Miles Longworth had no idea how long he had laid on the floor before being discovered by the Grim Reaper standing in the doorway. He closed his eyes and his life flashed before him. The horses hadn't always been his enemy. Once, they'd been his friends. He remembered his first encounter with a horse.
He was just a young boy.
Eight years old, if his memory served him correctly.
He'd learned about the gentle, if not somewhat mischievous, quality of the majestic animals that day. He'd learned to love them.
And he'd learned about Karma.
He was a quiet child, undemanding and grateful.
His father had asked him if he wanted a ride.
He'd said, "yes, sir. Thank you."
The horses had been tethered in a circle, like a makeshift carousel. A carousel that smelled like cut wood and the outhouse at a KOA campground.
He'd happily climbed aboard, and his father had placed a few coins in the hand of an old man with a weathered face. The man had thanked his father, and patted the horse lovingly. He'd also patted Miles' shoulder. "Don't be afraid, son. She's a good old girl."
Miles hadn't been afraid. The ride had lasted only a few minutes, a mere blink in the life of a child, not long enough for a boy who had just met his first love.
His father had helped him down from his perch in the saddle.
Miles brushed off his trousers and smiled.
Before he could fully digest the enormity of what had just happened, a little girl grabbed his attention.
She demanded another ride.
Her harried mother told her no.
She had screamed, stamped her feet, swatted at her mother with sticky hands.
Miles turned to watch. He looked at the little girl, looked at his father. He looked at the mare from which he had just dismounted.
The horse seemed to wink at him.
She whinnied, shook her head, and then promptly crapped all over the screaming child.
"What happened back there?" he'd asked his father, later that same day.
"Karma, son," his father had whispered.
As Miles lay on the pile of crappy ceiling, he supposed it was Karma that was visiting him now.
He opened his eyes. The figure in the doorway still stood in the shadows.
It laughed, then shook its head.
"What in the Sam hell are you doing, Miles?" Slick Mitchell asked.
The relief coursed through Miles so quickly, he nearly wet himself.
He wasn't going to die.
Not tonight, at least.
Miles thought fast. "In the chaos of this afternoon, I'd forgotten my I Phone."
"And you left it in the ceiling?" Mitchell asked.
"Of course not," Miles replied, searching for some logical excuse. "The light went out. I climbed up to take the bulb out so I could go to the janitor's closet for a replacement."
Smartest thing I have said in a year, Miles thought.
"I merely grabbed the grate to steady myself, and then boom," Miles explained.
"Why are you on top of the mess? Shouldn't it be on top of you?" Mitchell asked.
Shit! Think, think, THINK!
"I was under it. I started climbing out of the mess when I heard the shots."
"So it wasn't you doing the shooting?" Mitchell asked.
"Of course not. What was I going to shoot you with, an I Phone?" Miles asked. "What are you doing here?" Miles asked, although he had no right to question the store's senior manager.
"I had work to do," Mitchell said.
"What were you shooting?" Miles asked.
"It wasn't me," Slick Mitchell said, sounding casual.
Miles had the urge to take cover under the pile of ceiling tiles, but didn't.
"So, the shooter is still in the store?" Miles whispered. He felt relatively safe with Mitchell in the doorway. He figured as long as Mitchell didn't fall forward with a hole blown through him, it wasn't too likely that Miles would end up like Swiss cheese.
"The shooter isn't in the store. He's gone."
"How do you know?" Miles asked.
"The gunman whacked me with his gun on his way out. Gave me a shiner."
Miles said nothing. He'd like to thank the guy who clobbered Slick Mitchell, but he had no desire to come face to face with him. Maybe he'd just send a card.
Thanks for punching my boss. We've all thought about it. Have a nice day.
"So, what are you doing here now?" Miles asked.
"I called the cops. They're on their way," Mitchell said.
"You gonna have me arrested for ruining the ceiling?" Miles asked.
"Of course not, you dumb ass. They're just going to search the store," Slick Mitchell explained.
"Right," Miles said.
The adrenaline rush of climbing into the pickup wore off after a mile or so, and Reeve Stockwell was terrified.
What have I done? I am going to die, and no one is ever going to know what happened to me.
Stockwell had no idea who Burger was, or what he wanted, or what he might have done, or would do, but he had to get away. He couldn't throw himself out of the truck, he might be killed.
Die if you stay. Die if you try to get away.
"Great," Stockwell whispered in the dark.
For a thug, Burger had odd taste in music. Celine Dion blared from the inside of the cab, and although he threw threats around casually, clearly Burger was a romantic.
A romantic with a gun.
The worst kind.
A criminal who liked Celine Dion.
Rather a crime in itself.
Stockwell's mind went wild as he bounced around in the back of the truck. He'd covered himself with an old tarp, and the smell of the waders was making him sick.
Suddenly he remembered the phone. He pulled it from his pocket, and held it in his hand. He'd put JJ's card in the pocket of his shirt, and he still wore the shirt under the old slicker.
He'd call JJ. Maybe she could "ping," the phone, find out where he was, come and rescue him.
He pulled the card from his pocket, used the light from the phone to memorize the number, then made the call. JJ answered on the first ring.
"I'm in the back of someone's pickup truck, JJ. I have Mick Daniels' phone. Can you put a trace on it and come find me?"
"What the hell are you doing? I'm in bed," JJ whined.
"Sorry," Stockwell said. "Look it. I went to do some investigating. This guy was in the store, shooting the place up. I climbed into the back of his truck."
"That's pretty courageous," JJ said, sounding more annoyed than impressed.
"Thanks," Stockwell whispered.
"You're scared shitless, aren't you?" JJ asked.
"You have no idea," Stockwell admitted.
"All right. Stay where you are. The number came up on my cell. I'm gonna get your location, send a car, and have them stop you for a bogus infraction."
"What do I do? Just stay in the truck?" Stockwell asked.
"Seriously? If I send a car, they stop this truck you're in, and you don't find a way out of there during the process, I will find you and kill you myself."
Stockwell had no doubt she would.
"You're welcome. Send me a full report tomorrow, got it?"
"Got it," Stockwell said.
Reeve Stockwell lay still under the tarp. Suddenly the music began to fade, the truck slowed, then stalled with a bang.
He heard Burger yell a string of profanities that made Reeve blush, as he struggled to restart the pickup. "If you're out of gas, you worthless pile of metal, someone is gonna die," Burger hollered.
"Shit," Stockwell whispered. He was in no position to offer himself up as a sacrifice to help quell Burger's anger.
The truck restarted, and took off like a shot. Stockwell held on to something he was grateful he couldn't see, something slimy he hoped wasn't Burger's last victim. He saw slivers of light through the tarp and thought he might be in a residential area.
The truck sped along even faster, and took a hard left, sending Stockwell flying from the back.
He hit the ground with a thud and the waders basically split in half. He sat upright and found the source of the light.
His worst fears were realized.
He had landed in a Home Depot parking lot.