Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 6

HAROLD AND BETTY POV:

Harold eavesdrops on the conversation.  He stands up and approaches Nathan and Mary.  Betty clings to him, urges him to stay put.

                         HAROLD

          What kind of medication does

        your daughter take?

                         NATHAN

          Who are you?

                         HAROLD

          I work in sales for a large pharmaceutical

company.

                         BETTY

          Harold…

                         NATHAN

                (to Harold)

          You trying to sell us something?

                         HAROLD

          No, I’m just asking a question.

        Your daughter’s arrhythmias

        impairs her heart’s ability to

        pump blood.  Some people respond to

certain medications better than others.

Nathan looks at Mary.  He scratches his head.

                         NATHAN

          Are you some kind of doctor?

                         HAROLD

          No, but I work with a lot of

        doctors who treat heart rate

        rhythm disorders.

Nathan checks his watch.  He glances over at Dirk, who continues to visually monitor the police outside.

                         NATHAN

          Propafenone.  Our daughter

        takes propafenone.

                         HAROLD

          Does she get sick from it?

                         MARY

          Sometimes.

                         HAROLD

          Tell your doctor to give her

        disopyramide.  It might reduce

        the side effects.  If you let

        us go, I could get your daughter

        a lifetime supply for free.

                         NATHAN

          Sure, and while you’re at it, I’ll

        take a million dollars and a

        house in Beverly Hills.  One of

those with the clay tile roofs

that don’t leak – and a pool in

the back yard.  The kind with the

little waterfall.

                         MARY

                (to Nathan)

          Stop it.

                         HAROLD

          I’m serious.  Just let my wife

        and I leave.

                         NATHAN

          No deal.

Mary tugs on Nathan’s arm.  She whispers in his ear.

                         NATHAN

                (to Mary)

Why should we trust him?

THE POWER GOES OUT IN THE DINER.  THE AIR CONDITIONING STOPS.

                         DIRK

          The power’s on across the street.

        The cops are trying to sweat us

        out.

A CELL PHONE RINGS.

Dirk and Nathan look around the room.  Mary pats her pocket when she realizes the phone is hers.  She answers.

                         MARY

          Hello?

EXT. MARY’S TRAILER HOME – DAY

Mrs. Abbott paces while she smokes a cigarette.  A ‘76 Plymouth Volare wagon with missing hubcaps, red interior, and a broken windshield pulls up.  A white trash female sits behind the wheel.

                         MRS. ABBOTT

          This is Debra.  Where the hell

are you?

INT. DINER – DAY

                         MARY

          Is Rose all right?

                         NATHAN

                (whispering)

          Who is it?

                         MARY

                 (to Nathan)

          It’s Mrs. Abbott.

Mary turns away from Nathan.

                         MARY

                 (to Mrs. Abbott)

          Did she take her bottle?

EXT. MARY’S TRAILER HOME – DAY

                         MRS. ABBOTT

          She took most of it.

INT. DINER – DAY

                         MARY

          Did you change her diaper?

        She’s soaked when she gets up

        from her nap.

EXT. MARY’S TRAILER HOME – DAY

Mrs. Abbott shrugs at the driver who HONKS the horn in defiance.

                         MRS. ABBOTT

          Look, my ride’s here.

I have Bingo at the school

this morning and I need cigarettes.

I can’t hang around here all day.

INT. DINER – DAY

Mary grows more distraught.

                         MARY

          We’ll be back soon.  Just keep

our baby safe.

EXT. MARY’S TRAILER HOME – DAY

Mrs. Abbott hears the baby CRYING FROM THE TRAILER.  The driver revs the engine.

                         MRS. ABBOTT

          Hurry up.

INT. DINER – DAY

Nathan takes the phone from Mary and throws it against the floor.

                         MARY

          What are you doing?

                         NATHAN

          The cops can trace it.

EXT. DINER PARKING LOT – DAY

Dale approaches Sheriff Thorton who has one foot on the SWAT van bumper with his arm across his knee.  The Sheriff’s cheek is puffed with chewing tobacco.  He spits brown juice on the ground.

                         DALE

          How much longer are we going

        to wait?

                         SHERIFF

          Not long.

                         DALE

          Chuck’s still inside.

                         SHERIFF

          SWAT has a plan.

                         DALE

          I want in.

                         SHERIFF

          Forget it.  Let those boys do

        their jobs.  That’s what they

        get paid for.

                         DALE

          What about your brother?

The Sheriff spits again.

                         SHERIFF

          Simon can take care of himself.

EXT. GAS STATION ROOF – DAY

A SWAT sniper in a prone position rests his eye against his rifle scope to check his target placement.

CLOSE ON: VIEW FROM RIFLE SCOPE

The diner’s window blinds are closed.  Two SWAT team members circle around the back.

BACK TO SCENE:

                         SWAT COMMANDER (VO)

          Bravo two, are you in place?

                         SNIPER

          Roger that, team leader.

        I’m in position.

INT. DINER – DAY

JON AND CARL POV:

Jon and Carl sit at a booth with sugar spilled across the table.  The place is darker with the power out and the limited sunlight seeping through the closed blinds.

                         JON

          How much longer?

                         CARL

          Hard to say.

Jon looks at the robbers.  He’s nervous, scared.

                         JON

          What are they waiting for?

                         CARL

          The right opportunity.

                         JON

          To do what?

                         CARL

          To end this thing.

                         JON

          What if the cops start shooting?

Long beat.  Carl concentrates on his answer.

                         CARL

          Hug the floor.

                         JON

          How can you just sit here

like this?  Like nothing’s

happened?

                         CARL

          What do you want me to do?

                         JON

          Something.  Anything.  The

longer we sit here-

                         CARL

          Keep your cool and do what

they tell you.  No one else

is going to get hurt.

Jon fidgets with a sugar packet.

                         JON

          I never got my coffee.

                         CARL

          I never got my eggs.

Long beat.

                         JON

          I should have got on that bus.

        This morning, in the parking lot.

        I couldn’t do it.  I can’t go back.

        I joined the Army out of high

        school.  My mom told me not to but

        I enlisted anyway just to piss her off.

        They sent me to Afghanistan right out of

        basic.  I did two years in that

shit hole.  Now I’m AWOL.

                         CARL

          You’re not AWOL.  You just missed

the bus.

                         JON

          Tell that to Uncle Sam.  He’s the

one who’s got my balls in a twist.

I can’t go back.  I can’t.  I love my

        country, but I’m not cut out for this.

Long beat.  Jon looks at Carl intently.  Carl remains expressionless.

                         JON

          You think that makes me a coward?

                         CARL

          It makes you human.

                         JON

          I did two years.  That otta

        count for something.

A LOUD COMMOTION IN THE BACK ROOM PROMPTS JON AND CARL TO LOOK AWAY.

DIRK AND NATHAN POV:

Dirk sees Hilda tugging on the rear exit door.  He FIRES TWO SHOTS and misses.  He fires A THIRD SHOT as Hilda opens the door and runs out.

Nathan follows Dirk to the back room and secures the door again.

                         NATHAN

          Where the hell did she come from?

Dirk runs to the front window and peeks out.  HE SEES HILDA RUN TOWARD THE POLICE.

                         DIRK

          She never saw our faces.

        She can’t ID us.

Dirk storms toward Lindsay and Kelly.  He grabs Kelly by the hair and pulls her off her seat.  He puts the HOT MUZZLE to her forehead.  KELLY CRIES OUT.  The muzzle leaves a small impression in her skin.

                         DIRK

          I should have done this sooner.

                         NATHAN

          Let her go.

Dirk points his gun at Nathan.

                         DIRK

          Now it’s my turn.

Nathan puts his hands in the air.

                         NATHAN

          This won’t help anything.

        So one of them got away.

        Big deal.  She can’t hurt us.

Dirk hesitates for a second.  He looks at Kelly, then back at Nathan.

                         NATHAN

          Please.  Too many people are

        hurt already.

Dirk pulls the trigger.  CLICK.  The gun is empty.

Dirk laughs.  He lets go of Kelly, who runs back to the hostage group.

Dirk dumps the spent .357 casings on the floor.  He digs more bullets from his pocket and reloads.

                         DIRK

          I wish I could see your face.

EXT. DINER PARKING LOT – DAY

Sheriff Thorton grabs Hilda by her shoulders and looks her in the eye.  Hilda’s hyped on adrenaline.  Out of breath.  In a state of shock.

                         SHERIFF

          It’s all right.  Shhhh.

It’s all right.  Are you hurt?

Hilda shakes her head.  A paramedic rushes over.

                         SHERIFF

          She’s all right.

                         PARAMEDIC

          I still need to evaluate her.

Hilda swallows hard.  Her hands are shaking.

                         HILDA

          I’m all right.

She waves the paramedic off.

                         SHERIFF

                 (to Hilda)

          What happened in there?

Hilda takes a step back.  She’s reeling from what happened.

                         HILDA

          I saw three men with guns.

They’re wearing masks.

       (beat)

One of them shot a cop.

                          SHERIFF

          Is he still alive?

Hilda shakes her head.

                          HILDA

                 (about to cry)

          They shot him twice in the chest.

                 (crying)

          I think they killed him.

The Sheriff punches the air in frustration.

                          SHERIFF

          Son of a bitch.

Dale approaches.

                         DALE

          What happened?

                         SHERIFF

          Chuck’s dead.

                         DALE

          Shit…God dammit!  I fucking

        new this would happen.

                         SHERIFF

                (to Hilda)

          Is anyone else hurt?

                         HILDA

          A waitress got shot in the arm.

                         SHERIFF

          What about the cook?

                         HILDA

          They burned his hand but

        he’s all right.

                         DALE

          How many people are in there?

Hilda’s flustered, dizzy, STARTS TO FAINT.  THE SHERIFF CATCHES HER.

                         SHERIFF

                 (to Paramedic)

          Stay with her.

The Sheriff jogs to—

HIS CAR

The SWAT Commander follows him.  Sheriff Thorton grabs his MEGAPHONE from the passenger seat.

                         SHERIFF

          This is Sheriff Thorton.

        Throw out your weapons and

step out now.

The SWAT Commander pushes the megaphone aside.

                          SWAT COMMANDER

          What are you doing?

                          SHERIFF

          Trying to end this thing.

                          SWAT COMMANDER

          And kill everyone inside?

                          SHERIFF

          We have to do something.

Sheriff Thorton runs his hand through his hair.  He tosses the megaphone in the car.

                         SHERIFF

My brother’s inside there.

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          I’m aware of that.  I’m also aware

        there are a dozen other hostages.

        We’re doing everything we can.

                         SHERIFF

          Well it’s not enough.

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          Call the diner.  Keep them

talking as long as you can.

We’ll get your people out.

INT. DINER – DAY

Nathan and Dirk pace back and forth near the counter.  THE PHONE RINGS.

                         NATHAN

          What if she can ID us?

                         DIRK

          She never saw our faces.

                         NATHAN

          She knows you killed that cop.

                         DIRK

          We, killed that cop.  Now we’re

all involved.  For the long haul.

                         NATHAN

          You said you’d get us out of here.

How are you going to do that?

Dirk answers the phone.

                         DIRK

          What do you want?

EXT. DINER PARKING LOT – DAY

Sheriff Thorton on the phone.  The SWAT Commander stands beside him and listens.

                         SHERIFF

          This is Sheriff Thorton.

        Don’t hang up.

                         DIRK (VO)

          If you start shooting, I swear

to God I’ll kill every one of

these people.

                         SHERIFF

          No shooting I promise.

        I just wanna talk.

                         DIRK (VO)

          Make it fast.

                         SHERIFF

          Let the rest of the women go.

                         DIRK (VO)

          I haven’t let anyone go.

        That bitch got away on her own.

                         SHERIFF

          Don’t make this worse.

                         DIRK (VO)

          I want a car with tinted windows

and a full tank of gas.  And I

want your guys to back off.

The Sheriff looks at the SWAT Commander and covers the cell phone with his hand.

                         SHERIFF

          He wants a car.

The SWAT Commander nods.

                         SHERIFF

                (to Dirk)

          You still there?

                         DIRK (VO)

          Twenty minutes.  Or I start

        killing hostages.

The line goes dead.

                         SHERIFF

          Wait.

INT. DINER – DAY

Dirk slams the phone down.  He turns his head to read the CLOCK on the wall.  IT’S NOON.  Then he turns back to read the iron man plaque on the wall by the grill station.  He takes the plaque off the wall and reads the name beneath Simon’s picture.

CLOSE ON: IRON MAN PLAQUE

Dirk sees the name Simon Thorton.

BACK TO SCENE:

Dirk looks at Simon who’s holding ICE on his severely burned hand.

                         DIRK

          Small world.

EXT. MARY’S TRAILER – DAY

Mrs. Abbott emerges from the trailer and climbs in the old Volare.

INT. VOLARE – DAY

                         WHITE TRASH DRIVER

          What about the baby?

                         MRS. ABBOTT

          She’s down for a nap.

