Jessica Verona pushed her captive
to his knees, the barrel of her gun pressed against the base of
his skull. Raising one foot, she pressed down on the small chain linking the handcuffs,
forcing him to arch backward.
She leaned down and whispered
in his ear. "Nice loft you have here. How do you think your partner's gonna feel when
he gets home and finds your brains splattered all over the living room floor?"
He clenched his hands into
fists, but could do little else in his awkward position. "He'll probably thank you.
I'm sure he'll like having the place to himself."
She chuckled and pulled back.
"Oh, I think he'll miss you. You and he are real close. I know. I've been watching
you two. When he loses you, it'll hurt him real bad. Just like he hurt
She pushed harder down on the
cuffs, and he winced as the metal was forced into his wrists and his shoulders were forced
into a painful position.
"It's Verona to you,
Detective." She jabbed the barrel of the gun against the back of his skull. "Time to say your prayers."
Jim closed his eyes.
"Come on, Chief. Anytime you wanna show up with the
cavalry, that's fine by me."
As if in answer to his
prayers, he heard the rattle of Blair's Volvo on the street below. Part of him was elated
at his partner's arrival, but another part of him cringed at the thought. Sandburg was his
best chance of getting out of this alive, but the danger to the
young man once he walked through that door was too great.
But Jim did have an
advantage. If he could time things just right...
He heard the elevator make
its creaky ascent, then it chimed softly as the doors opened.
He tensed, listening to Verona's heartbeat to determine whether she had heard the bell. The
rhythm remained steady, and he thanked the heavens that she hadn't noticed thesound.
Jim tracked Blair's footsteps
to the door, his body tensing as it prepared for action. The keys jingled, and he heard Verona's
He dove into a roll as his
captor turned toward the door. "Sandburg! Gun!"
Verona fired one shot
at the front door, but that's all she got off before Jim's legs swept her feet from under
her. She hit the floor hard, her head contacting the wood.
Jim rolled to his knees,
surprised to see Verona recovering and staggering to her feet, the gun still clenched
in her right hand.
The door burst inward, and
she swung the weapon toward the entrance. A brownish blur sailed through the air, and a
bottled drink bounced off her forehead. She went limp, falling hard. The unopened bottle
of Snapple lay intact on the floor next to her.
Jim looked up at his partner.
Blair stood over a fallen bag of groceries, his wide eyes focused on the unconscious
woman. Then the young man turned his gaze to Jim.
"Oh man, are you okay?
What happened here?"
Jim smiled. "Just another of your old girlfriends." He jabbed his chin
over his shoulder. "Do you mind?"
"Oh! Where's the key?
You hurt, by the way?"
Jim shook his head. "I'm
fine. Verona has the keys."
"You're sure you're not
"Yes, Chief, I'm sure.
Now, if you don't mind... The keys..."
Blair knelt beside Verona, grabbing the
discarded gun and searching her pockets until he found the key. Tucking the gun in his
waistband, he moved quickly back to Jim and unfastened the cuffs.
Jim rubbed his sore wrists
and pushed himself to his feet. "Thanks, Chief."
Blair shrugged, glancing back
down at Verona. "I know her..."
"I should hope so. She
seemed to know you very well."
Blair looked up at Jim, his
lips pressed into a firm line. "You know her, too."
Surprise flickered over Jim's
face? "I do?" His brow creased and he looked down at the woman. "No, I
don't. Do I?"
"You set me up with her
about a year ago."
Jim's head snapped up.
"What? I did not."
"Through Mary Ann, the
woman you were trying to score with. Remember? She had a friend...."
Realization dawned on Jim and
he smiled sheepishly. "Oh yeah." He shrugged.
"Well, how was I supposed to know you drive women to psychotic fits?"
"I do not! It was YOUR
taste in women that got..."
Jim raised his hand. "Uh-uh, Chief. You don't see Mary Ann here going psycho. It must
be some affect you have."
"Yeah, now clean up this
mess while I call it in."
Blair's eyes narrowed.
"I'm the one who saved your rear end. You clean up the mess and *I'll* call it
"Excuse me, Chief, but
you seem to be under some sort of delusion? You did NOT save my butt. I saved yours. She
was going to kill you."
"Puhlease. How many people have tried to shoot me? You think
some psycho woman is gonna succeed where others failed. Besides, it was my Snapple pitch
that saved the day."
Jim looked down at the fallen
Blair nodded. "Uh-huh. Just like you asked."
Jim shook his head. "I
asked for *Cranberry Raspberry.*"
"You know, I'm thinking
I should have left the cuffs on you."