the one who ordered my death. I see only two possibilities and one's so minor I wouldn't even mention it, except I've just gotten a lesson in underestimating someone. The first possibility is the two goons who accompanied Pietro to Benson.”
“No, they're both in the state pen at the moment, serving five to ten for armed robbery.” I told him and he just nodded.
Robby told us, “As I said, I considered it very remote. Now the only other possible suspect, is Luigi Corso, Gallo's chief lieutenant. He saw me and though I had my hair died brown and was wearing brown contact lenses, it's not much of a disguise. Not that I could have done much better. It's hard to disguise a kid and I had to be there.”
“How would he know where to find you?” I asked.
He explained, “Every year the Cormier Post carries pictures of all the school classes in their subscription area. Benson is one of those and they were using a new process this year that improved the quality immensely. If Luigi wanted to find me, he would have the papers watched in Prescott and surrounding areas. The pictures were in black and white and everybody including me was proud of the fact that the pictures were so good. That's how he found out who I was and where I lived. Once he knew the town he only had to find where my house was, not a very hard thing to do.”
“And once I find him?” I asked, pretty sure, what his answer would be and I was right.
“Then, when I'm recovered, Jeannie and I go and kill him of course.” Robby said and as usual his soft voice gave emphasis to what seemed like such a simple statement, the usual chill going up my back. A chill partly made up of fear and partly of satisfaction.
I looked down from the pulpit at the packed church. The pews were filled and they were standing in the aisles. It was unlikely that it had ever been this full as it had been on the last couple of evenings for the vigils being held for Robby. Happily, I knew once I gave out my news most would leave, only the devout would remain to give thanks.
I said with relief, “My dear friends and neighbors. I bring you glad tidings. Our young friend has come out of his coma and the doctors have determined that aside from a concussion the bullet that hit his head didn't do any damage.”
I heard a yell from the crowd. “I always knew that his head was too hard for even a bullet to affect him.”
That brought general laughter, laughter of relief. I continued, glad that they had something to laugh about, “The shoulder wound went through flesh missing any bone, so he should be recovered enough to start school when it begins after Labor Day. Before most of you leave, please join me in a minute of silent thanks.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the next minute and then a cheer of joy shook the roof.
Jeannie said to me, “I don't know why the papers didn't get your name. In spite of the injunction, there's always some paper or TV station willing to broadcast the names.”
I looked at her, saying, “You have to consider Benson as a whole to understand it. By as a whole, I mean you have to consider Benson's history as well as its present. Ninety percent of the people living in Benson are families that have lived there for up to one hundred and eighty years or more. Were and human have always mixed freely. Our secret is so big that it could only have been kept, with the support of those who supposedly didn't know anything about the secret.”
I said with amusement, “They've always known we were different, but that difference was a benevolent difference. In the very early days, we were always there to help keep them safe, from outlaws and bandits. When I say outlaws I mean one or two individuals and by bandits, I mean bands of criminals. After the Civil War the Klu Klux Klan only showed their faces in Benson once and they ended up leaving, after being tarred and feathered. You only have to know that puppies were returned innumerable times to houses where everyone knew there were no dogs, to realize that they were passively in on our secret for most of the time that we've lived in Benson.”
Jeannie looked a little shaken, asking, “So what you're saying is that while we've been living under the misapprehension that our secret was safe, a whole human community knew about us and never said anything.”
I grinned, telling her, “Basically, yes. Gives you a brand new confidence in human nature, doesn't it. The Council, when I told them about it, were just as shaken. It was really quite funny.”
“You have a sick sense of humor.” she told me firmly.
I shook my head, saying, “Well, not usually. But they should have known about it. Before I brought the subject up, I went back through the minutes of the open sessions of the Council and it's been brought up more than a dozen times since the beginning of the 1900's. It only took me a few seconds to find them, since all of the minutes have been transferred to computer. To top that off, they were mentioned in the yearly summaries, the decade summaries and the century summaries. The Council was really embarrassed when I brought it up, they sat like little kids when I scolded them, looking guilty. Then when I was leaving, I heard Maisie begin laying into them. Apparently, nobody had told her about the summaries being available and she was a touch annoyed. Even people at the top sometimes need a wakeup call. Remember that and don't be afraid to give it, if you figure it's needed. Maybe then you might not get this type of wake-up call.” bringing my hand to my head and then my shoulder.
