Excerpt from Masters at Arms & Nobody’s Angel

Section One: Adam

 

Night before Thanksgiving 2002, Chicago, Illinois

Joni, you were my anchor. I’m lost without you.

Adam Montague slumped into the seat at the terminal, hoping to catch a couple hours of sleep before his bus left. He looked around Chicago’s busy travel hub and saw the autumn decorations scattered every five yards or so. Apparently, going for the homey Thanksgiving look. Not even close.Just another shithole bus station, no different from the ones he’d seen a lot of during his early years in the Marines.

Twenty-two years. He’d survived the First Gulf War in 1991 and a deployment to Kosovo in ’99. Just when he and Joni started planning for his retirement, some damned assholes attacked the United States, the country he’d sworn to protect and defend. So, he’d put off turning in his retirement papers until he could see how Operation Enduring Freedom went. He’d serve as long as he was useful and needed.

Adam had been deployed to Kandahar twice since 2001. His first tour ended with a medical leave earlier this year after a clusterfuck of bad intelligence led one of his recon units into an ambush with disastrous results. He’d gone in after them and gotten only a few of them out unscathed, but he’d lost two good Marines and managed to get himself injured in the bargain.

So, he’d been home at Camp Pendleton with Joni more than a month last winter as his body had healed. Now he wondered if she’d known about her cancer back then and kept it from him. Would it have made any difference if he’d known? He’d have been sent back to war, and she’d still have had to fight the disease alone. She’d known the deal when she married him. While he was active duty, she’d have to take a back seat to whatever conflict he’d been sent to fight in the world.

His last tour had ended with his hardship leave two months ago when Joni’s mother had finally told him Joni’s cancer had come back with a vengeance. He hung his aching head and held it in his hands hoping the heels of his hands would quell the throbbing in his temples.

Memories of walking into that bedroom in Minneapolis two months ago flashed through his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block it out, but the sight would be imprinted in his mind forever. God, the disease had so ravaged her body by the time he got home, he was afraid to touch her. Then her frail hand had patted the queen-sized mattress and he’d crawled into bed with her and held her in his arms while she sobbed.

Adam raised his head and wiped his hands down his face. Numb. He felt numb, whether from losing Joni or from the two-week bender, he wasn’t sure. Probably a bit of both.

He guessed his unit was out of Kandahar by now. Sounded like Iraq would be next on their dance card.

Bring it. I got nothin’ left to lose.

Fuck! Stinkin’ thinkin’ like that would get the Marines under him killed. He wasn’t mentally ready to go back, but his orders were to report Monday. He hoped he’d find the intestinal fortitude he’d need by the time he reunited with his unit.

A cornucopia cutout hanging from a fluorescent light fluttered when a blustery wind blew in from the open doors. Joni had always taken so much pride in making their home festive for the holidays. She especially loved Christmas, even though it was just the two of them, well, when he wasn’t deployed. She even kept her nativity set and some other favorite decorations displayed all year long for whenever he did make it home. Not that he paid much attention to that. He’d just been happy to see her, hold her, love her, and make up for lost time.

So damned much lost time.

What the hell was he going to do with all that stuff now? He’d call her mother and tell her to do whatever she wanted with it. He had his memories and a few photos—and her wedding ring. Shit, he hoped Joni had gotten rid of their playthings before she’d moved in with her mom. Well, nothing he could do about that now.

Camp Pendleton—or wherever he would be sent—would be his home until he retired from the Corps. He hoped that, by the time he got back in country, whichever Marine Area of Responsibility that would be, he’d have shaken off this black mood that matched the frigid black night outside.

In a way, he couldn’t wait to get back. Combat and military life, he understood. What stumped him was cancer. Fucking cancer. Nothing in his tactics or weapons training prepared him to help Joni fight against the insurgent that destroyed her body.

Not that she’d even wanted him to help her fight the disease. By the time she’d let her mom tell him about the recurrence, she was given a month at best. She’d managed to hold out for a couple weeks longer than that estimate.

