Streetcar on St. Charles

I almost missed this shot. It was close to seven a.m., and a young man from West London (I later learned) came out of his apartment with the cutest
puppy on the planet–a miniature dachshund, and he proceeded to bring said cuteness up to me and strike up a conversation. The cuteness, it overwhelmed. He turned out to be quite talkative, telling me all about his life, his girlfriend, where they’d lived, what he did, and I was amused; I cannot tell you how many times perfect strangers have volunteered really salient details to me, just because I don’t look like someone who would kill people for a living. (Well, fictionally, of course, but still. I could be dangerous, in that ax-weilding psycho sort of way. You know, if I didn’t have to actually lift the ax or see blood or… okay, never mind.)

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Anthologies

I’ve participated in four anthologies, three of which are still available. (Guns and Roses was a limited time only type of anthology, in which I had a Bobbie Faye novella. I’m working on getting that novella up online soon on its own or in a collection of other Bobbie Faye short stories. Join the mailing list (link at the top of each page) if you want to hear about it before the public and if you want some Bobbie Faye / TMC freebies and news.)

So… the anthologies:

 

 

When A Man Loves A Weapon – excerpt (Chapter One)

COVER -- WHEN A MAN LOVES A WEAPON
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Chapter One

 

“Bobbie Faye—keeping paramedics employed since 2005.”
—bumper sticker

Bobbie Faye Sumrall lay flat on her back on the thick blue mat in the sparring ring, and if she weren’t so exhausted, she’d kill him. If she could just roll over and push her rancid sweaty self up, she’d crawl out of the room, pride be damned, and find the gun. It might take days to load because she’d probably have to load it with her teeth, her arms were so tired, and then she’d probably have to prop the damned thing up on something and ask him to please move within range because she was too worn out to aim properly. And then she’d shoot him, assuming she had the strength left to pull the trigger.

If she thought hard enough, maybe she could come up with a good argument that “lying in a slobbering heap” was the same thing as “being prepared for the next disaster.” There had to be some rationalization somewhere she could use, dammit. Because Trevor seemed to believe that another disaster was imminent and that she needed to be all prepared and shit.

He leaned over her and the light from the rafters of the old converted barn gave him a halo. He grinned, white teeth against tan skin, biceps bulging and forearms cording as he crossed his arms against his tight black t-shirt, and his wavy brown shoulder-length hair fell into his Satan-blue eyes. The least he could have done was broken a sweat.

“You’re improving,” he said. “You almost managed to land a kick that time.”

“I hate you.”

His grin went from merely smug to completely obnoxious. “You did not hate me before breakfast. Which reminds me, we need to add strawberry jam to the shopping list.”

Her eyesight fuzzed for a moment as her brain just skipped right on away from the subject of how much of a pain he was being, making her work out for hours every day, and frolicked over to exactly what he’d done with that strawberry jam. Now her favorite food on the planet. She hadn’t even known you could do that with a topping, and she had a friend who ran an S & M magazine.

“We could have stayed in bed all day,” she pointed out. “I’m on vacation. You’re on leave. Allllll weeeeeek.”

“And you,” he said, squatting next to her, “are still hesitating. You’re not firing as fast, you’re not hitting as fast, and you’re thinking too damned much.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever actually accused me of thinking too damned much.”

He glowered at her.

He was right. What was worse was that he knew that she knew that he was right. She really reallyhated that.

She needed a temporary amnesia potion.

Of course, she did not dare tell that to her boss, Ce Ce, who had a little voodoo side business to her Cajun Outfitter and Feng Shui Emporium where Bobbie Faye manned the gun counter. Ce Ce’s potions often had unexpected side effects. With Bobbie Faye’s luck, a “temporary amnesia potion” would probably erase way more than just the stuff she wanted to forget. She studied the man waiting next to her, his blue eyes heated like someone had turned on a copper blaze as his gaze roved over her body, and there were just some things she was not willing to sacrifice, no matter how much sleep amnesia might give her.

“C’mon, slacker, up. You have at least thirty more minutes of sparring, and then we’re going to run.”

“Did you have to pinky-swear you’d be a relentless, impossible hardass when you joined the FBI?”

“No,” he said, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he stood up, smiling, “pinky swearing was all the rage back in Spec Ops. The feds are big on promise rings.” He offered her a hand to help her up. “You can do this.”

“Ugh. Just shoot me now.” She saw him shift, and she might as well have slapped his face, the way his relaxed stance stiffened, and she felt her own body tense in response. The tightening of the muscle in his jaw was infinitesimally small; most anyone else wouldn’t have noticed it, but she did and she knew what fury flashed through him when that little muscle quirked. Fury on her behalf.

Four months ago.

Three shots. Meant for him.

Bobbie Faye had jumped in the way.

They didn’t talk about it. At all. Every single morning, he kissed the scars, and every single night he held her, his long, lean fingers splayed out over that area as if he could ward them off, shove away the memory.

“Hey,” she coaxed, tugging his hand, trying to dispel the mood, “he’s a metric buttload of miles away.”

“MacGreggor escaped.” He bit the words out with the same harsh disgust as the first time he’d told her. He’d damned near gone feral, his protective instincts kicking into full gear those first few weeks, and she’d had to fight him to keep him from putting them into complete lockdown mode. He’d have put armed guards on her if she’d have let him, and he’d vetoed traveling to meet his family and his family traveling to meet her. Hell, he’d have vetoed going to the grocery store and Ce Ce’s and ever seeing the sunlight again if she’d have listened to him.

Good thing she’d patented “hard ass stubborn” years earlier.

“He escaped three months ago.” She was going to put a happy spin on it, if it fucking killed her. “And he’s heading toward Canada. We know that from the tips and witnesses calling in.” There was a BOLO out on Trevor on every continent—a “be on the lookout for” notice that went out internationally, at all levels of law enforcement. “He’s trying to get home.” To Ireland, she hoped. Well, she hoped for Hell, because Ireland had never done anything to deserve Sean MacGreggor, either.

She watched Trevor tamp down his fury, that ice cold hatred he had for Sean MacGreggor, the man Trevor had shot. The man who’d promised to come back and “claim” Bobbie Faye.

She’d been studiously ignoring that little nugget of information. Trying to be normal, whatever-the-hell that was. She’d actually slept a whole night. Well, sort of a whole night. Okay, four hours without waking up ready to fight someone and accidentally smacking the crap out of Trevor.

Still, she’d been working her ass off to convince him she was okay. “Hey,” she said when he didn’t answer, “Everything is back to normal… in fact, better than normal, all flowers and sunshine and fluffy clouds. I have set a whole new record of no one trying to kill me. I think I should get a trophy.”

“C’mon.” He reached for her again, not smiling at her attempt, his perfect poker face back in place. For an absolutely hot man… her Hormones took their own little detour at that moment to wander over his muscled thighs, nearly derailing her entire brain with an Ode to Man… he could go granite-cold, a veneer he carefully adopted whenever he was undercover. It had become something of a personal goal to make him forget how to use that mask, particularly with her.

He pulled her to her feet, his sparring gloves smooth against her arms, and they stood face-to-face—er, eyes to chin, technically, since he was nearly six inches taller at six foot. She gave him a big grin, which inspired his suspicious appraisal.

“You realize,” she poked him playfully in the ribs, “that as soon as we get me in prime fighting form, I’ll get flattened by a bus instead.”

