Chapter 1 // Friday, March 1 1:00am

Chapter 1 // Friday, March 1 1:00am

Up yours, bastard...
— Tommy Felton

He thinks he’s safe. But he’s not. He thinks he’s alone and can relax. But he’s not, and he shouldn’t. I’m here. I’m here for him. Though at the moment, I’m freezing my ass off. I’m lucky it isn’t raining. Normally I like the rain. Everyone in Oregon likes the rain, except folks who’ve recently moved up from Southern California. But even they get used to it, or leave. But on a night like tonight, the rain can be miserable. No matter how waterproof you think you’ve dressed, it isn’t enough. When you’re outside on a freezing, dark night, exposed to the elements, the cold wind slices straight through to your bones. If it’s raining, those icy drops pierce straight through to your soul.

I’ve been outside his house for three hours. I’ve been watching from behind a shed in his backyard for two. My legs keep cramping, so I have to switch positions every few minutes. My butt is wet and dirty because I slipped once. I quickly discovered that the soggy turf could soak my pants faster than my ex could soak a credit card.

My target, Thomas Felton, aka Tommy-on-the-lam, is holed up in there. He’s hiding from the police, neighbors, and though he doesn’t know it, me. Tommy skipped bail a week ago, and the bondsman who secured his release is on the hook for a chunk of change. The bondsman throws me a couple of bones every so often, and even though I’m not a big fan of this kind of work, it does pay some bills. He always emphasizes the paycheck I’ll get, not the risk I’ll face. “Hey, Jake, I got an easy one for you. Simple as pie, no risk, no fuss, just pick the dude up and you get a paycheck.” I say yes, he sends the file, and lo and behold the “easy as pie” target is a felon with a rap sheet as long as a new roll of toilet paper. Oh well, just another day at the office.

The bondsman provided me with a set of pictures, primarily mug shots, and details of Tommy’s habits, aliases, haunts, friends, and family. He’s a big man at six feet three inches, 250, with a full head of hair, busted nose, acne scars, and lots of muscle. His crimes and reputation peg him as very dangerous, with a short fuse. Plus, being on the run for a few days has a way of amping up the anxiety and fear levels. I know Tommy is going to defend his freedom with the zeal of a door-to-door salesman trying to make quota at the end of the quarter. And not a pie salesman, but a mean, ugly, and probably smelly salesman.

The house is a single-story ranch far out on the east side of town in an area of redevelopment. It seems old and lonely, like a forgotten man who has watched all of his buddies die off and is waiting for his turn.

I followed Tommy here from a bar that he is known to frequent. Why he would be at a bar that he is known to frequent is beyond me; yeah, I know, big and dumb. After I tailed him here, I parked on the street and waited in my car, a fourteen-year-old Jeep. We’ve traveled 125,000 miles together, and not always on nice flat highways. Its beat-up exterior makes it nearly invisible to most people. Its rebuilt motor eliminates any concerns about it stalling out. And if Tommy makes a run for it, I won’t be worried about damaging the car. If I feel like running over Tommy instead of running after him, that option is on the table.

After about an hour of sitting in my Jeep and watching Tommy’s dark house, the neighboring houses, and the traffic flow, I felt I had the rhythm of the area down cold. When it was time, I exited my vehicle and nonchalantly crossed the street to a thicket of rhododendrons located in front of and to the left of Tommy’s abode. Clearly not having seen a pair of pruning shears in years, the plants stand six feet high and about the same width and provide lots of cover. From there I moved into Tommy’s yard, shielded from the streetlights. As I circled around to the back of the house, I discovered the shed. Three of the four windows along the back of the house had been dark ever since I sat my ass in the soggy grass. The last window darkened about an hour ago.

I decide that I am going to enter the house through the front door. It seems to be the farthest entry point from the back room, where I surmise Tommy lies dreaming of sugar plums, or maybe fairies.

It’s time. I advance as quietly as possible. I work my way back around to the front edge of the house. My shoes don’t sink into the mud, but my socks are soaked, and I know I’ll have to peel them from my feet later. Before I step out into the pool of light cast by the streetlamp, I check the area one last time for insomniacs and late partiers.

When I am pretty sure no one is watching, I move quickly to the front porch. I carefully open the screen door and lean it gently against my back. The lock on the front door is easy to pick. When I feel the tumblers click into place, I draw my weapon in my right hand and open the door enough to search for threats inside the house. Not seeing a mirror image of my gun pointed back at me, I decide it is safe enough to step inside. I enter the house and carefully, softly, slowly, close both doors. I squat just inside the front door. I keep low and still for a few moments to gain control of my breathing. I listen for indications of Tommy moving around and let my eyes adjust to the dark interior. The only light in the room is from the street and is filtered through partially closed blinds along the front room window. I keep my .38 pointed forward, still in my right hand and braced by my left, safety off, as I examine the room.

I am in a living room. I know from examining the exterior of the house that the garage is to my left. I can see a dining area directly in front of me. In between the dining area and the living room, a hallway heads to the right. Right to where I figure Tommy is zonked out. The living room has a couch and a TV but no tables or chairs. The floor looks perfectly clear of debris, trip wires, and empty beer cans. The house smells like burnt meat and old garbage. Tommy’s not much of a housekeeper.