I said with a sigh, “Now let's get back to these emails. I'm glad most of the congratulations were sent by email. I'd hate to answer all of these by hand.” Not all of them were emails of course. I had one from Tenzing by cablegram. How he heard what happened I don't know and I had one by dream mail. Charlie Davis from Australia, telling me that the spirits had told him I was out of danger and wishing me a quick recovery. One by mind mail from the Elven Council also telling me to have a quick recovery. That one was almost an order and I giggled when I received it.
I'd refused to be returned home by ambulance, telling everyone that Jeannie would drive me. The Clinic was glad to see the last of me. I'd felt in the staff's minds that they wouldn't be part of the Robby Hansen fan club. Not that it bothered me. Hospitals were places to get well in, there was nothing in the rules that said the staff and patients had to like each other.
I was a little surprised when Jeannie drove out to the airport first and parked next to the Lear. Blue and I got out and Jeannie began to show me the outside of the Lear from nose to tail. I was somewhat surprised at that, this was the first time she'd ever done that and I wondered why.
I abruptly found out when I heard the familiar gruff voice of Sam Reynolds, “You're supposed to look at all of something, when you're getting it as a gift.”
I turned and Sam and Alameda were standing by the hangar door. I hadn't heard anything from Sam, even through Jeannie and I figured he intended to make his usual unique greeting.
“Why the jet?” I asked, not really all that surprised. It was something Sam would do.
He explained, “You can use it. You're always chartering jets to get where you have to go. Since Jeannie will be acting as your backup for the next few months, all you need to do when you have to go somewhere, is hop on board and go. If it's on were business, the Council has agreed to provide the fuel and maintenance, if it's for private use, I'll provide fuel and maintenance. Alameda doesn't mind planes, but the Lear is too small for her and she was uncomfortable in it. She never complained but I could tell, so I got a fifty seater. If I'm not using it, it'll be used to move company people around.”
I offered my hand and he shook it and then he pulled me into a very careful embrace. Those strong arms and genuine feelings of affection felt good. Alameda was equally gentle as she ruffled my hair, avoiding the left side which still had a bandage.
Homecoming hadn't been as emotional as I thought it might. Most of my relatives and close friends had been to visit me, even Major General Rutherford Mayer had managed to make a quick visit, even as busy as he was after only taking over the NIA a few weeks before. So it was mainly the townsfolk of Benson who got a little emotional, but a handshake, an embrace or a kiss was enough to reassure them that I was still alive and my being shot was quickly put to the back of everyone's mind. Not forgotten but at least it wasn't hanging like a cloud over everyone.
I wasn't completely well but I was able to start school with everyone else. I was glad of the routine of school, because I was impatient. Impatient for Edward to find Luigi Corso and it finally happened. It was the thirtieth of September and I was fully recovered by then. Wrestling and playing football as hard as usual with the others.
Mom had returned to work and Rose was back as a babysitter and she had her twins, plus Grace, plus Barry and Teddy. I looked up as Rose appeared at the back door, “It's Edward, Robby, he's found him.” and there was deep satisfaction in her voice.
I got up and headed for the phone. I asked, “Edward, Rose said you've found him?”
Edward said, his voice holding suppressed excitement, “Yes, I have Robby, he was hiding in plain sight as it were. He owns a villa outside of Acapulco, under his own name. He must have been skimming heavily from Gallo. We've got reports that he's worth in excess of fifty million dollars. He's not active at the moment, but he's being watched by the police.”
