I looked over at Delaney. “Tacos?”

She nodded gravely. “It’s Tuesday. Taco Tuesday.”

“Sh…” I glanced down at the dollar bill-filled pouch on the console that served as our “swear jar” in the truck. “The only taco place near here is Taco Grande.”

She sat up straighter. “Casa del Taco Grande! Best tacos in Virginia! Three Cheese Tacos, Chipotle Power Tacos, Cilantro Lime Tacos, Beefy Bean Tacos, Cheesy Bean Tacos! We ought to get the Big Taco Sampler so we can try them all. Twelve Amazing Tacos!”

I winced when she cheerfully quoted their tag line. “Ramone makes better ones at his food truck. And that damn place is always full of stoners. I hear you can order a dime bag of weed right at the counter.”

“I know, it’s called the ‘Happy-Happy Taco Special’.” She grinned. “Ramone is on the other side of the county. And you owe a dollar.”

“For what?”

“You said ‘damn’.”

“That’s not a fucking swear word.”



“Three dollars!” She lit up gleefully.

“I’ll put in a dollar. Damn doesn’t count.” Sheree had made that call for us, saying we needed to at least manage to keep enough money to buy food and gas. Sheree had no idea what Delany was planning to use the money for, but she’d agreed to “referee” for us.

Sheree’s birthday was six months away. At the rate we were filling the swear jar, I was beginning to think Delany was going to be able to buy her a new car.

From the smirk on Delaney’s face, I could see she’d gotten exactly what she’d wanted. She punctuated her victory with an irritating buzz from the circuit tester she was playing with.

“You’re gonna run the damn batteries down.”

She snickered and gave another short buzz with it before stuffing it in her pocket.

She’d come up with the idea of a “swear jar,” and I thought she’d lost her mind, but every time she cussed, she dutifully put in a quarter. She insisted my ‘rate’ was a dollar, since I was an adult.

I couldn’t bitch about it too much.

Hell, it was kind of my fault, anyway. I’d talked to a friend named Kurt who ran his own security services and training company down in Texas, figuring on making arrangements for Delaney to go down for a “crash bang” driving course in a few years as I’d promised her, and instead, he’d jumped on it immediately. An old team-mate of ours, Tony, who occasionally did work for him, was getting married and he’d talked Kurt and his wife Katie into watching over his new stepdaughter while the happy couple went on a honeymoon.

Delaney got to go to Texas for three weeks for what amounted to an abbreviated bodyguard training course, mostly driving, with some shooting and first aid, along with a couple of other girls about her age. Kurt based it off the training they gave to teenage family members in high-risk situations.

Sheree and I had taken advantage of the situation ourselves; it wasn’t really a honeymoon, but I’d taken her to Jamaica for a couple weeks. We got a little sunburned in some interesting places.

When Delaney got off the plane in a black T-shirt with a cartoon drawing of a flipped over burning car with three stick figure girls dancing around it and the logo “Camp Mayhem… Drive It Like You Stole It!” she was practically skipping.

She’d fit in.

All the time we’d spent working on cars and driving them around the lot and the old quarry had really paid off. Probably for the first time in her life, she was the cool kid who could answer the questions every time. When they introduced the girls to the cars and told them to look them over, Delaney had promptly checked the tires, popped the hoods and climbed up to check fluid levels. She’d almost broken the evasion course record set by a professional driver. She helped me when I worked at the free clinic on Thursday evenings, so most of the first aid was pretty easy for her, too.

Most of all, though, she’d made friends, real ones. Delaney called her Camp Mayhem classmates, Mackenzie and Tess, on a video call, every Thursday, to talk about whatever the hell it is that teenage girls talk about. They emailed back and forth, mostly pictures of cars, cats and guns. She’d even brought home a picture of the three of them sitting on the crumpled wreck of a car and hung it up in her room.

She’d also brought home the idea of a swear jar. Apparently, Kurt and Katie thought professional bodyguards and drivers should watch their language, so it was a tradition at the school. I was pretty impressed that she’d only had to pay in thirty dollars, until she admitted that she’d only had to pay a quarter each time.

That sounded a helluva lot more like her.

When Delaney had put the swear jar out in the truck, she’d explained she wanted to use it to get Sheree something for her birthday, so I wasn’t dead set against. It did seem to drain the cash out of my wallet regularly.

