He Can Fall (She Can... #4.5)


by Melinda Leigh

CHAPTER ONE

“You weren’t supposed to kill him,” Carl yelled at Win over the sawed-off’s barrel. “This job was supposed to be clean and quick.”

Lowering his 9mm, Win grinned down at the manager’s body. A wet red stain the size of a baseball bloomed across the front of the dead man’s yellow logo apron. His legs twitched a couple of times, then went still. Brown eyes clouded over.

“The asshole was going for the silent alarm.” Win’s pale-blue eyes popped out of the ultra-skinny face of an addict.

“He was opening the safe, Win.” Carl implied the duh with his tone. Sweat dripped behind the bandana that covered his mouth and nose. He assumed the manager was the same guy who’d fired Win a couple of weeks ago.

“Don’t talk to me like that.” Win’s voice turned icy. “I knew him. You didn’t.”

Carl tried to ignore the kid’s belligerence, but the itch along his spine wouldn’t let him. Truth was, Win wanted to kill somebody. His personal beef with the liquor store manager was just a bonus. Win had the worst case of crazy-motherfucker-itis Carl had seen in a long time. The buggy eyes didn’t help. A hat and scarf concealed spiked bleached hair and skin the color of skim milk. The kid looked like the corpse of Billy Idol, circa 1982.

On the bright side, the kid had waited for the manager to open the safe before he capped him. Carl leaned down and scooped money out of the safe into his bag. He straightened, testing the weight of the duffel. Nice haul.

With the attention span of a squirrel on crack, Win shifted gears, prodding the manager’s beer belly with the blunt toe of a skateboard shoe. The body twitched, and Win laughed. Unease crashed through Carl’s confidence like a perfect strike through ten pins. He did not need this nut job pissing all over his early retirement plan.

Carl tried another approach. “Your uncle’s waiting.”

Win’s uncle Dennis, Carl’s longtime partner, was waiting outside.

Carl nudged the clerk with the gun barrel. “Get a move on, honey. We ain’t got all night.”

Jet-black hair swung over her face as she emptied all three cash registers into the backpack he’d passed her. Carl glanced up at the security cameras. The green light was blinking away. Win was still playing with the manager’s dead body.

“How about taking out the cameras like we planned?” he asked Win.

The kid went at the task like it was an arcade game, adding his own ridiculous sound effects to the gunshots ranging through the small store. The din wasn’t exactly what Carl had in mind, even though the other stores on this strip of Maine suburbia were closed. He felt like he was babysitting a psychopathic—and armed—toddler. He reached across the counter and yanked the bag out of the girl’s hands. A glance inside told him the payoff was decent. Maybe putting up with Win had been worth the effort after all, if they didn’t all end up back in prison.

“What’s going on?”

A voice startled Carl. He whirled, gun leveled.

“Whoa. It’s just me.” Lincoln Street, their fourth man, came from the rear of the store, where he’d been sweeping the back rooms for wayward employees and trashing the security tapes. He jerked a thumb at Win. “What part of ‘quiet’ does that psycho not get?”

Carl rubbed his forehead and shook his head.

In the narrow slit between the scarf that concealed his features and the knit cap over his bald head, Lincoln’s eyes went tight with fury. “You said Dennis could control him.”

“That’s what I thought,” Carl said. “But the kid is the one who knew the security details on the store.” Details he’d refused to share unless he was in on the job.

“Not worth it.” Lincoln headed for the door. “Let’s get the fuck out of here. The cops’ll be here any second.”

Win blasted the third and last camera. He loped back to the registers and grabbed the clerk by the arm. “Let’s go. You’re coming with us.”

“That’s not part of the plan, Win—” Carl started to protest. The girl would undoubtedly be another unwanted complication.

The killer glare in Win’s eyes stopped him cold. “I think she’ll be an asset.”

“OK.” Carl would leave Win-management up to Dennis. How much trouble could one girl be? It wasn’t like the rest of their “plan” was going off without a hitch.

Vacant-eyed, the clerk shuffled out from behind the register. Carl barely registered a tight black sweater and skinny jeans, but Win was licking his lips like she was a cheeseburger in boots. The vein in Lincoln’s temple bulged as if it could blow at any second.

They hustled out the glass doors. Sweating, Carl yanked the suffocating bandana off his face. His skin welcomed the cold February night.

He and Dennis had planned this simple holdup with no complications. Thanks to Win, who’d worked in the store for all of three weeks, they knew when the store would be holding the maximum cash load. They should have been in and out with minimum fuss and enough money to head south toward the next target, but Nut Job’s gleeful killing had changed everything.

The plan was fucked, and so was Carl.

He scanned the asphalt rectangle. As Win had said, the single security camera pointed at the entrance to the building. Two cars sat at the rear of the parking lot. The interiors were dark, overhead lights reflecting mirrorlike off the windshields, but Carl’s neck itched as if somebody were watching him. The vehicles probably belonged to the clerk and the store manager. Two employees, two cars. He was being paranoid. Win’s volatility was making him edgy.

At the curb, Dennis idled the stolen Buick. Win opened the rear door and put the girl in the back between him and Lincoln. She got in without a word, hunching over and hugging herself against the cold.

Carl jumped into the passenger seat and pointed toward the windshield with an urgent finger. “Go.”

Dennis made a calm exit from the lot, turned onto the highway, and headed north. Carl rubbed the center of his chest, where it felt like a sedan was parked. Once they switched to their own anonymous vehicle, Carl would be able to breathe.

Dennis jerked a thumb over the seat. “What’s she doing here?”

“Change of plans.” Carl stashed the sawed-off shotgun under his legs. “She’s coming with us.”

Dennis turned off the highway. “Why?”

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