Sally knew this was a bad thing when she saw the news.
“This is Tiffany Edwards at the Burntwood WalMart, where a quick-thinking customer stopped a robbery.”
The big guy behind Tiffany was what Sally was worried about. He was smiling for the camera for all of the state of New Hampshire to see, and he was a protected witness from Brooklyn.
Her cell phone started ringing before Tony even managed to open his mouth to talk to Tiffany.
“Did you see…?”
Her boss didn’t need to finish his sentence. “Yeah, Jeff, I see him.”
“He called not more than ten minutes ago to tell me what happened. Is he just stupid or what?”
“Look, he’s having a freaking bunny. You need to get over there and see what we can do for him.”
“You want a direct quote? ‘The last expletive deputy you sent was hitting on my wife the whole expletive time.’ End quote. He wants a woman. You’re the only female deputy marshal in the whole of the New Hampshire district.”
That wasn’t an unusual position for Sally. She’d been the only woman in the southern district of New York when she’d started there almost twenty-five years ago. It was getting old. “Why doesn’t his case manager come take care of him?”
“His case manager got transferred from SDNY to Antarctica.”
“How on earth does something like that happen?”
“I don’t know, but the New York guys asked us to look out for Tony until they can send another WITSEC guy up here to take care of him.”
“Okay, so what do you want me to do?”
“Take Marco and get over to the guy’s house. Lock him down. Keep him under wraps. If you think anybody knows where he lives, or you see anybody suspicious, you take him to a hotel, check him in under another name, whatever. Haven’t you done this before?”
“Look at it as job security, okay?”
“Just give me Tony’s address. I’ll call Marco and have him meet me there.”
The story was still on as she flipped the phone closed. Tony was standing in front of the WalMart, explaining to Tiffany how he had simply grabbed the knife from the punk kid and knocked him down. Sally had no doubts about it going that way, Tony weighed about 300 pounds and had the attitude to go with his size. He was leaning against a display of potted plants, smoking a cigar. Tiffany was questioning him about how often he shopped at WalMart as Sally punched the off button on the remote, grabbed her Glock and her backup weapon out of the gunsafe, and headed out to her Volvo.
It was just getting dark when she pulled into Tony’s driveway in the little seacoast town of Burntwood. It looked like every light in the imitation saltbox was on, and multiple outside lights as well. At least there weren’t any news trucks here. That showed some glimmer of intelligence on Tony’s part. There were no other cars in the driveway, the doors to the garage were shut. That meant she’d gotten here before Marco, as expected. She’d managed to catch him at home, but he lived to the northwest of Concord. She’d come from her place on the south end of Lake Winipesaukee, not all that far from here. Oh well, she could handle Tony on her own. She looked around before getting out of the car, no sign of anything suspicious. She headed up the walk to the front door and leaned on the bell.
Tony pulled the door open. He was holding a sawed-off shotgun with a pistol grip. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m your friendly neighborhood deputy marshal.”
“Well, get the hell in here then.” He stepped back.
“Don’t you want to see my ID?”
She showed him her badge.
He pulled her into the house and shut the door behind her. “Wait a minute. I know you.”
“Yeah, Tony, I arrested you.”
“Are you fucking serious? You’re the one who got me into this mess.”
“You got yourself into this mess.”
He glared at her.
“What the hell were you thinking? Talking to news reporters? It’s bad enough that you took out that guy with the knife at the WalMart, but then to go on television?”
“I know. That’s why I called the office. They didn’t tell me they were going to send you.” He tilted his head sideways, looking like a demented parrot. “Why are you even up here?”
“I transferred up here after 911. I wanted out of the city.”
Tony nodded and wandered into the kitchen. “Look, my wife and my kid are out. Lydia has a riding lesson every Tuesday. They haven’t come back yet.”
“I wouldn’t be too concerned, what time did you expect them?”
“Seven-thirty or so.”
“It’s only eight now. Did you try her cell phone?”
“She keeps it on vibrate when Lydia is riding. She might have forgotten to take it out of silent mode.”
“Try again.” Sally looked around. The house was small, but clean and neat, well kept. She knew nothing about Tony’s new life, just that he had been a cog in the wheel in one of the families in New York, had testified and been relocated. She’d arrested him when he’d skipped out on his bail at one point, somewhere in the middle of all that, before he turned. She hadn’t even known until now that he was up here. “Any chance that anybody who knows who you are might have seen that news story?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I called.”
The doorbell rang and Tony dropped the phone and lifted the shotgun.
“Will you please put that thing away before somebody gets hurt?” She headed for the front door. “It’s probably just my partner.” She parted the heavy curtains and looked out the window. Marco was standing with his back to the door, scanning the street, but she recognized his dark curly hair. Not to mention the windbreaker with “US Marshal” printed on it. She opened the door and he whirled around and jumped into the house.
“Did you see the car across the street?” Marco asked.
Tony came into the foyer. “What car?”
Sally went back to the window. “Big black SUV.”
“Isn’t that what you guys drive?” asked Tony.
“This is a Cadillac. The government doesn’t use those.” Sally pulled the curtains shut. “If they’re here, why haven’t they moved on you?”