And just as he started to retort, she landed a punch and didn’t take the time to revel in his surprised expression, though he did manage to block her next flurry of moves. Damn freaking man. Two steps later, she nailed his thigh (and her Hormones wailed in protest) with a kick and they were suddenly game on, sparring, and she came very very close a few times to almost landing another one. Close enough to make Trevor’s eyes narrow and he had to concentrate and not merely bat her away. Ha. Girl power.

She maneuvered him the way he’d taught her, and in one sweet move, the angels sang and the Universe was distracted from bringing on her total abject humiliation and she managed to take him down. They slammed against the padded floor mat, and if he hadn’t immediately rolled and pinned her beneath him, she’d have danced around the ring like a winning prize-fighter.

Instead, she kissed him. Which made him relax. Whereupon she flipped him over and straddled him.

She’d have paid big money to have a photo of his expression—half shock, half pride. She wriggled on top of him and leaned down, kissing the corner of his mouth.

“You need to focus,” he said, the words grinding out against her lips.

“I am focused,” she smiled and kissed him again, and reminded herself that she was getting to marry this man.

“You planning on using this technique on everyone you take down? Because that’s a lot of guys I’ll have to kill.”

“I’m not sure whether to be annoyed that you’re obsessing again, Mr. FBI, or happy that you think I’m capable of taking down multiple men. I landed a punch and a kick and a takedown. I think we need to celebrate.” She grinned, running her fingers through his hair and wiggled just enough for him to be absolutely certain that sparring practice was over.

“Let’s go with happy.”

He yanked off his shirt as he rolled over onto her, his hard body pressed along her own, his skin against hers delicious and warm against the cool air in the barn, like safety somehow sheathed in danger. Her body hummed as he braced on one arm and slid the other hand along her body, a knuckle rasping just beneath her breast while he kissed her, possessing, dominating. She liked that he could be bossy and strong and rough and gentle at the same time and she wasn’t quite sure how he managed it, this treating her like an equal, but still his, and then she quit thinking completely as she burned beneath the fire of his kisses trailing down the line of her throat. She wasn’t entirely sure when he’d unhooked her work-out bra, but she shivered beneath the scratch of his days-old stubble against her breast as he raked his teeth across her nipples, biting, then his tongue soothing, her body flooding with heat and want and need.

“Up,” he commanded and she arched her bottom and then just as suddenly, he’d stripped off her shorts—thank God for military efficiency—and she was bare to him. The mat warmed beneath her, the rough calluses of his palm sliding down her hip, past the little birth control patch that she’d checked with the religious fervor of a born-again zealot, his hand sliding on past and then up her inner thigh until his thumb brushed her, his fingers sliding inside, his mouth taking hers, fast, hard, at the same time and she nearly came undone at his searing attack of her body.

Then he lifted off her for a moment, a brief heartbeat of loss and cold and just as suddenly, he was there again, having stripped off his shorts and he lay down beside her, his blue eyes dark, serious, and he seemed lost in the curves of her hip, the angle of her knee, studying her as if all the answers lay there, in the bend of her elbow or the place where he knew she was ticklish just beneath her ear. His face was all confidence and darkness, and she’d seen that hunger before on card sharks in a room full of thieves, a look that was patience and determination and secrets, his fingers sliding with knowledge and skill and when she moved to touch him, he stilled her with ashhhhhh.

“Let me,” he whispered, and then he took his ever loving time about it, ’til she felt taut and aching and scattered all at the same time, cards spread on the table, play me.

There may have been whimpering. Possibly a little begging.

Okay, a lot of begging, and she tried to urge him to move faster, but he was ruthless, and he shut her up with an entire repertoire of kisses that tilted her world, and she shuddered beneath his utter control just as—

—his cell phone rang. The Bureau calling. She recognized, and loathed, the specific “urgent” ring tone he’d assigned so that he’d know the difference between pure administrative crap that could wait and the life-threatening other crap that could not. She’d itched many times to pick up that damned tyrant of a phone and “accidentally” lose it in the garbage disposal, but the freaky thing was so sophisticated, she wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it not only resurrected itself, but videotaped her and ran and tattled.

He kissed her and she forgot about the phone for a second, or ten, and then it stopped ringing and he took his time at the corner of her mouth, braced on one elbow, leaning over her, his other hand playing intricate patterns, weaving through her long hair, its dark, rich browns like dark coffee against her ivory no-tan-for-you-this-summer skin.

The phone rang again. The damned thing went everywhere with him. Even to the barn behind the tiny house he’d found out in the middle of nowhere, south Louisiana. The frayed old house, worn at the edges like her favorite boots, tossed almost absently beneath great sprawling trees on acres of land—land bordered by a massive swamp that spilled into an enormous lake. Another ring. They were at the end of the world out here, somewhere back in primordial time, in the Mesozoic era, if she could judge by the size of the damned alligators she’d seen when he’d taken her on a boat ride to show her the property boundaries.

He tried to ignore the call, his hand guiding her into turning toward him, bringing her back to him as he hung onto his control, trying to keep them right there, in that moment, just them together, no duty intruding, but the phone kept shrilling, echoing off the barn walls, and Trevor sighed, touching his forehead to her own as she flopped her arms out against the mat, resigning herself.

“Sonofabitch,” he muttered, knowing he had to answer.

He was supposed to be on leave for another two weeks. The damned FBI had called him every single day. Sometimes, several times a day. She didn’t know what exactly he did, but he was assigned to freaking south Louisiana. How busy could they possibly be?

He rolled off her and crossed the sparring ring to grab the phone and she listened to his very brief, tense side of the conversation.

“What?” he asked. Then, “No, it’s—”

He stood, back rigid, muscles granite. Silent. There was a stillness to him that made her very very nervous, as if he were a predator about to spring, and she held her breath. “I’ll be there,” he said, then snapped his phone shut.

 
 

From When a Man Loves a Weapon by Toni McGee Causey. Copyright© 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Girls Just Wanna Have Guns – excerpt (Chapter One)

COVER - GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS
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Chapter One

Bobbie Faye Sumrall was full up on crazy, thank you very much, and had a side order of cranky to spare. The bank—citing the picky little reason that it didn’t want to lend money to people who were routinely shot at—said no to a loan for a new (used) car. It wasn’t like she’d ever been hit by an actual bullet, for crying out freaking loud. Immediately after that, she couldn’t get an insurance company to give her a quote for a start-up business grant application she needed to turn in. (Three insurance giants had gotten restraining orders as soon as they heard who was calling.) (Wusses.) And then the FBI guy she’d been blistering hot and bothered about had dropped off the planet two weeks earlier, and geez, there was only so much rejection a girl could take. She needed to have one night, one measly little night, to sleep well. That wasn’t too much to ask, right?

Apparently, the Universe thought it was.

Bobbie Faye and the Universe were like warring spouses locked in an eternal battle, trying to blow one another up rather than admit the other was savvier. (The Universe, by the way? A big fat cheater.)

Still, she tried. She went through her nightly routine: she squeezed into the tiny bathroom of her small, almost-not-ratty trailer, fantasizing about actual hot water while she grabbed a tepid shower. To wind down, she poured herself some juice and nibbled on crackers. (Yeah, her luck was solid. The juice tasted like it had gone bad. And not in the good “fermented” kind of gone bad.) Thankfully, her five-year-old niece, Stacey, had been invited to spend the night at a friend’s house. No matter how much she loved the little rugrat, she was grateful that tonight there wouldn’t be fourteen billion attempts to hogtie the kid into bed for a whole five minutes of sleep before Stacey bounced up again, determined to drive Bobbie Faye out of what little was left of her mind.

