I trusted Bobby Lee's judgment. I really did. What I didn't trust was the bad guys. They were bad guys, so you couldn't trust them to be anything but unpredictable and dangerous.
I watched the two cars get closer, and I almost yelled, don't, don't do it!But I wanted to know who was following me, and more than that, if I said stop, if my nerve failed here on something so mundane, what good would I be? The trouble was, my nerve had failed. I kept my mouth shut, but I felt like the only thing keeping my pulse in my mouth was the tight line of my lips.
I prayed, Dear God, don't let anyone get hurt.Then a thought occurred to me, seconds before the fender bender. If Bobby Lee and company could stage this, they could probably have followed the men, trailed them back to wherever. Following just hadn't occurred to me, only confrontation. Shit.
The cars collided; it did look real, accidental. Claudia got out, all tall and feminine even from a distance. Fredo got out, yelling, waving his arms around.
The bad guys started their car and went for the far entrance of the parking lot, farther down the street that had just been blocked off. They must have smelled a . . . rat.
The Impala stopped before they'd turned completely onto the road, which meant they'd spotted the third car tucked in beside the Circus, blocking the alley between the Circus and the building next door.
Bobby Lee led the way to the stairs, and we clattered down, trusting that the fourth vehicle, a truck, had blocked the far alley where the loading dock was located. We'd both sacrificed being one of the first shooters into the parking lot so we could watch the plan unfold.
By the time we hit the lot, gunmen had sprung up among the few parked cars, like mushrooms after a rainstorm. I felt almost silly drawing my gun and joining the half circle. Claudia, Fredo, and the two other drivers were the other half of the circle, coming in from the other side.
It wasn't a perfect circle, a perfect circle would have meant we were firing at each other, so the circle was sort of metaphoric, but the effect was perfect.
The Impala sat there in our circle of guns, engine on, and no weapons in sight, yet. The blond had his hands very firmly on the top of the steering wheel. It was the dark-haired one in his billed cap who had his hands out of sight.
There was a lot of shouting on our side, about hands up, and don't you f**king move. They hadn't moved, but the engine was still running, and the one guy's hands were still out of sight. I kept my gun pointed one-handed, but raised a hand. I don't know if anyone else saw it, or understood what I wanted, but Bobby Lee did. He held up his hand in almost the same gesture, and the yelling quieted. It was suddenly silent, except for the thrum of the car engine.
I spoke into that silence, making sure my voice carried, "Turn off the car."
The one in the billed cap said something that I couldn't hear through the windows. The blond very slowly lowered one hand, and the engine died. The ticking of the engine was very loud in the stillness.
Billed-cap man was obviously unhappy. Even with sunglasses covering his face, it showed in the line of his mouth. His hands were still hidden. The blond had put his hand back on the steering wheel.
"Hands where we can see them," I said. "Now."
The blond's hands seemed to vibrate on the steering wheel, as if he would have put his hands where I could see them if they weren't already there. He said something to his companion, and bill-cap shook his head.
I lowered my gun, took a deep breath, held it, aimed, let the breath out slow and careful as I squeezed the trigger. The gunshot was loud in the stillness, and it took a moment for me to be able to hear the air hissing out of the tire. I aimed my gun back up at the blond's window.
His eyes flashed wide. He was speaking fast and frantically to his friend.
"Bobby Lee," I said, "have someone on that side of the car press the barrel of their gun against the passenger side window."
"You want them to shoot?"
"Not yet, and if they do have to shoot I don't want to chance hitting the blond with the same bullet." I looked up at him. "Aim accordingly."
It was Claudia who stepped forward and put her gun against the window, she angled it slightly down so she'd miss the man on the other side. Bullets have a nasty tendency to travel farther than you want them to.
She asked, without looking at me, never taking her eyes from the man she was aiming at. "Do I get to kill him?"
"We only need one of them to question," I said.
She smiled, a flash of white teeth, and it was fierce and frightening framed by all that dark hair, that lovely face. "Great."
"I won't ask again, put your hands where we can see them, or else," I said.
He didn't put his hands up. He was either stupid or . . . "Bobby Lee, does anyone have our backs?"
"You mean backup?" he asked.
"Yeah, he's awful stubborn, unless he thinks help is coming."
He said something quick and harsh, it sounded German, but it wasn't, and his Southern accent vanished when he said it. Some of the wererats turned outward, watching the perimeter. We were in the open, no one was going to sneak up on us. The only real danger would have been if someone had a rifle and scope. There was really nothing we could do about snipers, and because there was nothing we could do about it, we had to let it go, pretend it couldn't happen, and take care of what was happening. But a spot from between my shoulder blades to the top of my head ran with goose bumps, as if I could feel the scope on me. I was pretty sure it was imagination, but my imagination's always been a problem when I got overly excited. I tried to think of something else, like why the man wouldn't put his f**king hands up.
I aimed one-handed so I could free up my left hand. I held a finger up, one, then another finger, two.
The blond was speaking frantically. I could hear snatches of his voice, do it, God, do it.
I actually started to put up that third finger, when the bill-cap man put his hands up, slowly. Empty hands, but I was betting any amount of money that he had some nasty piece of hardware in his lap. Oh, yeah.
Claudia kept her gun against his window. I think because she hadn't been told to move away. Frankly, I liked her there, close enough to fire if he went for whatever was in his lap.
I made the universal sign for roll the window down, rolling my hand in the air. They were in an old enough car that they actually had to crank it down. The blond unwound the window, slowly, carefully, and kept his other hand glued to the steering wheel. He was a cautious man. I liked that.
He rolled the window down, put his hands back on the steering wheel, and said nothing. He didn't try to plead innocence, or confess guilt. He just sat there. Fine.
I was short enough that with a little stooping I could see into the other man's lap. It was empty, which meant whatever he'd been cradling was on the floorboard. He'd dropped it so we wouldn't see it. What the hell was it?
I raised my voice a little. "You in the cap, put your hands slowly on the dashboard, flat, and if they move from there, you will be shot. Is that clear?"
He wouldn't look at me.
"Is that clear?"
He began to move his hands towards the dashboard. "It's clear."
"Why were you following me?" I asked, mostly to the blond, because I was beginning to realize the other man wasn't going to volunteer much.
"I do not know what you are talking about." He had a faint German accent, and I had too many relatives with the same accent not to recognize it. Of course, they were all over sixty, and hadn't seen the old country for a few decades. I was betting blondie was a more recent import.
"Where'd the pretty blue Jeep go?" I asked.
His face went very still.
"I told you," the bill-cap said.
"Yeah, we spotted you," I said. "It wasn't all that hard."
"You would not have seen us if you had not been swerving all over the road," Blondie said.
"Sorry about that, but we had some technical difficulties."
"Yeah, like one of you turned furry," the guy in the cap said. He definitely was middle American, middle of nowhere, no accent.
"So you wondered what was wrong, and got close enough to see," I said.
Neither of them said anything to that.
"You are both going to get, very slowly, out of this car. If either of you goes for a weapon, you may both die. I only need one of you for questioning, the other is just gravy. I'll do my best to see that one of you lives, but I won't break a sweat to save you both, because I don't need you both. Is that clear?"