Killing Rosa Excerpt

ONE

“Who are you really, honey?”

Debra Palmer leveled the gun at my bare chest. Sprawled in her king-sized bed, I focused on her eyes, not the gun. It wasn’t a big scary gun. It was a little puny thing, but, hey, a gun is a gun.

I was Mandy for this job. Larry was Mack. Mack and Mandy. Cute, huh? Larry wanted to use Mack and Mabel because he’s a movie buff, and these are the names of a long-forgotten Hollywood couple that no one cares about except Larry.

“No one will buy that my name is Mabel,” I said.

Larry looks like a Mack, though. He’s a big, muscular guy with a shaved head and gorilla arms.

He really wanted me to be Mabel. “I’ll be Mack. You be Mabel,” I said.

We argued back and forth until he finally got it through his thick skull that I wasn’t on board with Mabel. We compromised on Mandy.

I was pissed off because Debra could have done the drama before we had sex. The sex wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t my idea. Mrs. Palmer was old enough to be my mother. If I cheated on Gretchen, it’d be with someone who made me wet. Not that Mrs. Palmer wasn’t attractive. She was. Debra was charming, intelligent, and had a rocking body. Most would call her beautiful. To make things even more interesting, she was good in bed. Still, if I’d known she’d pull a gun, I wouldn’t have slept with the bitch.

I didn’t think she’d shoot me. She had a lot to lose. She was the wife of one of the richest men in the state. Her husband was running for governor, for Christ’s sake. She had to know she’d never get away with it. This was a bluff, a game. She was used to expensive, one-of-a-kind things. I was a toy.

Life was a lot less dangerous when I was a fucking hit man. It was that damn Larry Howell who’d gotten me into this mess. He’s my brother-in-law, and since we met we’ve been on a two- person crime spree that would have horrified Gin and Gretchen. Gin is my sister. She thought Larry was a criminal justice consultant and I was a security consultant who occasionally worked for him. Something or other. We were always vague.

Gretchen is my partner and Gin’s best friend since kindergarten. Like I said, if either had a clue what we were really up to, Larry and I would be in huge trouble. Gretchen and Gin are respectable people. College professors. It would rock their worlds. They’d dump our asses too. Larry and I would be doomed to lying around in our sweats, watching sports on TV, eating potato chips and drinking beer, blaming each other for messing up a good thing.

It’s difficult to explain what Larry does. He calls it “quasi-legal.” He specializes in getting guys who’ve got it coming, people who should have been arrested and imprisoned long ago. Getting them good. It’s a lucrative business. Clients come to Larry with motivation, information, and lots of money to screw someone. Not literally. Figuratively. After Larry’s done, the target is ruined and often in jail.

The first time I worked with Larry, we demolished a crooked hedge fund dude. That one took months of planning. This one didn’t. Still, it seemed foolproof until Mrs. Palmer got it in her head that she wanted to fuck me.

Her husband Wallace Palmer owns a health insurance company, and, like I said, is running for governor. John Reynolds also wants to be governor, so he’s hired Larry to ruin Palmer. Fortunately, Wally’s made it easy. He’s having affairs with two strippers, a teenage intern, and the COO of his company. Three of these are dudes, and if you correctly guess the three I’ll be surprised.

The con is a beaut. Larry’s sold himself as a computer expert to Palmer and offered to set up a program to access every file, email—everything— Reynolds has on his computer. It’s amazing how eager people are to destroy others. Reynolds isn’t much better. He’s a sleaze bucket, but who else would get involved in something like this?

Earlier today, Larry went alone to the Palmer’s white Greek Revival on Tuxedo Drive and pretended to “check out the specs” on Palmer’s computer. He then installed a “custom program” that would supposedly copy and send files from Reynolds’ computer to Palmer’s.

After the installation, Larry met me at our Buckhead hotel where he downloaded like crazy on his laptop, while I, acting as Larry’s assistant, returned to the Palmer residence. My job was to keep Mrs. Palmer from logging on to the computer until Larry remotely copied all the data.

I was at the PC in Palmer’s basement office, pretending to do something or other while staring at the screen. It didn’t matter because Debra wasn’t the least bit interested in anything but me. After I made sure the program was sending data to Larry, I told Debra some mumbo jumbo about how I’d done something on the computer and needed to wait several hours until it finished running.

She invited me up to her kitchen for a cup of coffee and a piece of peach pie. I ate the pie and sipped the coffee while she brought out an old issue of Veranda. She flipped through the pages and then laid the magazine in front of me. It was open to a two-page spread on her house in St. Simon’s. The beach house was sweet, but it was like watching someone else’s home movies. Just when I willed myself not to yawn, she rubbed against me, touched my hand, that sort of thing. Finally, she put her arms around me and nuzzled my neck. Subtle, she wasn’t. I had time to kill, so I went to bed with her in the fancy upstairs bedroom. Big mistake, and here I am with a gun pointing at me.

I widened my eyes, hoping she’d think it was an expression of fear. Maybe she’d feel sorry for me.

Nope. She brought up the gun until it was aimed at my face. Really? My face? Shoot my fucking face?