When Bobbie Faye did finally stretch out on her lumpy twin mattress, she sank into disturbing, hallucinogenic dreams—all disjointed, a half-step two-step out of rhythm, bits and pieces swirling in a kaleidoscope of confusing colors. At one point, she saw herself as if from afar and damn, she looked odd. She could have sworn her boobs were off kilter, like one was higher than the other, but maybe it was just that striped butt-ugly shirt she was wearing, the one she’d won back in high school in that dumb “spirit week” contest. She was twenty freaking eight years old; why couldn’t her subconscious mind be a team player and clothe her in something ueber cool and sexy? And why did her long and normally loose-flowing brunette hair look so… strange? It seemed all wrong. It was stiff, like she’d emptied a can of hair spray and shellacked it into a helmet.

Great. Bad dream and bad hair. Just perfect. But at least she wasn’t bald, like that little schlumpy guy she was talking to. She leaned over the man and he kept babbling. He was dying and rambling as he stared at her off-kilter boobs, saying something about them not being real. The jerk.

Oh. Wait. Make that the schlumpy pot-bellied guy she was shooting.

Why in the hell was she shooting this guy? Five times. Damn, but it was a beautiful pattern. At least her dream got that part right.

He didn’t remind her of anyone she knew. Stupid subconscious. Why couldn’t it at least let her pretend to take out one of the jerks driving her insane? Mr. No-Extension-For-You IRS Guy would have topped her list. Or maybe Nick Lejeune, the local bookie who kept placing odds on her every move. (Would she wreck today before or after noon? Would she inadvertently blow something up or would it be on purpose? Would she be in jail on her birthday?) He was making a fortune and not even giving her a cut. But no… the dead guy in this dream wasn’t the least bit familiar. She watched herself as she picked up all of the dropped casings, felt for a pulse on the dead guy, and wiped her fingers on her hideous shirt. Then the images churned, and wind rushed at her, tangling her hair, buffeting her arms spread wide open as if she were flying under the streetlights in the small commercial district of her tough, no-nonsense industrial hometown of Lake Charles, Louisiana.

When she woke up, she had a raging headache and her mouth was painfully dry. She peeled her eyes open, and holy fucking shit.

There was something definitely… blood like in her hair. She’d sleepwalked a couple of times as a kid, mostly wandering aimlessly through the house. She had a vague sense of having done it again. An almost-memory of having heard something in her sleep—had she gotten up to check? Then banged into something? Her closet door was open, so it was a possibility. She glanced down, dreading what she’d find, but no, she still had on the same t-shirt she’d worn to bed, but there were a couple of bruises on her left arm and a cut on her right that she didn’t remember having the night before.

So it had been a dream. A way too realistic bad dream. Probably best to ease up on the chocolate suicide cake after dinner.

She sprang up as she felt the weight of cold metal in her right hand, a weight she recognized and instantly wished she didn’t. It was her Glock. She froze, her body running cold and clammy. It was supposed to be locked up. It was always locked up, especially with Stacey living there now. Bobbie Faye gingerly sat up and checked the magazine: five bullets were missing.

Clearly, the Universe thought it was payback time.

From Girls Just Wanna Have Guns by Toni McGee Causey. Copyright© 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

Charmed and Dangerous – excerpt (Chapter One)

COVER - CHARMED AND DANGEROUS
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Chapter One
“You know how some people are born to Greatness? Well, Bobbie Faye Sumrall woke up one morning, kicked Greatness in the teeth, kneed it in the balls, took it hostage and it’s been begging for mercy ever since.”
—a former Louisiana mayor after Bobbie Faye accidentally ran her car into his office, knocking pages of fraud evidence into the street, which helped land him in Federal prison.

Something wet and spongy plunked against Bobbie Faye’s face and she sprang awake, arms pin wheeling. “Damn it, Roy, you hit me with a catfish again and I’m gonna—” Whoa. Everything was dark in her cramped trailer. There was no catfish, no little brother Roy pretending innocence. Of course she’d been dreaming, because Roy was twenty-six now, not ten. Still a complete pain in the ass, though.

She swiped at the cold rivulets of wetness running down her face. “What the fuck was that?” she muttered to no one in particular. “And why the hell am I wet?”

“You gots a s’imming pool inside.”

Bobbie Faye squinted in the half-dark and focused on Stacey, her five-year-old niece, whose blond pigtails were haloed in the blue bug light emanating from just outside the trailer window. Then she peered at the wet Nerf bat Stacey dropped to the floor.

Check that. A Nerf bat floating a good two inches above the lime green shag carpet.

“Shit!” Bobbie Faye stood, flinching as the icy water covered her ankles. “Fuck. Damn fuck fuckity shit.”

“Momma says you shouldn’t cuss so much.”

“Yeah? Well your Momma should quit drinking, too, kid, but that ain’t likely to happen either.”

Shit. That was evil. She checked Stacey’s reaction, but her niece was preoccupied with the soggy Nerf bat again and hadn’t seemed to hear. Thank God. She didn’t mean to harm the little rug rat. And how was she supposed to remember to be nice at four-freaking A.M.? Who the hell would expect her to be nice anyway? Lori-freaking-Ann, that’s who. Her pill-popping, wine-swigging lush of a little sister whose plastered-on Grace Kelly smile made her look efficient and serene, even when she wobbled into a wall and fell on her ass.

Bobbie Faye never got to look serene.

Sonofabitch. And today was the day the Social Services lady was scheduled to come by. At four-thirty that afternoon. To judge whether Bobbie Faye was providing Stacey with a safe and stable home Bobbie Faye shuddered as the icy water lapped at her ankles. Somehow, she was supposed to fix. . . whatever the hell this mess was. . . in time to preside at the opening ceremony of the Contraband Days Festival and get back before four-thirty to prove she could be a good foster parent while Lori Ann was pulling her court-ordered four-month drying-out stint at the Troy House.

Oh, flipping yippee.

Water splashed against her knees, and she looked down at Lori-Ann’s little ankle biter stomping on the carpet as they squish-squished their way down the hall.

“Your hippos are swimmin’.” Stacey laughed, pointing at the glow-in-the-dark hippos dancing across Bobbie Faye’s thin white cotton PJs. Then the monster child jumped again, hard, splashing water up to Bobbie Faye’s elbows.

“For Christ’s sake, Stacey, if you hop around one more time, I’m gonna turn you into a frog.”

Stacey giggled, but at least she stopped jumping.

Bobbie Faye stood in front of the cramped utility closet of her tiny, dark trailer and glared at the culprit: her washing machine, run amok. Water geysered from somewhere behind the vibrating piece-of-crap appliance. If she’d had a gun, she’d have shot it. Several times. Happily. She twisted knobs, pressing buttons broken so long ago, there was no telling what they had originally been meant to do.

She wanted to stomp or snarl that this was so not happening to her, but she was awake enough now to be mature in front of Stacey. She could do mature. She was twenty-eight years old, the oldest sibling and the one the other two constantly turned to when they screwed up; of course she could do mature. And solve problems. She was a paragon of problem-solving, and she slammed her fist down on the machine, hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was causing the crisis. The machine shuddered, the water gushed higher, and in that moment, seriously mature went straight to hell. Bobbie Faye hauled off and kicked the machine, then yelped and squirmed in pain because frozen toes do not take too well to sudden impact with metal.

