“The Barnacle” by Hilary Davidson appears here in its entirety, and is joined by 13 other short crime stories in Criminal Element's inaugural e-collection, The Malfeasance Occasional's Girl Trouble issue.
After enjoying this springtime treat, try “Follow Us on Facebok and Twitter” by Eric Cline and “Her Haunted House” by Brendan DuBois from this collection or learn more about the issue's contents and contributors.
Jess was washing bloodstains out of her husband’s shirt when the police came knocking at her door. She cleaned her hands at the pitted porcelain sink while they beat an aggressive tattoo. Not again, she thought, avoiding her own eyes in the scratched cabinet mirror. Twenty-seven and pregnant by a man who couldn’t hold down a straight job, that was the truth of her life.
“Bobby Torres?” called out one of the cops. Jess went to the door and unlocked it.
“Good afternoon, officers. Can I help you?” In her words she heard the echo of her grandmother’s voice, the lady-of-the-manor routine that was dusted off whenever the Belfast police came looking for Jess’s father.
“Jessamine Murphy? Detective Hayden. My partner, Detective Roop. Can we come in?” the taller one asked. His craggy face was stretched funhouse-long. The squat man beside him could have escaped from the same circus, with a square head atop a round torso. His rubbery lips twisted from a sneer to a leer as he noticed Jess’s cleavage. She pulled her silky robe closed.
“This isn’t a good time,” she said, her voice hinting at an Irish accent. Her roots always showed when she got nervous. “Bobby isn’t here.”
“When did you last see him?”
Jess paused before answering. It was never a good idea to give the police a straight answer; who knew how that might screw up an alibi later?
“Just a little while ago,” Jess said. “But why would you be asking that?”
“What does ‘a little while’ mean?” the cop prodded.
“Really, officer, I think it’s time you explained what you’re doing at my door.”
Roop chimed in. “Bobby Torres’s car was found early this morning under the Williamsburg Bridge and the FDR. Someone set it on fire.”
“Someone … what?” Jess was stunned and she didn’t try to hide it.
“It’s worse than that. There was a body inside.” Hayden paused for that to register. “Male. Shot in the head.”
Jess’s mouth fell open. Please, God, don’t let it be Bobby, she prayed. “Do you know who…?”
“He’s missing his face as well as his fingers and teeth, so we’re having trouble ID’ing him.” Hayden’s voice was taut.
Jess’s knees went wobbly at that. “What a terrible thing,” she said. With her accent, it came out Whut uh terrbel ting.
“You can see why we need to know when you last saw your boyfriend. If it was this morning, we can rule out the possibility that the body is his.”
“Husband,” Jess corrected him.
Hayden’s beady eyes blinked. “When did you last see him?”
I’m not sure,” she hedged. “Bobby came home last night, but he was gone before I woke this morning.”
“We’d like to come in, wait for your common-law husband,” Roop said, larding the last few words with sarcasm. “Given Bobby Torres’s history, I doubt that he was the man we found. More like the guy who’d chop off the fingers and…”
“That’s enough,” Hayden interrupted his partner, but the damage was done. Roop’s implication couldn’t be more clear. Bobby had once been arrested for murder, but the case had never made it to court.
“You’re welcome to wait in the hallway,” Jess answered. She shut the door and turned all three locks before running back to the bathroom and throwing up. Bobby Torres’s car was found early this morning.… But Bobby had been in the apartment early that morning. Jess had been sleeping heavily with the pregnancy, but she was certain he’d tiptoed around the place and locked the door behind him a little before six a.m. But what did early mean to the cops? She cursed herself for not asking. Six? Seven? An hour could make all the difference in the world.
Pulling herself together, Jess brushed her teeth and splashed water on her face. It’s not Bobby, she repeated to herself, and she decided that she was going to believe that. She picked up the shirt and noted that the border of the bloodstain was still visible. Damn it, blood was hard to get out. She went to the window that overlooked First Avenue. Four stories down was a parked police car with two uniformed cops standing on the pavement. They were talking with the taller detective. There was no doubt they believed Bobby had killed that man. The police believed he was alive, too. That was bad, yet reassuring at the same time to Jess.