I sat back and thought, for a while, I knew Edward would be patient. I said, “Edward, what if we're wrong in thinking Joey Gallo was Julius Gallo's closest relative. Julius was obsessive, but that wasn't a part of his illness, that was part of his personality. It got worse as the illness got worse, but that was mainly because death was closing in on him. Julius was born in the US and so were his father and grandfather. Luigi Corso is Spanish. Find out if Julius's father was ever in Spain. I want to know if Luigi is his bastard. The fact that he came after me and had either the patience or the obsessiveness to wait. The fact that he's not back in some kind of illegal business. He's frightened of me. Why?”
Edward asked, “Wouldn't you have been able to tell from his mind?”
I shook my head telling him, “Not necessarily, if it's on the surface of his mind, it comes to my attention instantly, if it's buried deep, then I have to dig deep and it's much harder with humans than with weres. And why should he be thinking of something so unimportant at a time when his world was falling apart around his ears. No, trace Gallo's father and put a watch on Corso. Not too close, I don't want to frighten him off, but I want to know the answers before I go after him.”
Edward said, “Will do. Bye Robby.”
“Bye.” I said absently and put down the phone.
Edward had driven out to see Jeannie and I and we were sitting at a lawn table, watching the kids playing in the sand. There must have been twenty of them of all ages, including Barry and Teddy, from four to ten busy with various projects.
Edward told us, “You were right about Luigi, Robby. He's Julius's half-brother. His father's name is on his real birth certificate and the man helped him to get into the US. They faked an Italian birth certificate for him. As far as I've been able to tell, Julius was never aware of that fact, though of course Luigi would have known it.”
I said musingly, “So Luigi is probably prone to the same type of obsessiveness as his brother. I pulled a rabbit out of a hat and he's focused on that single fact, ignoring everything else. The rabbit is the radio that I produced from the cigarette package that Cyrus Amree was carrying. Even if he was told that it was just a simple radio his obsession would cause him to ignore that fact. He's ignoring the fact that the chair that Julius was in was wired. Julius didn't push the button that blew up the estate. I did, somehow through that radio. His obsession has led him to the fact that most adults would ignore, I'm a kid, yet at the same time I'm much more than that.”
I told them, “He's not active because he was afraid I would find him again. That's why he tried to have me killed. He's remained inactive because he knows I'm not dead. He expects me to come after him. Do you have the surveillance photos you were telling me about?” Edward handed them to me and I began to look through them. I sorted out the ones where he was on the beach and then put the other ones aside. I began to look at them more closely.
Again, I began to separate the photos. I threw out any where he was alone. Then I began to concentrate on the others. Luigi seemed to enjoy talking to children anywhere from four to about thirteen. There were both boys and girls but they all had one thing in common. I handed them to Jeannie and Edward and they began to look though them.
Edward when he was finished, just shrugged, saying, “Aside from the fact that their bathing suits are so skimpy that if they were men, they'd be arrested on most beaches in the US, except that they're young enough they could get away with it, I don't see anything.”
Jeannie looked for a little longer and then looked at me, saying, “If you're right about him being that obsessive about you, he knows you're coming. These kids are all wearing bathing suits so skimpy that there's nowhere to hide a rabbit. None of them are carrying anything and since most kids this age at the beach would be carrying something, his bodyguards aren't letting any kid who has anything in his hands near him. He'll let you get close enough to talk, but he thinks he's removed any way for you to get the rabbit close.”
I nodded, pleased with the way she thought. She knew I'd found something, so she looked until she found what it had to be. I said, “Yes. He's looking for high tech, for something these kids could get close enough to harm him with.”
We were lying on the beach about fifty feet from Luigi Corso. Jeannie asked, “Has he spotted you?”
I nodded, telling her, “Yes, he has and he's worried but confident that his little scheme will protect him. But I think I'll have to wait till tomorrow to talk to him, it seems that our friend Luigi has an assassin waiting for me. He's in the hotel of which we can just see the corner from here. It's our hotel too, by the way and it's about a mile from here, beyond my range to reach humans. However where Luigi lies, he's limited the shooter to the twelfth floor, or the roof, don't you agree?”