Bobbie Faye squeezed her eyes shut, hopping on the other foot and biting her lip to keep from spouting a new stream of expletives. Way to use a brain cell, genius. Stacey took one gander at the hopping and went straight back to jumping with the enthusiasm of a five-year-old on a post-Easter morning sugar high, soaking everything in her path.

And this is the kid who throws a tantrum if I even look like it’s time for her bath.

There were two things Bobbie Faye knew for certain. One, a day without disaster would be a day in someone else’s life. And two, she was going to kill her brother Roy for not showing up to fix the washing machine like he’d promised.

She sloshed through the kitchen to the back door and opened it, hoping the water would rush out; it barely trickled. The trailer floor had already sagged below the threshold, turning her ancient trailer into a bowl.

Wonderful. The bathtub leaks, the trailer doesn’t.

Bobbie Faye slumped a moment, barely resisting the urge to pound her head against the door frame. This was her one day off. She’d worked extra hours all week just to be able to relax this morning and take her time to get ready for the festival’s opening ceremonies. She hadn’t thought anything could top the thunderstorm that blew through on last year’s opening day and knocked a tree onto her truly first pretty car, a slightly banged up purple NISSAN 300ZX. Sure, it was used, high mileage, and pulled heavily to the left, but it was shiny, with only two rusts spots. The tree could have fallen any other direction and nothing would have been damaged. Of course, that would mean this was someone else’s life. It didn’t help when she learned she had, just that day, received a cancellation notice from her car insurance. (Not a single person, not even her friends, ever believed she really hadn’t seen that fire-truck barreling through the intersection with all of its lights on and sirens blazing. She thought the fireman was clearly at fault, though she did feel pretty awful when, to avoid hitting her, he slid into a light pole, knocking it through the roof of the grocery store on the corner.) Her insurance company paid all of the claims. And cancelled her.

The bastards.

But this year? It was going to be different; she was going to have a pleasant, peaceful day if she had to maim and kill to get it. There were no storms, the insurance was paid up on the rickety cracker-box-on-wheels Honda Civic she’d bought to replace her cool little sports car, she had planned to have plenty of time to get ready and avoid the traffic jams, she had washed her clothes last night and all she’d had to do was toss them into the dryer. . .

So of course, she was standing in two inches of water inside her trailer.

There was no way in hell she was bailing all of this by herself. Roy was going to get his sorry ass over here and help. She went to the phone to call him, flipped on the living room light and gasped. Waves rippled across the floor. Water slapped at the bottom of the more shabby-than-chic sofa and chair and filled the video bay of her ancient VCR set on the low shelf below the TV. And on the carpet near the sofa where she’d left it was her mom’s Contraband Days scrapbook. Drowned.

Bobbie Faye’s face hurt with the strain of holding back tears. Her mother had kept that scrapbook for more than twenty years. When Bobbie Faye was seven, her mom had let her glue on a pirate eye-patch on the cover, denoting the history the festival. Well, her mom had been drinking and hadn’t really seemed to notice the eye patch and sequins until a few days later, but she let Bobbie Faye keep them on there and showed them proudly to her friends, so that was almost as good, especially when her mom made her an eye patch to wear to that year’s pirate costume contest.

Pirates, Bobbie Faye had learned the way other kids learned catechism, had found the multitude of bayous and marshlands in south Louisiana perfect for transporting loot and contraband into the growing territory. The pirates had hidden in south Louisiana for the same reasons the Cajuns had fled there from Nova Scotia: sanctuary. It was a place to be whoever the hell you wanted to be. A close-knit, family sort of place, where watching your neighbor’s back was as standard as having a nodding awareness that they just might be crazy as loons, and that was okay, too.

After years of digging up half of Calcasieu Parish in a vain attempt to find the buried treasure, the locals eventually, reluctantly, gave up. Well, not entirely. Bobbie Faye remembered when she was a kid and learned there was a place named Contraband Bayou which was said to have been the home of a few pirates who supposedly hid jewels and gold somewhere back where the bayou ended. She tagged along when Roy and Lori Ann’s dad took them fishing because he was going to go right by the famous bayou and Bobbie Faye was sure if he’d just let her out, she’d find that treasure. All she got for her trouble was a bad case of poison sumac and a good view of a bunch of deeply dug holes. So much for history.

As it was, history settled lazily into myth which eased along into celebration and the Contraband Days Festival was born. It was a crazy, lively festival where everyone dressed up as pirates for twelve days in May for parties, music, dancing, and all sorts of events. Tractor pulls! Races! Parades! Buccaneers! There were “official” pageants every year, but Bobbie Faye’s mom (and her mom before her, and so on) were the unofficial “Queens” – a title started so far back in time, no one really remembered how it was handed down generation to generation. Bobbie Faye’s mom had kept a scrapbook of all her Contraband memories… and gave it to Bobbie Faye just before she died, when she had also passed her the duty of being Queen.

Bobbie Faye pulled the scrapbook out of the water, her heart sinking as she slowly turned the first sodden page. Spidery scrawl ran in an inky river, washing most of the words to nothingness; the water had faded the old photos to murky shadows and all of the mementoes were a soggy mess. The once dried petals of a rose her mother had worn on her last parade fell apart under Bobbie Faye’s touch.

Fury slammed her adrenaline up another notch; at any moment, the back of her head was going to pop clean off, especially as the cold water wicked farther up her PJs. The scrapbook was Bobbie Faye’s hold on a tenuous place, the ‘before’ as she liked to think about it. Before her mom started wearing the big floppy hats when her hair was getting inexplicably thinner and thinner, before she started wearing the weird combination of clothes and her morning eggs smelled just a shade more like rum than eggs ought to smell, before Bobbie Faye recognized her mom was a little too dancey-happy most days, jitterbugging on the coffee table (before it broke), before Bobbie Faye knew what the word cancer meant. She looked back at the destroyed scrapbook she held. If Roy had shown up like he promised and fixed the damned washing machine, this wouldn’t have happened. Bobbie Faye stared out her front window, past the gravel road, and fantasized briefly that she could zero in on wherever Roy was with a laser intensity that would fry his ass on the spot.

There was just no telling where he was, and getting him on the cell phone would take an act of God. Check that. It would take an act of some willing life-sized Barbie type. He could be anywhere. His fishing camp south of her trailer park, where there were hundreds of little bayous and marshy wetlands (or as Roy put it, plenty of escape routes). Or just north of her trailer park, hiding in a hole-in-the-wall bar somewhere in the muddy industrial city of Lake Charles, a place Bobbie Faye thought of as the kind of cranky, independent southern town that had never really given a rip what its image might be, although if someone had labeled it “home of the hard drinkers who make Mardi Gras revelers look like big fluffy candy-asses,” it might have staggered to attention and saluted. Knowing Roy the way she did, she figured he wasn’t anywhere near his own apartment in the heart of the city. Probably in some stupid poker game or, God help him, at one of his many girlfriends’ places. He can run, she thought, but he can’t hide.