God, his eyes burned. He rubbed them with a thumb and forefinger, then lowered his hand and clenched his fist. Damn it, he should have known sooner.

Joni told him she saw no point in pulling him away from a place where he could make a difference, just to sit by her bed and watch her die. She’d figured he’d have gone stir crazy with the helplessness of not being able to do anything to change the unalterable outcome.

Man, he’d kill for another bottle of scotch right now. He looked at the wino passed out on the floor across the room. Adam thought about offering the man a wad of money for whatever he had left in the brown-paper wrapped bottle he clutched to his chest with both arms like a lover.

Adam had held Joni in his arms for the last time, just like that, as she had slipped away from him forever. Before she died, two days short of their twentieth wedding anniversary, she’d assured him she wouldn’t have changed a thing in their years together.

Hell, he’d sure have changed a few things.

Togetherness wasn’t the best word to describe their marriage. She’d lived with him on base when he wasn’t deployed, and they had eight years together after the end of the Gulf War and before he’d been sent to Kosovo. Then came Afghanistan and he hadn’t been home much since.

They’d talked about the good times they’d had in the ’80s and ’90s when he hadn’t been deployed to combat zones. Their Dom/sub power exchanges had been total then. But that had been impossible to sustain while deployed.

Fire burned the backs of his eyes. Joni never wanted him to take his focus off the military missions to deal with her “little problems.” Like the time she’d totaled the car. She’d taken care of everything herself. He’d been deployed, of course. As always, she’d handled everything perfectly. Except she hadn’t told him. Said she was afraid he’d be upset about the car. Hell, he didn’t give a shit about the fucking car. He’d just been worried when he heard how close she’d come to being killed.

All of the times she’d needed him—from when she’d held their stillborn son in her arms in 1991 to when she’d fought her last rounds of chemo and radiation this past summer—he’d been fighting battles elsewhere. Long deployments in too many hot spots in the world had come before her more often than he’d wanted. Hell, he’d barely made it home in time to watch her die.

Joni, I’m so fucking lost without you.

He blinked against the burning in his eyes. After her burial, Adam spent two weeks locked in a Minneapolis motel room trying to dig a hole deep enough to bury his sorrows. He’d only wound up in a drunken stupor, not unlike that wino’s over in the corner. Joni had told him to lay off the bottle twenty years ago because his excessive drinking scared her. Her father had been an alcoholic. He’d wanted her to be proud of him and had quit for her.

Until now. In the past couple weeks, there’d been a few nights where he’d come out of his stupor clutching a bottle of scotch to his chest.

A lousy substitute for Joni.

But, if he hadn’t been due back at Camp Pendleton in five days, he’d be in that hell-hole motel—or buried six feet under beside Joni. He remembered how close he’d come one night, staring down the barrel of his sidearm.

He shuddered and looked around the still-crowded station. He’d been here for several hours waiting for his next connection. With holiday travel in full swing, Adam had known he wouldn’t have managed to hop a seat on a flight in time to get to Pendleton by Monday. Maybe if he’d sobered up sooner. No matter. This weekend, the clientele in bus terminals better suited his foul mood. They wouldn’t bother him and he fucking sure wouldn’t bother them. The last thing he wanted right now was a chatty companion asking if he was headed home to be with family.

He had no family anymore.

Adam leaned forward and held his aching head in his hands. He sure as hell hoped he’d lose the aftereffects of this binge before he got back on base. The colonel would bust his chops if he saw him like this. He had a lot of eager young Marines looking to him to set the example, too.

He just didn’t give a shit about anything or anyone right now and didn’t know when he would again.

“Can I get you something to eat?”

Adam looked up, flinching at the throbbing in his temples caused by the fluorescent lighting. Yeah, blame the lights. He saw a lanky black man in pimped-out orange pants and a robin’s egg blue shirt talking to a teenage girl seated across from him. She must have just sat down a few minutes ago, because he’d have noticed her before with her spiked neon pink hair and the most god-awful amount of makeup around her eyes.

