This story is one of a continuing series of connected stories known as “Tales from the Shack.” Normally these go into LW because the Shack series started here, and it is much easier for those that follow the stories to find them if I keep them all together. Even so, this one very much belongs in the LW category. This story stands on its own, though it is part of the series. It is also the second of the Needles & Delaney stories, so read “An Angry Man” first. I typically don’t write graphic sex into this story line and that remains true here.
Thanks to stev2244 and bebop03 for beta reads, blackrandi and sbrooks103x for amazing editing; they make these readable. There are other who help who prefer not to be credited. You know who you are and I appreciate the help. As always, special thanks to The Missus for her tolerance, her encouragement, and her brilliant plotting and characterization.
An Unreasonable Man:
Needles & Delaney should come with fucking warning label
Delaney ended her furious rant glaring up at me red-faced, fists clenched white-knuckle tight by her sides.
I was still chuckling.
Delaney had her days. Hell, we all did, I had days when it was hard to keep the lid screwed on, and I had a lot more experience at it than she did. Of course, my laughter hardly helped; it made her madder than hell.
She suddenly blinked and turned pale, a flash of fear on her face as she bolted past me, rushing towards the trailer. I turned to watch her just as Sheree stepped out the door and pulled her into a hug. She looked at me over the top of Delaney’s head, and shot me a wink and a soft smile.
I pointed to Delaney and then at the knuckles of my left hand. She nodded and gently ushered Delaney inside; she’d clean and bandage where Delaney’d caught her hand when the damn wrench slipped. That had to hurt; this late in the year it was always a little cold, and skinning your knuckles always hurts more when it’s cold.
I’d warned her twice about that nut; it was frozen and damn near rounded off. She had to try it her own way first, though. Cost her a little skin and a bit of blood. We both tested our tetanus shots on a regular basis. That just happens in a salvage yard. Maybe she’d learn from it. Delaney’s hard head meant she was a slow learner, sometimes.
I was sure it’d be okay, because Friday was always Movie Night at Dawes’s Salvage. I shrugged and went back to work. Skinned my own fucking knuckles before I followed my own suggestion, heated the nut with a propane torch and removed it. I’m a slow learner, too.
At five-thirty, I headed up to the trailer to clean up. Delaney was nowhere to be seen, but Sheree was pulling bowls out for the stew I’d put in the slow cooker earlier. With Sheree working every weekday, I usually set up dinner during the week. Winter meals were easy, dump it all in a slow cooker, wait eight hours and eat.
Sheree gave me a little kiss and thumped me on the chest. “No more sugar ‘til you get scrubbed up.” She shot a glance back towards the far bedroom where some kind of unrecognizable music was playing. “She’ll be okay. Just scared herself. She’s always afraid she’s gone too far. Worried t’death you’re gonna send her back.”
I shook my head. “Not gonna happen. Nobody deserves to have to live with that bitch. I’d send Delaney to Gitmo before I sent her back there.”
Sheree smiled. “She has to let that anger out and she knows she can do it to you because you can take it.”
I knew that was true, she’d never so much as raised her voice to Sheree, not once. “Every time she does it, I see myself. Besides, it’s karma; I missed most of Tara and Tiffany’s teenage years, I probably have some teenage screaming coming.”
Sheree stretched up and gave me another, more intense, kiss. “Go get cleaned up. You deserve a few more of those, and I’d rather give ‘em to ya when you smell better.”
After I cleaned up and came out for dinner, I found them already at the table, Delaney looking more than a little tense. Sheree talked about her day down at Big Ed’s Quickmart convenience store, mostly dealing with a malfunctioning Slurpee machine and a lost beer truck. Her news that Shelley had to do community service again so she was stuck with the 10-to-2 shift the next day wasn’t great, but I had some things to do, so it’d be okay. Still, I could just sit and listen to her talk all day. Delaney, fragile and shiny-eyed, was obviously thankful for the distraction.
As we got ready to clean up after dinner, Sheree nudged Delaney, and she took a deep breath. “I’m making dessert tonight. It’s a surprise.”
