Carrots: A Shelby Nichols Adventure (7 page)

I couldn’t breathe. What had just happened? Was he dead? Who killed him? Was I next? The man who’d been following me all day came to my side. He pushed the killer away from me with his foot, and holstered his gun. I finally got some air into my lungs, and tried not to get hysterical. My rescuer pulled me to my feet, and with his arm around me, walked me away from the dead body.

I was shaking so badly that I didn’t notice the direction we were headed. When I finally realized he was taking me into the parking garage, instead of back to the street, I started to protest, but he clamped his hold firmly, and in a no-nonsense voice told me to keep walking.

As he pushed me into the driver’s side of an unlocked car, I heard sirens in the distance. All of a sudden, my dazed brain started to function, and I tried to get out. Before I knew how he did it, my wrists were in handcuffs, and shackled to the passenger door.

I found my voice. “What are you doing?” When he didn’t answer, I tried again. “Who are you?”

“Let’s just say I’m a friend of a friend.”

“You just killed that man. Why did you do that?”

He was thinking that he’d just saved my life, so what did it matter. Then he smiled politely and explained. “Just doing my job.”

My heart clenched with paralyzing fear, and I nearly wet my pants. “Your job? You mean like…like…” I couldn’t finish.

“A hired gun? Yes, you could say that.” There was a hint of pride in his voice. “Although I use the term loosely. You see Shorty back there was getting out of control, and my boss was afraid he’d spill his guts if he ever got caught. I knew the only way I’d find him was to keep an eye on you, and look what happened. It paid off.” He smiled like he’d just won the lottery. “Under normal circumstances, I would have disappeared, but it seems my boss has taken a sudden interest in you.”

“Me?” I squeaked. “Why? I didn’t do anything.”

“Babe, I just follow orders, but don’t worry too much. He’s not an unreasonable person.” He was thinking that I’d be lucky to get out of this alive.

“Who’s your boss?”

“You’ll find out soon enough. I’m taking you to meet him right now.” Then he started singing a country-western song in his mind, something about escaping the devil on the long road to hell, and I quickly put up my mental shields.

I sat there in a daze. I had just escaped death, but what was going to happen now? I tried not to panic, but my stomach started twisting. I jerked on the handcuffs, but that was an exercise in futility. Fear was making my stomach roil, and since I didn’t want to throw up, I decided to accentuate the positive. I was still alive, that was good. And there had to be a chance I could survive. A hired gun wouldn’t save me, just to kill me, right?

I glanced at him, trying to ascertain if he was the type that could kill a helpless woman in cold blood. There was a scar over his right eyebrow and his chiseled features seemed carved from stone. His size alone was intimidating, and I cringed at the realization that there was nothing soft about this guy.

We drove across town, and soon pulled in front of a large estate. The security guard opened the gate and waved us through. We drove about half a mile to the huge mansion sitting on top of a small hill. An armed guard dressed in black hurried from the house. He opened my door, and I nearly tumbled onto the pavement. The hired gunman threw him the keys, and he unlocked my cuffs. I could have bolted, but I didn’t feel like being tackled again. Instead, I squared my shoulders, and walked with all the dignity I could muster toward the house. I kept my shields up, not wanting to know my fate. I had already faced death once, how much worse could it get? 

The large foyer opened into a beautiful room decorated with antique furniture and huge oil paintings. Flower arrangements dotted the mahogany tables, and Persian rugs covered the beautiful hardwood floor.

All this opulence rolled over me as I was herded down the hall. We stopped in front of a door, and were soon admitted into a smaller, but no less elegantly appointed study. At once, the man sitting behind the desk rose to greet us with an interested smile. He was tall and well built, dressed in a dark, expensive business suit and gray shirt. He looked to be in his mid-to-late sixties, and had a beautiful mane of silver hair that contrasted starkly with his black bushy eyebrows.

“Ah,” he said, and came toward me. “You must be Shelby.”

How did he know that? I dropped my shields and got a shocking revelation. “You’re Uncle Joey?!”