Despite the bravado of her flashy hairstyle and all-black Goth outfit, her wide-eyed gaze darted to the pimp, then away. When he slid into the empty seat next to her, she leaned away from him in small degrees, as if not wanting to offend him by just getting up and moving. When the shithead reached out to touch her hair, she squeezed her blue eyes shut and shrank into the chair.

Little girl lost.

Don’t let him scare you.

Adam’s attention shifted to the shithead. No, Shithead—with a capital S.

“No, thanks. I already ate,” she answered in a high-pitched squeak.

Don’t be polite. Tell him to go fuck himself, hon.

“How about a drink? There’s a liquor store around the corner.” He took her elbow, and she shook him off.

“No!”

Better.

“Thanks, anyway, but I’m waiting for my bus to New York.”

Aw, honey, don’t go and tell him your plans.

“That where you live?”

“No. I, um, have a job waiting.” She looked away.

Shit. A runaway. The girl barely looked fifteen under all that makeup. Adam sat up straighter, ignoring the pounding in his head. If that sorry bastard touched her again, he’d rip off his head and shit down his neck.

Don’t forget, you have your own bus to catch. He didn’t need to be playing hero and winding up doing jail time for assaulting the scumbag.

The runaway pulled her backpack closer to her chest and tried to scoot to the other side of her chair, but the armrest prevented her escape. Like a shark, the pimp moved in on her—the most vulnerable prey he could find here on the night before Thanksgiving.

Her hand shaking, she unzipped a pouch in the pack and pulled out a book. The cover showed a vampire whose fangs were about to pierce the neck of some half-dressed busty woman who looked like she was about to come. While the runaway pretended to read, she cast nervous glances at Shithead. He just continued to stare at her, trying to intimidate her. Succeeding, too. When the pimp reached out to stroke her hair again, she pulled away.

“Please, leave me alone.”

Aw, fuck, don’t let him see you cry.The tears welling in her eyes tore Adam’s guts out. He’d never been able to see a woman cry. Girls either, for that matter.

The pimp hooked his hand around her arm just above the elbow and tried to force her to her feet. “Come on, baby. Let’s get outta here.”

Anger boiled over in Adam, a sensation he’d been trying to medicate against for weeks. Clenching his fists, he took a deep, slow breath. He fought the need to pummel Shithead into the ground. Hell, as hung-over as he was, Adam wondered if he’d even be able to take the prick down.

But he’d love the chance to work off some of his anger. Damned if he’d sit and watch that scumbag harass a little girl—or worse. Adam stood and took a step toward them, towering over the man.

“I think the young lady asked you to f—” remembering the young girl, he reminded himself to watch his language, “—get lost.”

The pimp looked him up and down. “Fuck off, soldier boy. Get your own ho.”

Adam’s hands snaked out to lift the skinny little prick out of the seat like a sack of potato chips. Obviously, Shithead had no such filter on his salty language. He threw him across the room and watched with satisfaction as the perv slid until he landed against the ticket counter, far from the girl. Adam stood with legs apart, braced for Shithead to make a move against him.

Come on, punk.He’d love the chance to pummel the prick within an inch of his sorry-assed life. Adam clenched and unclenched his fists his breathing fast and shallow.

Waiting.

When the pimp stood up, he brushed himself off and slunk toward the exit muttering something about evening the odds. Adam turned to look down at the girl. Damn.Her hands were shaking so badly, he thought she’d pull her book apart at the seams.

Scared to death.

 

*     *     *

 

Don’t puke, Karla. Just don’t puke.

Karla Paxton’s stomach got all weird and fluttery. Her hands began to shake. Then the soldier turned around and looked down at her. The shaking grew worse. What was the matter with her?

At first, she’d been afraid they were going to fight it out right in front of her, but the creep just got up off the floor and walked away. Well, she couldn’t blame him. The tall soldier had huge muscles—and obviously knew how to use them.

