I dodged another tackle from another thug. “I am. I haven’t touched a single one of them,” I said. The words were barely out of my mouth before the sound of the thug crashing into window drowned out everything else.
Bells went off as the burglar alarm was triggered in the electronics store. The two men battling Monika turned and fled leaving my opponent staggering to pull himself free of the shattered glass.
I didn’t waste any time either. I ran.
Monika ran easily beside me. “I may take up the pacifist art of fighting. Less pain and more gain,” she said and smiled.
I couldn’t smile, I was breathing too hard. But then I wasn’t what Monika was. Still, even after our constant work since leaving her family home she could at least pretend to be tired. Finally we slowed down as the bells faded away.
I leaned against a brick wall and put my hands on my knees. “Carry me to wherever we go next,” I panted.
“Where do we go next?”
“Well,” I began. “As long as we don’t get jumped by the Hatfield’s anymore we’re heading to a techie I know who can get us the location of Mile’s phone.”
“Hatfield’s?” Monika looked confused. It was a bit of a happy moment then made me feel much older than her.
“As in Hatfields and McCoys, the old hillbilly feud,” I said.
“Oh, I get it,” she nodded. “I guess you could say that.
“Kind of a Romeo and Juliet thing without the Romeo and Juliet.”
“This one has that though,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
Monika stared at me for a moment. I could see her thinking. “Carl Stratford is Romeo and…Aunt Lori is Juliet.”
I held my breath. Then I realized I didn’t have any breath to hold. What was I, the poison or the dagger?
“What’s so important about Miles Stratford?” I asked.
Lori leaned forward on the step beside me. “We have to find him and settle things,” she said.
“You mean kill him.”
“He killed one of ours.”
“How can you be sure it really wasn’t an accident? He could have just been driving that fast,” I said.
“There was no accident,” said Lori. “There was a battle. Miles and Phyllis were in the same nightclub when things became uncomfortable. She left, he followed and then he forced her car into a spin. When she stopped he and another man jumped out and went after her.”
“Two on one, not very gentlemanly,” I said.
“It was two on two,” said Lori. “But the other was pinned for too long. Phyllis was dead and the sirens were sounding so Miles and his friend ran.”
“And the pinned friend?”
“She freed herself and made it home. But some witnesses had seen Miles speeding away and it was assumed that it was a hit and run,” said Lori.
I looked at Monika. She was staring at the ground and her fists were clenched. She was holding anger inside, she was shaking that much.
“We can handle this, Lori,” said Martin.
“No we cannot, not the way Trevor can,” said Lori. “This is what he does. We are simply fighters. He is as a detective who avoids fighting. He will think our way out of this and if not he can fight it out.”
“He needs her to protect him,” said Martin. “Look at him, he is broken already. A man that does not fight is not a man.”
Monika was in Martin’s face before any of us blinked. “He took down Marcos Li in a matter of seconds, could have killed him. He had a pistol shoved down the throat of Stratford. What have you done?”
“Not be trapped in a car,” said Martin. His eyes betrayed his regret at the words before his lips closed over the last syllable. It was as I thought. Monika was the trapped friend who had watched as her sister had been decapitated.
“Well, either Carl Stratford was lying or he really doesn’t know where his son is. Either way it’s time to get started,” I said. I stretched slightly to disguise the need to get rid of the numbness in my butt from sitting on the steps so long.
“Where to start?” Lori asked.
I smiled. “Miles is a child of this generation. Kid can’t go without a cell phone and I imagine he has a high priced one. I’m going to see if I can track it down.”
They all looked at me with blank looks. “What?” I asked.
Monika shook her head. “That is the simplest thing I have ever heard of. Why we did not think of it is beyond me.”
Lori smiled. “Because we were not thinking like a detective. Why do you think I sent you to him?”
“Because you still think he’s cute,” said Monika.
Martin stood taller. “She’s a married woman, little one. Be mindful.”
It was my turn for a facial reaction.
Lori frowned slightly and turned away.
The memories of the pressure from the greeting burned away.
Rose & Ghun in Simply Murder-Episode Six: Say What?
The house was a long rambling one story structure set up on stilts. Like I said we had passed through almost swampy marsh type land before, well we were even deeper now. Moss hung from the trees surrounding the house in a veil that hid it from day and night.
It had been a long time since I had been here, been welcomed here. “You sure they know I’m coming?” I asked.
