A Dell Book / November 2006
Published by Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2006 by Sean Doolittle
Dell is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
For Neil Smith and Victor Gischler
A Plot with Guns
2. BAD GOAT
3. PROTECT AND SERVE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALSO BY SEAN DOOLITTLE
PREVIEW OF BURN AND RAIN DOGS
I. MEAT AND FROZEN
Worth couldn’t get over the looks people gave him. It seemed like an easy question.
“Um, paper,” the woman said. “I guess.”
He swiped open a sack and went to it. Beside him, Gwen skimmed her cheat sheet for produce codes. Up and down the line, scanners beeped. Groceries clattered. Tinny Top 40 swirled in the rafters.
The woman finally leaned across the checkout stand. “Forgive me for asking, but don’t they have employees who do this?”
Worth did his best to ignore the way her breasts pressed together above the zipper of her jogging top.
“I don’t mind,” he said, already lifting the first sack into the cart at the end of the stand. Square. Stable. Not too heavy.
“Hey,” said the woman. “Wow.”
Worth touched a salute and quickly reduced the leftover rubble to three neat bags. He saved a little room at the top of the third, nestled a loaf of bread in the space. The woman was smiling now.
“Say…do you think you could put the meat in plastic? And the frozen stuff?”
“Meat and frozen stuff in plastic.” He nodded to the young boy at her hip, drawing his baton. “Okay with you, partner?”
The boy shrank, staring, chewing on the neck of his soccer shirt. Worth kicked himself for showing off. He raked the new pile forward with the side handle, leaned the stick out of sight beside his knee.
Gwen struggled along, scanning with her good hand, running the keypad with her bum wing. Soon the cart was full, the total totaled. The woman scribbled a check.
“Is that a real gun?”
He smiled down at the kid, who now gazed at Worth’s gear belt closely. “It’s real, kiddo. But it’s only for emergencies.”
“Have you ever shot somebody?”
“Not even once.”
“Ethan. Don’t bother the officer.”
Worth fished a Jolly Rancher from a vacant Mace holster. “Here you go, pal. That’s official candy. Omaha PD.”
Ethan looked to his mother. The woman slipped Worth a grin, gave kiddo the nod. Worth handed the candy over. He finally spotted one of the regular sackers sauntering back in from a carry-out, twirling his apron, nowhere special to be. Worth flagged him while Mom admired her cart.
“You know,” she said, “you’re pretty good at that.”
He held up his hands. “Long arms of the law.”
She laughed and tried to tip him. Worth took Ethan’s empty wrapper instead. Something in the boy’s newly fascinated expression depressed him a little. He dropped the kid a wink.
When they were gone, Gwen closed her drawer with a hip and batted her lashes. “You’re so good at that.”
“Don’t start.” He nodded to the wrist she’d sprained playing volleyball in some bar league. She’d come on shift with a brown club of bandage for a right hand; by now her long slender fingers looked like spoiled knockwursts. “You should go home and put ice on that.”
“It’s okay.” She flicked his elbow with her good hand. “How come you’re here so early? No life?”
“Law enforcement is my life.”
He liked seeing her smile.
Gwen pushed him out of her stand with his own baton. Worth strolled back to his spot by the cigarette case. He reholstered the stick, hooked his thumbs in his belt, and tried to look like a cop for a while.
Once per session, usually during a lull, Dr. Jerry Grail would take a hand mirror from his middle desk drawer and hold it up in front of Worth’s face.
“Describe what you see. Use only nouns.”
Sometimes it was adjectives. Once it was animals. It always felt canned, insipid, a little bit demeaning, but Worth needed the grade, so he did his best to play along. Sometimes Dr. Grail scribbled something in his case folder. Sometimes not. Half the time Worth felt pretty sure the shrink wasn’t even listening.