EXT. DINER PARKING LOT – DAY

The Sheriff slams his hand on the roof of a police car.  Dale stands beside him with his hands on his hips.

                         DALE

          We can’t just give them a car.

                         SHERIFF

          Then what do you suggest?

                         DALE

          We can’t let them leave.

A cop runs up to Sheriff Thorton and hands him a fax.  The Sheriff examines the page.

                         SHERIFF

          What’s this?

                         OFFICER

          Arrest warrant for Timothy Rivera.

        The Corolla’s registered in his name

        but he’s not our man.

      (beat)

Orange County police popped him

        for drug possession two nights ago.

        He’s been in lock up since then.

                         DALE

                 (to Sheriff)

          Then who’s inside?

                         SHERIFF

          Peter fucking Piper for all I know.

               (beat)

          Find out.  Fast.  I wanna know

        who we’re dealing with.

Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 5

MARY’S POV:

 

Mary ventures to the back room stocked with empty boxes, vegetable crates, napkins, paper towels, janitorial supplies, etc.  She sees a first aid kit mounted to the wall beside a FIRE EXTINGUISHER and a SMALL FLOOR SAFE.

 

She winces at the dead cop and hears a QUIET VIBRATION LIKE A CELL PHONE VIBRATING BUT SHE CAN’T MAKE OUT WHERE IT’S COMING FROM.

 

SHE STEPS TOWARD THE WOMEN’S RESTROOM AND TOUCHES HER HAND ON THE DOOR WHEN SHE HEARS-

 

                         NATHAN (VO)

          Hurry up!

 

Mary turns away from the bathroom and grabs the first aid kit.  She joins Nathan in the DINING ROOM AREA.  THE PHONE KEEPS RINGING.

BACK TO SCENE

 

Nathan opens the first aid kit and pulls out large packages of gauze.  He tears them open and hands them to Darlene.

 

                         DARLENE

          The bullet missed the bone.

 

Mary tapes a bandage to Darlene’s shoulder.

 

                         NATHAN

                (to Darlene)

          You’ll be all right.

 

Nathan grabs the diner phone.

 

                         NATHAN

          WHAT?

 

 

EXT. PARKING LOT – DAY

 

Sheriff Thorton on the cell phone.

 

                         SHERIFF

                (to phone)

          What the hell is going on

        in there?

 

                         NATHAN (VO)

          Nothing.

 

                         SHERIFF

          It doesn’t sound like nothing.

 

 

INT. DINER – DAY

 

                         NATHAN

                (to phone)

          Stop calling!

 

Nathan slams the phone down.  He looks at Mary.

 

                         NATHAN

          What’s a matter?

Mary points toward the back room.

 

                         MARY

                 (whispering)

          There’s a safe back there.

 

Dirk walks toward Nathan and Mary.

 

                         DIRK

          Where?

 

                         MARY

          In the back room.  By the freezer.

 

                         DIRK

                 (to Nathan)

          Watch them.

 

Dirk walks to the—

 

STORAGE AREA

 

He finds the combination safe and tries the latch.  It’s locked.  He turns to the—

 

DINING ROOM

 

Dirk points the .357 at Darlene.

 

                         DIRK

          Open it.

 

                         DARLENE

          I don’t have the combination.

 

Dirk cocks the hammer.

 

                         DIRK

          Open the safe.

 

He swings the gun at Simon.

 

                         DIRK

          Or your friend dies first.

 

Darlene gets up wincing.  Nathan hands his gun to Mary who reluctantly takes it.

                         NATHAN

                 (to Mary)

          Stay here.

 

Nathan and Dirk escort Darlene to the-

 

STORAGE ROOM

 

Darlene works the combination lock and presses down on the latch.  The safe opens.  Dirk dives in and unzips a RED MONEY BAG with cash.  He pulls out a large wad of mixed bills, mostly fives and tens.

 

                         DIRK

          That all you got?

 

                         DARLENE

          We don’t hold a lot of cash.

 

Nathan reaches inside and finds another RED MONEY BAG in a second compartment.  He unzips the bag and finds more cash.

 

                         DIRK

          Give it.

 

Dirk takes the second RED MONEY BAG and consolidates the money into one bag.  He discards the second RED MONEY BAG on the floor.

 

Dirk and Nathan force Darlene back toward the-

 

DINING ROOM

 

Nathan takes his gun back from Mary.  Dirk grabs the small diaper bag off the counter and stuffs the RED MONEY BAG inside.  He turns his attention toward Kelly and Lindsay.  He looks at them and their table.  THE TABLE HAS THREE PLACE SETTINGS WITH SEPARATE ORANGE JUICE GLASSES.

 

 

FLASHBACK:

 

Dirk recalls the scene where Kelly bumped her door against his Corolla and he watched THREE GIRLS WALK AWAY.

BACK TO SCENE:

 

 

                         DIRK

                 (to Lindsay and Kelly)

          Where’s the other girl?

 

Lindsay and Kelly avoid eye contact.

 

                         KELLY

          What other girl?

 

                         DIRK

          Three of you got out of

        that car this morning.

 

                        LINDSAY

          She went to the gas station

        to buy cigarettes.  Before

        you got here.

 

Dirk notices how Kelly keeps staring toward the back room area.

 

Dirk walks toward the-

 

WOMEN’S RESTROOM

 

He stops outside the door to listen.  He hears THE EXHAUST FAN inside and the sound of RUNNING WATER.  He looks back at Kelly and Lindsay, then he KICKS THE DOOR OPEN to discover-

 

AN EMPTY RESTROOM

 

The toilet’s running.  No one’s hiding inside.

 

Dirk leaves the bathroom and enters the—

 

BACK STORAGE ROOM

 

He opens the walk-in freezer and finds food inside.

HILDA’S POV:

 

Hilda hides inside a FULL SIZE EMPLOYEE LOCKER.  She sees Dirk through the air vents in the door.  HER EYES ARE WIDE WITH FEAR.

 

 

BACK TO SCENE:

 

Dirk checks the deadbolt on the emergency exit door and puts his eye to the peephole.

 

CLOSE ON: PEEPHOLE

 

Dirk sees police cars gathered outside.

 

                         NATHAN (VO)

          The cops are moving.

 

 

BACK TO SCENE:

 

Dirk runs out of the storage room and back to the—

 

DINING ROOM

 

Dirk peers through the blinds to see police cars leaving.

 

                         NATHAN

          Are they leaving?

 

                         DIRK

No.  They’re getting ready for

        something else.

 

                         NATHAN

          Like what?

 

Dirk shrugs.

 

                         DIRK

          Why don’t you go out there

and ask them?

 

Mary approaches the two men.

                         MARY

          You said you could get us

        out of here.  I have to get

home to my baby.  If Rose

wakes up alone-

 

                         NATHAN

          Shut up.  Just, shut up

for one second and let me think.

 

 

EXT. PARKING LOT – DAY

 

An officer approaches Sheriff Thorton and taps him on the shoulder.

 

                         SHERIFF

          The SWAT Commander needs you.

 

The sheriff turns to see a black panel van parked near the side of the lot.  Several men with combat gear and automatic rifles gather around their SWAT Commander – a BIG BURLY MAN WITH A BALD HEAD AND A DEEP VOICE.

 

The Sheriff approaches the men.

 

                         SHERIFF

          What’s our best option?

 

The SWAT Commander addresses Sheriff Thorton.

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          We can’t get a clean shot with

the blinds closed.

 

                         SHERIFF

          What about the roof?

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          Too risky.

                (beat)

          How many suspects inside?

                         SHERIFF

          Three confirmed.  But there might

        be more.  They’re holding one of

        my deputies hostage.

              (beat)

        Dispatch received a nine-one-one

call from a girl inside.  We think

she’s alone.  Maybe hiding somewhere

in the back.

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          She tell us anything?

 

                         SHERIFF

          They lost the signal.

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          Can you get the suspects on

the phone?

 

                         SHERIFF

          They’re not talking.  And the

longer we sit here with our

dick in our hands, the more

dangerous these guys become.

They know they’re surrounded.

The sooner we end this thing,

the better.

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          How many hostages?

 

                         SHERIFF

          Ten or twelve.

 

                         SWAT COMMANDER

          Contact the nine-one-one dispatcher.

        See if she can get our caller

        back on line.  The more we know

        going in, the better.

INT. DINER- DAY

 

Simon soaks his RED, SWOLLEN hand under running water.

 

Darlene sits on the floor and rests her back against the counter.  She’s in pain, but not dying.  She faces Nathan and Mary who pick at a plate of food.

 

                         DARLENE

          Why rob this place?

 

Nathan chews a piece of bacon.  He gulps a glass of milk.

 

                         NATHAN

          Easy money.

 

                         DARLENE

          A bank is easy money.  We don’t

        hold more than two hundred

        dollars at a time.

 

                         NATHAN

          That’s not what my friend told me.

 

                         DARLENE

          Well your friend was wrong.

 

Mary shakes her head.

 

                         MARY

                (to Nathan)

          I told you this was a stupid idea.

 

                         NATHAN

          Dirk will get us out of here.

 

                         MARY

          How?  Through an underground

        tunnel?

                (beat)

          We should have stuck with the plan

        we had.  Two more semesters and

        you’d be done with school.  A full

        time job with benefits.

 

                         NATHAN

          The job’s not guaranteed.  We need

the money now, not later.

 

                         DARLENE

                (to Nathan)

          What are you studying?

 

                         MARY

                (to Darlene)

Engineering.  He goes to night

school at the junior college.

 

                         NATHAN

                 (to Mary)

          Shut up.  The less she knows

        about us the better.

 

                         MARY

          What difference does it make?

 

                         NATHAN

                 (to Darlene)

          You ever been on welfare?

 

                         DARLENE

          No.

 

                         NATHAN

          You ever spend six months

        sleeping under a leaky roof?

 

                         DARLENE

          No.

 

                         NATHAN

          We saved two years to buy our

first house.  Then hurricane

Sally blew the shingles off.  I lost

my job.  My girl got pregnant.

        We lost the house.

       (beat)

We were going to raise a family

in that house.  Instead we spent

six months with a leaky roof

before the bank kicked us out.

Now we’re living in a single wide

trailer with no air and a toilet

that won’t flush all the way.

 

                         DARLENE

          You can always find another job.

People do it all the time.

 

                         NATHAN

          You mean rich people do it all

        the time.  I work too many hours for a

        shitty paycheck that doesn’t add

up to nothing.  I barely qualify

for student loans I can’t afford,

and for what?  The almighty dollar

divides the rich who have it from

the poor who don’t.  The middle class

is obsolete.

 

                         DARLENE

What about your education?

 

                         NATHAN

Education is a band aid on a

sucking chest wound.

 

                         DARLENE

          So you think crime is the answer?

 

                         NATHAN

          If I don’t work, we don’t eat.

        I barely have time for school.

 

                         DARLENE

        You’re not the only one who’s been

        kicked in the face so many times your

brain is numb.  That doesn’t give

you the right to come in here and do this.

 

                         NATHAN

          Do I look like a fucking junky

to you?  You see me roll up in a

new Benz or flash my bling-bling?

I’m trying to feed my family.  To

pay for medication I can’t afford.

We sold our furniture, our belongings,

and the only car we ever had.  Even

that was a kick in the balls.  The

bank called us upside down.  Said we

owed more than the car was worth.

Then they came and took it when we

couldn’t make the payments. 

We were living in that car with

our baby.  We lost the only shelter

we had left.

 

Long beat.  Nathan and Mary stare at one other.

 

                         MARY

                 (to Darlene)

          You got kids?

 

                         DARLENE

          Not yet.

 

Long beat.  She repositions herself.

 

                         DARLENE

          You’re not entirely responsible

for what happened here.  Your friend

        killed the cop.

 

                         NATHAN

          And I shot you, remember?

 

                         DARLENE

          You weren’t trying to hurt me.

        You were trying to scare me.

        I got in the way by accident.

 

                         MARY

          You mean that?

 

                         NATHAN

                (to Mary)

          Don’t listen to her reverse

        psychology crap.

 

                         DARLENE

          Your friend is going to get

you killed.

 

Long beat.  Nathan contemplates Darlene’s conclusion.

                         NATHAN

          Then maybe we’re better off dead.

 

                         MARY

          Our baby needs us.

 

                         NATHAN

          That baby is what got us into

        this mess.

 

Mary starts crying.  Nathan watches her, then gives in and puts his arms around her.  DARLENE SEES HILDA PEEKING THROUGH THE RESTROOM DOOR.  THEY MAKE EYE CONTACT.

 

                         NATHAN

                 (to Mary)

          I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean that.

 

                         DARLENE

          How old is your baby?

 

                         MARY

          Eight months.  She was born

        with a heart defect.  Arrhy-arryth—

 

                         NATHAN

          Arrhythmias.  She needs daily

medication.

 

                         MARY

          The drugs cost more than we

        make some months.

Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 4

NATHAN AND MARY POV:

Nathan comforts Mary in the corner away from Dirk and the hostages.  He rubs her shoulders.  She cries softly behind her mask.  THEY WHISPER BACK AND FORTH.