Before I could even comment Sheree hustled me over to the couch, and we sat there while Delaney buzzed around the kitchen. A bit later, Delaney hesitantly presented me with a plate with what for all the world looked like a pizza crust with no cheese, sauce, or toppings.
She waited nervously until I picked it up and took a bite.
“Damn. I thought I was going to have to pretend to like it. This is actually really good. What the hell is it?”
She lit up. “Pie crust. Store bought pie crust with some sugar and cinnamon on it. And butter.”
Sheree ate hers gleefully. “Kinda like them things at the Mexican restaurant. Sopapillas. Kind of.”
Delaney was obviously delighted with the response and ran to get us all another piece. She topped hers and Sheree’s with whipped cream and some chocolate syrup. She even turned up some chocolate sprinkles I didn’t know we had.
After we finished, Delaney looked expectantly at Sheree. “Was there anything good left?”
Sheree just pulled two movies out of her purse. “One for us, one for Les.” She held up a Disney adventure movie, and a copy of A Bridge Too Far.
It was Movie Night at Dawes’ Salvage, just like every Friday night.
I woke up to a chorus of snores. Delaney’s slightly squeaky soft snores and Sheree’s decidedly more womanly snores. Delaney was curled up almost like a kitten against Sheree. Sheree was nestled into my side with one arm protectively over Delaney.
Just like every Saturday morning for the last few months. Every Friday movie night, they’d get in their pajamas, bring blankets and pillows, and promptly fall asleep after the second movie started. After a month, I’d gone out and bought a much bigger, much more comfortable, couch. No point in having backaches all the time. It took up most of the living room, but it was worth it.
It’d started me thinking about the trailer. It’d been fine when it was just me, but I realized I wanted more for Sheree and Delaney. They both seemed happy, but maybe something other than a two bedroom singlewide in a salvage yard would be a little better.
I looked around at the trailer, morning light pushing rudely in through the windows.
Not much in the way of decoration and most of the furniture was secondhand even if it was pretty presentable, except the new couch, of course, and two new beds: one for me and Sheree, and one for Delaney. It wasn’t even much of a bachelor pad, just a place to sleep and eat. That was all I’d ever needed, but maybe the three of us really needed a place to live. I had enough money, even after paying for Delaney to go to the Learning Center twice a week up in Charlottesville. That hadn’t been cheap but it’d definitely been worth it. Unlike the classy private school that bitch ex-wife of mine had insisted she go to, it was one-on-one with a specialist in dyslexia who actually knew how to help her. She’d never be a great academic, but she was starting to find ways of dealing with her limitations. It showed in her schoolwork.
We’d decided to do the homeschool thing, at least for a year, so Delaney worked on her “school stuff” part of the morning and in the evenings, while spending as much time as she could with me in the salvage yard. She loved taking things apart, and she loved learning to drive all the vehicles in the yard. She was a natural on the stick shifts, and I took her to the old quarry and let her drive Sally around a little bit. For all her frustration and anger, I knew she was happier here with us than she’d ever been anywhere. After her father won his election to the State Senate, I’d been relieved when Charlotte didn’t contact us at all. She’d obviously decided Delaney could be a problem when Charles ran for Governor and had decided I could keep her. That was fine with me.
I could have just sat there all day, listening to them, but I knew Sheree would have to get up and start getting ready. I gently prodded her awake.
She made a purring sound. “I wish I could stay here all day.”
“What are you and Delaney gonna be doin’ while I’m at the Quickmart?”
“I’ve got a coupla pickups to do and I think Delaney’s gonna be workin’ on her baby.”
Sheree giggled. “We’re not gonna have to worry about boyfriends for a while. That car is her boyfriend.”
I chuckled along with her. Delaney worked obsessively on her project car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury. She insisted on doing everything herself. I could watch, explain, make suggestions, but that was it. Delaney was adamant about it. She was doing all the bodywork, and even rebuilding the special Golden Commando Dual-Quad 350 engine I’d traded a wrecked Porsche for. Delaney was a little unhappy about that; she’d wanted to use as much of her own money as possible, so she’d sworn to “work off the engine” in the salvage yard. She was making good on that promise; Delaney certainly had her faults, but she sure as hell wasn’t afraid of hard work and dirt. The Fury was going to be her birthday gift to herself for her sixteenth birthday. Be a helluva gift too; even with a non-standard red and white “Christine” paint job, it’d be worth a good $80,000 dollars, at least.
