“No Fucking Way!”

Delaney glared, eyes flashing, hands curled into claws.

The two suit-clad lawyers looked nervously towards the door to the conference room, wondering if they could reach it in time. I suspected the secretary in the outer office had her hand on the security alarm.

Not a bad idea, all in all.

I carefully put my hand in front of Delaney while Sheree edged closer to her on the other side.

“Miss Dawes…” I wasn’t sure just what the hell the shorter lawyer thought he could say at that moment that might be a good idea, but I was sure the effect was going to be like throwing a can of gasoline on a bonfire.

Apparently, so did Sheree. She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Mr. Holden, I’m thinkin’ y’all might want to give us a moment alone here.”

He looked like he wanted to say more, but one more glance at Delaney was enough to convince him otherwise, and he headed out of the conference room with his partner in tow.

Delaney looked back and forth between us. “I don’t want it. Any of it. Tell them to take it back.” She almost snarled it.

Tara looked up from the stack of papers. “You can’t make that decision right now.”

“Bullshit. I’ve made up my mind. I don’t fucking want it.”

Holding up a page, Tara shook her head. “No, I mean legally, you don’t get to decide it until you’re thirty-five.”

I looked at her. “What?”

“The money is in a trust, and it is going to be held there for the next twenty years. It isn’t actually yours to make a decision about until your thirty-fifth birthday.”

Sheree tilted her head at Tara. “That’s kind of odd.”

“It’s more common than you think. Some people do it to prevent their kids from blowing through their fortune before they’re mature enough to handle it.”

“I can see that. Half them celebrity kids and heiresses in the news end up in rehab over and over before they’re even twenty. Or worse.” Sheree nodded thoughtfully. “Guess there’s somethin’ to learn stocking all those celebrity gossip magazines after all.”

Delaney gripped the table edge, trying to make herself calm down. “I don’t care. I don’t want it. I saw what it did to Calloway, and the kids at the school Mother made me go to. Fuck that. It turned them into monsters. It did the same thing to Mother.” She spit that last with more than a little venom.

Tara gave a sad sigh, and Sheree touched Delaney’s hand gently. “It won’t do that to you. I can tell.”

Face softening a fraction, Delaney looked at her. “I don’t want to take the chance. I’ll work for my money. They can give all that money to a charity. We don’t even know how much money it is. I won’t miss it.”

The exact amount of money was hard to figure out, since the will only listed various accounts, and those were under the control of the trust. But it might be almost a million dollars.

“They can’t do anything with it except invest it, and even then, there are all kinds of stipulations designed to protect the trust. Calloway understood money.”

“Why the hell would he do this?”

Tara shook her head. “There’s no real explanation, just a will naming Delaney and the usual contingencies. There are probably a half dozen others, but those look like the normal stuff. The trust will pay out for any educational opportunities she wants to pursue and includes what amounts to the best gold-plated health insurance policy I’ve ever seen. No deductible, no cap and it covers everything. Including dental.”

Sheree shook her head. “There has to be a reason.”

Holden stuck his head back in the room, then came in cautiously. “I have one more item; it’s a card to be handed to Miss Dawes directly.”

Delaney stuck her hand out in annoyance, then looked at the note card he’d given her. Shaking her head, she handed it to me.

An expensive linen note card with her name on the outside in very fancy script. On the inside was one word. A name.

“Darwin.” I pushed it over to Sheree, then looked at Delaney. “Definitely Calloway.”

When Delaney had asked Calloway why he’d tried to kill her, he’d insisted that it had been about survival of the fittest. Darwin. The man had tried to kill her because he thought that she might be his granddaughter, and he didn’t believe she was worthy of his name. Delaney was, to say the least, a bit offended by that. Not so much the attempted murder, I think she was starting to get used to that, but because Calloway and his son both decided she wasn’t “good enough.” The same reason Charlotte’s now-deceased husband had tried to have her killed. She’d outlived all three of them, along with several others who’d gotten caught up in their plans, so “good enough” was pretty damn arguable at this point.

Apparently, Calloway had decided that the argument had ended in Delaney’s favor.


We walked out of the law office into the sunlight, Delaney trudging reluctantly toward the car, head down. I wasn’t quite sure what she was grumbling, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a fond eulogy for Calloway.