Jess went back into the bathroom, untied her belt and hung the robe up on the back of the door. She was wearing a lacy black bra and panties and she pulled the shirt over her. It fit in the arms but billowed around her narrow waist. She was three months along and her body had yet to make visible accommodations for the baby, though her breasts were already swelling. At this point, she could land a stripper job at Scores, she thought. She wrapped the damp shirt around her shivering body. In the main room she sat on the unmade bed to pull on a pair of black tights before stepping into Bobby’s trousers. He was five-ten, a couple of inches taller than Jess, and from a fashion perspective it was horrible. But from a get-the-evidence-out-of-the-apartment perspective, it wasn’t bad at all. She sat down to put on her wedge-heeled black boots, then pulled a black wrap dress over the ensemble and tied it at the waist. The dress-over-trousers look was something she’d seen on a makeover show on television, and maybe it worked for stick figures. On Jess’s hourglass shape, it looked ridiculous. A bag of rags, her grandmother would have scolded. Still, under her winter coat, no one would be able to tell the difference.
The hardest thing to get rid of would be the gun. She was certain she’d find one. The handguns Bobby kept in cereal boxes and the hamper were gone, as was the sheaf of old photos he hoarded in his dresser drawer. That was a little odd, she thought, wondering what else was missing. When she opened up the toilet tank, she found a revolver taped under the cover. She pushed away an image of a charred, mutilated husk of a man in Bobby’s car as she got her dishwashing gloves from the kitchen sink and a clear plastic bag from the cupboard and went back to the gun. She freed it from the tape and slid it into the bag. The she grabbed her handbag, dumped it on the bed, and lifted its false bottom. This bag was her companion on shoplifting trips, but Jess hadn’t used it to smuggle anything out of the apartment before. In went the gun and the balled-up wad of grey tape. She didn’t think that the cops would be able to keep her from walking out of the apartment with the bag. Just try to take a woman’s purse away from her, coppers.
She called Bobby’s cell and got his voice mail. “Darling, the police are here at the apartment, they want to talk to you about a shooting, a man who was found in your car. I love you.”
She went through the apartment quickly, intending to collect her small cache of real jewelry, keys to safety deposit boxes, a modest roll of cash, and a collection of ready-to-be-issued counterfeit passports. That was all she had for a life, she thought, a few trinkets to be dropped into a bag; everything else had been left behind years ago. But those things were already gone. Bobby must’ve taken them when he’d gone out; it could only have been him. What was going on? A chill ran through her as she considered the possibility of a debt she hadn’t been told about, or a job that had gone sideways somehow. It wasn’t impossible that the body found in the car was.…
No. She couldn’t let herself think that, not for a second. She had to survive, and the only way to do that was to keep swimming forward, away from the cops and other predators who would try to bring her and Bobby down. From under the sink she grabbed several bottles of extra-strength drain cleanser. She poured one down the kitchen drain, then equal measures down the shower and the cracked sink.
As she pulled on her black wool coat, she had a thought. She got a blue shirt of Bobby’s out of the hamper and put it in a plastic shopping bag. Pleased with herself, she opened the door to the hallway and locked it behind her. She took the stairs down, because the rickety elevator rarely worked, and even when it did Jess was terrified of getting stuck in it. She went out the back way, and there was Detective Roop, waiting for her, the sneaky thick bastard.
“Going somewhere, Miss Murphy?” he sneered.
“What’s in the bag?”
“Just a shirt for the dry cleaner’s.”
“Let me see,” he said. Jess made a show of reluctance, and then handed it over. He looked inside and cocked his head. “Was this what your husband was wearing last night?”
“No,” said Jess. “It’s been in the laundry bin for ages.”
He looked at her, and she knew he’d swallowed the bait. With every bit of dignity she could muster, she turned and walked down the alleyway, shivering as the chill January wind hit her face.