“What do you think?” Monika asked as she nodded to the railing above. We stood and stared up at the line of people. It wasn’t the happiest gathering I had ever seen. I recognized a lot of faces…with the same unhappy looks I had last seen years ago.
“I’m not dead, so I guess that’s a yes.”
Monika moved first and headed toward the wide stairs leading up to the house. I followed close behind. I didn’t want any space between us in case a family member got jumpy. They would have to hit her if they went after me.
“Walking might close to her, boy,” said a deep voice. I looked around but the voice could have come from anyone.
Most of the people seemed to be glancing toward an older man, a big man. I would say ugly man but I don’t want to be mean. Okay, he was ugly too. But I don’t mean that in a bad way. “She’s been my protector the past 12 hours or so and been doing a good job. I see no reason to interfere with her record,” I said. I voiced it to the crowd as I looked at everyone.
I had guessed right. The big man slowly nodded. “Smarter than you look then,” he rumbled. “Looks like she didn’t do too good a job with that face.” I touched my left eye and lip. “No, I mean the other side.”
My mouth dropped a little and the crowd laughed. I smiled with relief. But I wasn’t going to let my guard down yet. Monika had stayed close to me and she wasn’t relaxed at all. “No sir, she was a bit late for that one.”
“Trevor, are you going to give me a hug or stand there like an idiot?” I looked in the direction of the question. There was Lori looking as young as ever. I climbed the step two at a time and she met me near the top. The hug was sincere and long. The feel was familiar and wanting. And the fingers pressed with more than a welcome.
“Get off of her!” The voice was closer than I would have thought. I was thrown back against the rail and toppled over. I twisted in the air and landed lightly on my feet as my knees bent slightly to adjust for the impact.
“Martin, no!” The shout from Lori was a bit too late as a figure flew down toward me. He didn’t make it.
A much smaller figure blurred across and slammed into the man, knocking him clear of me. Monika landed and crouched down between the two of us. “I’m his protector. Didn’t you hear the man?”
Martin stood up. He was the biggest man I had ever seen, while I was standing up and not bleeding. “He’s not welcomed here. Then he touches my sister.”
“She sent me for him,” said Monika.
“And I told him to touch me,” said Lori. “And I touched him back.” She landed beside Monika.
Martin stared through clenched eyes toward me. “You letting women fight for you?”
“Dang right,” I said. “I would rather women fight for me than men.”
There was silence for several moments. I heard mosquitoes, frogs, and maybe an alligator. Then I heard salvation. A slightly muffled giggle came from above. Then others joined in. Martin’s face began to twitch. Then his lips spread into a toothy smile that gleamed in the shadows of the mossy trees. He nodded his head. “Okay, I agree,” he said as he moved forward.
I relaxed slightly as he passed by me. “But no touching my sister,” he said and jabbed me with a finger.
“I don’t go where not invited. I’ll just say that,” I said.
He glared at me and then slowly began walking up the stairs. I looked at Monika and Lori. Monika was watching Martin and Lori was watching me. “Same sense of humor and bravado,” she said. “But you’ve picked up some moves.”
“Move or die,” I said.
“He would have lost,” she said.
“If I lasted long enough.”
“You would have. You’ve always been a fighter, in will if not in ways,” she said.
“Big enough hit and my will would have no say.”
She looked at me and concern spread through her eyes. “You’ve survived all these years, barely. If he even grazed your skin he would have burned.”
“You don’t,” I said.
She smiled. “We shared a moment before it all changed.”
I looked at her and the feelings swirled and the turmoil began again that I had fought for so many years. “Why did you send her to me?” I asked and looked away.
She could tell the pain I was in. I could hear it in her voice as she spoke. “A war has started. Our clan against another. Not of our doing but we have to fight. We need you to help stop it.”
“You saying help you I’m your only hope?” I asked as I channeled one of my favorite movies.
She slowly nodded. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.”
I looked away and Monika caught my eye. There was a touch of pleading there. I sat down on the steps of the house and hung my head in my hands. “What demons do I have to fight?” I asked.
“It’s not which ones you have to worry about,” said Lori.
Monika simply nodded. Her focus was on the rutted dirt road with three foot ditches on either side. One wrong weave and we were stuck. If we met a wide car we were done for. My nerves were showing. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to come out here? Things are a bit different than last time.”
“I was sent to you for help, so I imagine you should be welcomed,” she said.