He laughed indulgently, but really hated me calling him that, and I knew I’d made a huge mistake. “I’m gonna die,” I mumbled.

The hired gunman mentally agreed with me, and it suddenly made me mad. Since I couldn’t tell him to shut up, I sent him a killer look. You know, the kind I reserve for when my kids are misbehaving. It must have had an effect, because he was struggling not to feel guilty, and he hadn’t felt that way in years.

“Please Shelby, sit down. Ramos, why don’t you pour Shelby a glass of water? I’m sure she’s thirsty after her ordeal.” He thought the garbage in my hair added a certain charm to my torn pants, and dirty sweater. I smoothed out my hair, and was delighted when a glob of gunk fell onto his floor.

He glanced sharply at my smug face, and I wondered if I had just made another mistake. I sat up straight, and tried to look innocent, although I was furious with Kate for getting me into this.

“Thank you Ramos,” Uncle Joey said. “Please wait outside. I have something important to discuss with Shelby. You might say it’s a matter of life and death.” He smiled at his stupid joke, and I shrank back in my seat.

“When Kate called me this afternoon, she was pretty upset. I don’t like to see her upset. Her face gets all splotchy. It must have something to do with her complexion. You know how redheads are. Anyway, she posed an interesting question. One that I’m hoping you have the answer to.”

“What?” I couldn’t fathom what he wanted of me.

“How did you know I was involved in Kate’s life? Who told you about me?” At the puzzled expression on my face he continued. “Whoever you’re protecting, it won’t do them any good, so you might as well tell me, and save yourself a lot of trouble.”

My stomach sank, and a feeling of doom settled over me. What in the world was I going to tell him? He was looking at me expectantly, so I thought I’d better say something. “What makes you think Kate didn’t let it slip?”

He smiled chidingly. “Kate knows better than that. The only person who might have checked into her background is someone from her office. Your husband maybe?”

I blanched. “No. He doesn’t know anything.” Uncle Joey raised his brows. He was hoping he wouldn’t have to do something too drastic, like rip off my thumbs. Yikes! Would he really do that?

“Look,” I said frantically. “I really don’t know anything. I don’t know who you are, or what you do, or who you do it to, or anything.” I was babbling, but I couldn’t seem to stop. “I don’t know how you’re involved with Kate, except that you paid for all of her schooling, but that doesn’t mean anything. A lot of times an Aunt or Uncle will help with a niece’s education, right?”

Uncle Joey was scowling. He was thinking that he wasn’t her uncle, and it bothered him that I kept calling him that. He only allowed Kate to use it to keep her happy and ignorant. “You’re not answering my question. I’ll give you one more chance,” he smiled, but anger was simmering under that calm exterior. “You’d better tell me the truth now, while you’ve still got all your fingers.”

I swallowed. He was serious. “And after that are you going to kill me?”

“Of course not. All I need is a name, then you’ll be free to go to your home in the avenues with your husband and two children.”

My blood ran cold. He knew all about my family and me. He was thinking he didn’t want to kill me, but at this point, he didn’t have a choice. Once I gave him what he wanted, he’d have Ramos take care of it. Make it look like an accident. Like that brunette that got on his nerves. He couldn’t remember her name, something like Amanda. Then he realized that getting rid of me would make Kate happy, and that seemed to help him make up his mind.

Something inside me snapped. It must have been the part about making Kate happy that did it. “You dirty, rotten liar! You have no intention of letting me go home. You’re going to tell Ramos to make it look like an accident. The same as what’s her name Amanda. And then you have the gall to think that killing me will make Kate happy? Well, I’ve got news for you. Chris wouldn’t want Kate even if I was dead! And just what makes her so special anyway? I mean…if you’re not her Uncle, then who are you?”

Uncle Joey’s eyes bulged. No one had ever talked to him like that before. Then he seemed to grasp what I had just said. “You…how…?”

I was still shaking with indignation, but I took a quick breath, and pulled myself together. “I read your mind.”