This meeting hadn’t hit us completely out of the blue. We hadn’t expected to be directly impacted, but Sheree had seen Calloway’s death in an internet society column. She’d started reading the articles to try to keep an eye on Charlotte.

Charli had been acting…odd. Tara and Tiffany had noticed that Charlotte was suddenly involving herself in a whirlwind of social activities, everything from attending every imaginable charity event to thousand-dollar-a-plate political fundraisers — for both parties.

Charlotte had started pressuring Tiffany and Tara to bring Delaney with them for their weekly “tea” at the country club. Delaney was, to put it as delicately as she could, “Not fucking interested.” She pointed out that she could get a large tea at McDonald’s for a dollar pretty much any time she wanted and not have to deal with Charlotte.

If it had been anyone else, I might have thought trying to meet with Delaney was an attempt at reconciliation, but since it was Charlotte, I had to assume it was some kind of underhanded scheme.

Calloway’s passing was something of a relief. We hadn’t been sure if the asshole would try something in revenge for his son’s death. When we started getting notices from his law firm requesting Delaney and her guardians meet with their representatives to determine the disposition of “substantial assets,” it had caught us off balance.

We’d managed to put it off while Delaney was in “Summer Camp” – six weeks in Texas this time. She’d come back in even better spirits than the last time. She’d never been good with people and had trouble making friends, but it seemed Mac and Tess were somehow different. They’d bonded tightly while camping, racing everything from trucks to motorcycles and spending time on shooting ranges.

Still, when Delaney had come back, we’d had to agree to a meeting. On the bright side, it sounded like there was at least some time before Delaney would have to deal with it.

I figured we could head home. There’d been enough surprises for the day.



“Pregnant.” My daughter, Tiffany, smiled weakly, holding her fiancé’s hand. Eric looked more than a bit uncomfortable.

Delaney looked at her half-sister guardedly. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Tiffany nodded seriously. Given that she was an ER physician, I didn’t figure she was making a mistake. Eric was a doctor as well, so I had a pretty good feeling they had a handle on the situation. He shifted a little uneasily.

Sheree had Tiffany wrapped in a hug before I could finish processing everything. “Congratulations! You are going to be an amazing mom.”

Tiffany nodded, obviously relieved that someone immediately saw it as good news. “We were already planning to have kids anyway, so we’re just moving the timeline up a little.”

Delaney followed Sheree’s lead and went in for a hug as soon as she could. “This is awesome!”

“Wow.” I reached out and held her hand, trying my best just to smile and not burst out laughing. “That really is great news.”

Tiffany eyed me warily. “Are you sure?”

“Oh yeah. I am.” I had to look down to avoid cracking up.

Sheree studied them with narrowed eyes. “That’s not all though, is it?”

Tiffany shook her head. “I’m glad you weren’t around when I was a teenager; I’d never have gotten away with anything.”

Sheree just gave her a saintly smile and arched one eyebrow.

Tiffany took a deep breath. “We’re getting married. As soon as possible. I don’t want to waddle up the aisle. We’ll elope if we have to.”

I shook my head. “No, you tell us what and how, we’ll make it happen.”

With a tear running down one cheek, Tiffany smiled from ear to ear. “This was easier than I thought.” Her face dropped. “Now I have to tell Mom.”

I swear Sheree started glowing. “You told us first.”

She nodded. “Well, Tara kind of knew, but she doesn’t count.”

I chuckled. “Well, if Charlotte gives you any shit, you remind her that you and Tara were awful big for seven-month babies.”

Tiffany laughed. “I was wondering about that. I can read birth certificates and marriage licenses too.”

Eric leaned towards me. “Mr Dawes, I, um…”

I cut him off with a hand wave. “Don’t apologize. This is great news, not bad news.”

Delaney smirked. “Dibs on babysitting.”

“Thank you; I’m sure that will help a lot.” Eric said it earnestly, apparently blissfully unaware that leaving a baby in Delaney’s charge would be roughly the same as letting a completely feral overprotective wolfpack do it. Although wolves were more sociable. The baby would be fine, but the countryside might never recover.