                         MARY

          Why did this have to happen?

                         NATHAN

          We’ll find a way out.

                         MARY

          How?

                         NATHAN

          Dirk has a plan.

                         MARY

          My mother had a plan.  My

father had a plan.  The God

          damn president had a plan. 

Look where we are.  The same

place we started.  Nowhere.

We’re worse off now than we were

when we woke up this morning.

Nothing’s changed except our future.

                         NATHAN

          Dirk will find a way out of this.

He always does.

                         MARY

          I wish we never met him.  He’s the

reason we’re in this mess.

                         NATHAN

          He’s on our side.

                         MARY

          What about Rose?  What happens

          to her when I’m in jail?

                         NATHAN

          You’re not going to jail.

None of us are.  No one’s seen

our faces.

                         MARY

          What about the cop he killed?

                         NATHAN

          That’s on Dirk.  Not us.

                         MARY

          I should have stayed in the car.

          None of this would have happened

          if I’d stayed in the car.

Nathan shakes his head.

                         NATHAN

          No.  You did the right thing.

KELLY AND LINDSAY’S POV:

They face away from the masked robbers.  Leslie slides her cell phone out of her pocket.

                         LINDSAY

               (whispering)

          We have to get this to Hilda.

Kelly shakes her head slowly.

                         KELLY

          And do what?  Call the police?

                         LINDSAY

          It’s better than sitting around

          here doing nothing.

                         KELLY

          They’ll kill you if they find that.

                         LINDSAY

          They’ll kill us if they don’t.

DIRK’S POV:

Dirk sees the sorority sisters whisper back and forth.

                         DIRK

          HEY!

LINDSAY’S POV:

Lindsay sees Dirk approaching.  She raises her hand.

                         LINDSAY

          I have to use the bathroom.

                         DIRK

          Then pee.

Lindsay starts to walk away.  DIRK PUTS THE GUN TO HER HEAD.  Lindsay stops abruptly.

                         DIRK

          Where the fuck are you going?

                         LINDSAY

          To the bathroom.

                         DIRK

          Sit down!

Lindsay puts her hands on her legs and bends her knees slightly to pretend she’s suffering with a full bladder.

                         LINDSAY

          I’m going to piss my pants.

                         NATHAN

          Let her go.  This place stinks

enough already.

Dirk lowers his gun and lets Lindsay pass.  She makes her way to the women’s restroom.

INT. WOMEN’S RESTROOM – DAY

Hilda cowers when Lindsay enters the bathroom.  Lindsay puts her finger to her mouth and shuts the door.

                         LINDSAY

          Shhh.

                         HILDA

          What are you doing?

Lindsay pulls the cell phone out and dials 911.

                         LINDSAY

          I can’t stay long.

Lindsay puts the phone to her ear.

                         911 OPERATOR (VO)

          Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?

                         LINDSAY

                 (whispers)

          We’re being robbed.

                         911 OPERATOR (VO)

          What’s your location?

                         LINDSAY

          I’m in a bathroom.  In a diner.

                         911 OPERATOR

          Are you alone?

                         LINDSAY

          The police are outside.

                         911 OPERATOR

          Just stay calm.  I need you to focus.

          Can you do that for me?

                         LINDSAY

          Yes.

                         911 OPERATOR

          Tell me your location.

The connection goes dead.

                         LINDSAY

                 (disillusioned)

          I lost the signal.

A LOUD KNOCK AT THE DOOR STARTLES LINDSAY.  SHE DROPS THE CELL PHONE IN THE TOILET.

                         DIRK (VO)

          Hurry up!

Lindsay reaches inside the toilet and retrieves the phone.  It’s dead.  She flushes the toilet and wraps the phone in a paper towel to dry it.

                         LINDSAY

          Just a second.

Lindsay gives the phone to Hilda.

                         LINDSAY

          Keep trying.

Hilda stands behind the door with her back against the wall.  Lindsay opens the door to find Dirk standing OUTSIDE THE RESTROOM.

                         DIRK

          Get back with the others.

INT. MARY’S TRAILER HOME – DAY

MRS. ABBOTT, a grandmotherly neighbor with stringy hair and missing teeth, heats a bottle of formula in the microwave oven.  Baby Rose cries.  A small television shows live news coverage of the diner robbery UNFOLDING fROM OUTSIDE.

CLOSE ON: TELEVISION

The TV shows aerial coverage outside the diner, where police have swarmed the parking lot.

BACK TO SCENE:

The microwave DINGS and Mrs. Abbott takes out the bottle of formula and shakes it.  She dribbles milk on her inside forearm to test the temperature.

                         TV NEWS WOMAN (VO)

          …police confirm at least seven

          hostages remain inside the Jacksonville

          restaurant where an armed robbery

          attempt has resulted in a police stand

          off outside the parking lot.  The fate

          of a sheriff’s deputy inside the diner

          has yet to be determined.

                 (beat)

          So far no one has entered or left the

          premises since the standoff began more than

          an hour ago.  No word on the number of

          suspects inside or their specific

          demands.  Channel 2 news will keep you

          posted as events unfold.

Mrs. Abbott turns off the television and reaches inside the cardboard box for the crying infant.

INT. DINER – DAY

SIMON AND DARLENE’S POV:

Simon watches the robbers huddle in a corner.  He looks at Darlene who helps him take eggs and bacon off the grill and serve it on plates.  He sees the CAN OF MACE tucked inside Darlene’s apron.  He shakes his head.

                         SIMON

                 (whispers)

          Too risky.

                         DARLENE

          We need a distraction.

                         SIMON

          Let the police do their jobs.

          My brother will handle this.

                         DIRK (VO)

          Handle what?

Simon grabs a plate of eggs and bacon as Dirk storms into the kitchen area.

                         SIMON

          Food.  If anyone’s hungry.

Dirk takes a slice of bacon and nibbles through the hole in his face mask.

                         DIRK

          This shit is burned.  Who taught

          you how to cook bacon?

                         SIMON

          I taught myself.

                         DIRK

                (to Darlene)

          You eat this shit?  I bet you

          eat this shit all day long.

          These grits and eggs and

          sausage pieces.

Dirk pokes at the plates of food and picks out a piece of food from each.  He chews the food and SPITS IT OUT ACROSS THE PLATES.

                         DIRK

          I’ve tasted better road kill.

Dirk studies the wall behind the grill where Simon’s “iron man” award plaque proudly displays ten years of service with the diner.

CLOSE ON: IRON MAN PLAQUE

BACK TO SCENE:

                         DIRK

          Do you like this job?

                         SIMON

          It pays the bills.

                         DIRK

          You been here ten years?

                         SIMON

          Eleven.

                         DIRK

          What did you do before this?

                         SIMON

          Real estate.

                         DIRK

          You need some kind of fancy degree

          for that?

                         SIMON

          No.

                         DIRK

          How’d you end up working here?

Simon looks at Darlene who’s holding her hands on her apron.

                         SIMON

          I lost everything when the

market crashed.

                         DIRK

          How much you make in a week?

                         SIMON

          Three hundred dollars.

                         DIRK

          After taxes?

                         SIMON

          Before.

                        DIRK

          Shit, I can make that in an hour.

Dirk paces in front of Simon and Darlene.  He stares at Abby and Cheryl who keep to themselves among the hostages.

                         DIRK

                 (to Abby and Cheryl)

          Get over here.

                         DARLENE

          Leave them alone.

Dirk points the .357 at Darlene.

                         DIRK

          Open your mouth again, and

you can join your dead friend.

Abby and Cheryl drag their feet toward Dirk.  They look to Simon and Darlene for support.

                         DIRK

          Turn around.

Abby and Cheryl slowly turn around.

                         DIRK

          Bend over and touch the counter.

Abby and Cheryl look at each other and reluctantly comply.  Nathan lifts his head and watches the spectacle unfold.  Mary keeps to herself in the corner.  DIRK SLAPS CHERYL ON THE ASS.

                         DIRK

          Tight as a drum.

Dirk squeezes Abby’s ass and pushes her away.  Abby retreats to the group.

                         DIRK

                 (to Simon)

          You ever tap this ass?

                         SIMON

          No.

                         DIRK

          You been here eleven years

          and you never tapped this ass?

I bet you thought about it.

Didn’t you?

      (beat)

Say it.

                         SIMON

          I’m a married man.

Dirk aims the .357 at Simon.

                         DIRK

          Say it!  Tell me you thought

          about it every day you worked

          this grill.  These girls struttin’

          back and forth in front of you.

                (beat)

Say it!

Simon swallows hard.

                         SIMON

          I thought about it.

Dirk grabs Cheryl’s apron and rips it off her waist.  He starts to jerk her pants down when Simon interrupts.

                         SIMON

          Stop it.

Simon touches Dirk’s arm and Dirk cold cocks him.  Simon cups his hand on his face.  Dirk unzips his jeans.

                         DIRK

          I’ll break her in.

          You take over when I’m done.

Dirk yanks Cheryl’s pants down.  He keeps the gun in his control.  Cheryl’s crying.  Terrified of what will happen.  She looks to the hostages.  FEAR IN JON’S EYES.  RAGE IN CARL’S.  LINDSAY AND KELLY PRETEND NOT TO NOTICE.  HAROLD PULLS BETTY TOWARD HIM.

DARLENE REACHES FOR HER CAN OF MACE BUT THE GUN IS DANGEROUSLY CLOSE.  IT PAINS HER TO WATCH AND DO NOTHING.

                        SIMON

          Get off her.

Simon grabs Dirk FORCEFULLY by the collar and pulls him back.  Dirk CRACKS the gun upside Simon’s head – producing a gash that bleeds profusely.  DARLENE PULLS THE MACE AND SPRAYS AT DIRK’S MASK BUT MISSES HIS EYES COMPLETELY.

Cheryl pulls her pants up and runs toward the other hostages.

NATHAN’S GUN GOES OFF.  A BULLET TEARS THROUGH DARLENE’S SHOULDER.  SHE DROPS THE MACE AND FALLS, CUPPING HER HAND ON THE WOUND.

NATHAN’S POV:

Nathan grabs the can of mace and chucks it across the room away from the hostages.

                         NATHAN

          Enough!

Dirk takes Simon’s hand and slams it on the hot waffle griddle.  SIMON SCREAMS IN AGONY.

                         DIRK

                (to Simon)

          Show me what you got iron man.

Dirk clamps the top of the waffle griddle on Simon’s hand.  Steam spews out.  SIMON SCREAMS LOUDER.  THE TELEPHONE RINGS.

NATHAN POINTS HIS GUN AT DIRK.

                         NATHAN

                 (to Dirk)

          Let him go.

Dirk releases Simon’s hand.  Simon grabs his wrist with his other hand.  A WAFFLE IMPRESSION APPEARS ON THE BURNED SKIN.

Darlene presses a rag against her bleeding shoulder.

                         DIRK

                 (to Nathan)

          You gunna shoot me?

                         NATHAN

          Just calm down.

                         DIRK

          Go ahead.  Do it.  You’ll

          never get out of here without

          me.

Nathan lowers his gun.  He looks at Darlene as Dirk walks away sulking.  THE PHONE KEEPS RINGING.

                         NATHAN

                (to Darlene)

          That was stupid.  Really stupid.

Nathan looks to Mary.

                         NATHAN

                 (to Mary)

          I saw a first aid kit in the back.

          Go get it and bring it up here.

Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 3

DIRK’S POV:

Dirk paces back and forth.  Fed up with all the talking.  He marches toward Betty and Harold.

                         DIRK

          Shut up!  No more talking.

BACK TO SCENE:

A PHONE RINGS.  It’s the restaurant phone on the wall by the cash register.  The phone rings and rings and rings until Nathan finally answers.

                         NATHAN

          Hello?

EXT. DINER – DAY

Sheriff Thorton stands behind a patrol car with a cell phone.  Yellow crime scene tape blocks off a swarm of curious onlookers from the gas station parking lot.  A news helicopter circles above.

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          This is Sheriff Thorton.

        Who am I speaking with?

INT. DINER – DAY

                         NATHAN

          Ummm.

                         DIRK

                 (to Nathan)

          Shut up!

Dirk grabs the phone from Nathan and slams it down.

                         DIRK

          Don’t be talking to the cops.

He kicks at Jon’s journal notebook on the floor beneath the counter.  Curious, he picks it up and opens it.

CLOSE ON: JOURNAL ENTRIES

Dirk skims through Jon’s hand written notes.  He reads from the journal out loud.

                         DIRK

          I thought I almost died

        yesterday when the car

        bomb exploded outside our

        camp.  The sound was deafening.

The explosion rocked the tent

and filled the air with smoke.

Dirk skips ahead several pages.

                        DIRK

                 (mocking tone)

Most nights the slightest

noise makes me wet the bed.

I’m so scared, I just want to

go home to my family.

Dirk skips ahead.

                       DIRK

          I cried for the third time

        this afternoon.  No reason.

        I wasn’t hurt.  I just couldn’t

        take it anymore.  The men think

        I’m a pussy.  They’re afraid

        to go on patrol with me.  I’m not

        a fucking coward, I just need

        some time away from all this mess.

