Defensive Action(5)

By: Jenna Kernan


“Do you have anything to drink?”

She thought of the thermos half full of cold coffee and instead opted for something unopened. A moment later, she returned her backside to the seat holding the golf umbrella in one hand and a bottle of Snapple Grapeade in the other.

He grasped the umbrella first in one hand and used the handle to pound. His muscles corded and relaxed again and again until he’d punched a hole the size of a basketball from the windshield before him. Now wind whistled through the cab.

She held out the Snapple. He lay the umbrella between the seats and took the bottle, holding it for her to open.

Haley tried one-handed, but of course couldn’t make the cap come loose. So she gripped his hand with hers and twisted, feeling immediately sorry because the heat of his hand and the long elegance of his cupped fingers made her insides tighten. The cap popped.

The stranger brought the bottle to his lips and drank, draining the contents in three long swallows. Haley blinked in astonishment. Liquid clung to his lips and a droplet trickled over the shadow of a beard. He captured the escaping fluid with his pink tongue.

A flame of unwanted desire flashed to life inside her. Haley swallowed hard and sat back in her seat clutching one arm around her quivering stomach.

“Would you please tell me what is happening?” Had she just said please to the man who had hijacked her and her car? She squeezed her eyes shut. She had.

“Kidnapped,” he said.

Her hands went to her mouth. Her mother’s fears coming true. She was being abducted. “Oh, my goodness.”

“Not you. Me.”

She nodded, unable to speak.

“I’m an undercover detective and those guys are the ones I’m investigating. They made me. Now they’re bringing me out here to kill me and dump my body. That’s after they tortured me to find out what we know. Said they’d tear my teeth out one by one with a pair of pliers.”

Her skin went clammy. She glanced behind them. They were being pursued by mobsters.

“You have a phone?” he asked.

She pointed to the wheel well at his feet. “No reception.”

He made a scoop and captured the mobile, checking for a signal and then dropping the useless thing into the cup holder.

“What’s your name?”

“Haley Nobel.”

“Well, Haley, I’m Detective Howard Insbrook.”

What did she say now? Certainly not a pleasure because this was anything but.

“Nice to... Hi.”

He cast her an odd look.

“Where you from?” he asked.

“Born in Albany, NY, now living in Brooklyn.” She answered as if under investigation.

“I work on a joint task force on organized crime out of Glens Falls,” he said. “What is it you do?”

She hesitated. “Uh, I’m a computer programmer.”

“Who for?”

“Independent. I take on contract work, here and there. Work from home. You know.”

Her latest gig was an important client, the US Department of Homeland Security, but she wasn’t telling him that. She had a clearance level and everything. Unfortunately the job included not telling friends and family exactly what she was up to.

“Hmm,” he said and his gazed flicked to the rearview.

The sedan was just behind them. He swerved and braked, causing the other vehicle to appear to rocket up beside them. She glimpsed the passenger clearly through the collapsed window. He was pointing a handgun at them but their pursuers zipped forward until Haley’s front fender came parallel with the mobster’s rear door.

Detective Insbrook turned hard into the side of the opposite car as he punched the gas.

She pressed both palms to the ceiling upholstery and screamed but the sound was lost over the shriek of metal raking over metal.

The sedan turned before her rental car, pushed into an involuntary spin that sent the opposite vehicle careening by her passenger-side window and into the guardrail as they whizzed on.

“Where did you learn to do that?”

“The academy,” he said.

She craned her neck to see the pursuit vehicle piled against the guardrail, the hood crumpled like a crushed aluminum can.

They wouldn’t be able to see over that hood, even if the car was drivable. She turned back to him.

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