Tiffany, however, was a bit more familiar with Delaney. She looked at her intently. “As long as you don’t do anything crazy.”

“Crazy?” Delaney gave her best innocent look, which wasn’t all that convincing at the best of times. “I’ll teach the baby to walk and talk and drive; we’ll go get tacos and…”

Tiffany shook her head. “Let’s wait a couple years on the driving and taco stuff, okay?”

Delaney shrugged, still trying — and failing — to look innocent.

We talked for another half hour before they headed out.

As they pulled away from the cabin, Sheree watched me out of the corner of her eye. “Les?”


“I’m glad you’re happy about the baby. I can see it, but…?” She studied me more. “Why’re you grinnin’ like a fool?”

“Tiffany’s having a baby.” I stifled a snicker.

“Yeah, I kinda got the news there.” She eyed me with suspicion.

“That’s a grandbaby.”

“I know that…Oh, Dear God.”

“How do you think Grandma-ma Charlotte is going to feel about that?” I doubled over laughing until tears were coming out of my eyes.

“Lester Dawes!”

It would have been a lot more convincing if Sheree hadn’t started laughing too.


Just Another Day


“Y’all open?”

I finished taking the lug off the wheel and looked over at the salvage yard gate where a tall, awkwardly lanky man stood. He tugged his old frayed Army field jacket a little straighter. It was faded to the point of almost turning grey. “Yeah. What can I do for you?”

He rubbed the grey-shot stubble along his jaw. “I’m wonderin’ if you could let me pick and pull some parts. A guy I know restores cars, and he’ll pay me to hunt some stuff down for him. I pay ya for the parts; he pays me for parts and time.”

“Not a lot of money in that.”

“It’s enough. I got my VA disability, and this just gets me a little extra beer money under the table.” He pulled a couple of tattered pieces of loose-leaf paper covered with scrawled lists of parts from a jacket pocket.

“Come on in. I have to get you a waiver to sign. We don’t really do pick and pull, but what the hell.”

He limped through the gate, his left leg dragging oddly. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

“When were you in?”

“Been out almost fifteen years. I was an Eighty-Eight Mike in the Army. A truck driver.” He gestured at his left leg. “Hit a wash out and rolled it. That was all she wrote.” He grinned ruefully. “Shit happens.”

“Yeah, it does. I was a medic.”

“Really? Thought ’bout doin’ that, but my test scores weren’t high enough.”

We went up into the trailer office, and I managed to find a pick and pull waiver for him to sign. Tara had dropped by a couple months ago, seen my piles of paperwork, given me a scowl that could have been fatal to small animals, and promptly made a project of organizing them to death. She’d also printed off stacks of legal forms for everything from hazardous waste to environmental impact statements to safety waivers for visitors. Delaney had found the whole process hilarious right up until Tara had shifted over to her homeschool desk and done the same thing.

We’d spent the better part of the last month scrambling to figure out where Tara had put everything. Which, embarrassingly, nearly always turned out to be a file folder clearly marked with whatever we were looking for.

He scrawled his name and handed it back to me. I glanced at it. “William Aleshire?”

“That’s me; I just go by Billy though, Doc.” I half-smiled at the familiar military nickname for a medic.

Delaney walked up cautiously, a tire iron balanced on one skinny shoulder. “What’s up?”

Billy snorted. Then laughed out loud with one of those snorting laughs you can’t help comparing to a donkey.

“What’s so fucking funny?” Delaney scowled at him.

“Sorry, you said, ‘What’s up’ to Doc here. You know, ‘What’s up, Doc?’ Like Bugs Bunny always says.”

Delaney looked at me. “A concussion. You’re looking for a medical form because he gave himself a concussion, aren’t you?”

Billy shook his head. “Damn, she’s funny.”

Rolling her eyes, Delaney shifted her attention to me. “I got the set of wheels off that ’61 Catalina, but it only had three caps. They’re stacked and ready to go.”

“You got any ’91 Accords out there?” Billy looked right at Delaney.

She nodded. “Why?”

“I’m fixin’ to pull some parts for a guy.”

“Seriously? Jesus, a full fucking tank of gas doubles the value of those things.” Delaney’s face twisted in distaste.