Besides, I wasn’t too worried about boyfriends for a while; Delaney still had nightmares about what would have happened if I hadn’t showed up the last time she thought she had a boyfriend.
Sheree shifted luxuriously and reached up for a kiss.
“Eeewwww, not in front of the kid!” Delaney sat up suddenly wrinkling her nose at us. She looked over at the clock. “Shit! I wanted to get started early today.” She jumped up, dragging her blanket and pillow toward her room.
Sheree giggled again and Delaney stopped and looked back. “Since he’s gonna be doing pickups, can I come down at lunch for a hotdog or two?”
“Or, more likely, three. I don’t know where you put them.” Sheree beamed at her over the back of the couch. “Just be careful on that scooter of yours.”
Delaney had found an old Honda 50cc moped in the yard, and much to my surprise, we’d managed to get it running. She’d promptly cleaned it up and given it a “Christine-ish” red-and-white paint job and wheedled a promise from the Sheriff to treat it as a bicycle for her as long as she stayed off the roads and wore a helmet.
“I’ll take the alley behind the Sheriff’s department. I promise.”
By the time I got back out to the kitchen, Delaney was already there in her oversize mechanics coveralls and steel-toed boots, putting the final touches on her cinnamon toast. I started eggs and hash-browns for me and Sheree.
Delaney sat down. “I’ll soak the nut on that fender in penetrating oil and try it tonight.”
She was trying to make a peace offering of sorts, wanting to be sure we were okay. She couldn’t use power tools or the torch unless I was there, so she was thinking of something she could do.
I shook my head. “Nah, I got it last night. Got it off with the torch. Damn thing bit me first.” I held my skinned knuckles up. “I was a little slow.”
Delaney took a huge mouthful of her toast to stifle a smile. “But you did learn something?”
“Even short bus kids like us can learn eventually.”
She giggled. “Then I’m gonna get my front driver-side quarter-panel sanded down.”
“Wear earplugs, goggles, and a 3M mask. Make sure you put the power sander back where you got it. Sneaking it out of there doesn’t really work unless you put it back.”
She flushed a little and hid a tiny smile. She wasn’t allowed to use the power-tools when I wasn’t around. I knew how she thought, and a sander isn’t exactly the most dangerous power-tool on the planet. She kept leaving it on the bench instead of getting it back on the shelf where it belonged. Of course, I knew it was her way of trying to be honest with me. She resented the hell out of authority, and probably always would, but I was kinda okay with that. She was a lot like me.
After Sheree and I finished breakfast, she headed for the Quickmart and I walked out to the rollback truck. I had to laugh, I could hear the soft buzz of the power sander already droning from the garage where Delaney had her baby set up.
Almost two hours later, as I unstrapped another wreck to unload it, Delaney wheeled her little red-and-white mini-nightmare up to me.
“I’m headed up to the Quickmart to eat. Do you want me to save you a spot?”
I rolled the last strap. “It’ll take me about 20 minutes to get there, but I’ll take one of those foot-long jalapeno dogs with extra hot peppers. Then I have to head out and get that last one picked up.”
She pulled her helmet on; it was black with little fanged robot skulls all over it. “Cool. I can get a head start! I’ll have Sheree put one back for you.”
It was almost 25 minutes later when I started out the gate, only to be interrupted by a call from John down at the tire and auto shop. I did lot of my own work on vehicles, but I had him do regular maintenance. I was pretty sure I didn’t have anything down there, so it was a bit odd. And it got much odder very quickly.
“Hey ... Bill.” He said the name with enough finality that I paused in my answer; he damn well knew he was using the wrong name.
“Hold a second Bill. There’s a guy down here looking for a kid. Says her name is ‘Delaney’ something or other. Thought you might know about it.”
This was no misdial. I turned towards the auto shop. “I’m on my way over.”
“Yeah, park around back, got a load of tires coming in, don’t need you blocking the entrance.”