#
Hiding was exactly what Roy was trying to do right at that moment. He slammed on his jeans and then squirmed his six-foot frame into a large, dusty compartment under the window-seat situated in the bay window of his married girlfriend Dora’s house. He wriggled silently to try to ease the contortion, but his toes were already starting to cramp. The layers of dust inside the seat tickled his nose and he pinched it to keep from sneezing. He squinted through the decorative tin grill on the facing of the window-seat and saw two sets of Muscles of the steroid persuasion barge into the room. Dora, his very tanned, very bosomy (bless Jimmy and his penchant for giving his wife all the plastic surgery she wanted), very blonde girlfriend who was sitting above him on the window seat, shifted her legs to block the view into the grating, to better hide him.

“Where’s Roy?” the smaller of the two sets of Muscles asked Dora.

“I ain’t seen Roy since he left the bar. Besides, I’m married. What would Roy be doing here?”

“Same thing he’s been doing ever since your Jimmy’s been out on the oil rig,” the shorter man said. He peered around the room and allowed himself a small shudder. “You get attacked by lace or something? This is a fucking nightmare. No wonder Jimmy’s always gone out on the rig.”

Roy knew without being able to see her that Dora had poufed out her collagen-enhanced bottom lip, pouting.

“Nice doorknobs, though,” the larger man said, and Roy grimaced. If he was in a bar, and really really drunk, he’d fight a guy that size for mentioning Dora’s boobs. Even if you’re boinking another guy’s wife, there was a certain etiquette to maintain.

“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Roy,” Dora insisted.

“You know where he is,” the smaller of the muscles said. “Roy’s got something we want, and we know he came here.”

“Yeah,” the other mountain of muscles chimed in. “He always comes here. Don’t he, Eddie?” He broke into a giggle, and although the Mountain was almost double the smaller guy’s size, Roy pegged him as younger and a little simple, maybe; despite the fact he lost at poker every other Friday, Roy considered himself a pretty good judge of character. Whoever they were, they couldn’t be here for his bookie debts because he was kinda sorta caught up, and the three he still owed usually didn’t send knee breakers until you were more than a couple of months past due (he still had eight days). And he was pretty sure the guy who bought that boat hadn’t figured out that Roy hadn’t owned it in the first place. No, these guys had to be here about something personal. Nothing he couldn’t talk his way out of. God knows he’d done it a hundred times before.

Roy saw Dora’s calf contract as she inhaled quickly. Past her very fine calf, Roy could see that the smaller set of Muscles, apparently named Eddie, had a gun aimed at her.

The seat creaked as Dora shifted above him, and dust fell into his twitchy nose just as Roy’s cell phone, adjusted to maximum volume so he could hear it in the bar, vibrated against his jean pocket and trumpeted the LSU fight song. His heart ramped up three billion beats in .02 seconds as he frantically tried to slap the phone off.

And managed to turn it on so everyone in the room could hear Bobbie Faye’s shout, muffled, but not nearly enough, by his jeans.

“Roy! You sonofabitch! You promised you would fix this washing machine for me and I even paid you already! Now get your ass—” He slapped it off and stayed very still, pretending to himself it hadn’t really happened and no one heard it.

Bedroom light flooded into the window-seat as the lid snapped open and Eddie bent over, grinning, his horribly disfigured face inches away. Roy flinched at the grotesque features where his nose zigzagged from having been broken too many times and his right side of his face looked slightly caved in and sagged lower than his left.

“H’lo, Roy. I know somebody who wants to see you.”

“Uh, well, um, thanks. But see, that was my big sister on the phone and I gotta get over there and fix that thing, or she’s gonna kick my ass.” Roy eased out of the window-seat, trying for nonchalant, until Eddie pointed the gun at his chest.

“Seriously, guys. She’ll kill me.”

“If there’s anything left of you when we’re done,” Eddie said, “we’ll pay to watch.” He jammed the gun into Roy’s side and Roy turned to Dora with a pleading gleam.

“Babe? Can you call Bobbie Faye and tell her I might be running late?”

“No calls,” Eddie told her. “You stay quiet, we don’t need to come back. Got that?”

Dora nodded, clutching her robe around her as they hustled Roy out of the room.

“Man, I hafta call her,” Roy said, turning his charm smile onto full wattage. “You have no idea how crazy Bobbie Faye is.”

“That’s the least of your worries,” Eddie said.

“Hmph,” Dora said, following them down the hall, “Y’all don’t know Bobbie Faye.”

#
By five in the morning, as she banged a wrench against the shut-off valve of the washing machine, Bobbie Faye was beginning to feel like the poster girl for the “Pissed Off and Deadly” crowd. She had pulled the machine away from the wall and partially into the hallway in order to get to the pipe; the water had not only not shut off, it spewed at a rate that would make a fire fighter putting out a five alarm fire proud. It also happened to be a rate matched only by the speed of new swear words she’d been muttering under her breath.

There was an odd, rubbery scrunching sound behind her and then the watery echo of waves rippling against the walls. Bobbie Faye turned around to find Stacey hell-bent on “rafting” on her plastic Big Bird floatie, her butt dragging on the floor as she scooted it down the hall.

“Stace. For. The. Last. Time. This is not a swimming pool. Go find your sand bucket like I told you to and bail the water out the front door.”

“What’s ‘bail’? Mamma says you bail Uncle Roy outta jail a lot.”

Aaaaaannnnd it was official: they had screwed her up by age five, a record even for the Sumrall family.

“Well, kiddo, it’s kinda the same thing as scooping up water and throwing it out the door. It’s getting somebody outta trouble and Aunt Bobbie Faye ends up broke before it’s done.”

After settling Stacey to scoop out water at the front door, Bobbie Faye had the distinct impression that everything around the perimeter of the room sloped toward the center. She walked to the middle of the room, and sure enough, the water was deeper there – nearly four inches versus just two near the door. This little funhouse event definitely fell into the oh fuck category.

Bobbie Faye decided she wasn’t going to panic. Not at all. There would be no panicking in the Sumrall household. Which was when she noticed the trailer starting to make creaking and groaning noises. So not helping with the whole not-panicking decision.

As the daylight ripened into actual morning, Bobbie Faye ventured outside to see if there was any other way to cut off the water. It struck her that the trailer looked swollen, and with the floor sagging on sad little piers supporting the structure, it looked like a bloated PMSing woman forced to wear stilettos.

No word from Roy. No clue how to shut off the stupid valve. No choice.

She was going to have to call the emergency line at the water company. Which meant talking to Susannah. Who still blamed Bobbie Faye for the entire Louisiana State University hearing Susannah lose her virginity to the Assistant Dean of Accounting when Bobbie Faye inadvertently left the intercom system turned on in the Dean’s office during an extremely brief stint as a student-worker. (And really… who knew accountant types could be so loud?)

It didn’t help that Susannah’s parents were faculty and heard everything first-hand.

But this was a certified emergency, and Susannah was just going to have to dispatch someone.

#
The larger of the two sets of Muscles, which Roy had silently nicknamed The Mountain, zip-tied Roy’s hands behind his back and then shoved him into the rear seat of an all-black TownCar. By the time they had hit the interstate heading east, Roy’s arms ached, his nose itched, and he was starting to think these guys might be worse news than pissing off Bobbie Faye.

He leaned forward a little, scanning from Eddie, who was driving, to The Mountain, whose stomach was growling in the passenger seat.

“Is this about Dora?”

Neither of the men answered.

It was unlikely; Jimmy was a roughneck, but he was also pretty straightforward, and if he had suspected Roy of boinking Dora, Jimmy wouldn’t have wasted good money on goons. He’d have just beat the hell out of him.

“Ellen?” No answer. “Or . . . Vickie? Thelma?”

Still nothing.