Bill looked over at me, and I shrugged. “She’s got a point. They’re not bad cars, but they aren’t worth much. One of the most common cars ever made.”

“Well, ol’ boy wants some parts for them, so they’re worth something to me. Money’s money, ya know? I think he’s building street racers, some kinda nostalgia thing.”

“Fair enough.” I pointed back to the stacks. “Try the third row, should be a couple on level ground about halfway down.”

“There’s four there, right in a row. One is blue; you can’t miss it.” Delaney pulled a candy bar out of one of her coverall pockets and took a bite. “You bring tools?”

Billy gave a goofy gap-tooth grin. “Got a whole trunk full of them.”

“Good. I don’t loan my tools.” She popped open the toolbox on the back of the rollback.

“Spoken like a real mechanic.” Billy nodded sagely.

I looked at the time. “We close at five sharp today. So be done by 4:30.”

“No problem, Doc. That’s a good hour. I’m just scoutin’ today. Don’t want to mess up family time.”

Delaney grunted as she pulled out a breaker bar. “Weird family time. We help out at the free clinic.”

“Still doing the Doc thing, huh?”

I nodded. “Just helping out a little.”

Honestly, Sheree convincing me to help the clinic had turned out to be more than a little cathartic, and Delaney was always ready to hop into her black skull-and-crossbones-covered scrubs to help. Tiffany had found a way to make Delaney a formally listed volunteer in the hospital network. She was surprised when Delaney promptly handed over her CPR card and First Aid certification. Kurt and Katie had arranged for a rather interesting array of training at the “Summer Camp” in Texas; the girls seemed to have certifications in everything from junior marksmanship to weather spotting.

Billy looked over at Delaney. “You don’t like it?”

“I didn’t say that. It’s kinda cool.” She suddenly grinned. “Last week, this homeless guy had a massive infection in his arm, and we opened it up. It went off like a volcano. Spewed shit everywhere. It was nasty.”

“You get to help do that?”

I shrugged. “I think she’s supposed to just help with admin stuff and some minor cleaning, but we’re always shorthanded, and she sucks at typing.”

Delaney stuck her tongue out at me.

“We just have to ask the patients if it’s okay if she helps. Never been a problem.”

He gave that same goofy grin. “Well, yer keepin’ yer hand in and havin’ some excitement, anyway.”

I shrugged. “Mostly sore throats, a sprained ankle or two and maybe on a really exciting night, a broken finger.”


Four Hours Later


“We’re out!”

I didn’t bother to argue that. Pamela, the LPN at the clinic, accounted for every cotton swab, alcohol wipe and paper towel. If there had been another dose of naloxone in the clinic, she’d have known, which left us short by… I watched a guy drag another strung-out girl through the door, then glanced at the bodies draped over every flat surface… short by way too many.

Pamela held her phone up. “9-1-1 lines are still down, and all the sheriff and fire department desk phones are busy.”

One of the first things you learn in the Army is that nothing ever goes wrong alone. There is nearly always a string of failures lined up to make things worse. No police, no ambulances, out of naloxone, and running out of time, with overdoses still pouring through the door. “Delaney!”

She looked up from where she’d just finished dragging another overdose case, a guy with stringy hair and a face tattoo, and rolling him on to his side; several months of hauling tires let her make it look easy.

“We need more Narcan. Everything we can get. Sheriff’s office has a locker full; they ordered them through us. Take Sally. Get them to send police and EMS here. We need all the help we can get.”

I’d barely finished the sentence before she snagged my keys to my bright yellow ’79 Mustang Cobra, aka “Sally,” off the desk and was hopping over the bodies strewn on the floor, then sliding sideways through the door to avoid yet another incoming overdose case being carried in.

Keeping patients alive for the next twenty minutes took all the attention and focus I had, but I was certain Delaney would get what we needed if it was at all possible.

Of course, somewhere in the back of my head, I knew there would be consequences for letting Delaney completely off the leash like that.

About an eternity later, when the front door and windows of the clinic lit up with police lights, and the hoarse call of sirens blasts filled the air, instead of relief, the word “consequences” jumped to the front of my mind.

Delaney slammed wide-eyed through the front door at full speed, dragging a black tactical equipment bag and looking over her shoulder.