His shop was only a few minutes from the yard and I pulled in the back like he asked, sliding my 1911 out of the glove box and into my belt at the back of my pants.
John was at the counter facing a big guy with tattoos that flowed up his neck out of his t-shirt collar. As soon as I walked in, John started talking. “Hey, Bill. This guy’s looking for that kid that hangs out with Needles.”
He turned towards me. Blocky looking Asshole, with a nasty cast to him. As he turned I recognized some of the gang tattoos and knew why he was looking for Delaney. I shrugged. “Probably down at the salvage yard, like they always are. Couple blocks south of here. Why you looking for her?”
“That’s my fucking business.”
I held my hands up. “Just asking.”
He brushed past me, heading out toward a black SUV, looked like it might be an Escalade, in the parking lot. John looked at me wide-eyed. “You just told him where she is.”
“Nah, she’s with Sheree, eatin’ lunch.” I headed out the back. “Think I’m gonna have a little talk with this fucker.”
John just nodded and picked up his coffee.
I followed down the road behind him, let him get into the salvage yard and then put the rollback into low gear and steered it right into the driver’s side door, shoving the SUV up against the wall of truck tires on the other side of the parking area.
I already had the door open and swung out with the .45 leveled at him before he could figure out what happened. He started to reach into his jacket but stopped as soon as he looked up the barrel.
“Go for it, Asshole. Give me a fuckin’ excuse.”
I heard the front door of the trailer open and glanced over as Delaney stepped out, looking around warily.
“What the fuck are you doing here? You’re supposed to be with Sheree.”
She held up a bag. “Sheree asked me to run back here and get her a clean shirt and bra. The damn Slurpee machine spewed all down her shirt.”
Delaney stepped forward and looked at the Asshole. As soon as she saw the tattoos, her expression changed from confusion to raw hatred. “What the fuck!?”
“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”
“He was looking for me, wasn’t he?”
She glared at him. “Are you going to kill him?”
“Jesus. We need to cut down on your sugar intake. I haven’t even talked to him yet.”
She dropped the bag and crossed her arms in front of her. “So what about it, shithead? What are you here for?
I considered telling her I’d ask the questions, but frankly I didn’t have any better ones.
He scowled at her. “Fuck off.”
Delaney shook her head. “Wait, wait, wait. You came out here to grab me or kill me? How fucking stupid are you?” She threw her hands up. “Seriously. The last time some of you fucking asswipes tried that, everybody died. Like, fucking-dead-in-a-ball-of-fire, died.” She leaned forward a little like she was studying him. “I mean, are they trying to get rid of you or something? ‘Hey! Let’s send shithead out to get killed.’ Are you banging somebody’s fucking sister or something? Jesus.”
His hand twitched toward his jacket as he looked daggers at her, but the muzzle of the .45 was a very convincing argument to stay still.
I had to chuckle a little. “You actually have to let the goat-felching strap-faggot answer questions for this to work.”
She looked at me puzzled. “What’s a goat...”
“Don’t ask. And don’t look it up on the internet either.”
“I’m not old enough?”
“Hell, I’m not old enough.”
She shrugged. “He’s probably too stupid to answer. We’re using words that are too long for him. Probably talking too fast for him, too.” She looked at him wide-eyed with mock sympathy. “Does ... This ... Help?”
The Asshole turned a brilliant shade of red, I could almost see steam coming out his ears. Out of the corner of my eye I could see a car jerk to a sudden stop, the woman in it staring at us while animatedly talking into a cell phone. “Shit, Delaney, get in there and call 9-1-1. Tell them we caught an intruder at the salvage yard.”
“Why...” She noticed the woman on the on the phone. “Shit.”
She dashed inside, tripping over the bag on her way, knocking everything out.
I looked at the Asshole. “We’re gonna talk later.”
It took the Sheriff and two of his deputies all of ninety seconds to come blazing into the yard, just as Delaney stepped back out.
“Needles.” The Sheriff walked toward me cautiously.
“Careful, Asshole here has a gun in his jacket.”
As soon as the deputies had him covered, I cleared my .45 and offered it to the Sheriff. He waved me off. “I know you have a permit for that. I had to sign the damn thing.” He looked at the SUV. “Think you could back the truck off enough for us to get him out?”