I finally gave in. We both knew I would, since going to Ramone’s would take another forty-five minutes. I pulled the rollback into the parking lot and got out, while Delaney jumped down and bounced alongside me to the front door.

The cashier, a pimple covered guy with long fried bleached-out hair sticking out in all directions from under his cap, stared at us dazedly for a long moment, trying to figure out why on earth anyone would come into a restaurant, then he shook his head and started.

“Welcome to… uh, welcome to…”

I sighed. “Taco Grande. It’s ‘Welcome to Taco Grande,’ and you are going to take our order.”

“Hehe. Yeah, that. Dude.”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “It’s just a little early to be this baked, isn’t it?”

“Heh. Yeah…” He grinned, then stopped as he tried dazedly to remember what we were talking about.

“Look, we’ll take…” I glanced down at Delaney who looked back at me hopefully. “…a Big Taco Sampler and two large Cokes.”

He punched at the register for a while, apparently randomly. I could see two guys in the back snickering, obviously just as stoned as he was. “Uh… Two, uh, Big Sombrero combos, right?”

“Jesus, look…”

I was cut off by the loud buzz of the circuit tester in Delaney’s pocket. I looked down at her sharply. She looked back up at me in pretend alarm. “Your ankle monitor is going off.” She peered anxiously outside at the parking lot, then looked up at the stoner. “We should really get this to go.”

He stared at us both in shock for a moment, then spun and started grabbing handfuls of tacos off the warmer shelf and stuffing them in a bag. He shoved the bag at us with two large cups. “That’ll be… uh…”

“Five bucks?” offered Delaney helpfully.

“Yeah, uh, five bucks.”

Delaney giggled all the way out to the rollback. I watched her pull herself up into the cab. “Did you enjoy that?”

She rolled her eyes. “We’d a been there all day. Besides…” she peeked in the bag. “He musta put thirty fucking tacos in here.”

“You owe a quarter, Buttercup.”


Just as we were pulling out, the Sheriff’s black-and-gold Tahoe pulled in. Delaney frantically rolled her window down and waved at him wildly. “Get the Big Taco Sampler, it’s awesome!”

She suddenly fell back into the cab, gasping for breath between fits of laughter. “Look… look at the back…”

I could see three red, green and white clad figures sprinting frantically from the back of the store, the blonde mop on the last one bobbing comically.


We’d been back at the yard for almost an hour before the Sheriff pulled in, eying me laconically for a moment, then shook his head at a near-comatose Delaney laying across the top of the right side tool case on the rollback, a stack of taco wrappers on her chest.

He got out and walked over and glanced at her as she groaned. “What’s with her?”

“Taco-induced paralysis.”

“Is that fatal?

“Not usually. The antidote seems to be a candy bar.” Delaney opened one eye to peer at me in the hope that I might produce an actual candy bar.

“Huh.” He leaned on the truck. “You two see anything weird at Taco Grande today?”

“Like what?”

“Like something that might cause me to find an abandoned flooded restaurant?”

“Flooded? I didn’t see anything like that.”

“Water was pouring out of the men’s bathroom. Seems somebody tried to flush a kilo of weed down the toilet.” Delaney tried to stifle a giggle, but it got out. The Sheriff gave her a completely ineffective glare. It didn’t help that she knew he had a soft spot for her.

I shrugged. “News to us. You’d think a taco joint would have a… sturdier toilet than that. With all those beans and everything.”

“It’d probably have helped if they’d have taken it out of the plastic bags.”

Delaney giggled again and rolled on to her side, then squawked her circuit tester. I sighed. “The idiot with the blond hair at the counter may have been under the mistaken impression that I had an ankle monitor on and that local law enforcement just might be looking for me.”

“That’s an oddly specific mistaken impression.” He chuckled.

“It is, isn’t it?”

Delaney pulled herself to a seated position with a tiny belch. “I wasn’t trying to get them in trouble.”

The Sheriff tipped his hat back a bit. “They aren’t. I could roll up Mooky any time I wanted; it’s just not worth the trouble.”

“Mooky?” Delaney brightened. “Mooky‽”

“Burton Murkowski Jr. aka, ‘Mooky.’ Has a little trailer grow house off Route 19 in a little clearing at the end of the spur back by Copper Creek. Small time pot grower, he likes to think of himself as the Robin Hood of weed. He doesn’t cause any trouble, doesn’t lace his shit with anything and doesn’t sell to kids, so I just leave him alone.”