Slowly, continuing to stay low, I move toward the hallway and shift the gun to my left hand so that I have a clear shot around the corner. Not my most accurate hand to shoot with, but good enough up close. Hopefully the gun won’t be necessary. Hopefully Tommy is a deep sleeper and not lying in wait for me. I stop at the edge of the wall that separates the living room from the hallway, listening for sounds. I try to sense any presence waiting around the corner intent on bonking me on the head. Hearing and otherwise sensing no one, I quickly glance around the corner down the hall to my right while pointing my gun in the same direction. Instantly I see the dark shape of Tommy’s bulk, and a millisecond later I feel an object smash into my gun and graze my hand. The blow knocks the gun out of my grasp. It skitters across the dining room as my hand erupts in pain.

It appears that Tommy actually is smarter than the average bear, or at least a lighter sleeper. I don’t have time to whine about my hand. I see Tommy repositioning himself to swing what appears to be a bat at me a second time. I can tell he is feeling like Babe Ruth and means to go yard on my head with his next swing. But I’m lucky: while he is big, strong, and armed, he is also slow. Instead of moving back and out of the way, which would only expose me to the most dangerous part of the bat, I jump forward. Now my body is inside the arc of his swing. I grab at his shirt, pulling him toward me. As I look up into his ugly mug, I smell meat venting out of his mouth and stale beer hanging on him like cheap aftershave. For the instant that we are frozen in this discomfiting embrace, I feel him switch his grip on the Louisville slugger. I sense that he intends to pound down on my head with the butt of the bat. But before he can, I pull him even closer.

His expression switches from expectant to surprised, and on to confused. I imagine that he can’t understand why I would get closer to him, given that he greatly outweighs me and would easily beat me in a wrestling match. So in his surprise, his first reaction is to try to pull away from me. As he does, I swing my right leg around his right leg and push hard with my hands against his chest. Tommy is no longer in control of his body. Now both of our bodies are headed in the same direction, and my right leg is preventing him from moving his feet backward. He is helpless to stop his fall toward the floor. As he falls, I position my body on top of his. With my right hand, I push hard on his face just to make sure that his head doesn’t miss the cheap linoleum. It doesn’t. He hits hard, grunts, and goes limp.

I take a very short moment to catch my breath. Tommy scared me with that first swing of his bat, and adrenaline is coursing through my veins. Eventually I stand up, flop Tommy over, and bind his hands and feet with zip ties I have stored in my pocket. Once he is secure, I find my gun, turn on the lights, and examine my hand. It’s sore from the bat’s grazing, and will bruise, but doesn’t seem to be broken.

I find a chair and sit down, pull out my cell phone, and dial 911. “Operator assistance—what is your emergency?”

“My name is Jake Brand. I’m a private detective. I’ve apprehended a wanted fugitive, a Mr. Thomas Louis Felton. There’s a warrant out for his arrest. I need you to send a squad car over to pick him up.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Brand.” I hear her talking to someone and the rat-a-tat-tat of a keyboard. “Where are you located?” I give her the address plus a few other tidbits, and she assures me that a car is on its way.

Next I call my employer. “Hey, it’s Jake. I’ve got Felton and the paddy wagon is on its way. I hope your check-writing hand is warmed up.”

“That’s terrific; you’ve saved me a bundle.” The bondsman waits a beat. “Is he alive?”

“Of course he’s alive. What do you think—I’m a cop?”

“Tell me he’s at least in tears or pain.”

“Don’t worry—he will be when he wakes up. He’s beddy-bye at the moment. I’ll check in with you this afternoon.”

“Perfect. Thanks again, Jake.”

I put my phone away and decide it’s time for a cocktail just as I hear Tommy waking. I start opening cabinets as I ask, “Hey, Tommy, got any liquor, preferably scotch? Hey, Tommy, you need to pay attention to me.” When he still doesn’t respond, I kneel down and smack his cheek a couple of times. “Scotch? Bourbon?”

“Up yours, bastard.”

Tommy’s such a poet.

He makes an oomph sound as the toe of my size twelve makes solid contact with his belly. “I’ve never heard of Up Yours, Bastard bourbon before. But what the hell, Tommy, I’m adventurous; I’m a connoisseur of finer beverages. Where is this nectar you speak of ?”

Tommy just stares at me with that “I’d kill you if I wasn’t stupid and cuffed” look. As I pull my leg back for another “accidental” kick, Tommy decides to cooperate and shakes his head in the direction of one of the cupboards. I open it and see a couple of bottles. I pull out the brownest of them, along with a highball glass, and pour myself a couple fingers. I put the bottle back in the cupboard; don’t want to be a pig about Tommy’s stash. I find a cereal bowl, light up a cigarette, and place it in the bowl. The fumes billow softly up into the room, and the aroma calms me. The sound of approaching sirens means I can totally kick back and relax.

“Hey, Tommy, hear that? That’s your transportation. I called them because I was afraid you weren’t safe to drive, you being woozy and all.”