Jeannie turned over and took what appeared to be a casual look. She nodded saying, “I agree. Luigi is so close to the boardwalk that the only place a shooter can even see him is from the twelfth floor or the roof.” She turned over so she was on her back again, asking, “Does he know who he's after?”
I shook my head as well, saying, “No. He's supposed to be there when Luigi arrives here at the beach. He has a radio, as does Luigi and when the light goes on the shooter is supposed to kill anyone within ten feet of Luigi. Man, woman, child, apparently the shooter doesn't care. I wonder how the shooter is going to escape, while no doubt he'll be using a silencer, there's still the danger of being discovered. The dossier that Edward compiled indicated that Corso owns a helicopter. I wonder where it is when he's at the beach.” Whistling Little Eva's, Locomotion I reached into my bag for my cell phone. I noticed Luigi's bodyguards tense a bit when I did so and then relax when I pulled out my cell phone.
I said with amusement, “You know, his bodyguards really should learn how to relax a little. They're so tense that they react to the slightest thing. If the real thing comes, they're going to miss it. By the way, I think you're a chicken. Wouldn't even put suntan lotion on my butt, making me do it myself.”
“From the amount of butt that's showing with that bathing suit, I'd feel like I was diapering a baby.” Jeannie told me dryly and I giggled. I must admit it was pretty skimpy. I'd worn less, but only when I was naked.
I hit the speed button dial on my cell phone. “Edward Franco speaking.”
I asked him, “Edward, I read the dossier that you put together about Luigi Corso. It says that he has a small helicopter, but it doesn't say what happens to it while Luigi's at the beach. He has a shooter stashed in our hotel. I read on the brochure that the hotel has a helipad. I'm just wondering if the copter's off the ground to give him an escape route?”
He said, “I'll contact the men we had watching him and see if they know. It wasn't included in the summary they provided me. You don't intend to take any chances do you?”
“Bite your tongue, Edward.” I said virtuously, “I intend to take absolutely no chances with Luigi Corso. If I have to abandon my plan to talk to him I'll do so. It's really not that important, it just would have given me a little satisfaction, if he knew that he's going to die and why.”
I said to Jeannie, “C'mon, the policeman I want to talk to is just going into the cafe on the boardwalk. Unfortunately, Luigi, ever the obsessive won't vary his routine, even if I don't show up within the next ten minutes. He'll have his swim and then head for his car and home.”
I was sitting at the open air cafe on the boardwalk down by the beach, when I noticed two people headed in the direction of my table, carrying beach bags. The woman had a beach jacket on but the boy was only wearing a bathing suit. They looked American, but the boy was wearing the skimpiest bathing suit that could be purchased here. Our own Mexican boys and European boys wore them all the time, but I'd never seen an American boy wear one.
I raised my eyebrows when they sat down at my table without being invited. I folded the paper I had been reading and put a question in my eyes and asked in what I'm proud to say is perfect English, “Do I know either of you?”
The boy shook his heas, saying, “No, Max Arau, but you've probably heard of us from Julio. By the way, he says that Maria still says no to an affair, but she thanks you for asking, she was getting a bit worried, after their last child.”
I roared with laughter. I was well known here and the staff just looked in my direction and then away, once they realized who it was, though the patrons kept their attention on us longer. Still chuckling, I said, “I recognize the woman from his description. Jeannie Reynolds, but if you're Robby Hansen, the hair and eye color are wrong.”
He explained, “My hair is died brown and I'm wearing brown contact lenses.”
I raised his eyebrows again, “A disguise?”
He shook his head, saying, calmly and matter-of-factly, yet with such absolute belief, that I was already feeling sorry for his victim. “Not exactly. The opposite in fact. The person I intend to kill, knows me this way, rather than with reddish hair and green eyes.”
I asked him, “May I ask you who you intend to kill and why?”
“Your people have been watching him for a while, Luigi Corso. However, I insist on taking priority.” he told me and his brown eyes were cold.
I asked with humor, “Why should I give it to you?”