She circled the Goodwill on East Twenty-Third Street a couple of times to make sure no one was following her. Then, in a curtained cubicle, she discreetly shed Bobby’s shirt and pants onto hangers, which she tucked onto the appropriate racks. The bloodstain on the shirt was so muted now, it could have been a coffee spill. The pants didn’t show a mark at all. No other man would look as fine in those clothes as Bobby did, she was sure. Her husband was thirty-five and strikingly handsome, a wall of muscle sharply defined by long hours in gyms both in and out of prison.
After abandoning Bobby’s clothes, Jess got a little dizzy as she went out to the street again. She hadn’t had a bout of morning sickness until this very morning, and she put this new complication down to nerves. She was vulnerable in new ways since she’d become pregnant. Sounds were louder, tastes sharper, and smells were overwhelming. She knew exactly when the people who lived down the hall lit up a joint, or what all the neighbors were having for dinner on any given night. Walking on a crowded street was starting to get difficult for her. She caught the scent of souring perfumes and exhaled smoke, mingled with notes of urine. She was fervently glad it was winter, and she didn’t know how she would survive spring in this state.
It was a bitterly cold day, and at Union Square, Jess went into the big bookstore at the north end and headed up the escalator and into the children’s section. She ran her hands over the shiny, colorful books, the impulse to pop a couple into her bag almost irresistible.
A counselor at the group home Jess had lived in when she was sixteen had told her that she took things to get back at the world, that it was a form of revenge. Jess had always thought that particularly stupid. What were things to her? She’d had to up and leave everything she owned behind more times than she could count. No, that wasn’t true, she probably could count them. The first time was when her grandmother tossed her over the Atlantic, sending her into the care of a cousin in Rochester. She’d run away from that hellhole four times before she’d been put into a group home. That place was almost as bad as the cousin’s, and she’d run away again. That was when she’d met Bobby, and when things had started looking up.
And soon baby would make three, Jess thought. While she waited for Bobby to call she picked through some pregnancy books, which thrilled and terrified her. There were so many things to be wary of, things she’d never dreamed would hurt a baby. Fresh vegetables, for instance. Who would have thought of them as anything but healthy? But no, a bit of contaminated spinach or lettuce could kill the child. Jess had made Bobby swear to clean up his act when she found out she was pregnant. No more cigarettes, booze, and Chinese takeout. No shouting, not even at the television, not even if the Rangers were down in the third period. He hadn’t liked it, not one bit, and he’d made a terrible joke about her getting rid of the baby that had upset Jess for a week before he finally convinced her he hadn’t meant it, not really. “Stupid baby barnacle,” he’d muttered, but he’d smiled when he’d said it.
But she hadn’t said a word to him about his questionable business activities. Money had to come from somewhere, after all. But now she was getting frantic. Where was he, and why hadn’t he called? Surely he wouldn’t have been foolish enough to go home, not when she’d warned him about the police? In the back of her mind was the ugly, nagging suspicion that maybe that body in the car could be.… No! Don’t think like that. Believe in Bobby. He’s fine. He has to be.
She wandered by the café on the third floor. Look at that, she thought, seeing a man get up, leaving his cell phone on the table. By the time he came back a moment later, it was gone. Jess didn’t want to tie up her own phone and run down the battery in case Bobby called, but she needed to talk to the people he knew. Up on the quiet fourth floor of the store, she made call after call. Nobody knew where he was, or so they claimed. Finally she ran out of numbers. She deleted the calls she’d made from the phone’s log, then took the escalator down. “Someone must have dropped this,” she told the clerk at the customer service desk, handing over the phone.
She left the store, facing the cold wind cutting across Union Square and found a health-food store on its eastern edge. She bought a protein bar and circled the park as she ate it, passing Gandhi’s statue twice as she thought of whether she was supposed to dump the gun. She walked west, through the comparatively empty cross-streets of Chelsea. Here, she thought, she could take a chance and slip it into a concrete planter. Someone would find the gun and take it home, wouldn’t they?