I understood, but Delaney stared at him puzzled. “But if you know what he’s doing and where he’s growing stuff…”

“I have more important things to spend resources on than a guy like Mooky. I get elected here to keep a peaceful community. If the State or the feds want to chase after him, that’s their problem. He’s pretty much harmless. Probably even does some good.”

Delaney looked doubtful; she knew my history with drugs and knew I stayed well away from them. The Sheriff caught the look. “You know Friendship Village?”

She nodded. “The old folks home.”

“They prefer ‘retirement community.’ There are a number of cancer patients out there. A lot of chronic pain. Some people swear by marijuana for that kind of stuff. Rumor has it that Mooky really believes in the healing power of weed and goes out there a lot, only takes token payments.”

I blinked. Maybe he wasn’t a total loser. “Really.”

“Yeah. Let’s just say if Mrs. Ramirez offers you a brownie, think twice before taking it.”

“Good to know.”

“So you’re not arresting Mooky?” Delaney raised one eyebrow comically.

“Nah, he’s harmless. He’ll probably hide out a couple days in his grow trailer waiting for the DEA to bust his door down, then go just back to work. His uncle owns Casa del Taco Grande, so he has a hard time getting fired.”

We were still laughing when a stream of black SUVs poured into the yard with police lights. Half a dozen State police officers swarmed the yard, guns out, with a couple plainclothes agents directing them.

I held my hands up cautiously. I was pretty sure that I hadn’t done anything lately that warranted a shootout. Delaney followed my lead with a cautious sidelong glance that earned a nod from me.

One of the plainclothes guys walked straight to me, he barely gave a glance at the Sheriff. He looked like a stiff necked prick. “Lester Dawes?”

“That’s me.”

“You’re wanted for questioning in the attempted murder of Mrs. Charlotte Morris.”

“I fuckin’ wish.” I grimaced and squeezed my eyes shut for a second. “Shit, you said ‘attempted,’ didn’t you? Goddammit.”

Two of the uniforms opened the trailer and I looked at the Sheriff. “You see a search warrant?”

“Not yet.” He glared at the guy who’d addressed me. “Mind telling what you’re doing here and maybe showing a little fucking professional courtesy?”

“Special Agent Stein, Virginia State Police. I have a ‘Stop and Hold’ for Lester Dawes. His ex-wife was shot four times in her home last night and we have reason to believe he was present.”

I raised an eyebrow at the Sheriff. He knew damn well where I’d been. Just like every Thursday night, I’d been at the free clinic with a dozen witnesses, including two of his deputies who’d brought in a vagrant for treatment. I shook my head, I really wanted to see what was going on, what Charlotte was accusing me of this fucking time. Maybe I could get her tossed in jail for a change.

The Sheriff went along with me. “Well, Special Agent Stein, how about we walk over there for just a bit and have a discussion. Or do want me to call every deputy in the county over here right now, maybe get on CNN?”

Stein scowled irritably then looked over at one of his men. “Give me a second. Cuff them.”

Delaney’s eyes narrowed and she tensed as one of the police stepped towards her. The Sheriff glanced between her and me. “Wait a fucking minute. Do you have a ‘Stop and Hold’ on her, too?”

“No, but…”

“Jesus Christ, she’s fourteen. You don’t have a Stop and Hold for her, she doesn’t appear to have done anything, and you’re just going to roll her up? Fucking idiot. She stays with me and I’ll get have Sheree come get her.”

For a moment Stein looked like he was going to do it anyway and I braced myself, gauging the distance to Delaney as she tensed up. I wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but I had a feeling everybody on the lot was going to get caught up in a real shitstorm in a few seconds.

The Sheriff pushed between Delaney and the approaching officer, holding up his hand mike. “I mean it. This is about to end up all over the funny papers. He takes one more step, I’m putting out an emergency all-call and this turns into a three ring circus.”

Stein glared at him. “You should be helping me out here, not putting your job in jeopardy.”

“My job? I’m doing my fucking job. I don’t work for the State, I work for the people of this county, and they’d take a damn dim view of me letting some asshole cart off a minor with no cause.”

The Agent must have finally decided the Sheriff was serious because he waved his officer back. From the seething hate in Delaney’s eyes, I figured he’d just gotten lucky. We probably all had.


