I squinted through about a million tiny crystal--like dings as the late--day sun landed on my windshield. I’d been sitting here for an hour. Waiting. I do that a lot. I had an address and a hunch. That was about it. That’s about it most of the time.
My name is Keye Street. I am a detective, private, a bail recovery agent, a process server, and a former criminal investigative analyst for the FBI. And when I sayformer, I mean fired. Capital F. The Bureau likes their profilers sober.
I dropped the doughnut in my hand into the green--and--white Krispy Kreme box on the passenger’s seat and peered through the smoggy dusk of another hot August night. The house, like the others on the street, had been stamped out sometime in the 1960s with a builder’s cookie--cutter eye, a starter home—-one--story brick, two bedrooms, one bath, a thirty--six--inch picture window to the right of the front door, bedrooms on the left end, a quarter acre of grass with poured concrete driveways. The trees that must have been saplings when the neighborhood sprang to life now shaded the street and rooftops against the unyielding southern sun. But they didn’t do anything to take the steam out of the air. Like most neighborhoods this time of year, the whir of condensing units fighting to push cool air through the ductwork was the background music.
I let the sun sink lower, slipped out, closed my car door quietly, and headed down the sidewalk. Four doors down, I veered left and worked my way along a driveway lined with droopy hydrangeas. They looked like they could use a drink. I know the feeling.
A light clicked on inside the house, and I saw him through the picture window. He was sitting in his living room, a Styrofoam box in his left hand, a remote control in the right, facing a television that was too big for the room. I edged closer to the house, saw him push back in his La--Z--Boy. On the big TV, the Braves were playing the Dodgers at Turner Field. There was a ’69 Dodge Charger in the carport, orange and black. The muffler needed a little work. He’d rumbled past me a few times this week. Hot vehicle, though, if you have an eye for muscle cars. I do. I’d grown up with them and the guys who drove them hard on Friday nights in Georgia.
I moved around to one of the bedroom windows. The house looked empty except for Jeremy Coleman. I was hoping his bail--jumping brother would be here. Ronald Coleman was charged with shooting a man while stealing his car in the parking lot of a Krystal hamburger joint. He then held up the drive--thru for five cheese Krystals and an order of fries while the car’s owner staggered through the lot begging for help. Great guy, that Ronald Coleman. Coleman’s court date must have slipped his mind. A little thing like aggravated assault with the intent to kill, armed robbery, and carjacking can do that. I’d been watching Jeremy on and off for the last week, hoping Ronald would show up. The family history told me the brothers were close. It was Jeremy Coleman who had pulled together ten percent of the $140K the state required for the bail money. Not easy for a working--class guy with a two--stall garage and a Monday--through--Friday classic auto restoration business. I was betting if anyone knew where Coleman was, it was his little brother Jeremy. About a week ago I would have bet the burger--eating creep would have shown up by now. So much for hunches.
I passed overgrown shrubs to a weedy backyard with grass tall enough to have gone to seed, the perfect environment for the mosquitoes to come out to play. Nice and dark and moist. I held on to a brick ledge and tiptoed to see inside the back bedroom. Jeremy slept in the front, I knew. If he had a guest, this would serve as the guest room. The bedroom door was open, and just enough light seeped in to let me know the room was empty. The bed was made. Everything looked exactly like it had the other five times I’d peeked inside. My hands and neck were stinging. Mosquitoes like dark clothes and dark hair too. I had both.
I headed back down the side of the house. The front door opened as I turned the corner. I stopped cold. Movement is what pops out at you at night. The eye catches it when it misses everything else. I stood dead--still in the shadows. Jeremy was on the front porch locking up with a fat, jingly key ring. He was still wearing his work clothes, navy--blue pants and shirt, mechanic--style with a name patch over the left breast pocket. I watched him get in his car. As soon as the engine started, I hightailed it through the yard and up the sidewalk to mine, a dingy Plymouth Neon with a dent in the hood—-you don’t want to spy on a guy who restores vehicles for a living in something flashy. So my white--on--white 1969 Impala convertible was at home in the parking garage. Missing me, I thought warmly. I’d had the car since high school. And my mother says I can’t commit.