“You know how to make a man feel at ease, don’t you?” I said.
A closed lipped smile crossed her face. Even from the side I could see that mind reading expression come to her eyes. She somehow dug deeper down into my meanings than I even knew were there. Monika wasn’t a model beauty, but she was an exotic mix of whatever she was and it fit together to make for a pleasant work of art.
I keep mentioning her looks because at this point she hadn’t said much. I knew there was intelligence there, and humor, but she had kept herself close so far. Lori Jackson was an African American woman I had grown up with, but I had no idea what Ghun came from. My best guess from Monika’s features was the Far East somewhere.
“Well, I was told I wasn’t welcomed after things changed,” I said staring ahead.
I could see her glance at me out of the corner of my eye. “Things change, Rose. People change and situations change. Needs change.”
“So I’m needed so now I am accepted?” I asked.
“Don’t question it, just take advantage of it,” she said. Like I said, intelligent.
“If you….” The tree fell right in front of us. Monika didn’t have time to come to a complete stop and we tapped the tree turned log hard.
Monika was out and on the hood of the Jeep before I was even able to lift my head up. Her stance said this wasn’t an accident. I opened the door and stood beside the Jeep with both guns out. I was going to at least look helpful.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Rose, you don’t want to do this,” said a voice from nowhere.
“Well I can’t exactly go anywhere,” I said. I had an auto reply set in my mind. Sometimes I couldn’t control it.
Something big came up and over the log at Monika. She fell flat onto the hood and the body slammed into the windshield. It was a large man, way large. I spun as I heard crackling behind me. Both barrels came up and settled on another form, tall and thin this time. Why couldn’t I get the big ones to shoot? I could hit a big one.
“Now, now, Mr. Rose, let’s not do that,” said the stick. “We just don’t want you getting involved in anything that’s not your business.”
“I stubbed my toe when we hit the tree. It’s my business now.” I hated my mind setting.
“Your corpse,” he said. He was fast but Monika was faster. She landed on his head. And I literally mean his head. She drove it down into the dirt and there was a sick sound that I didn’t want an explanation of.
“More are out there, we have to go,” she said. She slid through my side of the Jeep and I followed.
It was only seconds and we were speeding back the way we came. I saw Monika searching the side of the road. “Looking for something?”
“Side road, barely, but it can get us home,” she said. The wheel jerked suddenly and I fell against her, but it didn’t bother her steering. She was hard as a rock. Soft looking but all muscle. We bounced through the woods which were really almost swamp. Monika didn’t bother looking behind, she stayed focused on ahead.
She should have been looking to the side as well. “Whoa!” I couldn’t help but yell as the arm reached through the window. There had been a thump as if something had fallen on us.
“Shoot him,” she said calmly.
“But I might kill him,” I yelled.
“You or him,” she said and kept steering.
I grasped for a solution. My fingers found the window button and the glass began to rise. The face on the other side was not ugly but it was mean and it almost laughed at the thought of a window stopping him. But that was all the distraction I needed. I slammed the gun in my hand through the glass at the face. He reacted the way I had hoped. He flinched.
Then he fell.
“Should have killed him,” she said.
“He’ll just keep coming.”
“You know a lot for someone who doesn’t do anything with it,” she said.
“I know.” I was silent as she drove. No matter what he was I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill. It just wasn’t in me. I couldn’t pull the trigger to wound him in case I accidently hit him wrong. I may have failed the Bible but I wasn’t going to fail God.
“Hello Jimmy,” I said as I slid into the booth across from him.
He started to slide out but was stopped. “Meet my…partner for the day,” I said as Monika sat down next to him.
“Trevor, I ain’t got nothin’ to do with nothin’, I swear,” said Jimmy.
“Eat your breakfast, Jimmy,” I said. “I just have a few questions then we’re out of here.”
Jimmy found it difficult returning to his pancakes. I wasn’t sure if it was me staring at him through sunglasses at 6:30 in the morning or having Monika sitting that close to him. My money would be safe on a bet.
“What do you want to know?”
“Miles Stratford, where is he?” I asked.
“No idea,” said Jimmy as he stuffed a big bite in his mouth. Monika and I exchanged a look. Somehow I felt she could see through the tint and past the swelled eye and actually make eye contact.
“Then you can help me find him,” I said.