CARL’S POV:

Carl stands up.

                         CARL

                (to Dirk)

          That’s enough.

Dirk puts the journal down and moves toward Carl.  He aims the .357 at Carl’s chest.

                         DIRK

          Sit down.

Carl stands his ground for several seconds, staring into Dirk’s eyes.  Then he quietly complies.  Dirk walks away and throws the journal in a trash can.

INT. WOMEN’S RESTROOM – DAY

Hilda walks in small circles talking to herself.

FLASHBACK:

Hilda sees her cell phone in the back seat of Lindsay’s car.  Lindsay locks the car with a keyless remote.

                         HILDA

          I left my phone.

                         LINDSAY

          You won’t need it.

BACK TO SCENE:

Hilda tries to open the window.  It opens but it’s too narrow to climb out.  She can see the patrol cars and all the police nearby.  She sticks her arm out the window and tries to gain attention.

EXT. DINER – DAY

Hilda waves her arm back and forth, but no one sees it.

INT. WOMEN’S RESTROOM – DAY

Hilda pulls her arm back in.  She cups her hand to her mouth, fighting the urge to vomit.  OUTSIDE THE BATHROOM, THE PHONE RINGS AGAIN.

INT. DINER – DAY

The diner’s phone keeps ringing.  Dirk and Nathan look at one another.

                         NATHAN

          We should answer that.

Dirk shakes his head.  The phone keeps ringing.

SIMON’S POV:

                         SIMON

          Pick up the phone.

                         NATHAN

          Shut up.

BACK TO SCENE:

The phone keeps ringing.  Nathan reaches for the phone.  He sees Dirk raise his .357 at him.

                         NATHAN

          Just to make them go away.

        I won’t fuck it up this time.

        I promise.

Dirk slowly lowers his gun.  Nathan takes the phone.

                         NATHAN

          Hello?

EXT. DINER – DAY

                         SHERIFF

          Son, this is Sheriff Thorton.

        Don’t hang up on me again.

INT. DINER – DAY

                         NATHAN

          I’m listening.

EXT. DINER – DAY

                         SHERIFF

          Is everyone all right in there?

                         NATHAN (VO)

          We’re fine.

                         SHERIFF

          I believe you have someone

that belongs to me.  I need

to speak with him.

INT. DINER – DAY

Nathan cups the phone to his chest to mute his voice.  He glances at Chuck’s dead body in the back room.

                         NATHAN

          He can’t talk right now.

                         SHERIFF (VO)

          How come?

                         NATHAN

          Because we got him tied up

        in the other room.

                         SHERIFF (VO)

          How do I know he’s not hurt?

EXT. DINER – DAY

Sheriff Thorton stares at THE BLOOD SPATTER ON THE RESTAURANT WINDOW.  He knows someone’s hurt.  Bad.

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          You still there?

                         NATHAN (VO)

          I said, no one’s hurt.

                         SHERIFF THORTON

Son don’t lie to me.  That’s

only going to make things worse.

The line goes dead.  Sheriff Thorton wipes the sweat off his brow.  It’s going to be a long day.

Officer Dale approaches with his notepad open.

                         SHERIFF

                    (to Dale)

          Where the hell is my SWAT team?

                         DALE

          They’re on their way.

The Sheriff takes off his hat and throws it at the chopper.  The wind throws it back.

                         SHERIFF

          Get that fucking chopper out

        of here.

                         DALE

          How?

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          I don’t care.  Call the station.

Radio the pilot.  Shoot the damn

thing down if you have to.  Just

get it out of here.

                         DALE

          What about Chuck?

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          Nothing yet.

Dale glances at his notepad again.

                         DALE

          We ran the plates.  Two hits

came back.

Dale points to the Toyota Corolla.

                         DALE

          The Corolla’s registered to a

twenty-one year old Timothy Rivera.

He’s got a rap sheet for domestic

violence, armed robbery, and

assault with a deadly weapon.

                        SHERIFF THORTON

          What else?

                        DALE

          We popped the trunk and found

        a 12-gauge shotgun with a box

        of shells.  Crime scene’s

dusting the car for prints.

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          What about the other plate?

Dale points to Carl’s Mack truck parked away from the diner.

                         DALE

          The tractor trailer’s registered

to Carl Davenport.  Owner-operator.

        Burglary conviction in ’87 got him

three years in Tallahassee.  His

record’s clean since then.

       (beat)

          You think he’s involved in this?

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          Maybe.  Burglary to armed robbery

        is a short jump.

                         DALE

          But why would he drive his rig here?

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          Don’t know.

                 (beat)

        What about my brother?

                         DALE

          We called his house again.

No answer.  A patrol car’s on

its way.

      (beat)

Maybe we should call the Feds?

                         SHERIFF THORTON

          Fuck the feds.  I’ll handle this myself.

INT. DINER – DAY

ABBY AND CHERYL POV:

Abby and Cheryl look about the room nervously, desperate for some heroic measure to save them.  Abby lights another cigarette and inhales sharply.

                         CHERYL

          I’ve got biology lab this afternoon.

                         ABBY

          You’re worried about class?

                         CHERYL

          I’m worried about my GPA.

                         ABBY

          The hell with that.  We’ll be

        lucky to leave here alive.

                         CHERYL

          Don’t say that.  They’ll let

        us go when they have to.

                         ABBY

        Like them Worton kids in Jacksonville?

        They thought they were home free

        until their father shot them up.

                         CHERYL

          That’s different.

                         ABBY

          How’s that?

                         CHERYL

          Those kids were young.  They didn’t

        know any better.  If we keep our

        cool, we’ll walk away from this.

Long beat.  Abby takes a long drag.  The nicotine kicks in.

                         ABBY

          I should have stayed home.

        None of this shit would have

        happened if I just let the phone

        ring.

                         CHERYL

          I should have quit when I had

        the chance.

                         ABBY

          You and me both.

Abby smokes.  She’s lost in thought.  Trying to keep it together.

                         ABBY

          How much longer you got in school?

                         CHERYL

          Two semesters at the junior college.

          Then I go on for my bachelor

          degree.  Then four more years

        after that.

                         ABBY

          Four more years?  For what?

You studying to be some kind of

astronaut?

                         CHERYL

          A veterinarian.

Abby takes a final drag and crushes out her cigarette.

                         ABBY

          I’m not married to this place

        or the lousy tips.  I’m

        saving my pennies for cosmetology

        school.  I plan to open my own shop.

I got a cousin in Charleston who

        says she’ll help me run it.  She works

        for a small shop in the mall.

        Mostly kids’ haircuts, but she’s good.

                        CHERYL

          Amen to that.

Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 2

EXT. PATROL CAR – DAY

Chuck exits the patrol car and swaggers toward the diner entrance.  Wears shades, mustache, and an ego the size of Texas.

INT. DINER – DAY

Chuck enters diner and takes off his shades.  Folds them in his shirt pocket beneath the radio mic on his lapel.  He approaches the front counter to survey the room.  He nods at Darlene, his ex-girlfriend.

CARL’S POV:

Carl hides his face with his hand.

JON’S POV:

Jon sits up and takes note of the cop.

BACK TO SCENE:

                         DARLENE

                (to Chuck)

          I told you not to come here when

I’m working.

                         CHUCK

          And I’m suppose to know your schedule?

Darlene rubs the counter with a rag.

                         DARLENE

          What do you want?

                         CHUCK

          Two large coffees.  One black and

        one—

                         DARLENE

          Light cream, no sugar.

                         CHUCK

          You know me better than my partner.

                         DARLENE

          Your partner doesn’t know you at all.

Darlene frowns.  She grabs the coffee pot and fills two Styrofoam coffee cups.  She squeezes several packets of cream in her hand above one cup and lets the cream drip through her fingers.  She tears a handful of sugar packets in half and dumps the entire contents in the same cup.  She wipes her hands on her apron.

                         DARLENE

          Three eighty-seven.

Chuck hesitates.  Accustomed to coffee gratis.

                         DARLENE

          This ain’t a soup kitchen.

                         CHUCK

          Since when do I pay for coffee?

                         DARLENE

                 (whispers)

          Since you screwed my sister.

                         CHUCK

          Why are you still pissed about that?

Your sister came on to me.

Darlene’s impatience grows.

                         DARLENE

          I got customers waiting.

                         CHUCK

          She has a thing for men in uniform.

                         DARLENE

                (shouting)

          She’s nineteen.

The place goes quiet like time stood still.  Chuck sees that all eyes are on him.  He slaps four crumpled dollars on the counter.

                         CHUCK

          Keep the change.

A garbled voice comes over his radio.  He listens for his code name then strolls toward the MEN’S RESTROOM and enters.

INT. PATROL CAR – DAY

Dale taps his fingers on the dashboard.  Board, impatient.  He watches traffic through the windshield.

INT. DINER – DAY

SORORITY SISTERS’ POV:

Lindsay and Kelly read menus.  Hilda cups her hand on her mouth.

                         HILDA

                (gagging)

          Move…

Hilda pushes Lindsay off the bench seat and PITCHES FORWARD IN A VIOLENT HEAVE.  She’s ready to spew her guts but she holds it in.

HILDA’S POV:

Hilda charges for the restroom, bumping Cheryl and a serving tray with plates.

BACK TO SCENE:

The plates shatter on the floor as the diner’s front door

swings open and two figures in SKI masks (NATHAN and DIRK)

enter with guns.  Nathan holds an empty diaper bag.  He’s hesitant, indecisive.  Dirk appears calm, yet menacing with cold eyes behind his mask.  He wields a .357 Magnum with a six-inch, ventilated barrel.

                         DIRK

          Everybody on the floor!

Cheryl and Abby scream.  They drop to the floor face down.  Darlene and Simon keep their hands up.  EVERYONE, EXCEPT FOR CARL, leaves their seat and hits the floor.

Nathan points his .22 revolver at Darlene.

                         NATHAN

          Open the register!

Darlene opens the register as Nathan comes around the counter to grab the cash.

CLOSE UP: OPEN REGISTER

Nathan sees one twenty dollar bill and a handful of singles.  He lifts the drawer and finds an empty RED MONEY BAG with a locking zipper.

BACK TO SCENE:

                         NATHAN

          Where’s the rest?

                         DARLENE

          We do a bank deposit every shift.

Nathan hammers the air with his gun.  He’s furious.

                         NATHAN

          What the fuck?  Where’s the safe?

                         DARLENE

          We don’t have one.

                         NATHAN

          What do you mean you don’t

        have a fucking safe?

Nathan looks at Dirk.

                         NATHAN

          I thought you said they had

        a safe?

Mary enters the DINER unexpectedly.  UNARMED.  WEARS A SKI MASK.

                         NATHAN

                (startled)

          I told you to wait in the car!

                         MARY

                 (whining)

          I saw cops in the parking lot.

                         NATHAN

          Shit!

                         DIRK

                (to Nathan)

          Watch them.

Dirk heads for the back exit when THE MEN’S RESTROOM DOOR OPENS.

CHUCK’S POV:

Chuck sees the robbery in progress.  His eyes focus on the guns and he instinctively reaches for his weapon.  A SINGLE SHOT EXPLODES FROM DIRK’S REVOLVER, HITTING CHUCK IN THE NECK.

INT. PATROL CAR – DAY

Dale heard the shot go off.  For a split second he’s thinking car backfire.  Then he powers down his window and hears a woman screaming.  He keys his shoulder mic.

                          DALE

          Chuck?

Nothing but STATIC.  He tugs at the riot shotgun.  FUMBLES WITH THE IGNITION KEYS AND UNLOCKS THE SHOTGUN HOLDER.

Dale exits the car and PUMPS the shotgun.  He charges for the diner entrance.

INT. WOMEN’S RESTROOM – DAY

Hilda braces her hands on her knees.  A LOUD EXHAUST FAN DROWNS THE RESTAURANT NOISE as she launches another wave of vomit at the swirling toilet bowl.

EXT. DINER – DAY

Dale approaches the front of the diner.  He sees the blood spatter on the window.  He SEES TWO ARMED FIGURES standing above Chuck.  He backs away from the window and grabs his mic.

                         EUGENE

          Central, this is Adam-twelve,

        we have a two-eleven in progress at

        the Waffle House on Almond Road.

        Officer down.  Request immediate

        assistance and an ambulance

forthwith.

INT. DINER – DAY

Dirk points the smoking .357 at CHUCK, who crawls backwards, clutching his hand on his throat.  BLOOD GUSHES BETWEEN HIS FINGERS.  THERE’S BLOOD SPATTER ON THE WALLS AND CEILING.

Darlene grabs a rag to stop the bleeding.  She nearly slips on the bloody floor.

Mary stares at the carnage in disbelief.  Limp, catatonic.  Then reality kicks her in the face.

                         MARY

          Let’s go!

Nathan paces with his hands on his head.  He’s freaking out.

                         NATHAN

          You shot a cop!  You shot a

fucking cop!  Why did you do

that?  Shit!  This wasn’t

suppose to happen.