“You're just after him, because he might be a crook, he hired an assassin to kill me.” Robby told me calmly, but there was anger in his eyes. “He came very close. An eighth of an inch in the other direction and I'd be dead.
I remembered why Julio had called me late last month to see if as a policeman I could find out more information. Then he'd gotten back a couple of days later and said it didn't matter and there was happiness in his voice. “The Benson incident?” I asked, very softly.
He nodded, telling me, “Yes, along with almost killing me, he hurt my friend and bodyguard and could have hurt other members of my family. Now even if I was inclined to let him off, which I'm not, he knows where I live, so I can't afford to let him stay alive.”
“What if he's hired another assassin?” I asked
Robby nodded, telling me, “He has. He wants to talk to me first, but he's got a shooter in our hotel and he intends to have me killed once the talk is over. He's afraid of me and he thinks I used some high tech to destroy Julius Gallo's estate. He carefully arranged it so that the only way I could approach him was in a skimpy bathing suit like the one I'm wearing. No way to hide anything in this.” Saying it with a grin.
“Do you intend to talk to him?” I asked, my eyes intent.
He told me, “Yes. I prefer to tell people why I'm killing them, when I can. It's not usually possible. That's why we're here. I was thinking if some obliging policeman could get the assassin out of our hair, I could have my talk.”
“What if someone is listening?” I asked him.
Robby said and I was certainly astonished, “No, your bugs won't pick anything up, because I won't be saying anything out loud. I'll use mind-speech to talk to him before l kill him.” I wondered if Corso was were.
“No, he's just an ordinary, twisted human being.” he told me.
“You can speak to humans, using mind-speech?” I said, allowing my surprise to show this time.
He nodded, telling me, “I can, it's not something I hid from Julio, it developed after that incident. You're perfectly free to tell Julio about it. Aside from the email telling me to get well and my reply and the talk I had with him about you when he told me Maria's comments, you're more likely to be talking to him before I am.”
I sighed, saying, “It's a pity about all that money. I was hoping he'd start up again and we could catch him and confiscate it. In that way, it probably would have ended up in the Justice system. Instead, since he has no relatives, it'll go to some obscure department and disappear.”
Robby told me, “Oh, he has a relative, Captain, you were just looking in the wrong place. On his birth certificate, which is a fake, it says he's Italian. He's not, he's Spanish, well half-Spanish and despite the fact that he hid it, he's proud of that fact and it's always at the front of his mind. He's Julius Gallo's bastard brother. Start from there and you won't have any trouble finding his relative and that's in the singular. Joey Gallo is his last living relative, he owns a small nightclub in Prescott. His club makes about three million dollars a year. He's worth about five million dollars, but that's after he gives a lot away to charity. I assure you that Luigi's money couldn't end up in better hands.” There was an air of satisfaction in his voice, showing that he would be glad to see Corso's money go to someone who could use it well. I had no doubt that with his information that we'd find out exactly what he told me.
He bent down and pulled a radio out of the bag he had been carrying and held it up. He asked, “Do we have your cooperation, Captain? I think you'll find the assassin is a nice consolation prize. He's called The Jaguar.”
My heart skipped a beat there and I sat up straight, a hunger in my heart. Police in Mexico and south into South America had been looking for him for over ten years. My voice was a purr of satisfaction, “A fine consolation prize indeed.”
It was still light but this was a poorer area of Acapulco and I don't think I'd want to be here after dark, on my own. Now I was with Max and by the way it's not Maximilian, it's simply Max. Why such a simple name in a country known for its complex names I don't know and I didn't ask him. It was his business.
Max asked me a question after he pulled up, “I'm curious about one thing. Earlier you always referred to the man who's supposed to kill you as the shooter, or assassin, why do you never use the word sniper.”
I told him seriously, “In my mind a sniper is a member of the armed forces or a police officer, who is doing a disagreeable but necessary job. There is honor involved. An assassin, depending on who he goes after, can either be honorable or dishonorable. A shooter is a killer, in a dishonorable profession, who is in it either for the money, the pleasure or both.”