Maybe it was the thousand bucks Roy owed Alex after dodging out of the last poker game. But . . . as much as Alex might want to kill him, Roy knew Alex didn’t want to have to deal with Bobbie Faye again. Ever. And hurting Roy would mean lots of Bobbie Faye in Alex’s face. The other guys at the poker table had made Roy promise not to mention Bobbie Faye any more because every time he did, Alex twitched, and nobody wanted a gun-runner twitchy.

As Eddie and the Mountain drove Roy towards Baton Rouge, Roy pondered his ever-growing list of ex-girlfriends and their husbands who might want him hurt (or a little bit dead) if they’d been able to find him, but he couldn’t see any of them going to this much trouble and expense when a good rifle and a bateau were enough to drop him to the bottom of some little-known bayou.

#
Bobbie Faye grabbed her cordless phone and dialed the water company’s emergency number.

When Susannah heard Bobbie Faye’s voice, she hung up.

Fifteen minutes later, Bobbie Faye managed to force her to stay on the line and listen to the problem.

Susannah laughed.

And called the local radio station.

When she finally got back on the line, the DJ could be heard on the three-way conversation as he broadcast her latest disaster, and Bobbie Faye knew Susannah was enjoying her revenge. To make it even more fun, Susannah’s big helpful advice to Bobbie Faye was to shut off the water at the valve.

“Well, duh. I did everything but sacrifice chickens to get it to budge. If God Himself tried to turn it, He’d get an inferiority complex.”

“Fine,” Susannah said, a bit too happily. “I’ll send someone out. They’ll be there sometime between noon and three.”

“I can’t wait until three for someone to show up. You ever see The Titanic? Nothing. Nothing compared to this, Susannah. And I can’t turn off the main valve—there’s a lock on it and the lot manager is gone for the wee—”

Click.

She looked at the dead phone and then at the base unit perched on the arm of her more-shabby-than-chic sofa when it struck her that the lamp was off. And the hall light. She growled her way past Stacey, who had not only ceased to scoop out water, but had somehow found not one, but two, frogs, and was letting them swim around the living room.

Something clinked and rattled outside on the side of her trailer.

She sloshed her way through the sagging living room to her front door, pulling the wet and now clingy PJs away from her body, knowing she ranked skankier than a nutria straight out of a mud pit, but if it was who she suspected, she didn’t have time to waste changing into clothes. Sure enough, there on the gravel drive, facing out, its engine running for a fast getaway, was a Gulf-South Electric Utilities truck.

She hurtled down the stairs and around to the electric meter. The utilities worker saw her just as he clipped the red tag-wire onto the metal box, preventing her from rigging her meter back on when he left. He cringed as she marched toward him, using his clipboard to shield his face, then his groin (then his face, then his groin; he finally chose his groin).

“Good choice. Which is not going to help you one little bit to keep that,” she gestured, “area. Safe. If you don’t turn my electricity back on.”

Before she could launch an actual attack, he looked at her and then blushed, thoroughly, from his over-sized collarbone to the tips of his rather large and now crimson ears. Then, pointedly gazing away from her, he thrust a letter into her hands.

“I’m sorry, Miss Bobbie Faye. But your check bounced.”

She snatched it, read, and fumed.

“How in the hell am I supposed to come up with a deposit of two hundred and fifty bucks when I obviously couldn’t come up with one-freakin-eighty-seven for the bill in the first place?”

He had inched a step back with every word she spoke, still not meeting her eyes. “I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t do this to you for anything in the world, you being the Contraband Days Queen an’ all, but, you know, it’s my job. They would fire me.”

“You work for dickheads, you know that? I can’t get this money until later, but I’ve got to have the electricity on so I can borrow Nina’s wet-vac to suck up the whole freaking lake in there.” She gestured at the trailer and he gaped a moment at the small trickle of water leaking from one of the bottom seams. “See that? You gotta cut me some slack here. I’m supposed to be at the festival’s starting ceremony in just a couple of hours!”

“I . . . I just can’t. I’m really sorry!” He turned and fled, climbing into his truck before Bobbie Faye could catch up.

“Coward!” she yelled as he peeled out. “Come back here and fight like a man!”

She examined the bill he’d handed her and made a mental list of items she might be able to pawn to cover it, then remembered she’d already pawned them to help pay for her sister’s stay for her “sobriety mummification” (Lori Ann was ever the positive thinker) in a decent detox addiction center.

Bobbie Faye stood in front of her trailer, water dribbling from the front door. The good news was, as bad as things were, at least they couldn’t get any worse.

#
Roy’s stomach dropped a little when the Town Car veered into the industrial heart of Baton Rouge, where the black-water Intercostal Canal intersected the roiling Mississippi River. They parked behind a plain brown stucco building which squatted with all the glamour of a working-class hooker, bland and scarred and ignored by most of the city passing by. Cast-off broken-down desks and chairs, many from the sixties, were piled in haphazard stacks, filling the lobby, and it looked more like a government-surplus auction center than an office space. The acrid scent of stale body odor mixed with tobacco clung to the stained veneered walls of the ancient elevator.

They stepped out into the tenth floor, where a utilitarian sitting area was lined with rickety metal chairs listing in row. Eddie didn’t bother to press the call button beside a door whose green paint was chipped and mottled and looked as though it had leprosy; instead, he reached below the last broken chair to a lever. A hidden panel beside a dusty plastic fichus swung open. Roy thought that might be a big bloodstain under the fichus, but he wasn’t about to ask. His balls retracted a little (only a little) when they stepped into the room beyond the leprosy door. His adrenaline jumped and his sense of balance wobbled as though he’d stepped through some sort of portal. A line of sweat beaded just above his collar and the air froze in his chest acted like it hadn’t a clue how to escape back out again.

This might be something I can’t talk my way out of.

The foyer sported an impressive imported rug, rich in honeys, golds, and russets. Sculptures perched on granite pedestals and were specially lit from above. There were fancy paintings on the wall, and Roy started wondering just who in the world he had screwed whose dad might have been in the Mafia. This place reeked of money, and not the kind the IRS knew anything about.

They walked through the foyer and into an even more sumptuous office. A thick blue tarp covered yet another expensive rug. Roy looked from the tarp to Eddie.

“Please tell me that’s ‘cuz y’all have a roof leak.”

The Mountain clocked him on the side of his head and Roy crashed down on the tarp, jamming his shoulders when they caught the brunt of his weight, sending waves of pain through to his toes and back again. Nausea spun through his stomach and swam upward, and then the Mountain yanked him up, planted a fist into his face, and this time when Roy hit the tarp — well, once the black dots cleared from his eyes — he saw the toe of an expensive wingtip inches from his face.

“Tie him in the chair, boys,” a baritone voice purred from somewhere above the wingtips. “We have a phone call to make.” He leaned over Roy, his face looming in Roy’s clouding vision. “You’d better hope you’re sister’s home, dear boy.”

#
Roy didn’t remember blacking out, but coming to was far more painful than anything he’d experienced after a drinking binge, and pretty much everything on his right side was fuzzy and dim.

He was tied to a chair and positioned in the middle of that blue tarp. The ropes cut into his arms.

Something… someone asked him something. Slowly, noise seeped in. They wanted something Bobbie Faye had.

“I… uh. Why’n’t you ask Bobbie Faye for it?” he slurred, squinting through hazy vision in one eye (the other swollen shut) until the angular face of a well-dressed man came into focus. Roy guessed him to be mid-forties, maybe, and oddly happy. He wore a flawless silk suit, perfectly tailored, which almost managed to give him an appearance of sanity and stability.