“That’s impossible.” He didn’t believe me, despite the overwhelming evidence.

“I used to think that too. But I can hear your thoughts just as plain as if you were speaking aloud. Right now you’re thinking one of us is crazy, and it had better be me.”

His mouth dropped open in wonder, and he stared at me like I had just grown two heads. Then his eyes tightened with speculation, and he began to envision all of the things I could do for him. Useful things, like finding out who was cheating or lying to him. His mind whipped through half a dozen different scenarios, too fast for me to catch them all, but leaving no doubt as to what he wanted from me. 

“Oh no you don’t,” I panicked. “I won’t do it.”  

His mouth turned into a self-satisfied smile, and his eyes gleamed. He knew he had the upper hand and relished it. “Maybe not for your own life, but what about Chris and your children? I think you’d be willing to do anything to keep them safe.”

The cruelty of his words was like a punch in the stomach. He wouldn’t hesitate to follow through on his threat, and it sickened me. I slumped in my chair, defeated and drained. I couldn’t let him hurt my family.

Then somewhere deep inside, an idea blossomed. There had to be a way I could turn the tables on him. He couldn’t guard his thoughts any better than anyone else. At some point, I would catch him. It might take a while, but if I had to play this game, somehow I’d figure something out, and nail him to the wall.

I squared my shoulders and looked him directly in the eye. “It doesn’t look like I have much of a choice.”

“I’m glad you understand.” He was giddy with joy, and didn’t seem to mind that I knew. “Think of it as insurance. And if things work well between us, I’m more than happy to compensate you for your time.”

“I don’t think I want your dirty money.”

“That’s what they all say, but sooner or later you’ll come around.” He kept chuckling at his good luck, and it was making me sick, so I decided to throw a damper on things.

“There’s something you should know. This mind reading thing just started a few days ago. It happened after I got shot during the robbery your friend ‘Shorty’ pulled. I don’t know how long it’s going to last. Some morning I might wake up and it will be gone.”

Under the circumstances, he didn’t think I was telling the truth. “We’ll deal with that when, and if, it happens. For now, we’ve got to get you back to your family without anyone knowing where you’ve been. I’ll make a few phone calls, and have Ramos drop you off at the hospital.”

“The hospital? Why?”

“Listen carefully. We’ll say it happened this way. After the killer was shot, you got hysterical and ran from the scene. You were afraid that the man who killed the killer was after you, so you hid inside a dumpster until you felt safe enough to come out. That’s when Ramos found you wandering the streets. Thinking you were nuts, he gave you a ride to the hospital, where they figured out who you were and called the police.” He settled back in his chair, immensely pleased with himself. “Stick to that story, and everything will be all right. Got it?”

“I guess.” I hated this, especially the being nuts part.

“Good. I’ll call you when I need you, and I’ll try to keep our appointments during the day when your kids aren’t home. Less explaining that way.”

“You’re not going to tell anyone else about my mind reading skills are you?”

“Of course not. We’ll keep this between the two of us. It’ll be our little secret.” Ugh! He was making me sick. He got my cell phone number, and made me promise to keep my cell phone on and with me at all times.

Then it was over, and I actually walked out of there alive. Ramos helped me into the car. He was impressed that I was still alive too, and wondered what kind of bargain I’d made with the big boss. After shadowing me for the last few days, he couldn’t think of a single thing. It kind of hurt my feelings, and I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t totally worthless. But in view of all that had happened, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

At the hospital, Ramos pulled the car around back. A man standing in the shadows came out rolling a wheelchair. Ramos insisted I get in, and while I was complaining, the other guy stuck me with a needle. I yelped. How did I not see that coming? The next thing I knew I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes open.

Through a hazy fog, I somehow ended up on a bed in the emergency room. It wasn’t long before my mind cleared, and Dimples arrived, followed by my frantic husband. The doctor came in behind them. As Chris hugged me, the doctor explained that I was in a state of shock, and they had given me a sedative to calm me down.

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