I stuck the .45 in my belt, backed the rollback off a bit and slid back out to watch them get his gun and get him out.
The Sheriff watched as his deputies managed to pry the door open and pull the tattooed guy out of his SUV. “So what’s goin’ on, Needles?”
“He’s some kind of pervert. He exposed himself to Delaney.”
“Seriously? You’re going with that? You know he was trapped in his SUV, she’s not even tall enough to see in the window of that thing. Kinda tough to do that from there.”
Delaney broke in, nodding exaggeratedly, eyes wide in obvious mock-fear. “It’s true Sheriff! He did. It was horrible ... I saw it!” She narrowed her eyes, then held her hand up, thumb and forefinger half an inch apart. “It was like a penis, but smaller...”
The guy snarled and shoved the deputies away suddenly, lunging towards Delaney, snarling. “Bitch!”
Exactly like I’d expected him to do. With the Sheriff on the wrong side, I had just the right angle to step in and drive my fist into his temple with every bit of my weight behind it; he fell to the ground clutching weakly at his head.
Before I could follow up, the two deputies piled onto him like an avalanche of bricks. Delaney just stood watching with a barely suppressed smirk. She hadn’t so much as shifted an inch.
The Sheriff looked back and forth between me and Delaney. “What the hell were you thinking, girl? He could have hurt you.”
“With Needles here? Do you really think he’d ever let that shithead touch me?” Delaney moved out of the way to let them finish cuffing and searching him. I noticed her reach quickly into the SUV and tuck something into her pocket.
The Sheriff shook his head. “Jesus. Now I have to process him for assaulting law enforcement officers.” He nodded to his deputies. “Get him the fuck out of here. Process him and run him for warrants.”
I nodded. “That’s good, you can book him on that. At least Delaney won’t have to relive that horrible experience.”
We watched as the deputies stuffed him ungently into one of their cruisers. The Sheriff shifted his stare to me after they drove off. “We need to talk, Needles. I recognize those tattoos. I saw some like them in a report about the same time you made your little trip to Durham to pick up Delaney here. North County Wild Boyz gang members who got themselves very dead in some kind of car chase and shoot out.”
For a fraction of a second Delaney looked like a scared little girl again, but it was gone in a flash.
The Sheriff was much smarter than his “Good ‘Ol Boy” demeanor would ever suggest, and he knew my background better than most. I shrugged. “Odd coincidence.”
“Seriously, there’s more to this. I can’t help much if I don’t know what the hell’s going on.”
I nodded. “I didn’t think there would be, thought it was all over. Until the shithead showed up.”
“That gang was tied in with South American gangs, and it was involved in drugs and...” He paused looking over at Delaney.
She stared right back and finished for him. “And underage prostitution? I heard gangs like that grab runaways and street kids then break them. With gang rape. Then they turn them out as whores.” Her voice was mostly steady with just barely a quaver in it.
The Sheriff blinked twice. “Yeah. That’s what I heard, too.”
I nodded to her and Delaney took a deep breath. “Sometimes karma catches up to them just in time. Sometimes they fucking die screaming before they can hurt someone. That’s what I heard, anyway.” She shot me a glassy sidelong glance.
He shook his head, looking at the gravel under his feet. “Shit. But I kinda figured it was something like that.” He looked up thoughtfully. “How’d they find you this time?”
Delaney looked up at me, desperate. “I swear to God, it wasn’t me. I haven’t been on the internet or anything.”
“They already had your real name from before. Maybe somebody decided they needed to tie up loose ends.” Even as I said it, it didn’t sound right, I was sure there was more to it. Most gangs lose eight guys they keep their fucking fingers out of the buzzsaw if they can.
Delaney looked down. “I can’t believe I was that fucking stupid.”
I touched her shoulder. “It’s okay to fuck up once in a while, everybody does.”
“I know, ‘as long as we learn from it.’ I remember.” She looked up me with a weak smile. “Even short bus kids like us can get by.”
“We can, can’t we?”
The Sheriff keyed his mike and told his men to be extra cautious with their prisoner. Then pointed to the bag on the ground. “Is that his?”