In desperation, Jess walked further west to the Hudson River. Bobby knew a lot of people who worked over there, shifty-eyed fences and swift-handed grifters, but no one she talked to had seen him. She could have wept with frustration. She was cold, she was hungry, and she needed to go to the bathroom for the tenth time that day. How much longer was she going to have to wander around the city? A fine thing this was to do to the mother of your unborn child, she wanted to tell Bobby. Make her run around like a rat in a maze until she dropped. Anger was better than fear, which had started to take hold of her mind. Where the hell was he? Tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes but she told herself that it was because of the bitter wind.
The temperature had dropped several degrees, and the night chill hurried her along the streets. It was a Monday, and she wasn’t sure if it was the cold that kept people in, or if it was just too early in the evening for much to be going on. She walked along Delancey Street to the mouth of the Williamsburg Bridge, looking for a burned-up car or chalked-up pavement, but the police must have carted the crime scene away. Where else was there to look? Bobby liked to hang out on the Lower East Side, but she doubted she’d find him wandering its streets that night. He was in hiding, he had to be, that much was clear to her now. Still, she paced block after block, taking in the old synagogue and the new glass hotel and everything in between. At Suffolk Street she stopped dead. Gates of Hell read a scarlet neon sign a couple of blocks down.
Jess had never been to the club, but she knew about it. Bernardo Diaz, an old pal of Bobby’s, owned it. But Bobby didn’t like Jess going to clubs with him—he got jealous when other men eyed her—so she’d never been inside, even though Bernardo called her every week, asking her to come in. Now, she was drawn to it, as if by a magnet. She walked along Suffolk until she was standing under the neon sign. There were gargoyles peering down at her, eyes bulging and tongues lolling. They weren’t any harder on the eyes than Detective Roop had been, she decided, reaching for the handle on the door. It didn’t budge. She rapped at the opaque glass and stepped back. There was a rattle behind the door and it opened slightly.
“We’re not opening tonight,” said a beautiful, wide-eyed blonde girl with a haughty expression. She was wearing a red headband with sequin-studded horns.
“I’m Jess. Is Bernardo here? Or, by any chance, has Bobby Torres stopped by?”
“Oh, are you one of Bobby’s cousins?” asked the horned girl. The mention of Bobby’s name made the girl smile and she opened the door wider. Jess could see that she was wearing a strapless red bodysuit, black fishnet stockings, and vertigo-inducing stilettos. It was almost like a Playboy bunny outfit except for the color and the wiry, barbed tail. “Come on in,” the woman said. “It’s so cold today.”
Inside there were spotlights shining on murals of people roasting in cauldrons. The red velvet settees and gilded columns could have come from a Victorian brothel, and an undulating black bar snaked along one wall. “It was Bernardo’s idea, making the club look like hell—literally, I mean.” The blonde kept talking but all that stuck in Jess’s mind was Cousin? Bobby had a lot of cousins, but none with her name.
“Why did you think I’m Bobby’s cousin?” she asked, unfastening her coat. She was too hot all of a sudden.
“He has so many,” the blonde answered. “I’ve only met a few of them. But I remember him mentioning that his cousin Jess was staying with him a few weeks ago. You don’t look anything like him, you know.”
Jess was speechless. Before she could find her tongue, a deep rasp of voice filled the room. “Jessamine.”
Jess turned. The man standing there was Bobby’s height but older, with a swollen stomach spilling over his belt and a cigarette dangling from his lip. He was wearing a dark suit and a white shirt without a tie. His cologne was expensive, but it smelled to Jess as if he had spilled it on himself. She hoped the fresh wave of nausea would pass quickly.
“Hello, Bernardo,” Jess answered. “How are you?”
“Better, now that I get to see you, babe.” He moved toward her, pulling her into and hug and kissing her on each cheek. “Beautiful, just beautiful, as always.” Jess wasn’t certain what she found more sickening: the smell of him or the way he rubbed up against her every time she saw him. Fortunately, those occasions were rare.
“You have my money, boss?” the blonde interrupted.
“Don’t show up here looking for an extra shift again, Lita,” he answered, handing the woman some crumpled bills.