Max nodded thoughtfully, before shoving his door open. He opened the door for Jeannie and sensibly left me to get out on my own. I could see several jaguar were auras and in fact the boy he called out to, also was jaguar. Obviously, he was well known in this area and he flipped a coin to the boy to watch the car. He told us, “Having someone watch your car in this area doesn't always do much good. However, they will take notice of who is watching it in this case and will leave it alone.”
We walked probably about a half mile through narrow twisted alleyways to get to our destination, a small simple house. There was a bench in the front of the house and Max sat down and Jeannie joined him. He said, “We will let you go in alone, since that is what you want, muchacho. She is a were Elder and a fine jeweler.” He grinned, “She also takes Mastercard.”
I pushed through the beaded curtain into a well lighted room. It had a counter at the front. A woman of about fifty was sitting at a work bench at the back with a jeweler's loupe in one eye. She looked up at my entrance and spoke in Spanish, the only part of which I could understand was muchacho.
Going deep I used mind-speech, telling her, *Yes, Maria Sanchez. Max Arau brought me here. I would like to buy some jewelry.*
She replied, *You are an Elder, not jaguar, American. At your age there can only be one. Welcome to my house, Robby Hansen and how may I help you?*
I explained to her, *I would like seven crosses made. Four silver and three gold.* I took out the cat collar I had bought in Prescott and brought with me. *I want one of the silver set into this collar and chains of the appropriate metal for the others. They are not religious crosses. They are in tribute to my family who saved my life.*
*Tell me, muchacho?* she asked.
I decided to show her instead. I went through each starting with Len then Teddy, then Barry then my Mom. She asked, *And for the last gold cross, little one. What is that one for?*
I showed her and she nodded, saying, *Julio was right, you are very wise for such youth. When do you need them? Since they are plain they will not be difficult to make.*
I told her, *I intend to kill the man who hired the assassin tomorrow. If possible I would like to leave tomorrow night.* She took both statements calmly.
She told me, *As I said they will be easy to make. I can finish them tonight. Do you want the names engraved on them? I know them and how they are spelled from your mind.*
*Yes, that would put a finishing touch on them. I thank you.* I said gratefully.
Max came on the radio a little before 3:20 PM, telling me, “We have him, Robby, as you suspected he wasn't willing to come calmly. He has four bullets in him and the doctor I brought along, feels he will not make it to the hospital alive.”
“Thanks, Max.” I took the ear piece out and put the radio away. I told Jeannie, “Max got him. He resisted and he's not expected to live. I think I'll go hold my talk with Luigi now.” I pushed myself to my feet and headed toward Corso. The bodyguard on this side looked at me and seeing I wasn't carrying anything let me approach.
I knelt about five feet from Corso and began to run sand through my fingers, saying, *Hello, Luigi. I got careless with you. I really should have paid more attention to what your mind was like, but I still sometimes have trouble with human minds and that was early days, so I guess I can't expect myself to be perfect. You really pissed me off when you hired an assassin, but most of the anger is gone now.*
He tried to say something but he was only able to croak, since I had most of his body locked down, including his voice. I told him, *Don't try to talk. Just think what you want to say.*
*You can read minds?* Luigi asked and he was absolutely appalled.