Delaney walked over and held up Sheree’s bra. “Not unless he wears a Double D cup. I was here to get clothes for Sheree.”
A thought suddenly struck me. “Goddammit to Fuck.”
The intensity of my tone caught the Sheriff off balance. “What?”
“These are the kind of assholes who might go after family. We have to warn Tiffany, Tara, and...” I couldn’t say it.
“Shit. Shit. Shit.” Delaney sounded as disgusted as I felt. Her head dropped forward and she closed her eyes. “My mother.”
My phone started buzzing and Sheree’s number popped up. I answered as calmly as possible. “Hey, Babe.”
“Is Delaney with you?”
“Yeah, we got held up, sorry for not calling, it was a little hectic. But we’ll be up there in a few minutes.”
As soon as I was off the phone, I nodded to the Sheriff. “I’ll be by to talk, but I need to get Delaney up to Sheree.”
“Anytime this afternoon is fine. I assume you aren’t pressing charges?”
“You should have plenty without me. Especially if that gun is unregistered or he doesn’t have a license for it.”
“There is that. Then I won’t need you to come by at all.”
I had Delaney ride with me in the truck to the Quickmart. She didn’t even argue about it; she had to be really upset.
I waited until we were out of sight of the yard and the Sheriff. “Let’s see his phone.”
She sighed and wordlessly pulled it out.
“Is it locked?”
She checked. “Nope. He’s a dumb-ass. It’s got Facebook and everything on it ... Instagram ... Tinder ... Jesus who’d wanna hook up with him? Swipe left for fuck’s sake.”
“We’ll go through it later. The Sheriff’s cool, but I don’t need him sticking his neck out for us any more than he has to.”
Delaney shot me a look. “You’re going after them, aren’t you?”
“I have to do something.”
“I want to help.”
“You already did.”
“No, I mean when you go after them.”
“It’s too damn dangerous.”
She fell silent for a minute. “Are you going to tell Sheree?”
“I don’t hide things from Sheree. I trust her.” I did. More than anyone. I’d told her about my divorce, my drug problem, and my anger. She’d just smiled and told me about her past, with three months in jail for destroying a cheating boyfriend’s truck when she was 20, and almost a year dancing topless under the name “Candi” at the Kitty Kat Lounge in Norfolk to make ends meet a couple decades ago. Neither of us was perfect, but so the fuck what?
When I told her what happened when I went to get Delaney, she had no problem with it.
Delaney smiled. “I trust her, too. I...” She stopped suddenly.
“She’s just great, that’s all.”
“She is.” I parked the truck behind the Quickmart and we climbed out.
Sheree walked straight out, with her head cocked to one side, staring fixedly at us. “I’ll clean up after we eat. Got yer food all laid out on the counter already. Whatcha all been up to?”
“One of the gang that grabbed Delany showed up in town. Sheriff has him.”
She looked over Delaney. “Are you okay, Baby?”
If anyone else in the world had called Delaney “Baby,” she’d have gone ballistic, but she just stepped forward and hugged Sheree. “I’m fine, I didn’t even know what was happening until Needles got him.”
“Got him?” Sheree raised an eyebrow as we sat down at the little table.
“I pinned him in his car with the truck, and just held him till the Sheriff got there.”
“Oh, I thought she meant, like, beat him up. Or shoot him.”
Delaney giggled around a mouthful of hotdog. “He did hit him once. Right in the head. Really hard. Right in front of the Sheriff.”
Sheree nodded. “That sounds more like it. I ‘spose since you ain’t callin’ for bail, the Sheriff was okay with that.”
“Yeah, the asshole broke away from the deputies.”
Sheree looked out the window for a bit. “You think there’ll be more?”
“Maybe. Can’t be sure, but maybe. No way to keep him from telling anyone else what happened.”
Sheree took a sip of her soda. “I don’t know what kind of shape it’s in, ‘cause it’s been a couple years, but I still have Pop’s cabin down at the river. Two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. No electricity, and it may be a mess, but nobody’d know to look for us there.”
Delaney looked up from her rapidly disappearing hot dog. “Sort of like camping. I’ve never been camping.”