“No way, man. I heard you are an untouchable now, man. I don’t want to end up dead.” Bits of pancake flew out as he sputtered out the words.
“I’m right here, Jimmy, touchable as ever. Look at this face. Does it look like it hasn’t been touched?”
“Money’s after you man. I don’t want to be in the way when it finds you,” said Jimmy as he looked out the window as if someone might see him with me.
“Everyone knows you wronged the media man last night about something. You might as well run for it. No one’s going to help you now.”
“And how does everyone know about anything about last night?” I asked.
“Trevor, I’m not talking, man.”
Monika moved a little closer to Jimmy. Under normal circumstances Jimmy would have been nervous just by the fact a girl was near him at all, but there was something that Monika was giving off that just told you that if you messed with her she was going to rip your face off and stick it down your shorts. The sad part is I think Jimmy would have liked it under other circumstances.
Jimmy put his fork down and stared out the window. “I don’t know what you did but word got around that you’re not on his good list right now. No one wants to be near you. I’m serious, Trevor. You got to get out of town.”
I could tell he was serious. Jimmy cared about Jimmy first but I could see in his face that he really thought I was as good as dead. “I can’t go anywhere, Jimmy. I have a job to do and I need your help to do it.”
“No, man,” he said and tried to climb out of the booth over the back of his seat. Monika’s hand on his knee stopped him. Not that she was being seductive or anything but her nails had torn through the denim like talons and snatched him back down.
Jimmy whimpered. Jimmy never screamed, at least not anymore. He knew that usually meant more pain would follow to shut him up, not from me. He had been an information guy for so long that he knew the tricks and the rules. The fact that he wasn’t giving me information just proved how bad things really were for me.
I gave Monika a look. Hurting Jimmy hadn’t been part of the plan. It wasn’t my style, but then I didn’t know what hers was but I had a feeling it could get rougher. “Jimmy, promise on your momma’s grave that you don’t know anything and I’ll leave you alone,” I said.
Jimmy stared into my glasses and I knew he saw the warped reflection of his face looking back at him. “I swear, Trevor.”
I threw down some cash to cover his breakfast and slid out. “Thanks, Jimmy. Sorry about the knee, wasn’t part of the plan.”
“I know,” said Jimmy as he looked at Monika. I saw forgiveness come to his eyes as he took in all of her for the first time. I wasn’t sure what cultural crossroads Monika was from but it had done its job well in the looks department, but I was becoming immune to it. There was an intelligence and a fierceness there that I was coming to respect. Even with her toughness I pushed my arm ahead of her to swing the door out so she could go through first and then made for her Jeep.
I sat back into the leather seat. “What was with the claw routine?” I asked.
“You weren’t going to stop him,” she said as she turned the key.
“Anything he was going to give us would have been a lie just to get rid of us, so I knew stopping him would do no good. Besides violence isn’t my thing,” I said.
The engine went quiet. She looked at me and laughed. “After what you did last night, stomping Marcos Li and then shoving a gun down Stratford’s throat, you are actually going to say you aren’t into violence?”
“I was defending myself against Little Man, or Li or whatever, and the gun for Stratford was for show. I have to put on a show or people will walk all over me,” I finished.
“You did a pretty good acting job,” she said cranking the Jeep again.
“That’s what it is, acting. I am a pacifist at heart. Don’t get me wrong. I will defend myself or others, but I am not going to seek out conflict.”
She became quiet. “I know.”
“You know what?” I asked.
“You’re a good man. That’s why I was sent to you.”
I looked at her. “Sent to me?”
“Yes. Lori Jackson is my aunt.”
“Then that means…what exactly have you gotten me into?” I asked. “And how young are you?” I wasn’t really sure which was the more pressing question.
“Aunt Lori is the youngest of her generation and I belong to the oldest, so we are more like sisters than aunt and niece,” she said with a smile. She knew what had been going through my mind. “As for what you are in, well, it’s exactly what I told you, I want to get Miles Stratford for killing my sister.”
“And she was killed in a car accident?”
“Impossible,” I said. No one in Lori’s family would die that easily.
“She was decapitated, supposedly by the windshield,” said Monika as she gripped the wheel. I looked more closely at the steering wheel and noticed slight bends here and there that were not factory. Monika had anger issues. I wasn’t frightened. For some reason passion came to mind.
“Li was sniffing around my office,” I said.
“This is just great. I’m right in the middle of your war.”