The soldier had sprung at that skaggy jerk like a mountain lion on a mouse. She’d never seen anyone move so fast. Especially someone his age.He had gray hairs at his temples, although the rest of his hair was dark brown—clipped very short, but not as short as Ian’s was now. His eyes were bloodshot and kinda sad looking. He must not have had much sleep lately.

Her gaze took in his wrinkled khaki shirt. If Ian’s uniform had been wrinkled like that, he’d have gotten in trouble. She looked at his ring finger. Married. His wife must not be nearby to take care of him. Of course, her mom would have made Ian—and probably her dad—iron his own shirt.

When he sat down where the jerk had been a few minutes ago, she shook even more, despite the fact he didn’t get into her personal space like that skag had done. Then the heat coming from his body made her feel warm and her hands stopped shaking after a little while.

“You okay, hon?”

Oh, my God. Did he just call me hon?

Not trusting her voice and not too sure about how safe hewas, she just nodded. He reminded her of Dr. McNeil on Chicago Hope. She and her Mom had watched the series all the time until the show got canceled. Karla thought Mark Harmon looked hot but didn’t tell Mom that. Mom was always pushing her to notice the dweebs in her class, but they were so immature.

“Where you headed?”

He pulled her back from her thoughts. “New York City.”

“Family there?”

Karla looked away. What’s with all the questions?“No. I need to get away from family right now.”

“Someone expecting you in New York?”

She closed her eyes and nodded. “Sure.” No.

“When does your bus leave?”

“Six forty-five.”

He looked at his watch. “That’s another seven hours.” He sighed as if that was a problem. What was it to him? She didn’t need a babysitter.

Then she glanced around at the men nearby and asked him, “What time does yours leave?”

“Four-thirty.”

Damn. Why did that make her feel scared again? Well, he wasn’t going to talk her out of going. She could take care of herself.

Yeah, like you did with that pimp.

Suddenly, Karla wasn’t so sure she wanted to talk with the soldier anymore. No one was going to talk her out of making this trip. She’d saved money all year, working at a bakery near her home all last summer and babysitting until she had enough for a bus ticket and almost fifteen hundred dollars to spare. When she got to New York, she’d get a job at one of the clubs. Someday, she was going to be a star, recording her own CDs and everything.

But she wouldn’t tell him that. He’d just nod and say something condescending like “that’s nice,” and not believe she could do it at all. She was tired of dreaming. It was time to make her dreams come true.

Her stomach growled. She pulled the book and backpack closer to try and shield his ears from the embarrassing sound.

“Have you had anything to eat lately?”

“Sure.” Her stomach called her a liar even more loudly.

He chuckled and his green eyes lit up for the first time. The corners of his eyes crinkled into tiny lines turning loose those funny butterflies in her stomach again.

She must really be hungry.

“How long ago?”

She tilted her chin up. “I had pancakes for breakfast.”

“Come on,” he said, laughing. “Let me buy you some dinner.” He stood next to her, as tall as the Sears Tower, but didn’t grab at her like the creepy man had. He just waited, as if she had no choice but to stand because he had ordered her to go with him. Well, no way was she going anywhere with a stranger. He was too big. She wouldn’t be able to fight him off.

Even if I did want to.

Whoa!What was the matter with her? He looked as old as her uncle, who was forty-three.

“No, thanks. I’m not hungry.” She opened her book again, hoping he’d take the hint and go away.

When he did just that, she didn’t understand why her heart squeezed tight. She looked up and watched him leave, rounding the ticket counter and heading for the exit. Gosh, he didn’t even say good-bye.And where was his coat? Didn’t he know it was freezing cold out there?

Looking around, she noticed a lot of scary people watching her—mostly men. She guessed women were too smart to catch a bus in the middle of the night. None of these guys had eyes that crinkled when they laughed. They didn’t smile like they cared about her. They just leered, especially when they stared at her boobs, making her skin crawl as if a bunch of ants had taken over.