Jeremy was braking at the stop sign at the end of the block when I pulled out. I switched the headlights off until he turned. And then I kept my distance. An old orange--and--black Charger allows you that luxury. The taillights are distinctive—-two long red bars. Also, this guy was about as unpredictable as the Golf Channel. Mostly he watched television in a recliner with a take--out carton in his lap he’d brought home after work. But tonight it looked like my diligence was going to pay off. He drove right past the liquor store on the corner, the bar up the street, and the grocery store—-the only places he’d been all week other than work and his own living room.
I tailed him to a convenience store and watched him buy a carton of cigarettes. Jeremy didn’t smoke. My hopes were high. I followed him down Ponce de Leon to a Wendy’s on Scott Boulevard and watched him go through the drive--thru. Next stop: a motel off Church Street sandwiched between car dealerships. It was the kind of place the Bureau put their agents on assignment—-stucco façade, two levels of crappy carpeting, and a great view of the parking lot. He got out with the cigarettes and a bag of fast food under his arm and climbed concrete steps at the corner of the building. He stopped at the fourth door. I picked up binoculars and checked the number. Two Twenty--Eight. Maybe I’d play that one in the lottery tonight.
I couldn’t see who was behind the door when it opened, but I was feeling fairly confident it was Jeremy’s fast--food--eating brother, Ronald. I slipped into a Kevlar vest and a lightweight black jacket that identified me as bond enforcement in big yellow letters and walked into the management office.
“My name’s Keye Street. Bond enforcement.” I slapped my identification on the counter. “Mind telling me who’s in Two Twenty--Eight?”
“I don’t want any trouble.”
I smiled, took my ID back. “That makes two of us.”
“We just renovated,” the clerk told me.
“Understood,” I said. We exchanged a long look. I waited him out. Finally, he fingered his keyboard.
“Coleman,” he said. “Jeremy.”
Just as I thought. Jeremy had gotten the room for his brother and now he was delivering food and cigarettes. A lot of cigarettes. Either Ronald was a chain smoker or he was about to take off. “When’s he checking out?”
“Tomorrow,” the clerk told me. “You’re not going to shoot up the place, right?”
“Right,” I said. I left the office, followed the concrete steps to the second level, and went down the breezeway to Room 228. I pressed my ear against the door. A noise from Room 232 got my attention. A tall, scrawny guy with a scruffy goatee came out. I hoped he’d go the other way, but some people just cannot mind their own business.
“Can I help you with something?” he asked.
“Bond enforcement,” I whispered. “Keep moving.” He hesitated. He was going to be trouble. “You been hanging out with Ron?”
“I don’t know no Ron,” he said. He was lying. Paranoid eyes darted from me to the parking lot.
I could hear the television inside, the occasional murmur of male voices. I reached for my Glock and made sure he got a good look at it. “Get him to the door.”
He glanced at my gun, knocked lightly, raised an unsteady voice. “Hey, Ron, wanna hang out, man?”
“I’m busy,” a voice yelled from inside. I gave him the signal to keep talking. “Um .?.?. Ron, man. It’s kinda important,” he said, talking into the closed door.
“Go fuck yourself,” his pal Coleman yelled.
“Okay, just go,” I told him and looked over my shoulder to make sure he was leaving, then tried the door. Locked. I knocked loudly.
“Goddamnit, Trevor!” Coleman yelled. I felt the vibration of heavy footsteps. The door swung open and Ronald Coleman stood there shirtless in jeans holding a half--eaten chicken sandwich.
“Bond enforcement, Mr. Coleman. Put your hands behind your head and step out of the room, please.”
Coleman made a backward dive for the bed, rolled over a white paper sack that had a blob of ketchup and some oily fries spilled out like he’d been using it for a plate. But he held on to his sandwich. I heard him hit the floor with a thud on the other side. The bathroom door slammed.
