Drew was driving down West Washington about the time Vin was walking into the cab company to pick up his ride. Though Drew knew he’d be sitting a while, he wanted to be sure he was in place before Vin attracted attention. So he found a likely spot near the bottom of the hill on West Washington just past Proudfit and parallel parked.
“You like Suzie” echoed in his head about a dozen times. He could still see Vin’s smug expression in his mind, and though he now watched morning rush hour drive past instead of Suzie wiping down the kitchen counter after breakfast, his jaw flexed in irritation.
Yes, he liked Suzie.
It was safe enough to let himself think it. Liking her didn’t mean anything. He liked a lot of people, including both Miranda and Vin. It didn’t mean anything. Liking people didn’t set him up for a fall. Not like caring deeply for someone who wouldn’t come with him when he moved on.
The bottom line was that his assignment to Madison Wisconsin was temporary. Eventually he would round up everyone in the Clobber Club, shut down their web site and end their Grand Theft Auto style game once and for all. Once the judge’s gavel came down, he’d return to the Chicago office and who knew from there?
Which was what he loved about Suzie’s house. Wasn’t it? Almost every other rental in town had a 12 month lease. He might have found a sublet in a month when school let out, but would loose it again three months later when the students returned in the fall. And what if he caught The Smash Master today? If the scumbag plead guilty, Drew might not need his room for more than a few more weeks.
Suzie didn’t require a lease, only a handshake. She knew he was temporary, didn’t she? He never said he intended to live there forever. But he couldn’t remember telling her he might not be there for long.
It shouldn’t matter. As long as they only liked each other it wouldn’t hurt too much when they went their own ways. Who knows, they might keep in touch the same way he did with Vin. He’d like to keep in touch with Suzie.
Drew watched the light change from red to green with half his mind. The line of cars to his left eased forward. In his rear-view mirror Drew saw some idiot cut across both lanes of traffic to skid into a left turn, narrowly missing oncoming traffic. Some equally suicidal fool took the same turn, causing cars to slam on brakes and horns.
Then the yellow color and rounded shape of the first car processed through Drew’s mind. The first car was a taxi.
What were the odds Vin would have already reeled in someone from the Clobber Club? They were supposed to play their nasty game around Villas Zoo a few blocks further along, not here. It might have been anyone. But some part of Drew knew for sure it had to be Vin.
If he’d had any idea Vin would hook someone so soon, he would have parked a few blocks back. Now he was one street past where Vin had turned, facing the wrong direction, and blocked by heavy traffic going both ways.
He flipped on the dash-mounted camera and pushed his way into traffic, though he didn’t try any of Vin’s stunt-driving. The problem was he couldn’t simply turn at the next intersection then cut over. The roads dead ended in Monona Bay, cutting him off from the way Vin went. Drew had to go down to South Park to turn, then cut up to Regent. At least Regent turned into Proudfit when it crossed West Washington.
At the speed he was going and the speed Vin had been going he would miss the shot entirely. Great. Just when he was ready to nail the jerk, caught with his camera aimed the wrong way.
He finally got onto Proudfit. Sure enough, he could see the short length of the street and there was no sign of Vin. He probably went on John Nolan Drive and headed South.
Except John Nolan was full of commuters. Vin wouldn’t want to put innocent bystanders at risk any more than Drew would. Drew looked around, trying to figure out what he would have done himself. Right after Proudfit crossed West Washington a little street named West Main came off to the right. Vin probably turned there. Drew back tracked.
He was sure it would already be too late, that the Clobber Clubber after Vin would already have sidelined the cab and run off, but if nothing else he could check and see if Vin needed a tow truck. For the first several seconds he didn’t understand what he saw at the end of the short street.
Vin sat in a taxi which had jumped the curb and come to rest against a tree. Drew knew it was Vin only because his red barrette showed so clearly. A man was walking away from Vin’s car. When he saw Drew approaching in his sedan, the man ran.
Drew was in luck! He hadn’t actually captured the attack on film, but this certainly looked circumstantial enough. And this man, with bright red hair, was an entirely new player. He might even be The Smash Master himself! Leave it to Vin to hook a good one.
“All right!” Drew grinned. He couldn’t wait to nail the guy.
A block away, he realized the man was holding a gun. He jumped into a silver Jeep Cherokee and peeled out.
For the few seconds between where Drew realized something was really, really wrong and his arrival at the end of the street in front of Vin, Drew was torn. Chase after the man, and possibly apprehend him, or check on Vin?
He kept hoping Vin would wave him off, giving him the green light to go after the jeep. Instead, he slumped up against the door of his cab. A slumping Vin was always a very, very bad sign.
“Damn!” Drew didn’t even get a good shot at the license plate. By the time his sedan turned the same direction as the jeep, it was gone.
Drew parked next to the cab and jumped out. Still no motion from inside. The hairs on the back of Drew’s neck stood up, giving him a bad feeling. He walked up to the window.
“Hey, Vin. You all right?”
The window was open. Drew reached through and touched Vin’s head, moving it gently up and to the side. There was blood all down his front. The bastard had shot him.
Drew whipped his cell phone out, speed dialing emergency even as his fingers desperately sought some sign of life. He thought he felt a flutter of a heartbeat at Vin’s neck, then thought it might be the blood racing through his own fingertips misleading him. He gave the ambulance direction even as he found the bullet hole and did his best to staunch the bleeding.
At least Vin was bleeding. That could be considered a sign of life, even if the man never so much as twitched.
“Vin, if you die on me, I’m going to stand on your grave and scream at you every day for the rest of my life.”
The threat felt hollow, and didn’t even raise a flicker of response from Vin. Drew wasn’t sure why he needed a response, but he did. It was almost as if he had to have some significant sign of life to be able to take a deep breath.
Wasn’t it ironic how he had thought you couldn’t get hurt simply from liking someone. He felt as through his guts had been ripped out and dunked in ice water. He felt as if the world had gone a strange shade of slate blue and could never be right again if Vin didn’t answer him right now.
He needed something more than gushing blood as a sign of life. And he needed to give Vin something to live for, some reason to fight the shock and pain of having been shot.
“If you die, I’ll marry Miranda.”
Vin opened his eyes and glared at Drew.