The woman’s horns seemed to droop. “But Bobby said…”
“Screw Bobby. You’re not going to be seeing him around here anymore. You do what I tell you.”
“Sorry,” Lita said meekly.
“Now get out,” said Bernardo.
Lita walked behind the bar and grabbed a silvery coat. She put it on and tied the belt. The barb of her tail drooped just below the hem. “Okay,” said Lita. She glanced at Jess. “Sorry, I meant to get you a drink. We do a really great cocktail we call the Hellfire…”
It was on the tip of Jess’s lip to say that she was pregnant, but Bernardo spoke first. “You need me to tell you twice?”
“Thanks anyway,” said Jess.
Lita nodded at her, walked to the front door, and let it slam behind her.
Bernardo moved towards her. His nose was thick with scar tissue, like a boxer’s. His cheeks were pitted with acne scars and his eyes were hooded. “I’m kind of surprised to see you here tonight, Jessamine,” he said, drawing out each syllable of her name as if he were tasting it. It was just one of the many reasons he made her flesh crawl. “What with everything going on.”
“What, the dead body and the car?” Jess demanded. “I have a few questions for you about that.”
Bernardo dropped his cigarette on the floor and crushed it, immediately pulling a gold case and lighter out of his pocket and lighting up again. His flabby jaw was tense. “Bobby’s left us in a tight spot.”
“What are you talking about?”
Bernardo’s eyes flicked up at hers, then back down to her breasts. The wraparound dress gaped wide over the valley of her cleavage. “How about that drink?” he said suddenly, licking his lips. He went behind the bar and pulled out a bottle and two glasses. “You like scotch?” He poured some scotch into the glass and knocked it back like a shot.
“Not so much,” said Jess. “Do you have any orange juice?” She shuddered at what the wafting smoke would do to her unborn child, but she forced herself to step closer to Bernardo and plant herself on a cushioned red barstool so that her chest was right under his nose. Bernardo got a carton of orange juice from a fridge beneath the bar and poured it for her. He smiled as he put the glass in front of her. His teeth were movie-star white and even. On a plain man, they would have enhanced his appearance, Jess thought, but on someone as troll-like as Bernardo, they highlighted his hideousness.
“You always look so good, Jessamine,” he said while she took a sip.
“Thanks,” she muttered, thinking Yuck.
“The fact you showed up here.…” Bernardo was studying her face instead of her cleavage for once.
“What is it?”
“I told Bobby a while back you should come work at the club. Not work the floor like the other girls, but in the office with me, maybe. You like the place?”
Jess looked around, taking in every tawdry detail. It was clear that Bernardo had poured plenty of time, money, and effort into it, and painfully obvious that the man had no taste.
“It’s like nothing else on Earth.”
“Pure class,” said Bernardo, removing the cigarette from his mouth only long enough to take another belt of scotch, then dragging hard again. “You should come work for me. You’d fit in here perfect.”
“I don’t think so.” Work for a leering Bernardo? She was ready to throw up again.
“Well, you’re going to need some kind of job now,” he said.
Jess stared at him.
“With Bobby being gone, I mean.”
Gone. The word hit Jess like a punch in the stomach. She fought to keep herself steady.
“Gone where?” she hissed.
Bernardo’s eyes narrowed. “Down to Mexico.”
You lying piece of trash, Jess wanted to say. But her mouth was dry. Bernardo’s soulless black eyes were staring into hers now.
“Mexico’s what he said, but who knows? He wanted to make a fresh start. Said he had too many problems. Told me I had to take care of you for him. Said he figured I’d been angling for that job for a while.”
He picked up her hand and she recoiled. There’s a gun in my purse, she reminded herself. I can use that if I need to.
“Keep your hands off me.”
“You’re gonna change your tune real soon.” There was triumph in Bernardo’s eyes, satisfaction and something greedy staring back at her. “I like your accent. That whole Irish thing is so sexy.” She hadn’t even noticed her voice betraying her. He looked her over as if he were assigning a price on her. “Can I ask you something? You’re Catholic, right? Bobby told me he was the only guy you’ve ever been with. That true?”
