Crouching behind a truck that was built Ford tough, Dan Steele had but one simple question. "How the hell did she end up with a gun?"
The man in the white jacket crouching next to Dan shrugged. "It's L.A. How do I know?"
Dan tugged habitually on his goatee as he considered how to deal with the armed woman who had taken the hostage from the nursing home and who was now hiding behind the driving excitement that was a Pontiac. Since Dan's job required him to deal with crises on a daily basis, he was usually calm, cool, and collected when this sort of thing hit the fan, but this was a different sort of thing. Dan seemed to be taking this personally.
It was just past ten o'clock and already it was ninety-two degrees. It was going to be another miserable day in the San Fernando Valley, with hot yellow-brown air triggering another Stage Three Lung Alert. Dan carefully raised himself until he could see his reflection in the truck's side mirror. Given the circumstances, Dan thought it only appropriate that he looked like a sweaty cop in a good suit when in reality he was the creative director at an advertising agency.
Dan looked like the sort of guy you would see in a television beer commercial, playing football in the background with other guys who weren't quite good-looking enough to be featured in the spot. He had been a swimmer in college and had put on a little weight but had not gone completely to seed. The upwardly arching lines in his forehead looked like ripples coming off his eyebrows, resulting in a cheerful appearance unmatched by his present disposition. His thick, dark hair was styled into a fashionable helmet. With his adequate physique, respectablelooks, and not-too-shabby income, Dan seemed to have it all. But Dan, being in the advertising business, knew better than anyone that things aren't always what they appear to be.
He pushed his Armani frames up the slippery bridge of his nose, then looked quickly over the hood of the truck. The woman and her hostage were ten yards away. Dan ducked back into hiding position and turned to the man in the white coat. "Okay, here's the deal," Dan said as though he were in charge. "I'll create a diversion. You go for it."
The man looked at Dan and snorted. ""You" go for it."
Dan did little to hide his contempt. "Who does this six-dollar-an-hour yahoo think he is?" Out of force of habit, Dan assessed and categorized the man in marketing lifestyle-segmentation terms: unmarried, high-school-grad, apartment-dwelling, domestic-beer-drinking, TV-sports-watching, lower-middle-class nonvoter. He was a perfect sample from the psychographic cluster those in the advertising business called "Single City Stiffs." And wasn't this present scenario a perfect example of why we had demographic distinctions in the first place? People like Dan Steele didn't rush out from behind cars attempting to subdue armed crazy people. That was a job for rent-a-cops and other ambitious minimum-wagers. Unfortunately, the man in the white coat didn't share Dan's feelings on social Darwinism, so Dan was screwed,
Dan cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled. "All right, I've had enough of this crap! On three, we're coming in! This is your last chance!" He waited for a moment to see if that would end matters, but the hostage taker didn't respond. Dan pulled some cash from his pocket and turned to Single CityStiff. "All right. You go that way," Dan said, pointing east. "I'll go that way." He pointed west before handing the man a couple of twenties. The man nodded agreement. A second later Dan started. "One! Two!"
"FWUMP! FWUMP!" Dan cringed at the fat sound of two rounds slamming into the other side of his hiding place. "Three!" Dan turned to the man in white. "Go!"
In one swift motion the man stuffed the forty bucks into his pocket and made his move. He was just four feet from the truck when the woman opened fire. The blood red exploded across the man's white coat. He staggered backwards and fell at Dan's side. "Jesus!" Dan hadn't been prepared for this, not outright murder.
The man's eyes and mouth were open wide. He'd been hit three times. His breathing was frantic as his hand groped about his bloody chest. "Oh my God! Oh my God!"
"I don't believe it!" Dan said. "She...she shot you!"
The man's expression relaxed a bit. He suddenly didn't look like someone who had just taken three in the torso. "Wait a minute..." The man probed his wounds, then put his bloody fingers to his mouth and tasted the red. He spit.
Dan knew something was hinky. He reached down and felt the wounds himself, "The hell is this?" He rubbed the blood between his fingers, then sniffed. "She's got a "paint" gun?"
The man in the white coat sat up, confused as much as anything else. "She said she was armed. She didn't say with what." The man suddenly grabbed Dan by his shirt and pulled him close. "Hey, asshole," he said. "You didn't go." He was angry. "You said we'd go on three and you didn't go for shit."
"I did," Dan insisted, "but I, uh, twisted my ankle." He rubbed the joint and winced."Ow! I think I sprained it pretty bad." He touched it tenderly. "Might be broken, I'm not sure."
"Uh huh." Single City Stiff wasn't buying it. "So now what?"
Dan was trying to...
Bill Fitzhugh is the author of seven novels. He still has all of his original organs and plans to keep it that way until the very end, at which point he is willing to let the doctors divvy them up among anyone (with the exception of politicians) who might need them. However, he makes no promises about the quality of his liver. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and all of her organs.