She looked across at where the soldier had been sitting and saw a large duffel bag that must belong to him. One of the boob-leering men started to reach down slowly as if to hide the fact he was about to take the bag.

“Leave it alone!” Karla wasn’t sure where that voice came from, and then she realized it was her own. The man stopped dead. Wow! “He’s coming back soon and, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave his things where he left them.”

When the man stood up and walked across the terminal, Karla began to shake again. Only this time, there were no butterflies. Just a feeling like when she’d had the flu last year.

Would she have to deal with creeps like these all the way to New York? Had she made the right decision to run away? Her parents didn’t understand how urgent it was for her to start her career now, rather than wait a few years. They just thought she was a stupid sixteen-year-old.

Wait until you graduate from high school, then you can study music at Loyola.

They’d been telling her that since school started. Didn’t they realize she couldn’t wait that long? Now was her chance. Her music teacher said she had a gift. She didn’t need more schooling. She just needed to find a job where she could sing for people who could discover her talent and offer her a recording contract. If she didn’t go now, she’d never get there. She’d never be anybody in the music business.

Her parents would be surprised but sad when they woke up tomorrow and she wasn’t in her bed. Her eyes burned. She loved them a lot and didn’t want to make them sad, but…

“Here. Eat this.”

Karla looked up to find the soldier had returned, holding a fast-food bag toward her. She grinned as she stashed her book in her backpack and took the sack from him. He came back to me.

As soon as she opened the sack, the smell of greasy burgers and fries caused her stomach to rumble even louder than before. She was too hungry to let it faze her, after skipping lunch today so she could run to the bank and clean out her account for the trip.

“Thanks.” She smiled up at him.

The soldier sat down beside her again. Her face grew hotter as he watched her. When she glanced his way, he just smiled and watched as she pigged out on the food. Gawd, she hadn’t realized how hungry she was! Feeling a little guilty, she held out the box of fries and offered him some.

He chuckled. “No. They’re all for you.”

After she’d finished the second hamburger, he handed her a soda. She drank half of it before letting go of the straw and taking a deep breath. Her tummy filled up as if it might explode.

“That was so good. Thanks.” She smiled at him again. He really was just trying to be nice. Regardless, she needed to be leery of strangers, even nice ones. But she’d also have to learn to trust some strangers, if she was going to make it in New York. He seemed like a safe one.

Maybe because her brother was in the Army. Ian would have helped out a scared girl, too, if someone was bothering her.

“So, where’s home?”

“Here,” she answered, without thinking. “But I’m going to live in New York.”

“Why New York?”

“They have the best Goth clubs and recording companies.”

“So you like to sing?”

“Better than anything.”

“What do you sing?”

“Tarja’s music mostly.” She could tell by his blank stare he had no idea who Tarja Tarunun was. Well, her parents had no clue either. “She’s the lead singer for Nightwish.” Still blank. “A metal band from Finland.”

He nodded. “I see.”

No, you don’t. But he was kinda cute for pretending he did. She started to crumple up the bag, but his hand covered hers to stop her. A weird tingling moved up her arm, almost like being shocked with electricity. Her heart banged loud enough for everyone in the noisy station to hear.

“Look inside. There’s more.”

She reopened the bag and moved the crumpled wrappers and empty fries box aside. Like opening a Christmas present. She had a momentary pang of regret, realizing she wouldn’t be home to open presents this year.

Oh-emm-gee, pie!She looked up at him. “Apple or cherry?”

“Cherry.”

“How’d you know? That’s my favorite!” She reached in and pulled out the box.

He shrugged and smiled. His eyes lit up again. “Lucky guess.”

 

*     *     *

 

Adam watched her devour the pie in just a few bites. He thought teenage boys had voracious appetites. How she stayed so skinny was beyond him. Of course, she hadn’t eaten all day. Maybe he should have bought her more to eat.

Man, her parents must be worried sick.