Darlene embraces Chuck on the SLIPPERY floor, trying to stem the tide of blood GUSHING from his neck.  Chuck turns pale.

                         DARLENE

          Somebody call an ambulance!

                         DIRK

          Let’s go!

Dirk pans his gun at the customers.  Harold shields Betty with his body.  Jon cowers in the corner.  Carl remains stoic.  Defiant.

Nathan takes Mary’s hand and steps toward the door.  He opens it and SEES DALE WITH THE SHOTGUN.

                         NATHAN

          Get back!

Dirk checks the door and sees police cars arrive outside.

                         DIRK

          Fuck!

Dirk closes all the blinds expect for one where he can see the front parking lot.  Police sirens wail.

                         NATHAN

          Now what?

                         MARY

          What about Rose?

                         NATHAN

          What about her?

                         MARY

          We can’t stay here.

                         NATHAN

          Shut up!

                         DIRK

          Out the back.

Dirk runs toward the back of the diner and puts his eye to the rear exit peep hole.

                         DIRK

          They blocked us in.

EXT. DINER – DAY

Police cars converge outside the diner.  Officers jump out.  Pistols and shotguns point toward the diner.

INT. DINER – DAY

Dirk approaches the window blinds and peeks outside.

                         DIRK

          The cops are all over this place.

                         MARY

          What are we gunna do?

Dirk steps away from the window.  He pans his gun at the diner patrons.

                         DIRK

          Everyone against the wall.

Harold and Betty reluctantly move away from their table. Carl moves one seat back.  Jon takes his duffel bag and starts moving when DIRK GRABS THE BAG AND UNBUCKLES THE TOP LATCH.  Dirk dumps the contents on the floor.  Mostly dirty laundry, a magazine, a football, and a small journal notebook.

Abby, Cheryl, Lindsay, and Kelly all huddle with the other patrons.  Jon reaches for the JOURNAL NOTEBOOK on the floor.

                         DIRK

                (to Jon)

          I said, against the wall.

DARLENE’S POV:

Darlene in tears, still trying to save Chuck’s life.

                         DARLENE

          He’s lost a lot of blood.

        If he doesn’t get to a hospital

he’ll die.

BACK TO SCENE:

                         DIRK

          Shut up.

                         NATHAN

                 (to Dirk)

          She’s right.  If we don’t

let him go, we’ll have bigger

problems.

Dirk ponders the situation.  He stands over Chuck’s body and SLAMS TWO ROUNDS in his chest (three left in the cylinder).  DARLENE SCREAMS.

                         DIRK

          Problem solved.

Nathan shoves Dirk sideways and THEY TURN AWAY FROM DARLENE.  DARLENE PULLS THE MACE CANISTER FROM CHUCK’S BELT AND HIDES IT IN HER APRON.

                         NATHAN

          You killed a cop!  You just killed

        a fucking cop.

A MEGAPHONE BLASTS FROM OUTSIDE THE DINER.

                         SHERIFF (VO)

          This is Sheriff Thorton.

        We have you surrounded.

        Throw out your weapons and

surrender yourselves immediately.

Simon turns his head.  He recognizes his brother’s voice.

                         MARY

          They’ll kill us.

                         NATHAN

          No they won’t.

                         DIRK

          Not with all these people in here.

EXT. DINER – DAY

Sheriff EUGENE THORTON (thick chest, tall stature), lowers his megaphone and turns to Dale.  Dale crouches behind a car door with his pistol pointed at the diner.

                        SHERIFF

          How many people inside?

                        DALE

          I don’t know.  A dozen, maybe more.

                        SHERIFF

          Could you see anything?

                        DALE

          Three people in masks.  Two with

handguns.

                        SHERIFF

          Was my brother in there?

                        DALE

          Couldn’t tell.  There was blood

        all over the window.

Sheriff Thorton turns away from Dale to acknowledge another officer approaching him.

                         SHERIFF

                 (to other officer)

          I want a SWAT team assembled.

        And run the plates on every

        car in this lot.  I wanna

        know who we’re dealing with.

The officer nods and backs away.

INT. DINER – DAY

Nathan paces back and forth until Dirk grabs him by the bicep.

                         DIRK

          Check the back exit again.

        Make sure it’s locked.

HILDA’S POV:

Hilda peeks through the bathroom door.  She sees a masked figure coming toward her and jerks her head away.

BACK TO SCENE:

Nathan stops outside the women’s restroom.  HE HEARS THE EXHAUST FAN BLOWING AND NUDGES THE DOOR OPEN.  HE SEES NO ONE AND PULLS THE DOOR CLOSED.

HILDA’S POV:

Hilda stands bolt upright behind the door.  She holds her breath.  Close call.

SIMON AND DARLENE POV:

Simon and Darlene watch Nathan and Dirk drag Chuck’s body to the back room, leaving a BLOOD SMEAR along the floor.

KELLY AND LINDSAY POV:

Lindsay reaches in her pocket and pulls her cell phone out slowly.  Kelly sees her and taps her hand.  Lindsay slides the phone back as Dirk and Nathan approach.

Dirk points to Darlene.

                         DIRK

          Get a mop and clean this shit up.

There’s blood all over the floor.

Darlene washes her hands in the sink.  Her seething stare burns at Dirk and Nathan.

CHERYL AND ABBY POV:

The waitresses stand together.  Abby faces the robbers with Cheryl beside her.  Abby fidgets, scratches her arms.  She craves a cigarette.

                         CHERYL

                (whispering)

          I recognize one of them.

                         ABBY

          How?

                         CHERYL

          His voice.  I think he’s a

student in my algebra class.

                         ABBY

          You better hope he doesn’t

        recognize you.

JON AND CARL’S POV:

Jon keeps his head down.  Hands in pockets.  Carl remains alert, attentive to events unfolding.

                         CARL

                (whispering)

          What’s your name?

                         JON

          Jon Reese.

Carl extends a hearty handshake.  Jon pulls his hand out of his pocket.

                         CARL

          Carl Davenport.

                 (beat)

          You’re the kid by the bus stop.

                         JON

          I should have got on.

                         CARL

          I should have kept driving.

Long beat.  Jon balls his napkin.

                         JON

          You think they’ll kill us?

                         CARL

          No.

                         JON

          How do you know that?

                         CARL

          Because we’re worth more

        to them alive, than dead.

HAROLD AND BETTY POV:

Harold and Betty sit at a booth.  Harold looks furious like he wants to punch someone.  They whisper.

                         HAROLD

          I wish I had a gun.

                         BETTY

          No you don’t.

                         HAROLD

          I could take those fuckers out

        before they knew what hit them.

                         BETTY

          And get yourself killed.

                         HAROLD

          We can’t sit here and do nothing.

        They shot a cop.  They won’t hesitate

        to shoot us.

                         BETTY

          Just do what they want.

                         HAROLD

          We should have stayed at the hotel.

                         BETTY

          So this is my fault now?

                          HAROLD

          I never asked you to tag along.

        This whole trip you’ve been

        acting weird.  Like your time

        of the month is coming.

                          BETTY

        That time has come and gone.

I’m irritated because you never

invite me on these trips unless

I beat you over the head about it.

                          HAROLD

          What’s that suppose to mean?

                          BETTY

          You’re upset because you

can’t play the field when

I’m around.

      (beat)

I know about the other women.

                          HAROLD

          What women?

                         BETTY

          Don’t play dumb, Harold.  I’ve been

        married long enough to know

the difference between a husband

in love and a husband

        pretending to be in love.

          If you’re not getting sex

        from me, you’re getting it

        from somewhere else.

Screenplay: Armed and Dangerous, Part 1

FADE IN:

EXT. TRAILER PARK – DAWN

An early model Toyota Corolla idles outside a trailer home with the driver barely visible behind the tinted glass.

INT. TRAILER HOME – DAWN

A littered space with dirty laundry and dirty dishes.  Raman Noodle wrappers overflow from trash can.  A baby girl sleeps in a cardboard box.

NATHAN SMALLS, twenty-something college student in jeans and T-shirt hovers over a small table with an open algebra book, a spiral notebook, and a cheap looking .22-caliber revolver (Saturday night special).  A toilet flushes.  MARY PATTERSON, twenty-something girlfriend, enters from the bathroom in jeans and checks her sleeping baby.  Nathan looks up from his homework.

                         NATHAN

          You ready?

                         MARY

          I can’t leave her.

                         NATHAN

          We’ve been over this a hundred

times.  I can’t pull it off

without you.

                         MARY

          I’m not leaving our baby.

        Not now.  Not ever.

                         NATHAN

          Well she’s not coming with us.

Long beat.  Nathan puts his hand on Mary’s shoulder.

                         NATHAN

          We’ll be back before she’s up.

                         MARY

          What if she wakes up crying?

          What if she stops breathing?

          What if someone steals her?

                         NATHAN

          Look, we need this.

Nathan glances at the box.  Sees baby outline.

                         NATHAN

        For her.

                (beat)

You got a better idea, let’s hear it.

Mary struggles in her head.

                         MARY

          Fine.  But if anything happens

to us…

                         NATHAN

          It won’t.

                         MARY

Promise me.

                         NATHAN

I promise.

               (beat)

Get your shit together.  Mrs. Abbott

said she’ll be here.

                         MARY

          When?

Nathan checks his watch.

                         NATHAN

          Soon.

Mary wraps her hair in a bun.

Nathan takes the .22 off the table and checks the cylinder. It’s loaded.  He stuffs the gun in his pants and covers it with his shirt tail.

                         NATHAN

          Let’s go.

EXT. TRUCK STOP PARKING LOT – DAWN

The sun rises over a vacant gas station and a Waffle House diner across the street.  JON REECE, an Army Private with a buzz cut and a green duffel bag stands in line to board a Greyhound bus. He’s nervous, fidgety, distracted while the last few passengers board.

FROM ROAD POV:

The bus pulls away, LEAVING JON IN THE PARKING LOT ALONE.

JON’S POV:

Jon’s thousand yard stare focuses on the diner across the street.  He blocks the sunlight with his hand and starts walking toward the diner.

A LOUD HONK from a tractor trailer prompts him to jump back as the eighteen-wheeler veers off toward the diner parking lot.

EXT. DINER PARKING LOT – DAWN

Jon approaches the diner entrance.  He sees CARL DAVENPORT step out of the Mack truck wearing boots, a jean jacket, and a wallet chain hanging from his back pocket.  A road warrior, tough-as-nails man with a scruffy beard and weathered face.

Jon and Carl cross paths but say nothing.  Jon notices the early model Toyota Corolla with tinted windows FACING AWAY FROM THE DINER AT THE OPPOSITE END OF THE PARKING LOT. Jon can BARELY see the driver’s silhouette through the tinted glass.

INT. DINER – DAWN

Jon and Carl sit at separate booths. DARLENE MADISON, a thirty-something manager with nice features, scrubs dishes in the sink behind the counter.

                         DARLENE

          Morning.

Carl takes a menu from another table.  A customer leaves change on the counter and exits.

The fifty-something short order cook, SIMON THORTON, scrapes the grill.  He wears a pony tail with a white apron around his jeans.  Turquoise rings and bracelet.

                         SIMON

          Grits are empty.

                         DARLENE

          I thought you ordered more.

                         SIMON

          I don’t get paid to inventory.

        I get paid to cook.

JON’S POV:

Stares through a window at the parking lot.  A Volvo station wagon with a man and woman inside parks near the restaurant.

EXT. DINER – DAY

Middle age couple, HAROLD MEEKS(pharmaceutical sales rep) AND BETTY MEEKS(homemaker), exit the Volvo wagon.  They bicker as more cars arrive in the diner parking lot.

                         HAROLD

          The hotel has free breakfast.

                         BETTY

          I can’t face another bagel

with cream cheese.

                         HAROLD

You could have had something else.

                         BETTY

          I could have stayed at a better

place.  One with room service.

                         HAROLD

          You wanted to tag along.  Maybe

next time you’ll think twice.

                         BETTY

          There won’t be a next time.

                         HAROLD

          What’s that suppose to mean?

                         BETTY

          Forget it.

Harold and Betty enter the diner.  A two door Mazda COUPE parks beside the Toyota Corolla.

MAZDA POV:

Lambda Theta Alpha sorority sisters KELLY, HILDA, and LINDSAY exit the Mazda.  They stretch and squint.

KELLY (cute, bubbly, cheerleader type).

HILDA (shortest and thinnest of the three, woozy, about to puke on her shoes).

LINDSAY (prudent, responsible, designated driver more or less).

Hilda staggers, bumps her car door against the Corolla.  She cringes.  Can’t discern the Corolla’s occupants behind the tinted windows.  She holds her hand to her mouth about to puke.  SHE SEES HER CELL PHONE ON THE BACK SEAT.

Lindsay locks the car with the keyless remote.

                         HILDA

          I left my phone.

                         KELLY

          You won’t need it.

GIRLS’ POV:

A FORD STATION WAGON pulls in front OF THE DINER as a SHERIFF’S CAR parks at the OPPOSITE END OUT OF SIGHT FROM THE COROLLA.  Kelly, Hilda, and Lindsay enter diner.