Oh boy. I was clearly dealing with another genius. The chemical smell in the room was undeniable. I saw a tiny piece of foil with a crack rock about half the size of a marble on a table at the window. I looked at Jeremy. “He still carrying that thirty--eight he used in the carjacking?”
I gestured at the drugs, the small brass pipe, and a cigarette lighter. “Are you smoking that shit too? You need to get a grip, Jeremy. Or you’re going to lose more than the fourteen grand.”
Jeremy’s glassy eyes looked away.
“Get out,” I told him. He didn’t hesitate. He headed for the door while I moved slowly into the room and around the bed, weapon trained on the bathroom. The unpredictability factor is pretty high with these guys anyway, but when there’s a crack pipe in the room, it goes into orbit. “Hey, Ronald, you missed your court date. We need to get this straightened out.”
“Screw you,” he yelled. Sque woo. He was actually finishing his sandwich while being pursued by a bail recovery agent. You have to admire that on some level.
I pressed into the wall on the other side of the door in case he wanted to do to me what he’d done to the guy in the Krystal parking lot, and double--checked my vest. “Open the door and kick the gun out. I want to see your hands on your head. I’ll give you to three. One .?.?.”
“Leave me alone or I swear I’ll fuck you up.”
Bang. Ronald discharged his weapon. The bullet tore through the cheap hollow--core door and shattered the mirror over an oak veneer dresser. So much for the renovation.
“Still here,” I told him.
Bang, bang, bang.
“Jesus.” I pressed in hard against the wall. “You realize how stupid this is, right? You’ve trapped yourself in the bathroom. Now just come on out.”
I heard fast shoes hitting the concrete breezeway, shouting. The manager/clerk showed up at the open door, red--faced and raving.
“You need to stay back,” I ordered the manager loudly.
“I called the cops,” he yelled. “You’re gonna pay for the damage.”
In that case, I aimed for the space between the bathroom doorknob and frame and fired. One solid crack and the door swung open. I pressed back into the wall and waited. The hotel manager glared at me like I’d just dropped his ice cream in the sand.
“You need to clear out,” I told him again.
Bang. Shot number five was followed by a guttural yell, the kind you imagine coming out of someone who’s just thrown himself off a cliff. Ronald Coleman came blasting out of the bathroom with his head down like a defensive lineman. He rushed right past me, leveled the manager at the door with one shoulder, and sailed over the balcony.
I rushed out the door and peered over the railing. Coleman was spread--eagled on the hood of a Buick, facedown. I leapt over the manager and took the steps two at a time. A Decatur police car was pulling into the lot. I holstered my weapon, grabbed Coleman’s arms. He was groaning, trying to move. I cuffed him and ran a zip--tie through the cuffs to his belt loop.
The officer approached. I held up my ID. “Bond enforcement,” I announced. “And this is Ronald Coleman. Jumped on aggravated assault with intent, armed robbery, and carjacking.” I put my ID away and reached into my jacket for the paperwork. “I think we need an EMT.”
The officer eyed me skeptically. “Ya think?” Cops don’t like to see criminals get away. But they don’t have a lot of affection for bail recovery agents either. At least not ones in their jurisdiction. He looked over the paperwork, then at Coleman, whose cheek was pushed into the hood of the car like it was a really soft pillow.
“He threw himself off,” I said.
“Seriously. He’s high as a kite.”
“You see drugs upstairs?”
I nodded. “Crack.”
“Anyone with him?”
“Nope. Just Ron and the crack pipe,” I lied, and glanced at the orange Charger sitting in the parking lot. I thought Jeremy must be behind the wheel, though it was too dark to know. Maybe he’d been waiting for his brother to make a run for it. Maybe he was ready to mire up even deeper in his brother’s crash--and--burn life. Maybe he wanted to be sure Ronald was okay. Maybe he just needed to sober up before he drove. Whatever it was, I decided Jeremy had had enough trouble already. He’d veered off the path. Who hadn’t? This is what happens when you watch someone for a few days. Empathy kicks in. You begin to feel their life. I’d seen Jeremy spend long days at work and come home with a take--out carton to an empty house. I’d been there. I’d watched him risk too much for family. I’d been there too.