He introduced himself as Vincent.

“You see, dear boy,” Vincent said, “We don’t want to kidnap a Contraband Days Queen. There would be far far too many questions, especially with her associations with the police. And your niece? Cute little blonde-haired five-year olds get the Amber alert, and the country would pay attention. As a last resort? Yes. However, you?” Vincent leaned down, filling Roy’s blurry vision. “You are expendable. You’re always disappearing, hiding out from one girlfriend or another. No one will even believe you’re missing until days later, when it no longer matters to us.”

Roy noted the playful tone, the warm smile, and pondered how he was going to charm Vincent. Everything about the man struck Roy as pointy: a chin sharpened to a razor edge, angular eyes, pinched nose, a slash of a mouth, and thin, clothes-hanger elbows. Realizing it was unlikely Vincent would know his way around a John Deere backhoe didn’t cheer Roy up like it usually did. Vincent might be a challenge.

#
Bobbie Faye approached the steps leading to her front door at the same moment Stacey was dragging something not quite above water level toward the trailer door.

“Your purse was ringing.”

“Stacey! For crying out loud.”

Bobbie Faye jogged up the steps, dug into the damp purse for a cell phone, and scanned the last caller’s ID through the condensation forming on the cell’s small screen. Roy’s name and number flashed, and Bobbie Faye resisted the urge to project her frustration with him onto the phone by squeezing the phone to death. She glanced back at her soaking wet niece splashing and laughing just inside the door.

“Stacey, honey, go find something dry you can wear to school and bring it here.” As Stacey scampered back to her room, Bobbie Faye hit the dial-back feature and got Roy’s voicemail.

“Dammit, Roy, it looks like the Mississippi River just decided to detour through my trailer. You better call me back or I’m going to rip your head clean from your shoulders. You got that?”

She snapped the phone off and steamed. It wasn’t humanly possible to be any more frustrated until she glanced down and made a startling discovery: the silly glow-in-the-dark PJs she’d bought just to make herself laugh were transparent when wet. She thought back to the electricity guy’s blush and realized she’d flashed him. Completely. She wasn’t entirely sure which was worse—to have exposed herself, or to have done it with yellow and pink see-through hippos over her boobs. She would have prayed for a lightning bolt to put her out of her misery, but with the way her luck was running, it wouldn’t kill her, just maim her and give her bad hair for the rest of her life.

Her cell phone rang again and she snatched it open. “Roy. You asshat. I don’t care what bottle blonde or redhead you’re with, if you’re not over here in five minutes—”

“I’m sorta tied up right now,” Roy said, his voice husky and muffled.

Bobbie Faye pulled the phone from her ear, stared at it a second, then slapped it off for fear of what she might say to him. After all the times she’d bailed him out of trouble, hidden him from girlfriends, hidden him from armed and ticked-off girlfriends’ husbands . . . she wanted to kill him. No. Wait. She’d just take out an ad in the paper with a list of all his girlfriends and watch him run. Carmen might go after him with a meat cleaver again, but the idiot almost deserved it. In fact, she might just plan a surprise party for Roy and give all the girlfriends their choice of weapons at the door. As she tallied the list of his exes she could call, the phone rang again and Roy blurted, “Emergency! Don’t hang up!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” she said, gazing back at her trailer, which was now making grating, rumbling noises.

“I’m serious, Bobbie Faye, they’re gonna kill me.”

“Hmph. Like I’m buying that again.”

“I swear, it’s true.”

“Right. Ask ‘them’ if they need any help.”

#
With his left eye swelling, Roy could barely make out Eddie and The Mountain in the shadows of the room where they relaxed in deep leather chairs. The Mountain snored. There was a niggly part of Roy’s brain—the part that usually warned him to get his pants on and get the hell out of the window just in time—sending out bursts of alarms. Two knee breakers this casual might just be used to way more violence than Roy had first suspected. This could be a world of bad. Best not to think about that. He tried, instead, to stay focused on Vincent, now holding Roy’s own cell phone to Roy’s bleeding ear and leaning in close enough to listen to Bobbie Faye’s ranting.

“You,” Bobbie Faye was venting over the cell, “are the lowest human scum, Roy Ellington Sumrall, so don’t even try to con me.”

Vincent eyed him and Roy shrugged, saying, “I’ve sort of used the old ‘life or death’ thing a couple of times before.”

“A couple of times!” Bobbie Faye shouted, mistaking the point as being directed to her. “Try a couple of dozen. Just get over here and help me. Now!”

The cell clicked off again, and Vincent drew it away from Roy’s ear, tut-tutting him the way he might a child who’d plunged his hand too often into a cookie jar.

“So much for sisterly love, dear boy,” Vincent said, and Roy shuddered at the finality in Vincent’s mock-sympathetic tone. “Maybe I should dispose of you and find someone she cares about.”

“No, really, she cares. I swear. She’s a good sister. You know, when she’s not all batshit crazy. Let me call her back. I’ll convince her. Really.”

Vincent considered Roy for a moment. Roy tuned up his most earnest expression, hoping the swollen lips and bruised eyes didn’t subtract from his attempt at charming Vincent. Vincent laughed and shook his head. At that, Eddie stood up and withdrew the largest blade from the largest sheath Roy had ever seen.

“I believe, dear boy, that you’re trying to stall. Truly, I admire you chutzpah, Roy. A few more years, and you might have managed to elevate it to the level of artistry.”

Vincent nodded to Eddie, who moved closer to Roy, turning the blade so that the light glinted off of it and into Roy’s eyes.

“In fact,” Vincent continued, “I like to think of myself as an artist, too. It takes a true ability to con the conmen when you deal in black market artifacts and expensive stolen art. And while I admire your attempt, dear Roy, and in another situation I might have even taken you under my wing and trained you, right now, I simply have too much money invested in this venture to waste any more time.”

Eddie moved forward and Roy strained to hop his chair away from the men, but the deep plush pile of the rug beneath the tarp kept him from being able to actually hop.

Eddie chuckled. “You havin’ a hernia or something?”

“I promise,” Roy told Vincent, “she really loves me. She’ll give it to you. Easy. I have always been able to count on Bobbie Faye, even if she is certifiable.”

Roy gritted his teeth, trying to hold his “charming” smile. Vincent studied him, then surveyed the desk, the painting on the wall, and the nearby statue on a black granite pedestal, until his gaze rested on a yellowed, water-stained handwritten journal lying open in a glass box in the center of the desk. Then finally, slowly, he turned back to Roy.

“Last chance.” Vincent hit re-dial on the cell phone and held it to Roy’s ear. “No excuses.”

As soon as Bobbie Faye answered, Roy asked, “Have you got a newspaper somewhere around you?”

“Jesus H. Christ on a pogo stick, Roy, you promised you wouldn’t drink before noon.”

“On Mom’s grave, Bobbie Faye, I swear, I have not been drinking. I need your help. Please . . . do you have a paper?”

#
On Mom’s grave? He had better not be lying and then swearing on Mom’s grave. Bobbie Faye, who had shrugged into a robe in between calls, peered out the door and saw a newspaper on old man Collier’s front steps next door, still rolled in a rubber band. She stomped over toward it.

“Yeah, I’ve got one,” she said, picking up the paper.

“Look on page A-five. Top right photo.”

