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"I gotta make a pit stop," Billy Boy said.
U.S. Deputy Marshal Harlan Cole sighed and glanced at his prisoner in the rearview mirror. It was one thing after another with this guy, and he was tired of listening to him.
Billy Boy Lyman had spent half the drive moaning about his cuffs being too tight, the cruiser being too cold, then he started blathering on about how the courts and the Marshals Service had him all wrong. That he was an innocent man caught up in something way over his head.
When Harlan reminded him that he'd tried to rob a bank, put a gun in the teller's face and threatened to pull the trigger, Billy said, "My partners were the ones with the guns. I didn't even wanna be thereyou know?"
"Uh-huh," Harlan muttered, then spent the next two hours listening to Billy Boy's tale of woe, the majority of which was little more than a sorry attempt at justifying the commission of a very serious crime.
Now, true to form, he was making noise about having to "pick a daisy," as Aunt Maggie used to say.
"I'm serious," Billy told him. "I really gotta go."
"Can't it wait until we get to Torrington?"
"Not unless you wanna be mopping up this backseat."
Harlan sighed again and looked out at the night sky and the empty road rolling under his headlights. He had picked Lyman up at the Criminal Justice Center in Colorado Springs, after waiting the good part of an hour for the prisoner to be processed. It had been a long day and all he wanted was to get the man squared away, then head to his motel room and go to bed.
He just wished Billy Boy would shut up. A wish that was likely to go unfulfilled.
This all came with the job, of course. Harlan knew that. The U.S. Marshals Service specialized in fugitive retrieval and prisoner transport, and he'd spent a significant amount of his career chauffeuring dimwits from one jail cell to another. He figured he'd probably heard just about every lamebrained excuse a man could come up with for breaking the law, and normally he wasn't much affected by it. Took it all in stride.
But there was something about Billy Boy that rubbed him the wrong way. The kid couldn't have been more than twenty-two years old, but he had one of those smirky little faces you just wanted to put a fist in. It took every bit of Harlan's impulse control to stop himself from pulling to the side of the highway to give the kid a quick tune-up.
On nights like this Harlan wondered if he should've taken his father's advice and found a different line of work. His father had been a career deputy and when Harlan had decided to follow in his footsteps, the old man had groaned.
"You've got smarts, boy. Use that big brain of yours to make a difference in the world."
But Harlan figured he was making a difference. There was nothing more satisfying than taking down a fugitive and helping ensure that the world was a better, safer place. It was just that he sometimes felt as if he were little more than a cattle herder. Even if the livestock he dealt with had a dangerous streak.
Not that Billy Boy was all that dangerous. Just annoying. And the sooner he delivered him to the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution, the happier he'd be.
"Are we gonna make a stop or what?" Billy asked. "And I ain't talkin' about the side of the road. I like my privacy, and there's bound to be a gas station up ahead."
Harlan glanced at his prisoner in the rearview mirror. "Only on one condition."
"After you've done your business, you shut your yap and keep it shut for the rest of the ride."
The convenience store was one of those all-nighters with a couple of gas pumps out front. It stood just off the highway, the only sign of life in the vicinity, its fluorescent lights so bright you could see them from half a mile away beckoning late night travelers to stop in for a snack, a cup of coffee and a few gallons of gas.
It was close to midnight and Harlan wasn't surprised to find only a single car parked out fronta battered gray Chevy Malibu he recognized as one that had passed them a few miles back.
Harlan wasn't fond of making unscheduled stops, but he understood how merciless the call of nature could sometimes be. When he worked long transports like this one, he tended to cut back on his liquid intake, but there wasn't much he could do about his passenger. It was up to the previous custodian to make sure the prisoner had been properly "fed and bled" before the trip. Yet despite the long processing time, someone back in Colorado Springs had neglected to do his job.
Harlan parked two slots over from the Chevy, then killed the engine and turned, staring at Billy Boy through the grille that separated the front and backseats.
"You'll wanna watch your step in there. Even a hint of trouble and I will shoot you. You understand?"
Lyman smirked. "You ever shot a prisoner before?"