“Yes,” she said. “To both questions.” She’d told Bobby that a long time ago. It wasn’t as if she’d chosen anyone else before him. Her older cousin, the group home, well, that was just survival,
Bernardo smiled. “You’re the old-fashioned type, aren’t you? Most girls these days don’t have much in the way of morals.” He took another belt of scotch and lit another cigarette. “But I think you’re also a smart girl. Sometimes it’s time to move on.”
“Move on?” said Jess, in a crackling whisper. She swallowed hard. “Could I use your bathroom?”
“You’re not thinking about walking outta here, are you? We got a few things to get straight, now that Bobby’s out of the picture.” Bernardo’s voice was hard.
She couldn’t say a word as she stood. Her legs were shaky as she stepped across the floor, unsure where she was going
“It’s that way,” Bernardo called. In a mirror, she saw him pointing to a dark corridor.
Jess pushed the door open with her shoulder. The bathroom was lit with a red light, giving it an otherworldly glow. She looked at herself in the mirror over the sink.
She knew without hearing the words that Bobby was dead and that Bernardo had killed him. This story he’d cooked up about Bobby needing to get away from New York was a pathetic lie. Bernardo had drooled over her every time she encountered him. He’d even sent her flowers. He killed Bobby because of me, Jess thought suddenly. Bernardo is so evil, he thought he’d get rid of Bobby and that I’d fall into his lap. The thought of sleeping with a sweaty, shifty Bernardo at any time repulsed her, but now that she realized what he’d done to Bobby, she was filled with rage.
Then she remembered the gun.
She opened up her black bag and—not worrying about gloves this time—took the gun out from under the false bottom. It was loaded. She cocked it and visualized shooting Bernardo’s brains out of his skull. He deserved a slow, torturous death that would take days, but swift justice was all she’d be able to obtain for Bobby now. A wave of nausea hit her and she pressed her head against the cold tile of the wall.
What will happen to the baby? she wondered. Could she get away and make some kind of new life for them both? She felt a terrible sorrow for the child in her womb, knowing it would grow up now without a father. Jess started to sob. She’d lost her parents early on; at least she’d had her grandmother, for a time, but when Nana had gotten sick and shipped her over the Atlantic, Jess had been cast adrift. She had no family to hold to, except for a cousin who’d wanted to use and abuse her. If she went to jail, her child would be taken away from her and would grow up in foster care. She stood there, gasping, trying to weigh the options. Run away and keep her child safe? Or exact justice for Bobby? She’d just made up her mind when she heard a shot.
For a split second, she thought it had come from her own gun, but the revolver rested quietly in her hand while a man screamed out. She cracked the door open and heard a voice. Bobby? It didn’t seem possible. Jess opened the door and crept along the dark hallway.
“I know you’ve got money stashed somewhere, and unless you tell me where it is, you’re going to look like a piece of Swiss cheese.”
That was Bobby. Her heart pounded in disbelief.
“You bastard,” Bernardo said. “I paid you everything I owed you. You told me you were leaving town. Then you killed Eduardo and left him in your car. Why?”
Jess shivered. The stained clothes she’d smuggled out of the apartment and abandoned at Goodwill had Eduardo’s blood on them? What had that boy done to Bobby?
“There’s no other way the police would believe I’m dead,” Bobby said. “But, you know what? A new life—and a new identity—costs money. Even in Mexico. And when I started counting up what I got, I saw it wasn’t enough. So I need your rainy-day fund now, buddy. Tell me where it is, or your other leg gets a bullet, too.”
“Drop dead,” Bernardo said. “I can’t believe I was so stupid. You telling me you were done with Jess, how you even hated the sound of her voice now. How you wanted me to have her ‘cause I’d take good care of her. I never should’ve believed you. Bastard, you know I been in love with her since I first laid eyes on her. I’m so stupid, I believed she came here tonight ‘cause she was looking for you. I should’ve known you sent her in here to distract me.”
“What the hell? The Barnacle was here? When?” Bobby sounded rattled.