I found myself secured in an interview room for the next few hours. Only the occasional deputy sticking his or her head in to check to see if I needed anything broke the monotony.

At least it was monotony until the Sheriff walked grimly in the room, letting the door swing shut behind him. “We’ve got a problem”

Before he could continue, Agent Stein slammed the door back open and stomped towards me and the Sheriff.

“Where the hell is the little bitch?” His voice was odd, probably because of the bloody paper towels he was holding up to his nose.

“Where’s who?”

“You know who it is. Delaney Morris.”

“No idea who that would be.”

“The girl we picked up this morning with you. You know damn well who I’m talking about.”

‘You mean my daughter? Delaney Dawes?”

He paused, gauging me for a second. “Okay. Delaney Dawes.”

“Not a fucking clue. Last time I saw her some asshole State Criminal Investigation Division agent shithead—that’d be you—was hassling her, and the Sheriff here said he was going to call Sheree to come get her. I’ve been sitting here chained to a fucking table ever since.” I looked at him. “I’m guessing, from that fucking broken nose, you talked to her again.”

The Sheriff put his hand on my shoulder. “While I was trying to call Sheree, the agent here apparently thought he’d go and ask her some questions.”

“Without me or Sheree there? Isn’t that fucking illegal?”

“I was going to ask her who to call if we couldn’t reach this Sherry person.” Agent Stein said it woodenly, just in case they were recording this; he knew nobody in the room remotely believed that line of shit.

“Sheree. And, let me guess. You’re gonna claim she just attacked you for no reason?”

He fell silent and the Sheriff stared at him. “The recorder wasn’t on in that interview room. Deputy Hyatt let him in to see her under the impression he needed to get contact information from her, but insisted on the interview room door being open since Delaney is a minor. Which is why Deputy Hyatt still has a job. At some point during the questioning, something went wrong and the agent here ended up with a broken nose and missing car keys.”

I laughed out loud. “Let me guess. The agent’s car is now missing.”

The Sheriff suppressed a grin. “We pulled the tracker data and it led to the Salvage yard, but we couldn’t find it. The tracker data says it never left the yard.”

The agent glared at me. “The little bitch must have turned off the tracker somehow. We’ll find her, we have a state wide APB out.”

I shook my head slowly. “You really pissed her off, Dickhead. She was having a great day and you just had to go and fuck it all up. She’s got a real bad temper. I wouldn’t bother with the APB on your fucking car.”

“That car is state property.” His attempt to sound important was kind of ruined by the broken-nose nasal tone.

I glanced over at the Sheriff. “Did the salvage yard smell like gasoline when you went back to look for his car?”

He nodded slowly. “Yeah, real strong now that you mention it. I thought she might have spilled some putting gas in the car or something.”

“She’d have been in a hurry, no time to drain the fluids or strip it like we’re supposed to. We’ll probably be fined for that.”

Agent Stein looked lost, but I could see the Sheriff catch on. He started to turn red, trying not to laugh. He closed his eyes. “Fuck.”

I chuckled and looked over at the agent. “Hope you didn’t leave anything important in your car, Cupcake.”

Stein was starting to look pissed. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Try looking in the car crusher, asshole.”

His eyes shot open. “That little bitch.”

I leaned towards him as far as the cuffs would let me. “Call her that one more time, asshole. Call my daughter a bitch again. Do it. One. More. Fucking. Time.”

He started to say something and thought better of it, pulling back and walking out.

The Sheriff looked at me. “They’ve gotten a judge to sign off on transferring you, claiming the attack on your wife has some kind of jurisdictional precedence. They also say they found cocaine in your office trailer.”

“The office trailer? First fucking good news I’ve had all day. Tell Sheree to get in touch with Tara and check the inside security cameras.”

He kept an eye on the door. “I don’t like this.”

“Me either.” I thought for a second. “I thought this was Charlotte playing games, but now I’m not sure. Can you have your deputies search me and take all my clothes, issue me a set?”

“Good idea, that way they can’t arrange to ‘find’ something on you later.”

I nodded. “Delaney will probably head for Sheree, but she’s not a fucking idiot, she sees a cop or anyone she doesn’t know, she’ll be a ghost.”


It took four hours for them to complete the transfer to the larger jail and as soon as I arrived, I was processed in by a couple of Correctional Officers who did their job professionally and thoroughly. I was glad I wasn’t carrying anything.