"Once," Harlan said. "And he looked a lot like you."
The smirk disappeared. "You got nothing to worry about with me, Marshal. Like I told you, I'm an innocent man."
Harlan popped his door open and climbed out. Resting the palm of his right hand on the butt of the Glock holstered at his hip, he moved to the back and pulled open the passenger door.
With his own hands cuffed behind him, Billy Boy had to struggle a bit to climb out of the cruiser, but he managed to do it without too much of a fuss. Then Harlan took hold of his arm and guided him toward the convenience store entrance.
When they got inside, Harlan was surprised to find a womana girl, reallybehind the counter. Places like this tended to hire males for the late shift on the belief that a lone female offered any potential troublemakers a more vulnerable target.
But this particular female didn't look even remotely vulnerable. In fact, despite her youth and obvious beauty, there was a defiance in her expression that was a little off-putting. A look that said, mess with me and find out. She probably had a loaded piece resting somewhere under that counter, just in case the class got unruly.
Harlan saw her hackles rise as a buzzer announced their arrival and they came through the door, her gaze immediately shifting to Billy Boy's cuffed hands.
He didn't bother explaining the obvious, and didn't waste any time with chitchat, either. "Restroom?"
A guy in the potato chip aisle at the back of the storethe driver of the Malibu, no doubtlooked up at the sound of Harlan's voice. He glanced curiously at the man wearing cuffs, then went back to minding his own business.
Harlan waited as the girl reached under the counter and brought out a key attached to a wooden paddle. He'd always thought that the necessity for such things was a pretty sad commentary on the state of the world, but he took it from her without comment, then moved in the direction of her pointed finger toward a hallway just to her left.
The hallway was small and cramped with a single door marked Toilet. Harlan shoved the key into the lock, then pushed the door open and gestured Billy Boy inside.
Billy frowned. "Ain't you gonna take these cuffs off?"
"Once we're inside," Harlan said.
Billy looked surprised. "We? You're gonna watch me do my business? I told you, I like my privacy."
"My mandate is to keep you in sight at all times, whether I like it or not. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I should trust you."
"What do you think I'm gonna do? Whack you with my"
"Just get inside, Billy. I've had about all I can tolerate of you. The sooner we're done here, the better off we'll both be."
"You ain't exactly Officer Friendly, are you?"
"Sorry to disappoint. Now let's get this over with."
Billy Boy scowled but did as he was told, stepping into a room about the size of a broom closet that sported a single toilet and sink. There wasn't enough room inside for both of them, so Harlan moved forward and uncuffed his prisoner, then stepped back and waited in the open doorway.
"You ain't gonna close the door?"
"I'm gonna close your mouth with my fist if you don't hurry it up."
"All right, all right," Billy said, stepping up to the toilet. "Don't get your panties in a wad." He turned his head slightly. "Speaking of which, what do you think of that counter girl? Kinda cute, huh?"
"I think she's way out of your league."
"Yeah? I bet if I treated her right, she'd do anything I told her."
Harlan almost laughed. "Dream on, Billy. Now will you please get to it already? I'd really like to"
Harlan froze as something cold and metallic touched the back of his head.
"Hands behind your neck," a voice said.
A female voice.
Harlan didn't have to see her face to know it was the aforementioned counter girl. He also didn't have to use that big brain of his to figure out that she wasn't a counter girl at all. She'd no doubt been riding in the battered Chevy Malibu parked outside, along with the potato chip lover. And chances were pretty good that the real counter girlor more likely manwas either dead or tied up in a closet somewhere.
Harlan inwardly cursed himself. He'd been at this job for nearly ten years now and he'd just pulled a rookie move. Let the prisoner lull himor, in this case, annoy himinto lowering his guard.
How could he be so stupid?
"Hands," the girl said again. "Now."
As Harlan sighed and laced his fingers behind his neck, Billy Boy Lyman turned around, that infuriating smirk once again adorning his face. He reached forward and removed Harlan's Glock from its holster.
"You were right not to trust me," he said.
Then he brought the gun up fast, slamming it into the side of Harlan's head.