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Taxman stepped into sight, holding a submachine gun at the ready.

Monks felt a dizzying lurch inside his head, and feared that he was having a stroke, that he was going to seize up like a burnt-out engine and collapse to the floor.

Then, just as swiftly, the same euphoria that had come to him after his showdown with Freeboot touched him again-the sudden certainty that nothing more could happen that was worse than what already had.

“If you’re going to shoot me, go ahead and get it over with,” he said. He walked across the kitchen and got a bottle of Finlandia out of the liquor cabinet.

Freeboot made a hoarse hacking sound that seemed to contain amusement.

“Let’s get down to it,” he said. “I ran out of junk. You keep Demerol here, your kid told me.”

“The kid you tried to have killed?” Monks said, dropping ice cubes into a glass. He felt detached, disembodied, almost like he was floating. He noticed that his hands were remarkably steady.

“That was nothing personal, just business.”

“Whose ear was it?”

“Nobody you know. I need a shot-now. So quit fucking around and get it.”

Monks set the ice tray on the counter and said, “All right. Where’s the wound, by the way?”

“How’d you know about that?” Freeboot said suspiciously.

“Are you kidding? I smelled it as soon as I walked in the door.”

“Get the shot.”

Monks walked down the hall to his office, with Taxman following. The phone in there was dead, too. He knelt on the floor and opened the safe where he kept an emergency supply of narcotics, his.357 Magnum, and several thousand dollars in cash.

“All the drugs, and the money,” Taxman said. He pulled the plastic liner bag out of a wastebasket, emptied it on the floor, and tossed it to Monks.

Monks stuffed the bundles of bills inside it, along with an unopened twenty-milliliter vial of hundred-milligram-strength Demerol, a packet of syringes, and a bottle each of Percocets and Vicodin. He waited, expecting Taxman to demand the pistol, too, but he said, “Okay,” and jerked his head back toward the living room. Apparently they had plenty of guns.

When they got there, a light had been turned on. Freeboot was sprawled on the couch, with one leg extended over the coffee table.

At the couch’s other end, huddled into herself, was Marguerite. She looked bewildered, dully frightened, but unhurt.

Another wave of relief washed over Monks.

“Say your little bitch ratted you off,” Freeboot said, pointing a thumb at her. “What would you do with her?”

“She’s carrying your child,” Monk said quickly. “Genetically pure this time.”

“Ain’t that a fucker?” Freeboot said, annoyed. “Confuses the whole issue.”

He took the plastic bag from Taxman. His left arm was already tied up with his belt, popping blood vessels thick as nightcrawlers in his forearm. He held the bottle to the light, examining the label, then unwrapped a syringe and inserted the needle through the vial’s seal. Monks watched him draw out just over one milliliter.

“For a guy who distrusts medicine, you know your dosage,” Monks said.

“This ain’t medicine, man. This is dope.”

Freeboot slid the needle into a vein, and a few seconds later, relaxed and laid his head back with a grunt. The lines of pain eased visibly out of his surgically thickened face.

Now Monks could see the wound-a hand-sized patch of crusted, blackened blood and scab toward the right side of his groin. The bullet must have missed the femoral artery, and the entry point was beneath most of the abdominal organs. But it almost certainly had penetrated the intestines-besides the gangrene, there would be infection, maybe peritonitis-and it might have ricocheted off bone, causing more organ damage.

“If that gets treated immediately,” Monks said, “you might make it. I’m talking hours.”

Freeboot smiled faintly. “The same argument we started with. Kind of like our song. It makes me go all gooey, thinking about it.”

“Let’s try another old song,” Monks said. “‘I hate to say it, but I told you so.’ Remember that one? It was one of those sixties Brit groups.”

He walked back into the kitchen and filled his glass with vodka.

“How about ‘Revolution No. 9’?” Freeboot said.

“A theme song for murder and havoc?”

“The motherfuckers are paying attention, you got to admit.”

Monks took a long sip, savoring what he figured was going to be his last drink.

“It looks to me like a giant step back toward barbarianism,” he said.

“You kick a dog long enough, that dog’s finally gonna bite you. This isn’t over, Rasp. It’s just getting started.”

Freeboot grimaced suddenly, his face contorting in a spasm. The Demerol would provide a little relief, but the agony had to be nearly unendurable. Only unconsciousness was going to keep it at bay now.

Freeboot reached for the bottle again and inserted the needle through the seal. Monks watched with surprise, then alarm, as he drew three milliliters, then five.

“That’s getting up toward lethal,” Monks said.

Freeboot ignored him and filled the syringe to the tenmilliliter mark.

Monks glanced quickly at Taxman and his weapon. Both looked ready.

“Remember one thing, Freeboot,” Monks said. “I had you in my sights and I let you walk away.”

Freeboot looked up at him-not with the stare that Monks was used to, but with weariness, and maybe pity.

“There’s no fucking truth,” Freeboot said. “Everybody’s full of shit, including me. I done what I could, man.”

This time, Monks got the sense that man was intended to include all of humankind.

Freeboot slid the needle into his arm. His thumb pushed the plunger all the way home. Almost immediately, he sagged, forward this time-chin falling onto his chest, right hand dropping to the couch, palm up, fingers slightly curled. The syringe still hung from his left forearm. Marguerite made a whimpering sound, turning her face away and curling more tightly into herself.

Taxman moved without hesitation, stepping forward to pick up the plastic bag of money and drugs.

Monks edged in front of Marguerite. “There’s no reason to hurt her,” he said.

Taxman looked at him curiously, as if Monks was a puzzle he couldn’t get a handle on.

“I watched you playing with the kid that night, making him laugh,” Taxman said. “I never could have done that.”

He flipped the weapon into the air, catching it by the breech in a quick, practiced motion. Then he strode across the room and out into the dusk, breaking into a lope, footsteps crunching lightly on the gravel drive until the sound faded.

Monks leaned down to Marguerite and carefully unclenched her hands with his own, then helped her to her feet.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get to a phone and call your mom.”

Arm around her shoulders, he guided her out the door where he had first seen her standing on that night when all this had started, a million years ago.


As always, this book owes a great debt to many people who helped in its making. To name a few:

Chuck and Lois Anderson, Frank and LaRue Bender, Dan Conaway, Lisa Grubka, Mike Koepf, Drs. Dan and Barbara McMahon, Kim McMahon, Jill Schwartzman, and Jennifer Rudolph Walsh.

About the Author

NEIL McMAHON studied premed at Stanford and was later a Stegner Fellow there. He is the author of three previous Carroll Monks thrillers and a new stand-alone novel set in Montana-where he lives with his wife-to be published in 2006. You can visit his website at www.neilmcmahon.com.