She stepped back. I’ve been told I have a scary look. She lowered the gun until it once again pointed at my chest.

“Put down the gun,” I said, sensing I had the upper hand.

We remained at a stalemate for several minutes. I tried to recreate whatever she’d seen on my face, but apparently it’s a natural expression, something I can’t control.

“This doesn’t seem to be your thing, Mandy,” she said.

“It’s not.”

She set the gun on her dresser and came back to bed. It wasn’t my thing, but it was hers. She turned into a dynamo, and we went at it good. She didn’t mention the gun again, nor did I. As you can probably guess, I was eager to leave.

“Hey, Mandy,” she said, just before I walked out, “how about giving me your phone number? Maybe we can get together again.”

“I’m seeing someone,” I said. “I can’t give you my number. I’ll take yours and call when I can.”

I typed her number into my phone and saved it under Debra. It made her happy. I went out to my rental and headed back to Larry and the hotel.

“You took a long time,” he said, when I walked in the room. “I was getting worried.”

“I got tied up,” I said.

“Everything’s in place,” he said. “We need to get out of here.”

“Fine by me.”

Larry had told Palmer it’d take a week before he finalized the job. That would give Larry enough time to find what he was looking for and then give it to whomever could nail Palmer. Larry never went into detail about this part. I assumed he had someone at the FBI or in law enforcement who took stuff and then used it to get a search warrant or subpoena or something. There was a lot that Larry didn’t tell me, which was fine with me. I didn’t give a fuck.

Anyway, by the time Palmer gets suspicious, the program will be gone from his computer without a trace. When Palmer tries to explain the con to the authorities, he’ll sound like a madman. Actually, he might not try too hard to explain because he’ll have to admit that he tried to hack into Reynolds’ computer. Like I said, this one is a beaut.

I took a quick shower, and we packed up. I followed Larry in my Mustang to return his rental. He turned in the car, and we headed to the Atlanta airport.

“I had sex with her,” I said.

Larry was driving my Mustang because men like to drive. It was fine with me because I was busy deleting Debra’s phone number from my contacts.

Larry shot me a look of disapproval. “Why?” he asked.

“I hadn’t killed enough time. She asked.”

“You’re not supposed to do that.”

“You told me to keep her out of the way.”

“What will you tell Gretchen?”

I snorted. “I’m not telling her.”

He shook his head. “Women find out this stuff,” he said, quickly pulling the car off the road.

We were at a strip mall called Lucky East that had a nail salon, a dentist’s office, and three other storefronts that were advertised as available.

“Tell me everything,” he said. “How much trouble are we in?’

“It’s cool,” I said, wondering if there was a Lucky West.

“Kell.”

I didn’t appreciate his tone, so I turned my body and looked out the window. Larry can be a girly man sometimes. He’s a worrier, and, frankly, it irritated me.

“Kell,” he said. “What do you mean, she pulled a gun on you?”

“During sex. She got out of bed and pulled a gun on me. She asked me who I really was.”

“A loaded gun?”

“I assume it was loaded.”

“A Glock?”

“A pea shooter. A .22.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Nothing. She realized I wasn’t turned on. She put down the gun and came back to bed.”

He thought about it for a minute. “She must be crazy.”

“To sleep with me?”

“No. To pull a gun on you. That’s crazy.” He paused. “She’s old enough to be your mother. Holy smokes. Pulled a gun on you? That woman’s nuts.”

“I’m more afraid of Gretchen.”

“You really had sex with Mrs. Palmer?”

“Yes.”

“I mean—”

“On the bed. Naked. Sex.” I turned to him. “What girls do in those porno films you watch.”

“Wow.” He chuckled. “You really think you can keep it from Gretchen?”

“I have to.”

I used to be a dirty dog, and I still have it in me. Gretchen is the first serious relationship I’ve had unless you count Rosa, and you can’t because we were never really together. When Gretchen moved in with me, she told me the worst thing I could do was cheat. The second worst thing was lie. I think it was in that order. I’ve been lying big-time for a while. I haven’t cheated until now.

“How was she?” he asked. “Mrs. Palmer?”

I smiled and winked.

“Wow,” he said. Like most guys, Larry has a thing about lesbians. He tries to hide it, but he’s intrigued. It drives Gin nuts. “How’d she approach you?”

“She asked me to go to bed with her. When I hesitated, she implied I was insulting her.”

“You think she’s a lesbian?”

“I think she’s bi.”

He thought for a moment. “She pulled the gun on you during sex?”

“Yes. Then she had sex with me again.”

“So you think she planned—”

“I think she planned on fucking me and then playing a game. Like I said, it seemed to be her thing.”

“It’s a thing?”

I shrugged. “People like what they like.”

“How old do you think she is?”

“Fifties.”

“I was thinking older.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Larry said. “Palmer’s about sixty-five. Is that the oldest you’ve—”

“No.” Like I said, I used to be dirty dog.

“You need to write a book one day, Kell.”

He started up the car again, and we got back on the road. He got out at the airport, gave me $50,000 cash, and we said goodbye. I headed back to Stone Mountain where I live with Gretchen. He caught a flight back to California.

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