FORD STATION WAGON POV:

Waitress, Abby Smith, gets out and SLAMS THE DOOR.  She holds her apron and blows smoke.  Flicks her cigarette butt.  Her nametag hangs crooked on her uniform.  The station wagon drives away.

INT. DINER – DAY

Darlene hustles behind the counter with a tray of drinks.  Bacon SIZZLES on the grill.  Simon searches the fridge for supplies.  Abby enters.

                         DARLENE

                 (to Abby)

          You’re late.

Abby ties her apron.  She’s angry.  Pissed at being there.

                         ABBY

          It’s my day off.

                         DARLENE

No one would cover the shift.

               ABBY

And that’s my fault?

                         DARLENE

Table five hasn’t ordered.

Twelve still needs coffee.

                         ABBY

          Where’s Paula?

Darlene carries orange juice glasses to Harold and Betty’s table.

                         DARLENE

          She quit.

Abby takes her notepad from her apron pocket.  She grabs the coffee pot.  The place is buzzing.

                         ABBY

          Since when?

                         DARLENE

          This morning.

                         ABBY

          Where’s Cheryl?

CHERYL WILKINS, a black waitress and community college student emerges from the back room counting money.

                         CHERYL

          I need change.

                         DARLENE

          Take it from the register.

                         SIMON

                 (to Darlene)

          Order up.

HAROLD AND BETTY POV:

Harold waves his coffee mug.

                         HAROLD

                 (impatient, to wait staff)

          I need a refill.

                         BETTY

                 (to Harold)

          You can’t find good help anymore.

                         HAROLD

I told you we should have stayed

at the hotel.

                         BETTY

          Quit bitching.  You sound like

        your mother.

DARLENE’S POV:

Darlene delivers a plate of over-easy eggs and toast to Carl’s table.

                         DARLENE

          More coffee?

Carl looks at his food.

                         CARL

                 (gruff)

          I asked for scrambled.

Darlene forces a smile.  She takes the plate.  Going to be a long shift.

JON’S POV:

Jon watches the parking lot intently.  He’s startled when Cheryl brings his waffle with bacon.

                         CHERYL

          Can I get you anything else?

Jon shakes his head.  Cheryl leaves the check.

SIMON’S POV:

He’s flustered.  Tickets crowd the counter.  He knocks a serving spoon off the counter and picks it up.  Tosses it in the sink with piled dishes.  He grabs a hot pan handle and burns his hand.

                         SIMON

          Shit.

He stares at an order ticket and taps Darlene’s arm when she tries to walk by.

                         SIMON

          What is this?

Darlene reads the ticket.

                         DARLENE

          Wheat toast, no butter.

                         SIMON

          Spell it out next time.

        I can’t read your scribble.

INT. SHERIFF PATROL CAR – DAY

Deputies CHUCK AVERY and DALE WILSON unbuckle their seatbelts.  Chuck stuffs a clipboard beside the riot shotgun mounted between the seats.

                         CHUCK

          You want something?

                         DALE

          Black coffee.

Dale reaches for his wallet.

                         CHUCK

          I got it.

Taylor’s Gauntlet: Chapter 1

A padded elbow smashed the frozen window pane above the deadbolt in the basement entrance. Inside the three-level, brick-front townhouse, a flashlight beam panned the walls before casting a hollow circle on the door at the top of the stairs.


With satin sheets above his waist, Zach Taylor reached for the universal remote and yawned. He clicked the OFF button and replaced the wand on his nightstand. He could still hear the shower running in the bathroom. “Honey?” he shouted above the noise. “What time are you getting up?”
The shower stopped. A minute later, Jenny Taylor emerged from the steamy bathroom with a towel around her slender figure. Damp blonde hair clung to her shoulders. “Five at the latest.”
She walked across the plush pile carpet to her antique armoire and rubbed scented cream on her hands. The top drawer held an ensemble of colored bras and panties from Victoria’s Secret. She chose the red and white striped pair with pink pajama bottoms. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking the steam must have clouded your judgment,” said Zach.
Jenny took her toothbrush from the crystal jar atop the marble vanity and rubbed a clear spot on the mirror. “I have a workshop tomorrow and a ton of grading to catch up on.” She squeezed a dollop of mint-flavored Crest on the bristles. With thirty-three students in her class, the extra workload took a toll on her physical and emotional stability. More students meant more papers to grade, more report cards to evaluate, and more parents to contend with after school. Impromptu conferences were the norm, as well as parents who had no interest in volunteering for classroom projects.
She rinsed her mouth and spat. “You can set it to five-thirty but not a minute later. I need time to get ready.”
Zach stared at his trophy wife in the bedroom mirror and admired the way her breasts poked out from the front of her robe.
Jenny rinsed her toothbrush. She wiped her mouth on a towel and tore a length of floss from the plastic dispenser. She worked the upper teeth first, starting with the back molars before flossing around the front. Talking with her fingers in her mouth, she asked, “Did you turn on the mattress pad? I’m freezing.”
“It’s on.”
“What was that?” Jenny asked from the bathroom, swabbing her ear with a Q-Tip.
“What was what?”
Jenny flicked off the bathroom light and joined Zach beneath the sheets. “Never mind. I thought I heard something.” She kissed her husband of five years and rolled on her side with her back toward him. When she felt his hand rub her ass, she said, “My feet are cold.”
Zach persisted. “This isn’t.”
“I’m too tired.”
Zach moved his hand to her thigh, prompting Jenny to roll over and kiss him. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Everything…”

Jenny planted a wet kiss on his lips. “I love you, but I need my sleep.”
Zach withdrew his advance and kissed her shoulder. With sex off the menu, he started thinking about the market. The damn market; the one thing in life he’d mastered; the only thing he knew well enough to manipulate and achieve the financial success his parents never could; success that brought him the good life with a house Jenny dreamed of and a pair of luxury cars in the driveway. Real jewelry, high-end clothes, and expensive dinners had become the norm—until a prolonged financial downturn threatened everything he’d worked to achieve and landed him in a slump.
Jenny rubbed her feet together. “Did your bonus check come in yet?”
“Not yet.”
“We need it to cover the mortgage this month.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“That’s what you said last month when I had to pull from savings to cover us.”
“How short are we?”
“Almost two thousand.”
“Pesos?”
Jenny sat up against the headboard and rubbed her eyes. “I’m serious, Zach.”
“Me too. Don’t worry so much. It will give you wrinkles.”
“I don’t have wrinkles!”
“Shhhh….” Zach pulled the sheets away and rolled out of bed. “I think there’s someone in the house.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m serious.”
Jenny held her breath and listened closely. “Where?”
“Downstairs.”
Zach made his way to the walk-in closet and flicked the light switch. Women’s clothes filled the closet top to bottom, except for a few feet of rack space where he hung his suits and ties. He pawed through a box in the corner behind the laundry hamper and found his old Louisville Slugger. Nicked and dinged from his glory days of college ball, the wooden bat felt solid in his hands.
“What are you doing?” Jenny whispered from the bed.
“Shhhh.”

Zach tiptoed in the dark, his footsteps masked by the thick, pile carpet. Peering around the corner at the top of the stairs, he waited and listened beneath a chandelier suspended from the vaulted ceiling. Moonlight reflected off the crystal fixtures. He could hear the sound of muffled conversation and tightened his grip on the bat, holding the wooden club like a caveman.
He descended the stairs one step at a time, hanging close to the guardrail for balance. He froze when he saw a shadow from the kitchen on the second floor. His heart pounded in his throat.
Another step brought him closer to the second floor landing where a dried pine needle pricked his foot. He cringed from the pain, drawing a sharp breath as a flashlight beam traced the wall in front of him.
He crouched to avoid being seen.
When the light disappeared, he glanced around the corner to the living room and made his way toward the edge of the basement entrance. From the top of the stairs, he saw a tall man in a ski mask carrying a laptop under one arm with his shirt hanging out of his pants.
Zach crept forward, shifting his weight to his foot on the lower step when he saw a second man in a ski mask holding a black canvas bag and a gun.
Do something, Zach thought. But all he could focus on was the gun. Part of him wanted to go back and wait with Jenny for the cops. Part of him wanted to defend his wife and property.
He swallowed dryly, clenching the baseball bat.
Prepared to confront the intruders, he changed his mind at the last second, slipping his sore foot on the step and banging his knee in the process. He stumbled and knocked the bat against the wall before he lost his balance and tumbled down the basement stairs. Dizzy and disoriented at the bottom step, he looked up and watched the world as he knew it go black.

A Dangerous Affair: Chapter 78

Lloyd rocked a pencil back and forth between his fingers while his pro bono attorney flapped his gums behind the courtroom table. Lloyd could see the lips moving, but the words dissipated in the noise from the wheels of justice spinning hard and fast in the wrong direction. By all accounts, a mediocre lawyer in a thousand-dollar suit still amounted to a mediocre lawyer—a gold-plated tool with a highbrow degree who took the case to flaunt his name in the media circus surrounding the murder of a well-respected sheriff.

At the end of the day, Mr. Francis Tabor Esquire would go home to a cold beer, a hot shower, and a soft pillow. His stuffy, uneventful life would continue despite his client’s ordeal. Win or lose, Mr. Tabor would keep his freedom, his waterfront home with a private slip, and the lease on his new Mercedes.

“Mr. Sullivan?”

Lloyd broke the pencil across his middle finger when Jamie entered the courtroom and claimed a front row seat. He watched her open a pack of tissues from her purse and mouth the words “I love you. He smiled warmly at her, his thoughts projected at the woman who risked her life to love him, if only for a short time. But to see her and not touch her ripped his heart in half. The thought of life without her was unbearable.

Mr. Tabor folded a sheet of paper over the top of his legal pad. “Mr. Sullivan?” he prodded Lloyd a second time.

“I’m with you,” said Lloyd, staring at Jamie from across the courtroom.

“The judge will ask you if you understand the terms of the plea agreement. He will then ask you if you accept the terms outlined in the agreement. You respond in the affirmative. If the judge asks you—”

“What if I don’t accept the terms?”

“We’ve covered this ground already, Mr. Sullivan. Given the circumstances, it’s a fair deal.”

Lloyd broke away from Jamie’s gaze. “For whom? I’m the one facing hard time in federal prison. How fair does that sound to you?”

“It’s a reasonable offer.”

“Define ‘reasonable.'”

“Mr. Sullivan—”

“Have you ever spent time in prison?”

“No, I have not,” Mr. Tabor acknowledged in a patronizing tone.

“Then none of this plea bargain jargon means shit to you, does it?”

“Mr. Sullivan, I’ve been a criminal defense attorney for thirty years. In my experience, deals like this don’t present themselves very often.”

Lloyd dropped his shackled hands on the table. “In your experience… In my experience, the second you leave the county bus, life in the joint starts to eat at you. Slowly, at first, like a tumor in your brain. It doesn’t kill you right away. It only cripples you. No more freedom. No more family. No more privacy. You’re stripped of everything except the emptiness and the grief you carry with you. Your world revolves inside a cell no bigger than your bathroom. You eat, shit, and shower with the wolves. You turn a blind eye to the sheep too weak to defend themselves because you learn you can’t help everybody, and the more you try, the faster you dig your own grave. Your friends are also your enemies. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend, as long as you provide them with something they want. Every day you wonder if your next meal or your next shower or your next breath of fresh air in the yard will be your last. There are no time outs, no referees, no teammates to cheer you on when you’re up—or scrape you off the floor when you take a beat-down. There’s no compassion, no loyalty, no goodwill toward men. The prison experience conditions you to a life without meaning, without purpose, and most certainly without hope.”

Mr. Tabor adjusted his tie. “I empathize with your plight, Mr. Sullivan, but the evidence is overwhelming. You’re fortunate the interim state attorney is willing to deal at all. His predecessor would have nailed you to the cross.”

“And what if I take the deal?”

“You plead guilty to the lesser charges in exchange for a sentence of twenty years, concurrent with your time served.”

“But I’m not guilty.”

Mr. Tabor pulled a file from his briefcase. “Attempted murder, kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest, parole violations… Should I go on? The judge could sentence you to life without parole. You’ll leave prison in a box. Is that what you want?”

“What happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty?'”

“This is real life, Mr. Sullivan—not Court TV. If we take this to trial, the state will hammer you. Not to mention, you would still face extradition to California and face additional charges for felony kidnapping, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. You could spend three to five years in a California jail before your case ever went to trial.”

Lloyd reflected on his attorney’s advice. “Then we agree to disagree.”

“You killed a Lakewood, Florida sheriff.”

Allegedly. Since when is self-defense against the law?”

“There’s no evidence to corroborate your version of events.”

“You have my word.”

“This is a court of law, Mr. Sullivan. Your word means nothing.”

Lloyd turned his attention back to Jamie. He could smell her perfume from across the room. He could picture his arms around her, holding her tightly and kissing her softly on her tender lips. “What about Jamie’s testimony?”

