Her Dark Protector

The Florida night air clung like a damp blanket.  Despite the oppressive heat, State Attorney Gail Malloy could barely suppress a shiver as she approached the rendezvous spot. Hard to say whether her blood pumped with anticipation or fear. Probably both.

Her boss accused her of having a death wish, and for once he might be right. She preferred the polite euphemism of being a thrill seeker. However, Gail tightened her grip on the pepper spray can she carried.  She'd tucked whatever identification she needed and payoff money in the pocket of her black jeans and clipped her cell phone to the belt.

She checked for traffic and crossed Olive, pausing for a moment by the light pole. Thunderous clouds lumbering overhead kept covering the moon. One block south, West Palm Beach's Thursday night bash was winding down. The live bands along Clematis Street had packed up and only canned music still blared from the nightclubs. Even the stream of pedestrians had thinned. Those citizens who lived by the day were on their way home; those who lived by
the night were beginning to emerge.

Gail hoped her snitch, Jean-Pierre, would be on time. He'd picked this spot, a restaurant that catered only to the breakfast-lunch business crowds on the corner of Olive. At the first sign of trouble, Jean-Pierre could scatter down the alley while Gail ran toward the bright lights of Clematis.

If she was able to.

She hadn't told the chief state attorney about her meet. He would have placed a police detail on it, and her favorite snitch could smell a cop within a mile.

No, this was too important. Jean-Pierre had information that might finally put Tony Hernandez in
jail forever. If Hernandez had personally killed Juan Montoya-Ortega's number one man in the United States, she'd have a murder one case against the drug kingpin. Not the racketeering charge that had turned into evidentiary shit and teetered on the verge of dismissal by Judge Milken. She could taste the sweet victory that could catapult her out of the ranks of faceless prosecutors and bring down a criminal enterprise.

Yes, there was a chance it was a set-up, but it was a risk she was willing to take to nail the drug lord for good. Tony Hernandez had slipped from the grasp of the law one too many times.

The psychiatrist she'd seen briefly years ago had warned that she wasn't like a cat with nine lives. Well, she still had a number of them left to test out his theory. Tonight's meeting was as important as they came. Jean-Pierre had also hinted he had information concerning the motorcycle gang responsible for the recent rash of attacks on marijuana grow houses.
She needed to know if the city was facing a gang war or if vigilantes were responsible. People meting out their own form of justice were as dangerous as those who broke the law.

Gail halted at the edge of the alley. No light from the street penetrated its inky depths. Only the homeless and criminals would be crazy enough to walk through there. Rotting garbage from the restaurant saturated the air, almost causing her to gag.

"Jean-Pierre?" she called out in a low voice.

No answer. A bead of sweat trickled down her spine. She thought the promise of a thousand dollars would have kept the junkie on time. If she loitered here too long, she could attract the attention of foot patrol officers.

The air stirred behind her. She whirled around. Was that shadow moving?

The damaged muscles in her right calf tightened in protest at the quick movement.  Automatically she touched the pocket in which she'd slipped her emergency stash of oxycodone. Yes. The bottle was still there.

"Who's there?" Damn, her voice quivered.

From the alley came the rattle of a can. She turned back and strained to see. "Jean-Pierre?"

No answer but the soft scuff of a shoe against the pavement. Someone was there. Her snitch, or worse?

Oh hell.

Gail extended the can of pepper spray to eye level. At five foot nine she stood a fair chance of dousing anyone else's face with spray.

She stepped forward, not calling out again. Instead, she let the sounds guide her. Close to the Dumpster. The stench within the alley's confines was so strong that her eyes watered. She blinked as her vision grew accustomed to the shades of black. The half moon had left its cloud cover and some of its silvery light crept between the buildings. Less like a crypt but the place
still gave her the creeps.

There. She could see him. A man slumped against the wall.

And another, who stepped from behind the Dumpster holding a gun.

A trap after all. Fear followed close on the heels of disappointment. She swung her arm toward the man, but he was quicker. His foot lashed out, striking her wrist.

Agonizing pain paralyzed her hand. "Ow!" Her numb fingers dropped the spray.

Her attacker's teeth glinted as he smiled, aiming the gun at her head. "Mr. Hernandez has a message for you."

Gripping her useless hand with her good one, Gail managed to snap, "Such as 'see you in court'?"

Her attacker snickered. "That's a good one. I'll have to tell him after we have some fun." He closed the distance between them and placed the tip of the gun in the vee of her knit shirt. "His message was 'see you in hell.'"

Shadows shifted to her left. A dark form emerged, the man's voice even darker. "That can be arranged. You first."

The gunman pivoted but before he could shoot, the interloper was upon him. The weapon went flying. For a few seconds the sounds of fists striking flesh and grunts filled the air.

Gail turned to run, but her bad leg had had enough and caved. Pitching against the metal Dumpster, she grabbed onto the edge. Something slimy squished beneath her fingers.

As she righted herself, one of the men dropped to his knees and then keeled over. Which one?

The victor bent over the still form. Hauling back the other man's arms, he slipped a loop over the wrists and slid it tight.

Was her rescuer a police officer? But he hadn't called out his identity before attacking. Hadn't said the magic phrase, "You're under arrest."

Then he turned her way and she saw that he wore a martial arts hood pulled over his face and gloves on his hands.

Oh God, no. She'd fallen from the frying pan into the fire. Gail backed away.

In an instant he crossed the gap and trapped her against the wall of the restaurant. "You're too damn reckless, prosecutor Malloy."

He knew her name.


© 2012 Carol Stephenson

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