Sheree smiled. “I let Big Ed use it to go fishing last April, so it should be all right. He said the hand pump worked and the camp stove just needed a propane bottle.”
“What kind of heat?”
“Big brick wood furnace to heat, a woodstove for more serious cooking and a fireplace.”
“I can get John’s son to drop a coupla of seasoned cords out there by this evening. Maybe a good idea to move out there tomorrow.”
Sheree looked relieved. “We’ll have to get some kerosene, some camp lamps and lime for the outhouse.”
That was pretty much that.
Except for a phone call to Delaney’s mother. I’d rather have had a root canal without anesthetic, but I’d just managed to get my two daughters to start talking to me after almost two decades, so if I didn’t warn her, I might lose that.
“Les.” She was wary when she answered the phone; she’d probably peeked out the curtains to make sure I wasn’t parked out front. I had promised to kill her once or twice, so I could understand the sentiment.
“Listen, Charli, one of the assholes that grabbed Delaney showed up at the yard today. Not sure why, but I’m pretty fucking sure it wasn’t to offer an apology.”
“Jesus, Les. I thought this was over.” She managed to sound as if she were blaming me for the problem.
I bit back a comment. “Look, just make damn sure your security system is on. If they can find us, they can find you. I don’t need the girls blaming me if you fuck up and get yourself killed. Make sure they know to be extra careful.”
“Just how do I explain that?”
“I don’t give a fuck. Act like a concerned mother for once and find a way to get them on their toes. Or do you want me to explain things to them in detail?”
She went silent for a bit. I knew her relationship with Tiffany and Tara had gotten pretty strained when they found out how thoroughly they’d been lied to about the reasons for our divorce. They’d also figured out how ruthlessly Charlotte and Charles had worked to destroy me. Tara must have dug up the old court filings. I suspected they might have even had a hand in forcing Charlotte to give me guardianship of Delaney.
She sighed. “I’ll take care of it.”
“You better, Charli. If I something happens to either of them and I find out you didn’t, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“I said I have it, Les. Is there anything else?”
She hung up before I could say anything else.
Sheree, Delaney and I had everything packed up into one flatbed truck and headed out to Sheree’s cabin on Sunday.
The four room cabin was made of squared off logs and had a metal roof. It’d had been battened down tight. Solid shutters were locked over the windows and the place looked surprisingly clean and uninhabited by wildlife. Sheree seemed embarrassed until she saw Delaney’s reaction. She was walking the entire place, touching every surface she could reach.
“Your Grandfather built this?”
“No, his father did.”
Delaney touched a window sill almost reverently. “That’s like a hundred years ago. All by hand, right?”
Sheree nodded with a slight smile. “Some of it’s had to be fixed over the years, but all built by hand.”
Delaney was obviously awestruck. “This is amazing.”
I sensed moving back to the trailer would be a very hard sell. Hell, the cabin was twice the size of the trailer. Delaney wouldn’t have been impressed by a mansion, she’d grown up with money, but the cabin overwhelmed her. She must have made six cups of hot chocolate on the woodstove, and just sat in front of the fireplace most of the evening.
When Delaney had finally spun down and went to bed, Sheree and I sat on the couch watching the fireplace.
“Why’d you have an apartment in town?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Electricity, heat. Didn’t have to worry about bein’ snowed in. Us’ta be the power lines were farther away, cost too much to run it out here.”
“I bet it isn’t that much now. Those new lines back at the main road aren’t that far away. I could cover that. If it’s too much we’ll get some damn solar panels or some shit.”
She nestled in a bit more. “It felt too empty before. But with the three of us...” She trailed off.
“It’d be nicer than the trailer.”
“The trailer was always fine.”
“This would be better.”
I could feel her smile.
The next morning I pulled out Asshole’s phone. We had to start somewhere and if he hadn’t bothered to put a lock on his phone, he was either careful enough not to have anything useful on it or he was a complete idiot.
He was a nearly complete idiot.
Friends, check in locations, every fucking social media platform ever designed. Fucker probably still had a MySpace account. It wasn’t hard to tell the gang members from casual friends, either. Massive “NCWB” neck tattoos made it pretty obvious. So did all the pictures of Glock handguns being waved idiotically around over piles of cash. I wondered how many of the idiots had managed to shoot their own houses up on accident.