Tony was heading for the back of the house, towards a set of sliding glass doors, shotgun slung over his shoulder. “They send a couple of guys to check it out first. Once they make the target, they’ll bring in the hitter.”
“So these guys are some kind of scouting party? How did they find your house?” She turned as she heard a low rumbling from the far end of the house. “What’s that?”
“That’s the garage door.”
“So that should be your wife and kid, right?”
“It better be,” said Marco.
“Marco, go check it out.”
She watched him head in that direction and focused again on Tony as he started to open the back door. “What are you doing?”
“Look, if they’re parked out front, I’m going out the back.”
“I don’t know.”
“And what about your wife and kid?”
Tony hesitated with the sliding glass door half open.
“Let’s get organized, okay?” Sally reached past the big guy and shut the door, pulled the curtains closed, and guided him back to the couch. “Sit.”
Tony sat, but jumped up again when a small blond woman and a tiny blond girl came in.
“What’s going on? Why are they here?” The woman waved her arm in the direction of Marco and Sally.
Sally looked to Tony, who sighed. “I made a mistake.”
“Jesus, Tony. You didn’t get arrested for something, did you?”
He shook his head. “No, no, nothing like that.” He sat on the couch and relayed the story while Marco stood by the front door, watching the big Caddy, still sitting across the street.
Sally focused on the three of them. “We need to get you folks out of here.”
“How long do we have?” asked Tony’s wife. Sally still didn’t know what her name was.
“Just long enough to grab a change of clothes.” Sally turned to Marco. “Are they still there?”
“You have any extra vests in your car?”
Marco turned away from the window. “Nothing big enough for him.”
“I’ve got an extra that will fit Lydia. But it’s in the car.” Sally looked at the three of them. The little girl was still in her riding clothes, long tan pants and neat brown boots. She kept looking from her mother to her father, without saying a word. “We’ll take my car. Marco, you follow us.”
“Where are we going?” asked Tony.
“We’ll go to Concord. Put you up in a hotel. Figure out what to do from there.”
“What do we do with our stuff? With the house?” asked the wife.
Sally met her gaze. “We’ll get somebody in here to pack your things, put it in storage until you land in a new place.”
“Mommy, are we moving?”
That was the first thing the little girl had said since she’d come home.
There were tears running down her mother’s cheeks. Sally had to bite her lip, trying not to think about what they were facing. If they could get the family out of the house without the bad guys spotting them, and get them to a hotel, they’d be stuck there for days. At least school was out for the summer. Sally looked at Marco, then returned her attention to the family, huddled together on the couch now, Tony looking miserable.
“Let’s get moving.” There was nothing else Sally could do but move them. Tony had brought it on himself. As far as she knew, he’d been clean since he moved up here, and it wasn’t fair to relocate them again, to take them away from the life they’d made. But there was no way around it.
Sally loaded the bags into the car, brought in a vest for the kid.
The SUV was still there, a cigarette glowing through the tinted glass in the area of the driver’s seat.
“I’m going to go have a talk with the guys in the Caddy. Cover me.” She put a hand on her Glock and walked across the street, approaching from the rear. New Hampshire plates. Pounded on the driver’s side window, holding her badge in her right hand. “Federal agent, open up.”
The window hissed down and she found herself staring into a very young face. Kid couldn’t have been more then nineteen. Dark hair, white skin, with a smattering of pimples around a large nose. He set his smoke in the ashtray. He was small, built light, not muscle. Beside him though, in the passenger seat, was a guy who had to be the muscle. He must have weighed three hundred pounds, and it looked like somebody had broken his nose once. Whoever did it was probably dead.
“Can I help you, officer?” asked the big guy as he snapped a cell phone closed. His accent was southern New York all the way.
“What are you two doing here?”
“Nothing. Is it illegal to sit in a car now?”
She ran her eyes over the interior of the car, looking for a reason to call the locals, have these idiots hauled away so she could get Tony and his family out of here. She couldn’t involve the locals, couldn’t tell anyone Tony was a protected witness. The more people knew, the bigger the chance that somebody would take him out.
She shook her head. “Nope, nothing illegal about sitting in your car. Have a nice day, boys.” She pulled out her knife as she walked around the back of the car, and cut the valve stem off the left and then the right rear tires. She grinned as she was met with a satisfying hiss. She pulled out her cell phone as she crossed the street and called 911 to report vandals slashing tires on Center Street. The locals were there with lights flashing as she hustled Tony and his family out of the house.
No need for a display of weapons, no need to worry the neighbors. The big guy was out of the Caddy now, waving his arms and pointing at his tires, while the local cop stood there with his arms crossed. Sally waved as they headed down the street.
J.E. Seymour lives in a small town in seacoast NH. She has two novels out from Barking Rain Press, “Stress Fractures,” and “Lead Poisoning.” Barking Rain will publish the third in the Kevin Markinson series, “Frostbite,” next summer. She also has a short story collection in ebook form available, “Blackbird and Other Stories.” J.E has had numerous short stories published in print and online. She attended the Bread Loaf writers conference in 2002 and was a panelist at the Crime Bake Mystery Conference in 2011. http://jeseymour.com