Taco night was in full-swing at Casa Vaughn. Val liked to match music to food so tonight’s selection, old-school Vicente Fernandez, blasted through the open windows of the house. Grateful Val and the kids like their music loud, Sabrina killed the headlights before she pulled into the drive and quietly shut her car door. She’d hoped to stay below radar until she could get rid of her unwanted guest but he had different ideas.
“Alone at last,” Sanford yelled at her from the street. He vaulted the pretty picket fence and crossed her lawn in broad, uneven steps. He was drunk. Perfect. Just friggin’ perfect.
“Why are you here, Sanford?” She watched him advance, closing the space between them to just a few feet. Wished she’d remembered to drop her jacket in the car. The heavy leather would slow her down.
“Why am I here? I don’t have a job, I’m living on a bar stool, my wife took out a restraining order against me and you’re at least partly to blame. So you tell me, where else would I fucking be?” He leaned into her space and jabbed her in the chest with his finger.
She took a deep, slow breath and a step back. “Don’t touch me.” Drunk or sober, Sanford was an asshole but at least when he was sober he had slightly better judgment. As it stood, it looked like someone was getting their bell rung. And it wasn’t going to be her. She shifted her body into a defensive stance, ready for a fight.
He smiled. “Whaddya gonna do,” he sneered and closed the gap between them. “Shoot me?” He drilled his pointer into the center of her chest again. Okay, asshole. Game on.
She snatched his finger off her chest and bent it back until she heard the pop. Sanford howled and swung wildly with his free arm. She blocked the blow with her forearm and gave him a hard crack in the nose with her elbow. Stunned, he tried to stumble back but the grip she had on his finger kept him tethered. She delivered a face-crushing head-butt that drew blood and he swung again, this time clipping her in the side of the head. Pain shot through her temple but it was fleeting. He’d always been sloppy in a fight but what he lacked in skill, he more than made up for in blind rage. Once he started swinging, he wouldn’t stop until he was put down. Hard.
He caught her in the ribs with a ham-handed jab that stole her breath. She used the grip she had on his finger like a rudder and shoved him backward, jerking him to the side before she let go. The force, and the fact he smelled like he was sweating pure booze, sent him stumbling away from her and she used the time and space it created to shed her jacket.
As soon as it hit the ground, Sanford zeroed in on her SIG. He stood a few feet away, cradling his abused finger, dripping blood all over her cobblestone walkway. Instead of giving him second thoughts, the sight of her gun seemed to give him hope.
“Now we’re talkin’.” The relief in his voice was obvious.
Holy hell. “Don’t do it, Sanford,” she said. He ignored her warning and started toward her. She closed her hands into fists, raised and ready for round two.
“Is there a problem?”
She shot her gaze to the right to find Michael standing on the sidewalk, just a few yards away.
Sanford turned toward him and glared through the blood. “Mind your own business, asshole.”
Michael appraised Sanford with cool amusement. “When I see a drunk guy harassing a woman in her own front yard, I tend to see that as my business.” He spoke calmly but she saw it—the shifting of body weight, the cool amusement turned to cold calculation in his eyes. It told her if she didn’t intervene, Sanford would get exactly what he was looking for.
“Who the hell are you?” Sanford said.
“Just a guy, out for a walk, who happened across a situation he feels uncomfortable with ignoring,” he said, welcoming Sanford's full attention.
She took a few steps back, widening the distance between her and Sanford, before she un-holstered her SIG and aimed it downward. “Sanford, give me your car keys.”
“What?” He rounded on her belligerently, saw the gun held at her side.
“I said give me your goddamn car keys.”
Without a word, he fished them from his pocket and held them aloft. “What if I don’t?” He gave them a little shake before disappearing them into his fist. “What if I just charge you, see who comes up the winner?”
“If you take one step in my direction, I’ll put a bullet in your knee. It won’t kill you, but you’ll have to hang up your tutu and kiss your dance dreams goodbye.” She gave O’Shea a quick glance. “That goes double for you, Mr. Can’t-Mind-My-Own-Business.”
“Fucking smart-mouthed bitch… one of these days, you’re gonna get what’s comin’.” He tossed the keys at her feet and she stepped on them. He snarled and started toward her. She aimed her gun directly at his knee. The movement stopped him cold.
“Yeah, one of these days… but not today.” She waved him off. “There’s a bus bench in front of the park. Go sit on it, I’ll call you a cab. Your truck will be at the station tomorrow. You can pick it up there,” she said to Sanford.
“I’m not taking a fuck—”
“Yes you are. You’re too drunk to drive. Leave. Now, before I put one in your leg for bringing this shit to my house. And don’t ever come here again. If you do, I will kill you,” she said.
He smiled. “Good to know,” he said and took a few steps toward the street. He passed through the gate, eyeing Michael the entire time. Michael leaned against the fence, his hands stuffed into the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie, watching him walk away.
Sanford stopped just past gate and turned toward Michael. “What are you looking at?”
Michael chuckled then shrugged. “I don’t know… you’ve got…” He took a hand out of his pocket and waved it at Sanford. “Something on your face.”
Sanford used the back of his hand to wipe away some of the blood. He smiled and took a half-step in Michael’s direction. She intervened before Sanford had a chance to respond.
“You—” She jabbed her finger at Sanford. “Get the hell out of here.” She turned to Michael. “And you—shut the hell up.”
“This isn’t over.” Sanford turned his back on her and started walking.
“Yeah, that’s what you keep telling me. See you later.” The tension leaked from her system with every step he took but she didn't holster her gun.
With little more than a glance in his direction, she bent down and collected Walter’s keys before making her way toward the front porch. She took a seat on the top step and stared across her yard at the man on the sidewalk.
Michael looked at her for a few moments before he pushed the gate open and crossed the lawn to retrieve her jacket. Bringing it to her, he held it out but she refused to accept it. She preferred to keep both hands wrapped around the gun dangling between her knees. Waiting another beat, he tossed the jacket on the porch. “You broke his finger.” The thought seemed to amuse him.
“No, I didn’t. I dislocated it.”
He laughed. “You can put that away now,” he said, nodding toward the SIG.
“Nah, that’s okay. I like it just where it is.” Her eyes locked on his face. “What are you doing here, O’Shea?”
He flashed her a killer smile. She tightened her grip on her SIG and waited for him to start spitting lies.
Her spine snapped tight, encased in ice. “Don’t call me that.”
“Okay, Sabrina… I wanted to apologize for this morning. Lucy knew I was going to be in the area and she asked me to look in on you. I really didn’t think you’d recognize me.” The explanation sounded completely reasonable and it would have been enough to placate her if it were true.
The smile didn’t fade. It blinked out like a switch had been flipped. In its place was a carefully guarded expression that gave away nothing.
“He killed my sister,” he said quietly. The words carried the force of a wrecking ball. They hit her square in the chest, nearly knocking her over.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Liar.” He threw her word back at her with a vicious smile. It held for a moment before his face gave way under the weight of his grief. He looked away from her for a moment, seemed to be wavering, choosing his words, before he turned back to look at her. “I need your help.”
She stood and re-holstered her gun at her side.
He made a noise that sounded like a strangled laugh and nodded his head. “You don’t even know what I want.”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea but it really doesn’t matter. The answer stands.” She turned to leave. What he wanted from her was obvious. It would be what she’d want from him if she were in his place. He wanted her to go back to Jessup with him so he could bait the hook.
Not gonna happen.
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