I nodded, saying, *Yes. My people use what we call mind-speech among ourselves. I have the extra ability to read human minds. That's how I knew about Julius Gallo's chair being wired. I read it in his mind. I simply had him locked down so that he couldn't push the button. Since I was quite happy to have the estate destroyed, I didn't put any permanent block on him, I simply gave you a warning. Oh by the way, you can keep pushing the button until doomsday and you won't get any reaction. The police broke in on your assassin and he's on his way to the hospital and not expected to live.*
His mind was getting a feeling of impending doom, soon he would realize that I was going to kill him and once that point was reached the conversation would be over, though aside from his one comment it was a monologue. I explained, *It's ironic Luigi, at least I find it is. If you had left me alone you wouldn't be in this position. While I find your profession despicable, I can't go around killing everyone I find despicable. I'd have to kill ten percent of the people in the world if that was the case. However, you put yourself in a position where I have to do something about you. I could remove all memory of me from your mind, but I'm not going to do that. In about half an hour you're going to die, you'll go for your usual swim before heading for home and you'll drown.*
The realization was finally there in his mind and it was time for me to leave. I told him, *Goodbye, Luigi. Oh one last thing, we're aware that you're Julius Gallo's half brother and your money will go to Joey and he'll spread it around to various charities.*
I got up and gave him a casual wave with my hand and went back to join Jeannie. At ten minutes to four, Luigi got up and headed for the water for his swim, before leaving. Jeannie asked me, “How do you intend to kill him?”
I told her solemnly, “In a sense I already have. I put blocks around his autonomic systems, though right now they're not active. He's at the water's edge now. When he swims out, carefully avoiding the lifeguard boats as he always does and he reaches the appropriate distance, I'll trigger them and they'll go up and form permanent blocks. That means he won't be able to breathe and his heart will stop beating. He'll frantically try to breathe, but he'll be unable to and he should go right to the bottom. Even if the lifeguards manage to get to him, it doesn't matter, they won't be able to revive him.”
“In fact, that should be the appropriate distance.” I reached out with my mind and triggered the blocks and Jeannie and I watched unemotionally as he went under and died.
We had stopped at the Clinic and I knew Robby had given Len something but he wouldn't tell me what it was and now we were gathered in the living room. He reached out with his mind and gathered us all in, not for mind-speech, this was emotions only.
He took a box out of his pocket saying gravely, “These are my versions of the Navy Cross. There are two types, gold for those who actually risked their lives and silver for those who helped saved my life. Len has already gotten his and it was gold.”
Robby took a chain out of the box and I could see it was gold and it had a gold cross on the end of the chain. He knelt in front of Teddy, whose blue eyes suddenly went wide and there was a feeling of emotional turmoil which gradually subsided and became pride, as Robby put the chain around Teddy's neck and fastened it. Robby said seriously, “For our engineering officer, who saw what had to be done and did it. By pushing the wheelbarrow out to cover Len and I you undoubtedly saved our lives, because there were two bullets holes in the wheelbarrow. Obviously, the wheelbarrow deflected the bullets away from us.”
Robby pulled a second chain out of the box and this one was silver. He knelt in front of Barry, saying, “To our little communications officer, who kept his calm and obeyed Mommy, to quickly report the shooting and get in touch with 911, so that the ambulance could get here in time to save my life.” Barry flung his arms around Robby's neck and hugged him fiercely a feeling of joy in his mind.
in that embrace for at least five minutes, with Barry trying to get
control of his emotions and Robby gently stroking his back.
Finally the embrace was over and Robby moved to his mother. This chain was also silver. He said, “To the commanding officer, who stayed calm when she must have been feeling frantic, directing Barry and grabbing her rifle and distracting the shooter. I know she would have liked to take him out herself.” He hung the silver chain around her neck and embraced her, their minds a whirlpool of joy.
Robby finally pushed his way back out of the embrace. He reached into the box and pulled out a gold chain. “This one is very special. He wasn't able to help physically save my life, because he was working. But from other minds, I could see that he stood like a rock in our time of need. There's an old saying, 'THEY ALSO SERVE, WHO ONLY STAND AND WAIT.' Paul this is for you.” and he fastened it around Paul's neck and we could all feel the emotion they both felt. A bit of ambiguity from Paul but also joy and the realization that Robby considered what he had done was as important as what the others had done.
Robby said in his soft voice, “I think I can manage a Father now and again, Dad is already taken.” We all felt the sudden piercing sorrow go through Robby as the emotions that had transpired hit him hard and brought back the memory of his Dad, full blown and he began to cry softly. Paul gathered him gently onto his lap, Robby's head on his shoulder. We could all feel the comfort that those strong arms around him were bringing him.