Bobbie Faye wedged the cell phone between her ear and shoulder as she walked back toward her trailer, keeping an eye out for Stacey. The trailer made more worrisome groaning sounds, and as she opened to the right page, she pulled the phone away from her ear and shouted, “Stacey? Honey? Come out here where I can see you, okay?”

On the page in question, there was a photo which showed a blue tarp over a body, and judging from where the hands and feet stuck out from under it, the body had obviously been dismembered.

Bobby Faye recoiled and dropped the paper. “What is that? And what the hell are you showing me that for? Are you nuts?”

“Not ‘what,’ Bobbie Faye. Who.”

She recognized something in his voice she hadn’t noticed before: fear. Real fear, trying to be brave, but not doing so well.

“Remember cousin Alfonse?” he asked.

“The one who used to dress like a chicken mascot down at the Pluck & Fry or the one who used to grow moss for a living?”

“No, not them. The one in jail.”

“Roy, they’re all in jail.”

“Right. I mean Letta’s son. That’s him.”

“No way.”

“Way. He got out early.”

“Oh, bullshit, Roy. This could be anyone. I don’t have time for whatever game you’re playing—”

“I’m serious! Remember when he tried to set the alligators free at the zoo?”

“Oohh. He was missing half of. . . ” She peeked down at the photo on the ground, at the arms and legs sticking out from under the tarp, with one foot definitely a stub. Bobbie Faye’s knees wobbled, a bit watery, and she leaned hard on the railing to her stairs.

“Roy. He’s dead! Oh, geez!” Her stomach flipped and seemed to want to do toe-touches. “What’s this got to do with you?”

“He got out a month ago. These . . . um . . . people here . . . Bobbie Faye, they wanted something and he said he could get it, but when he didn’t, well. You see?”

Bobbie Faye stood outside her creaking trailer, trying to breathe evenly, struggling to comprehend the reality of bright morning sun, water turning her living room into a lake and now, murder. Nothing seemed to fit, as if someone had tossed hundreds of random jigsaw puzzles together, thrown five pieces at her, and expected her to make some sort of finished picture.

“God, Roy, I really don’t have any money,” she said.

“It’s not money, Bobbie Faye. They want . . . ” she heard the pause, and her stomach knotted. “They want Mom’s tiara.”

Bobbie Faye stood dead still, her head echoing with his words, the normal sounds of the morning — the birds, alarm clocks from nearby trailers, a pick-up crunching up the gravel drive — all assaulted her senses, rendering her displaced, disoriented. Anger battled fear, and she wondered if she was being had again.

“You,” she said evenly, “had better be kidding. Mom gave that to me. It’s the only thing I have left of hers.”

“I swear to you, Bobbie Faye. I swear. I don’t know why, but they want it. Real bad.”

“Roy, the last time you conned me out of the tiara, it was so you could wear it to some stupid Mardi Gras parade and you damned near forgot it at a bar in the French Quarter!”

“It’s not like that!” His voice had risen, like he was in pain, and Bobbie Faye could hear him breathing faster. She could also hear the trailer now making bizarre moaning sounds. As she talked, she hurried to the doorway to scoop up Stacey, who was sitting on the threshold tying her wet shoelaces.

“Do they know that tiara’s not worth any actual money?”

“I don’t know. They just want it.”

“But it’s only an old silly thing of Mom’s. She used it for fun, for the Contraband Days parade. I use it for the parade. Anybody could’ve taken it during the parade, easy. Why do this now?

“Besides, it’s not even worth the cost of the safe deposit box. Hell,” she said, moving away from the trailer with Stacey on her hip, “if Lori Ann hadn’t been drinking again and stealing everything Contraband Days-related to sell on e-Bay, I would have just kept it here.”

Stacey face screwed into in a concentrated frown, absorbing the insult to her mom.

“Sorry, kid.” She hugged her niece.

There was a scraping metal-on-metal sound behind her, and Bobbie Faye whipped around in time to see the front half of her trailer’s floor sag from the enormity of the water weight. The trailer burst open and the piers pierced through the floor until the front half rested on the ground. It knelt there like a dying behemoth, the sloshing water forcing it off-balance. Then it slowly leaned away from Bobbie Faye, moaning until it collapsed to the ground with a great metallic ripping and grinding. Water sloshed out everywhere as it died.

Bobbie Faye dropped the cell phone to her side in shock, forgetting the call for a moment. All her brain could process was, “Ohmygod. My trailer. My trailer. Shit. Holy shit.”

“Bobbie Faye?” Roy shouted, his voice dim and tinny from far far away.

“My trailer. Geez, Roy. It’s . . . it’s . . . ”

“Bobbie Faye? I need you to focus, sis!”

“Focus?” She held the cell phone away from her like it was an alien device and then slowly, remembering, put it to her ear.

“Bobbie Faye? Are you there?”

“Yeah.”

“You sound weird.”

“Don’t mind me. I’m just having an aneurysm.”

“Oh. Okay. Good. So you’ll bring the tiara?”

The tiara. She snapped back to the problem. “Yeah, Roy, I’ll go get it.”

“You can’t contact the police or tell anybody.”

“Like someone would believe me.”

“They said they’re watching you. They’ll know if you call anyone. And they want you to be subtle about it, Bobbie Faye.”

Bobbie Faye frowned at her flattened trailer. “I’m all about subtle right now, Roy.”

“As soon as you get it,” Roy continued, rushed, relief in his voice, “you gotta call my cell. Okay? And then they’ll tell you where you’ve got to take it.”

“Get the tiara, be subtle, call you after. Check.”

The call clicked off and Bobbie Faye glanced from her cell phone to her flattened trailer to Stacey on her hip.

“Is Uncle Roy okay?” Stacey asked.

Bobbie Faye hugged her. Roy was the closest thing to a father figure the kid had ever had. “I’m sure he is, Kiddo.”

“Mamma says you can fix anything.”

Hmph. Bobbie Faye could imagine the sarcasm dripping off Lori Ann when she said it, but the hope in Stacey’s expression squeezed her heart; Bobbie Faye wondered how in the hell she was supposed to live up to that hope. There were people holding her brother hostage, threatening to kill him, and she had no idea where he was.

That’s when she felt it: that fire in the pit of her stomach, that knot of big-sister determination in her chest that had nearly gotten her killed more times than she could count. There were people. Threatening to kill her brother.

Which just fucking pissed her off.

“You gonna fix Uncle Roy?”

She hugged her niece. “I’m gonna give it a helluva shot.”

From Charmed and Dangerous by Toni McGee Causey. Copyright© 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

On the kitchen build-out…

I was explaining to the cabinet guy about the type of oven/range we’re getting, and he got excited about it and asked about burner configuration, and things like choosing the BTUs of the extra burners. I looked at him blankly. “You know,” he explained, “you can have some of the burners hotter than others.” More blank look. “For when you cook.”

“Wait… people turn these things on? On purpose? And make food with them?”

I think I gave the poor man a seizure.

Writing websites I’d recommend:

Like books, there are a gazillion of these, too. In no particular order, here are a few I’d recommend:

Wordplay—specifically, read the columns. Many are screenwriting specific, but many translate to novels.

CJ Lyons’ NO RULES, JUST WRITE

Chuck Windig’s TERRIBLE MINDS

Jenny Crusie’s ARGH, INK

Nathan Bransford

Joanna Bourne

Scott Egan

Janet Reid

Kristen Nelson