“Like you don’t know.”
“I’m right here, Bobby!” Jess called, her voice trilling with excitement as she rounded the corner. Bobby was as handsome as ever, but his eyes were round with shock. He was standing over Bernardo, .38 in hand, while Bernardo sat on the ground, holding one leg, grimacing in pain.
“Jess.” Bobby’s voice was flat. His mouth moved again but nothing came out.
“I was so worried about you, Bobby! I’d started to think you were dead.” She stepped towards him and his hand went up, leveling the gun at her chest.
“Get out!” he snapped.
“Bobby?” she said, stepping closer.
“I don’t want to shoot you, Jess, but if that’s what I have to do to get rid of you, I will. You’re like some kind of sea monster that clings to its prey until it dies.”
“But we’re having a baby together,” Jess whispered. “I love you and you love me.”
“See, that’s the thing. I’m tired of playing house,” Bobby said. “It was never really my thing. But having a kid? Definitely not my thing. Remember me telling you to get rid of it?”
“That was just nerves talking. You’ll love the baby when you meet him—or her. I know it.”
“That’s your insane fantasy talking, Jess. I’m walking out of here and going to Mexico, and you are sure as hell not coming along for the ride.”
“But … I love you. You can’t leave me.” Without thinking about it, she raised the gun. Bobby hadn’t seen it because the billowing sleeve of her coat hid it.
“Put that down, Jess.”
“Take me with you.”
“Don’t make me shoot you,” he said. “I don’t want to, but if it’s the only way I can get rid of you, I will.”
“You can’t abandon me,” Jess whispered. “I won’t let you walk out of here without me.”
Bobby turned the gun on her, but she got the first shot off.
There was an explosion of red on his white shirt, with streaks of blood blooming like the petals of a carnation. He fired a fraction of a second after Bernardo grabbed his arm, grounding the shot in the floor in front of Jess’s boot. Bernardo pulled him to the ground and the gun out of his hand. Bobby touched the wound and stared at his hand.
“All I wanted was to get away,” he murmured. “Just … away.”
His eyelids fluttered and her slumped to the ground.
“Did I … did I kill him?” Jess asked.
“No, Jessamine. It’s okay. Gimme the gun.”
Without thinking, she handed it over to Bernardo. “He never wanted the baby. I tried to pretend that everything would be all right but…” She trailed off, staring at Bobby.
Bernardo pulled out his cell phone, dialed, and told someone to come over to take care of a deadbeat, that he needed a doctor for his leg, and he needed a driver to take his girlfriend back to his house. Girlfriend? “Don’t worry. He’s already off on a dirt nap,” he added before he hung up.
“Is Bobby dead?” Jess asked him. From where she stood, Bobby didn’t seem to be breathing. “I couldn’t live with myself if I…”
“He’s fine,” said Bernardo. “This is gonna blow over, okay? Trust me.”
The guilt crushing her chest started to lift. “Okay.” If Bernardo said Bobby was fine, who was she to doubt him? She knelt down on the floor next to him. He was clearly in a lot of pain, but he asked, “You okay? You didn’t get hurt, did you?”
“I’m fine.” There was something oddly touching about his concern. Bernardo looked different to her now. Not ugly, but tough. Not fat, but solid. It was as if he were shifting before her eyes, taking on a different shape.
“My friend will be here in a few minutes, and he’s gonna help me clean all this up. Just leave everything to me, will you?”
“Okay.” She rested her head on his shoulder. It felt natural, somehow, as if she’d finally found the place she was supposed to be.
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Hilary Davidson won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel for The Damage Done, which launched the Lily Moore series. That book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. The sequels, The Next One to Fall and Evil in All Its Disguises, took her intrepid crime-solving travel journalist to Peru and Mexico. Her fourth novel (and first standalone thriller) Blood Always Tells was published by Tor/Forge in April, 2014. Before turning to a life of crime-writing, Hilary was a travel journalist, and has won awards for her short fiction. Toronto born, Hilary has lived in New York City with her husband, Dan, since October 2001.