I had to have Delaney decode the fucking slang though. Even with her help I didn’t understand what the fuck “Yeet” meant.
I also had to stop Delaney from changing his Tinder profile to say he was a “goat-felching strap faggot with a My Little Pony fetish.” Twice. I finally gave the phone to Sheree at that point, while Delaney giggled almost uncontrollably from the couch.
Sheree looked over the messages and posts on the phone. “When’s the next Tar Heels game?”
“Saturday, I think.”
She pulled up some messages. “It looks like they have ‘Boyz Only’ night at ‘the Pad,’ wherever that is. They do it whenever there’s a game.”
Finding “the pad” wasn’t difficult, either. He hadn’t turned off the GPS so it wasn’t a challenge to map out all his travels for the last 60 days. Every game day, it was the same trip to a place outside Durham.
Sheree looked at me. “Whatcha gonna do?”
“Depends on what the Sheriff gets out of the Asshole. If he doesn’t get anywhere I’ll just look into things over there.”
She looked over at Delaney who’d wandered off to fix herself another hot chocolate. “I don’t like this, Les. I can’t remember ever being this happy in my life. Now this happens.”
“Nobody’s gonna take this away from us. I won’t let them.”
Monday morning the Sheriff was at the yard before I was, sipping a cup of coffee.
“Morning. What’s up?”
“Just a heads up. Your Asshole came up hot on the system with gang affiliation and stack of Failure-To-Appear on traffic charges. Durham County isn’t interested in extradition on those FTAs, so it’s catch and release on that. But there’s no way Judge Warner is going to grant bail to an out-of-state gang member with a stack of FTAs.”
“The gun was registered and the Escalade isn’t his, but it wasn’t reported stolen. Prosecutor is kind of on the fence about it, but I think he’s going to offer him a plea deal this afternoon. Thirty days for simple assault.”
“Really? Think he’ll take it?”
“He’d be an idiot not to take the plea; any lawyer on the planet will tell him that. The prosecutor could nail him for resisting arrest and attempted assault on a minor, but he reviewed the body cams and he’d rather not take a chance. Your Delaney’s got a mouth on her. It shouldn’t matter, but the wrong jury and they’d cut him free. Took him a half-hour to stop laughing, though.”
“Glad we could provide some entertainment.”
“Look, this is reality. Trials are expensive and if he ends up with jail time instead of prison, well, that costs money, too.”
“Yeah, I fucking get it.”
He got up and glanced down at his feet for a second, then looked up at me. “Needles, seriously. I know you. Not in my house. I don’t want any blood on the ground here unless it’s self-defense.”
He looked at me suspiciously. “I mean it. I got no problem with a man defending what’s his. But I’ve heard rumors about why Ronnie Pelton is walking with a cane and working for free down at Big Ed’s hog farm. That was pushing it, you shoulda come to me about that.”
I nodded. “Got it.
Thirty days was almost exactly the wrong number, just long enough for the gang to get antsy and decide to send someone else. It’d be all too easy for the gang to decide to try to cap me in a drive-by shooting to get a clear path to Delaney.
His prediction came true, Asshole took the thirty days as a guest of the county rather than risk hard time.
On Friday, Delaney and I took Sally out of her garage and took her to the cabin.
Delaney looked back at the Mustang as we got out. ‘You’re going after those assholes tomorrow, aren’t you?”
“I’m just taking a look, that’s all.”
She shivered, but there was more to it than fear. “I hate them.”
“We don’t know if all of them were in on what was going to happen to you.”
We did our Movie Night with no movie, just staring into the fireplace, Delaney was strangely quiet, but slept restlessly.
Late the next afternoon, Delaney retreated quietly to her room when I got ready to head out.
Sheree watched her. “Maybe she’ll get some sleep.” She turned to me. “You be damn careful, Les. I just got you and I’m plannin’ on getting old with you.”
“I’m just planning on taking a look and maybe grab one to talk to. I’ll be back in no time. You gonna be okay?”