“Mrs. Blanchart? She’s still facing aiding and abetting charges.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“Perhaps. But either way, the prosecution would destroy her credibility.”

“Does it bother you to ignore the truth?” asked Lloyd.

“The truth is whatever the state wants it to be. You are a convicted felon who engaged in a sexual liaison with a married woman. A sheriff’s wife no less. You kidnapped her, allegedly, across state lines under willful flight from prosecution in Florida. You then conspired to kill her husband.”

“Whose side are you on?”

“Yours, Mr. Sullivan. And as your attorney, I’m advising you to take the plea. Do the time and get on with your life. You’ve been in the system before and survived. You can do it again.”

Lloyd felt the words roll away like oil in a Teflon pan. “Have you ever been so in love with a woman that you would do anything—give anything—to be with her?”

Mr. Tabor touched the gold wedding band around his ring finger. “I’m a married man.”

“I didn’t ask if you were married,” Lloyd corrected him. He watched the bailiff emerge from the judge’s chambers. “Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to. Isn’t that what they teach you in law school?”

“I’m your lawyer, not your priest, Mr. Sullivan. If you decline this plea agreement and go to trial, you will lose. And you will likely spend the rest of your life in prison. Is that what you want out of this?”

The bailiff escorted the judge to his bench. “All rise. This court is now in session. The Honorable Jared Dugan presiding.”

Lloyd pushed his chair back and stood up with his shackled hands in front of him.

“You may be seated,” the bailiff instructed the courtroom.

The judge reviewed the docket. His grey eyebrows grew together at the bridge of his nose, forming a single unibrow that moved like a centipede when he squinted at the pages of legal paperwork. A veteran of the Florida Circuit Court, he had granted hundreds of plea agreements during his tenure—but none as disparaging as the written request in front of him. “I have a busy schedule, Mr. Tabor. If you’re ready to proceed…”

“I am, Your Honor.”

The judge scrutinized Lloyd’s criminal record. “Mr. Sullivan, I’m flabbergasted at how you managed to pull this out. It appears you struck quite a deal for yourself. In all my years on this bench, I can’t recall a more propitious agreement. You’ve broken more laws than I care to recite. And while you’re not the most abhorrent repeat offender I’ve ever sentenced, what you lack in integrity, you make up for with a willful disregard for authority, basic morals, and the value of human life. I’m inclined to quash this plea and ask the state to try again.”

“Your Honor—” Mr. Tabor interjected.

“Save it, Counselor. I’m not in the mood.”

The judge signed the paperwork left-handed. “Mr. Sullivan, have you read the plea agreement presented to you?”

Lloyd cleared his throat. “Yes.”

“Do you understand the terms of this agreement?”

“I do.”

“And do you accept the terms of this plea agreement?”

Lloyd drew a deep breath. Nothing he could do would change the outcome. He could go for the bailiff’s gun and try to blast his way out, maybe snag a hostage and buy some time. But in the end, the outcome would be the same.

“Mr. Sullivan?” the judge asked impatiently. “Are you prepared to accept the terms of this plea agreement?”

Mr. Tabor cleared his throat. “Your Honor, I request a moment with my client.”

“Make it quick, Counselor.”

Mr. Tabor lowered his head and whispered in Lloyd’s ear. “What are you doing?”

“Your Honor,” the prosecutor interjected in a deep voice that rivaled his tiny stature, “will the defendant please answer the question?”

The judge leaned forward in his chair. “Mr. Tabor! Is your client ready to proceed?”

“One moment, Your Honor.”

“That moment has come and gone, Counselor.”

“My client would like to—”

“I changed my mind,” Lloyd told the judge. “I plead not guilty.”

“So noted,” the judge replied. “Do you understand that by declining this plea you could face additional charges excluded from this agreement? And that if found guilty by a jury of your peers, you could be sentenced under legal guidelines to life in prison without parole?”

“He’s innocent!” Jamie shouted from the back of the courtroom.

The judge slammed his gavel. “Ma’am, this court does not tolerate outbursts of any kind. Please restrain yourself, or I will have you removed.”

Jamie stood up and shouted, “You’re all a bunch of fucking criminals!”

“Bailiff!” the judge instructed.

The bailiff took Jamie by the arm as a man in uniform entered the courtroom.

“Your Honor?” The man addressed the judge from the back row.

“Sir, this court is in session.”

“My apologies, Your Honor, but I must request a moment of your time.”

“State your name,” the judge ordered the stranger as all eyes turned upon him.

“Sergeant Ronald Varden.”

“Are you an attorney, Mr. Varden?”

“No, Your Honor. I work for the Florida Department of Corrections. I am Mr. Sullivan’s parole officer.” He raised a folded letter. “Your Honor, I have an affidavit signed this morning by the interim state attorney exonerating Mr. Sullivan of all charges and ordering his release.”

“Mr. Varden, you have no standing in this matter.”

“With all due respect, Your Honor, I ask that Mr. Sullivan be released on his own recognizance and ordered to fulfill the terms of his original parole under my supervision.”

“Sit down, Mr. Varden. I can’t allow you to address this court.”

“Your Honor, if I may approach the bench.”

“This is ridiculous,” the prosecution objected. “Your Honor—”

The judge sat forward on the edge of his chair. “Your objection is noted, Counselor.” He frowned at the courtroom crasher. “This is not a White House dinner party, Mr. Varden. I suggest you tread very lightly, or the next words out of your mouth will land you in contempt.”

Varden handed the folded letter to the judge.

“Why was this not brought to my attention earlier?”

“I apologize for the miscommunication.”

The judge reviewed the letter and the signature at the bottom of the page. He cupped his hand on the microphone for a moment of privacy and signaled for the bailiff to return to his post. “These are serious accusations, Mr. Varden. There’s no evidence to suggest anyone murdered the former state attorney or that he had any nefarious connections with the Florida State Police or the late Sheriff Blanchart.”

“On the contrary, Your Honor, the interim state attorney was also presented with eyewitness testimony to substantiate Sheriff Blanchart’s involvement in this matter.”

“That doesn’t address my concerns about the content of this letter.”

“Yes Your Honor,” Varden acknowledged. “But with all due respect, your concerns fall outside the scope of this decree.”

I decide the scope of things, Mr. Varden. Whatever favors this cost you, I hope they were worth it.” He folded the paper and shook his head. “Step away from the bench.”

Varden looked back at Lloyd.

The judge uncovered the microphone and addressed the prosecutor’s table. “Was the prosecution made aware of this?”

“No, Your Honor. We were not.”

The judge squinted. His unibrow furrowed between his eyes. “Apparently your boss forgot to send a memo.”

“Your Honor,” Mr. Tabor started, “I would like to request—”

“Save it, Counselor. Mr. Sullivan, I don’t know what lucky star you were born under, but you better pray you never set foot in my courtroom again. I hereby order you remanded to the custody of Sergeant Varden. Per the guidelines of your original sentencing, you are ordered to complete the remainder of your parole. I also remind you that you are still subject to the Florida sentencing guidelines, and that any violation of said guidelines will result in the reinstatement of your full sentence, which you would be required to fulfill. Do you understand these terms as I’ve explained them to you, Mr. Sullivan?”

“Yes, Your Honor.”

“Well then, Mr. Sullivan, you are free to go. Bailiff, please uncuff this man.”

Lloyd raised his arms to the bailiff and felt the shackles drop away.

Jamie ran up and embraced her man with open arms. Tears fell like rain.

Varden waited for the marathon hug to finish and gave a nod to Leslie Dancroft seated in the back row. “Mr. Sullivan…”

Lloyd reached an arm around Jamie and shook Varden’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Jamie turned her head and forced a smile to extend her own gratitude.

Varden smiled inside but kept a stern face. “Do me a favor,” he said to Jamie. “Make sure he stays out of trouble this time.”

A Dangerous Affair: Chapters 75-76

Lloyd stood in his underwear and unzipped the suitcase on the motel bed. Steam gathered outside the shower while an evening news station aired an amber alert for a missing child.

He removed the top layer of clothes to reveal the crumpled bricks of worn currency and peeled two bills for pocket change. He knew the money would improve their situation, but like all things in life, it would run out eventually.

“Can you get me a towel?” Jamie called out from the bathroom. She held her arms across her naked breasts and shivered in the cold air. “And turn down the AC. It’s freezing in here.”

Lloyd grabbed a towel from the sink. He removed his fake beard to let his face breathe again and checked his stubble in the mirror. “It’s a hundred degrees outside.”

Jamie dried herself and wrapped the towel around her slender figure. “Not any more. The desert gets cold at night.”

Lloyd kissed her softly on the cheek. “Did that hurt?”

“Not so much,” said Jamie.

Lloyd gave her a gentle hug. “Did you save any hot water for me?”

Jamie touched his face. “Maybe you should take a cold shower instead.” She turned her head and spied the cash in the suitcase. “I’ve never seen so much money in my life.”

“Me neither,” said Lloyd.

“Your father left this inside an empty grave?”

“Something like that.”

Jamie found a brush in her purse and worked it through her short hair. “Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”

“You never met my father.”

“Why don’t we buy a cheap car,” Jamie offered, “and drive the rest of the way ourselves?”

“That might draw too much attention.”

Jamie stopped brushing. “What about this afternoon? Those cops could have been searching for us.”

“They weren’t.”

“This time,” said Jamie. “I just think we’d be safer on our own than traveling with a pack of strangers.”

“The cops could find us in a car just as easily.”

“What if someone on the bus recognizes us?”

“We’re not in the papers,” said Lloyd. He flipped through the cable channels. “We’re not on the news.” He tossed the remote on the bed. “Tomorrow’s a short ride. A few more days and we’ll be home free. The old Jamie and Lloyd are gone. Now we’re just a plain vanilla couple trying to get to where we’re going.”

“I like rocky road,” said Jamie. She blushed from the steady rhythm of bedposts tapping the adjoining wall.

“When the time’s right,” said Lloyd, “I’ll buy you a new car and a bungalow on the beach to go with it.”

Jamie nudged her towel down her chest. “I’m not with you for your money.”

Lloyd brushed the side of her breasts with his powerful hands. He kissed her gently on the mouth. “Does that hurt?”

“A tiny bit.”

Lloyd scooped the back of her thighs and lifted her onto the sink facing toward him. He wrapped her legs around his waist and brushed the tip of his tongue between her lips. “How ’bout now?”

“Not so much…”

Lloyd gingerly kissed her face and neck. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You’re not hurting me,” Jamie whispered.

Lloyd carried her to the bed and laid her gently on her back. He shoved the suitcase aside, spilling the contents on the floor—and then a knock at the door killed the mood.

“Someone’s here,” said Jamie.

Jamie pulled her jeans on and hid inside the bathroom. “What if it’s the police?”

“Just relax.”

“But what if—”

“Shhhhhhh.”

Lloyd checked the peephole and unfastened the privacy chain to greet the Austrian grandmother he recognized from the bus. “Can I help you?”

Undaunted by the bulge in Lloyd’s boxers, the grandmother asked, “Do you know what time the bus departs tomorrow morning?”

“Eight o’clock.”

The woman glanced inside the room. “I thought I heard the driver say nine,” she said in her thick accent. “Sometimes I get my signals crossed. It happens when you get to be my age.”

“The bus leaves at eight,” Lloyd repeated.

“Thank you.”

“Have a nice evening,” Lloyd said to the intrusive guest as he started to push the door closed.

“Tell me—where are you from?”

“Texas,” Lloyd answered despite his better judgment.

“What part?”

“Austin.”

“That’s a lovely area. My niece goes to college there. Her married name is Oswell. Maybe you know her husband?”

“It’s a big city…”

“Of course,” the woman replied curtly. “Sorry to trouble you so late. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Lloyd shut the door and secured the chain.

“Is she gone?” Jamie asked from the bathroom.

“She’s gone,” said Lloyd, his train of thought momentarily disrupted when he noticed his fake beard by the sink.

Chapter 76

The State Attorney for Florida’s Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court drove a black Lincoln Towncar through a landfill service entrance that traversed a three-story mountain of refuse. When he reached the summit, he parked beside a yellow bulldozer with its bucket in the raised position and got out.

“You’re late,” a state police captain announced from an unmarked police SUV a few yards away. He got out and walked around the bulldozer. His patent leather shoes sank into the spongy soil. A thirty-year member of the Florida Highway Patrol, he grew up ten miles from the county dump. He’d seen his share of changes over the years. None for the better. “Where’s our public defender?”

“He didn’t make it,” said the state attorney. He shivered in a tweed blazer with a folded handkerchief in his breast pocket and lit a cigarette. He blew smoke from the corner of his mouth. His skin felt clammy against the sweat-soaked shirt beneath the oversized garment he wore to conceal the small caliber revolver he’d procured from a crime scene locker.

“We can’t afford that kind of heat right now,” the captain warned his co-conspirator. “Not until Blanchart’s shit-storm blows over.”

The state attorney blew smoke through his nose to mask the smell of landfill waste. His fever climbed passed a hundred and two degrees. “George suffered an overdose. The paramedics attempted to revive him, but he was gone before they got there.”