He regretted that he and Joni hadn’t been able to have children. She’d have been a terrific mom. Tamping down those thoughts, he looked at the little Goth girl. She wore too much black. At least her pink hair gave her some color.

“Isn’t your family going to miss you for Thanksgiving?” Aw, hell. He’d gone and asked one of those fucking nosy questions he didn’t want people asking him.

Watch your language around the kid.

She pulled her lower lip between her teeth. “They’ll understand.”

Doubtful.

After she’d finished the pie, she put her garbage into the bag, except for the soda, and started to get up to throw it away. Adam took the sack and wadded it even tighter, then lobbed it into the open can at the end of the row. Score!First basket he’d made since he’d played in high school.

He reached out his hand to her, “We haven’t been introduced. I’m Master Sergeant Adam Montague, U.S. Marine Corps. But you can call me Adam.”

She placed her limp hand inside his and they shook. “Karla Paxton…the next Madonna.” She giggled. “My friends call me…um, well, Karla’s good.”

He smiled. So naïve. Innocent. He wondered what her friends called her, but wouldn’t pry. God, the kid wore her heart on her sleeve. She wasn’t going to last long in New York. He worried about her going there and wished he could wake her up with a dose of reality. He’d seen his share of hell in this world and didn’t want her to have to experience it.

“I’m sure you’ve already lined up a place to stay in New York. Right?”

She dodged his gaze. “Well, I figured I’d check in at the YMCA or a youth hostel or something until I find an apartment.”

“Where do you plan to live after that?”

“Soho.” Her eyes lit up.

Shit. A dreamer. She’d probably seen the trendy neighborhood in a movie or music video.

“There are lots of clubs in Soho I could get a job at.”

“I see you’ve done some homework.” Not nearly enough, though. “So, what’s an apartment in Soho going for these days?” He had no clue, but figured most places in Manhattan would be out of range for a teenage runaway.

“Well…” she began, and then looked away, furrowing her brow. “It’s pretty expensive from what I saw on the Web. I’ll probably have to find a roommate or two and share expenses.”

His gut twisted at the vision of her falling into the clutches of another predator at the Port Authority terminal. Yeah, they’d give her a place to stay all right. Fuck. She needed to go back home and spend Thanksgiving with a family that loved her. She didn’t seem to be running away from something so much as running tosomething. She just didn’t have the patience to wait around to do a little more growing up.

Of course, he’d run away at sixteen himself. He’d had to go through a lot of hell and trouble before he’d found first the Marines and then Joni, both of whom had straightened his ass out.

At least Karla still has family to be with for the holidays.

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Just one brother. Ian. He’s in the Army National Guard. That’s why…” she looked down at her backpack and played with the zipper latch.

“Why what?”

She shook her head and smiled, her face flushing.

“C’mon. Tell me.” He grinned. So fucking hard to believe there was such innocence left in the world. Certainly not in his world. Not anymore.

“Well,” she looked him in the eye, her blue eyes sparkling. She smiled. “That’s why I sat across from you. Your uniform reminded me of Ian’s.”

Khaki looked about the same for either branch. Thank God. Adam didn’t want to think what might have happened if she’d sat somewhere else in the station tonight or he hadn’t become aware of her predicament in his post-hangover haze.

She sighed. “I miss him.” Adam watched as a single tear trickled down her cheek, leaving a trail of watery mascara.

“Where is he?” God, don’t let him be another fallen hero.They’d lost too many troops in this damned war. He tried to remember if she’d said “is” or “was” in the Army.

“He finished boot camp two months ago. He can’t tell us where he is yet.”

Adam didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath until he let it out in a whoosh. “He’s well-trained, I’m sure. Don’t worry about him. He’ll do fine.” Like Adam could be sure of anything these days.But military families had enough to worry about without knowing what was really going on.

“I hope so. Are you a hero, Adam?” She smiled at him just the way Joni had done when she sat at his booth in that restaurant in St. Paul. Her short black waitress skirt had shown off the sexiest legs he’d ever seen. She’d confessed later that his uniform had attracted her, as well. She’d called him her very own hero warrior.