The captain toyed with his wedding band. The landfill was quiet at night. And desolate. “Jesus Christ, Jim. You told me you had your man under control. The last thing we need is another body on our hands.”

The state attorney flicked his ash from the unfiltered Camel. His head swelled like a pressure cooker. “You wanna say my name a little louder, in case your mike didn’t catch it the first time.”

“You think I’m wired?”

“I don’t trust anyone.”

“That makes two of us,” said the captain. “I’ll let you frisk me if you take your coat off and show me what you’re hiding under there.”

The state attorney rubbed his hand along his runny nose. His nerves buckled like wet spaghetti. “We’re on the same team here. We all share equal stake in this operation. Trouble for one of us spells trouble for all.”

“Who else knows about George?”

“No one outside the circle.”

“You didn’t have to kill him.”

The state attorney shook out his handkerchief and sneezed in it. “George was an irritating pimple that wouldn’t pop. A liability we couldn’t carry anymore.” He stuffed the snotrag in his pocket and took another drag. “Our revenue loss aside, we can’t afford the media exposure. Too many people are asking questions. Miami’s getting nervous. They want assurances that we have the right men in place.”

“I have the right men on board,” the captain stated emphatically.

“Like the two that showed up on Blanchart’s doorstep?”

“That didn’t come through me. I didn’t find out about the investigation until it hit the fan. It won’t happen again.”

The state attorney scratched the bald spot on the back of his head. “We can’t afford another Leslie Dancroft fiasco.”

“It’s under control,” said the state police captain.

“And what about the two dead cops in Blanchart’s house?”

“The media took care of that. Both men died in the line of duty defending the sheriff from a home invasion robbery. Their families were notified. Funerals are scheduled for next week.”

The state attorney blew smoke. “What about the other bodies?”

The captain gestured toward the ground. “You’re standing on them. We found a fake ID on the body inside the car Blanchart sank. The serial number on the gun we recovered came back to a Marsha Hollan from New York.”

“What’s her connection to Blanchart?”

“I’m still digging.”

“What about the other woman?”

“Samantha Barnes. A thirty-three year old stripper from Manhattan. Since Marsha Hollan was from New York, I’m thinking there might be some connection.”

The state attorney crushed out his cigarette beneath his penny loafer. “You think?” He stepped to the edge of the garbage mountain and stared at the cell tower lights across the interstate. “How much does Blanchart’s wife know about our operation?”

“She’s the least of our problems,” said the captain. He looked back at the Lincoln. “Rumor has it she was banging some guy on the side and Blanchart caught her.”

“Sounds like Blanchart couldn’t satisfy his own constituents. What about our missing convict? Where the fuck is he and how much does he know?”

“He’s on the loose, but we’ll find him.”

“Do it fast,” said the state attorney. “He’s a threat, and he’s facing jail time. All we need is some liberal judge with a sympathetic ear to engage whatever bullshit story this guy decides to spin about Blanchart and this debacle he’s promulgated. Everything comes back to Blanchart. This whole fucking mess falls on Blanchart.”

“Better to deal with the devil we know than the devil we don’t,” said the captain.

“Not this time,” said the state attorney. “Blanchart’s made himself a liability. I want you to take him out, along with the missing wife and her convict boyfriend. And put a bow on it this time. We can’t afford to have this blow up in our face.”

“You say this like you’re ordering Chinese take-out. I’m not in the murder-for-hire business. We can’t kill everyone who comes in contact with Sheriff Blanchart.”

“It’s called damage control. I’ll work on finding Blanchart’s replacement. You make sure the deed gets done.”

The captain looked up at the full moon shining above the landfill. He spotted the big dipper and caught the flash from a shooting star. “Must be my lucky day,” he said as he reached for the back-up piece he brought to the party to ensure his silent partner stayed silent.

The state attorney slipped his hand inside his blazer. “You got here early.”

“I like to be on time,” said the captain.

“You could have picked a better place to meet.”

“I could have picked a better partner.”

“That makes two of us,” said Blanchart from behind the yellow bulldozer. He held both men at gunpoint with the silenced .22.

“Where the hell have you been?” the captain asked him.

“Right place, right time,” said Blanchart.

The state attorney backed away from the men with his hands in the air. “What are you doing?”

Blanchart shot the captain in the forehead twice, then he pointed the gun at his second target. “Taking out the trash.”

“I was lying about everything I said,” the state attorney back-pedaled. “I had to sell the story to get the captain here. I had to sound convincing.”

“And the part about my wife?”

The state attorney moved slowly toward the Lincoln. “Just two guys shooting the shit. You know that. We go back a long ways. I put you in office. We had a deal.”

Blanchart motioned with the gun. “I don’t make deals. Get away from the car.”

Urine trickled down the state attorney’s leg. “You can’t manage this alone. It’s… it’s too big. You need me.”

“Who else knows about this operation?”

“No one.”

Blanchart shot the state attorney in the hand. A through-and-through that left a small hole in the palm between the thumb and index finger. “I’m not convinced.”

The state attorney clutched his wrist. Blood drizzled down his jacket sleeve. “I swear I would tell you if I knew.”

Blanchart shot him in the thigh, clipping the femoral artery. “Does that jog your memory?”

The state attorney dropped to the ground and screamed, “You’re out of your fucking mind!”

“You’re running out of time, counselor.”

“Wait!” The state attorney gripped his leg. Blood gushed between his fingers. “If there are any leaks in the captain’s department, I’ll help you find them and put this mess behind us. Then we can get on with doing what we do best.”

“And what would that be?”

“Making money. Lots and lots of money. In a few years we’ll both retire with more money than God and walk away. Your wife’ll have the life she always dreamed of.”

Blanchart thought for a second, then said, “I am the life she always dreamed of.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? I’m bleeding to death over here!”

“That’s the first truth I’ve heard all night,” said Blanchart.

“You’re insane!”

Blanchart shot the state attorney in the head. Then he climbed inside the bulldozer cabin, wincing from a tender left arm, and started the motor. He lowered the bucket and shifted into forward gear. Tomorrow was a new day. And with it, another chance to reclaim what was lost.

A Dangerous Affair: Chapters 72-73

Jamie opened the first aid kit from the glove box of her husband’s police cruiser. “I thought I was dead…”

She stared at the trees flying by outside the shattered window. Wind turbulence whipped her hair about her face. Glass fragments littered the bullet-ridden seat. The acrid smell of hot ethylene glycol carried through the dashboard vents from a punctured radiator grill.

Lloyd checked his mirrors to spot the entourage of flashing lights from the law enforcement vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. “We have to get you to a hospital.”

Jamie dabbed hydrocortisone ointment on her face and neck. “That’s the first place he’ll look.”

“I never gave up on you,” Lloyd professed.

Jamie touched his arm. “How long before he finds us?”

“He won’t,” said Lloyd, convinced of his own veracity from the passing euphoria of finding Jamie alive and his steadfast determination to keep her that way. He detoured from the main road and drove to the Winn-Dixie strip mall near the interstate.

“Where are we going?”

“We need to ditch this ride.”

Jamie leaned across her seat and kissed his cheek. “Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t done what you did for me.”

“I’m just glad you’re alive,” said Lloyd, afraid to admit that Alan Blanchart remained among the living.

He parked several spaces away from Samantha’s tan Civic in the parking lot. As far as he knew, the car’s existence hadn’t been compromised. A gamble he had no choice but to take.

He observed his surroundings for several seconds to convince himself he wasn’t followed. “Let’s go…”

He found the key on a hardened wad of gum in the wheel well and popped the trunk where he hid the backpack full of cash.

Jamie climbed in the passenger seat. “I did everything like you said. He found out. He drugged me. I couldn’t get away. He would have killed me.” She squeezed Lloyd’s forearm. “Where’s Samantha?”

Lloyd drove out of the empty parking lot and checked his rear view mirror. “She didn’t make it.”

Jamie slumped in her seat. “Alan always gets what he wants in the end.”

“Not any more,” said Lloyd.

“I’ll never be safe from him, will I?”

Lloyd took the map from between the seats and traced the route outlined in red. “Try and get some rest. We still have a long way to go.”

Chapter 73

Lloyd put his hands on the storefront window of a Salvation Army shop outside Alfreda, Georgia, and peered at the racks of donated goods on display.

“Are you sure this is it?” Jamie asked him. She scratched at her neck and shoulder where her skin itched and burned from the red ant venom. She wanted to know exactly what happened to Alan, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask.

Lloyd pounded on the glass. “I see someone inside.”

“Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. We should just take the money and disappear.”

“Wait—” Lloyd persisted. “Someone’s coming.”

Jamie observed a slender woman with dark, curly hair and glasses advancing from the back of the store.

“We close at seven,” the woman spoke through the glass. She pointed to the posted business hours.

Lloyd showed her a note with the name “Sandy”spelled out in block letters.

“At seven,” the woman reiterated.

“Marsha Hollan gave this to me,” Lloyd insisted. “She told me Sandy could help us.”

The woman backed away from the window. “This is a donation exchange, not a homeless shelter.”

“Marsha Hollan is dead,” Lloyd informed her. “We need your help.”

The woman stared at Jamie and unlocked the door. “Who are you?”

“Jamie Blanchart.”

“Come inside. Alone.”

Jamie looked at Lloyd and grabbed his hand. “He’s with me,” she told the woman.

The woman held the door and checked the street. “Follow me,” she said quietly, escorting her unsolicited clients beyond the store displays toward the back of the deceptively large commercial space. She pressed the # sign on a keypad on the wall and typed a numeric code.

A door opened to reveal an office space with an older woman in a wheelchair behind a closed circuit monitor. Deep scar tissue covered one side of her badly burned face. “Who are they?” she asked her colleague.

“They’re here for Sandy,” the slender woman with curly hair explained. “Marsha’s dead.”

The woman in the wheelchair rolled back and forth in place, contemplating what action to take. “Close the door. And set the alarm before you leave.”

“Are you Sandy?” Lloyd asked the woman in the wheelchair.

“I run an underground women’s shelter, not a dating service. Marsha Hollan worked for me. If you’re responsible for her death, I’ll have the police here in under three minutes.”

“I didn’t hurt her,” Lloyd insisted. He set the backpack down. “Everything, just came unraveled…”

“He saved my life,” said Jamie.

The woman nodded. “I helped Marsha put your safety plan together. She was like a sister to me.”

Jamie broke down in tears. “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. Marsha had her heart in the right place but her head was on ass-backwards. She was reckless. She took too many chances. But she helped a lot of women.”

The woman pulled a key from the thin gold chain around her neck and unlocked a cabinet drawer from her wheelchair. She gave Jamie a sealed envelope. “These are your new identification papers. Forged birth certificate and social security card. I need your picture to complete the passport. These aren’t CIA quality, but few people can tell the difference.”

“What about Lloyd?” Jamie asked with her arm around his waist.

“Your boyfriend’s on his own,” the woman answered. “This is not a witness protection program. If you want my advice, I suggest you two split up. Whatever trouble he’s in will find its way back to you eventually.”

Jamie read Lloyd’s expression. “I can’t do this alone,” she said, the thought of leaving Lloyd again too unbearable to imagine.

Lloyd hugged her. “She’s right, Jamie.”

“No. She’s not. I’m alive because of you. We’re in this together or not at all.”

Lloyd unzipped the bag and handed the woman a ten grand brick of hundred dollar bills. “You heard the lady. I’m all in.”

The woman cleared her throat. “Domestic abuse usually stays in the home. Most angry husbands will quit looking for their spouses after the first month or so. Most of these losers don’t have the time or financial resources to conduct an ongoing search for someone who doesn’t want to be found. It’s easier for them to find a new victim than chase the one that got away.”

“My husband’s a sheriff,” said Jamie. “What if he comes after me?”

“Right now you’re out of his jurisdiction and out of his life. I suggest you remain that way. Cop or not, his reach can only extend so far. In my experience, domestic abuse allegations won’t bode well for his career. Don’t contact him again. Not even through an attorney. It’s imperative that you sever all ties with him, including any mutual acquaintances or close friends you share. Those people no longer exist to you. The life you left behind is gone. The farther away you get from your abuser, the better your outcome will be.”

“So what happens now?” asked Jamie.

“Where you go from here is entirely up to you,” the woman explained. “The less I know about your plans, the better. I recommend you change your appearance and use public transportation exclusively, at least for the first six months. It’s harder for someone to find you without a paper trail to follow. Don’t call anyone. Don’t write anyone. Stay away from the Internet. Buy a disposable phone and keep your business to yourself. If a stranger tries to strike up a conversation with you, keep it vague. And if by chance someone recognizes you, deny your true identity, no matter how insistent they are, and walk away. Keep a low profile. Don’t give people a reason to remember you.”

The woman wheeled herself to the safe and stuffed the cash inside. “I have a spare cot in the back and some medical supplies. We stock a small pantry if you’re hungry. You can stay here for a few days and recoup. You both look like you need it. I’ll take some photos and draft a new set of identification papers for your boyfriend. After that, you two are on your own.”