Damn it. I don’t need hero-worship responsibility right now.

“I’m nobody’s hero, hon.” Not even Joni’s. He hadn’t been able to fight the only battle she’d needed him to win for her. Aw, hell, don’t go there again.

“Aren’t your parents going to be upset when they find out you’re gone, too?” He hadn’t meant to be so blunt and could kick himself when the light went out of her eyes, but at least he’d wiped the hero worship from her gaze.

“They don’t understand.”

“I’ll bet they understand more than you know.”

“No, they…”

She gasped as she looked beyond his shoulder. He looked in the direction of her distressed gaze and saw the pimp had returned with a couple of his thugs.

Adam smiled. Bring it, boys. I’ve got nothing left to lose.

Then he remembered Karla and couldn’t let them anywhere near her tonight. He turned back toward her.

“Karla, look at me. Now.” When she finally dragged her gaze away from the pimp and his scumbag buddies, Adam said, “Go to the ladies room and stay there until you hear me give you the all-clear. If there’s a lock on the outside door, use it. If not, lock yourself in one of the stalls.” Her blue eyes opened wider. She swallowed hard but sat frozen. Using his master sergeant’s voice, he growled. “Now!” She jumped. Her blank stare focused on his face a second before her hands clutched her backpack, and she ran toward the head.

“Good girl,” he said, though she didn’t hear him.

With Karla out of harm’s way, he could devote his full attention on the rat bastards slowly approaching him. He stood and set his legs, preparing for battle. The one on the far left held a switchblade. The one on the right wore brass knuckles. The pimp just wore a cocky smirk.

You may think you have the upper hand, punk, but I’m going to show you different.

“What’s the matter, soldier boy? Haven’t been able to get into her pants yet? Mebbe I need to show you some moves.”

Okay, perv. Now I’m pissed. And not just because you called me soldier.

“Yeah, I’d like to see that.”

His CO would be pissed, too, if one of his master sergeants was tossed in jail, so he waited for one of the punks to make the first move. The few people waiting for buses scattered to the other end of the terminal, out of danger. Except for the passed-out wino, but he wasn’t in the way.

Adam didn’t have long to wait. The man carrying the knife lunged with his body, his weapon pointed toward Adam’s gut. Adam answered with a spinning hook kick to the side of the man’s head. The knife flew from his hand as he fell to a heap on the floor.

That should even the odds a little bit.

Movement. Out of his peripheral vision, Adam saw the scumbag with the brass knuckles move, expanding the area Adam needed to defend. The first punch headed straight for Adam’s kidney. He swung away to evade contact. His two-week bender must have slowed down his reaction time. But at least the impact of the blow landed on Adam’s shoulder blade and not his kidney. The scumbag followed with a bare-knuckled blow to his mouth. Adam groaned at the impact.

Focus, man.

Adam stepped back. He needed room. Swing. Now!His roundhouse kick landed squarely against Brass Knuckle’s ear. The man reeled sideways until he hit the bank of chairs. He sat down abruptly, the expression on his face one of stunned disbelief. Dazed. The man’s eyes glazed over as he curled onto his side.

Breathing hard, Adam turned toward the pimp. Now, prick, it’s just you and me.

Once again, Adam waited for the man to make the first move. Without his bodyguards, he appeared to have lost his bravado when it would have become a fair fight. The pimp backed away from Adam, toward the ticket counter. Adam stalked him like a puma.

With his peripheral vision, Adam watched two of Chicago’s finest enter the building with weapons drawn.

“Hands in the air!”

Adam complied, but apparently they knew their usual suspect and one of the officers had the pimp face down on the floor, hands cuffed behind his back, within fifteen seconds. Adam spoke with the second officer briefly to let him know what had happened. He was grateful they only asked for his name and cell phone number. They could follow up with him later if they needed more information.

But Adam needed to make sure Karla was all right.

 

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