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Former Ranger Jeb Anderson was more accustomed to dodging bullets and IED's than a geriatric retiree with a Dale Earnhardt complex, on a tricked-out scooter, but luckily it took the same skill set.
"Move it, sonny!" an old man bellowed at him, narrowly avoiding Jeb's ankle with his back tire.
Interestingly enough, he wasn't certain what had been more dangerousthe potential bombs or these vision-impaired senior citizens on the only form of transportation they were legally allowed to drive without a proper license.
Another older gentleman roared up next to him, his scooter candy-apple red with custom orange flames shooting down the sides, racing flags winging along behind him on the back. A cloud of Old Spice suddenly enveloped Jeb, making his nose burn and his eyes water.
"Psst," the older player stage-whispered, darting a covert look around them. He leaned closer. "You want to score some V?"
Jeb blinked. He wasn't altogether certain what V was, but he was relatively sure that he didn't need to score it.
"V," the man repeated impatiently, evidently in response to Jeb's blank look. "The Tent-Maker, the Rocket Launcher, Vitamin V, the Miracle of Manhood," he added with a suggestive waggle of his bushy brows.
Ah. That V
"I get my next script in a few days and I can spare a couple of pills. Two for fifty. What do you say?"
Fifty dollars for two pills? Seriously? He'd say that was highway robbery. Of course, he wasn't familiar with the street value of Viagra, so for all he knew this was actually a bargain price. Fortunatelyblessedlyhe wasn't in the market for any sexual performance enhancement drugs, so he merely shook his head and the gentleman moved on.
Because Lex Sanborna fellow friend and former soldierhad warned him in advance that some of the jobs that came Ranger Security's way were a bit unorthodox, Jeb hadn't batted a lash when the three founding membersJamie Flanagan, Brian Payne and Guy McCannhad told him that his first assignment with the firm would be to try and locate a jewel thief at an exclusive retirement home for those clients who needed specialized care.
Jeb considered working with the three legendary Rangers a real privilege. Known as The Specialist, Brian Payne's unmatched attention to detail, cool, unflappable confidence and keen observation skills had set the gold standard for every Ranger serving in Uncle Sam's army. With a supposed genius IQ and more brawn than even the traditional soldier, Jamie Flanagan was a force to be reckoned with, one who had married Colonel Carl Garrett's granddaughter. He grinned. That sure as hell took nerve. And Guy McCann's almost providential ability to skate the fine line between sheer genius and stupidity and always come out on top was still locker room lore.
He couldn't be working with finer menmen who got him, who knew precisely why he'd gone into the military and why he'd ultimately elected to come out.
Jeb released a tense sigh and battled the images back, the horror of his friends' broken bodies. His team, the one he was supposed to protect, and yet he was the only one to survive. He swallowed.
He'd be lying if he said there were moments when he sincerely wished he hadn't.
And then the inevitable guilt of that followed, imagining the pain his death would have caused his parents, his family, but most particularly his twin brother, Judd, who'd joined him in Ranger School and was currently still serving, but at present on a much-needed leave. Time hadn't permitted Judd a state-side visit, but he'd been able to manage a trip to Crete. It was odd being so far away from his brother, Jeb thought, as though he was missing an imaginary appendage.
Because they looked so differentHeaven and Hell more than one person had joked over the yearsthey'd never struggled with having their own identity, but the twin thing, the bond between them, had always been substantial. Had they not been so close, sharing that connection might have been a curse, but Jeb could honestly say he'd never resented the tie. Anything that Judd might have picked up from him was something he would have shared anyway.
They'd been more than brothersthey'd been best friends from the womb.
And this was the first time in either of their lives that their feet hadn't been on the same path. Or even the same continent, for that matter.
No doubt that was going to require more adjustment than anything else. Selfishly he'd hoped that Judd would make the switch with him, but that was hardly fair. Though his younger (by two minutes) brother had gone into the military initially to follow Jeb, Judd had thrived in the Ranger School and had developed a passion for serving that had defined his life just as much as it had Jeb's. Like himself, he knew Judd would stay there until he could no longer do the work to the best of his ability. He just hoped it didn't involve a tragedy, especially one that came with a heavy burden of guilt.
He wouldn't wish this hell on anybody.
Rather than linger on what he couldn't change, he sighed and tried to focus once more on the job at hand.
Twilight Acres looked more like a trendy resort than a glorified nursing home. The grounds were meticulously kept, featuring live oaks, sugar maples and weeping willow trees, lots of perfectly cut grass and flower beds bursting with blossoms. In honor of the Thanksgiving holiday there were potted mums, bales of hay, dried corn stalks and bunches of Indian corn artfully displayed around the grounds. Wrought iron lamp posts were positioned closely along the especially wide sidewalks and the heart of the community had been fashioned to look like an old town square. There was a beauty salon, a barber shop, several diners, a drug store and movie theater, a florist, a dentist and a doctor's office, a small grocery and what looked like a '50s era soda fountain.
A large gazebo with assorted benches, chairs and tables enabled residents to sit and play a game of chess or checkers or simply relax with a drink and talk. Uniformed staffers periodically refilled drinks and offered snacks.
For those residents who still liked to cook, there was a community center with a kitchen adjacent to the pool area and even a small, steepled white clapboard church at the end of the street. A community garden and greenhouse enabled residents to grow some of their own food and flowers, and the houses themselves were quaint and picturesque, all of them equipped with front porches and connected with a maze of sidewalks that encouraged access to neighbors. Meals were always available and the community provided cleaning and laundry services. Specialized vans carried the seniors to local attractions and made sure any off-site doctor's appointments were never missed.
All in all, the developers of the community appeared to have thought of everything and wanted their residents to genuinely enjoy their golden years. Jeb had been told the waiting list was a minimum of two years long and no amount of money, so-called donation or other motivation would move a person into a better position.
Given the seeming impartiality and incorruptibility, it seemed odd that they'd have a thief in their midst, but the facts didn't lie. Over the past three years more than a quarter of a million dollars in jewelry had been taken, more often than not from those residents who suffered with bouts of dementia. He grimaced, feeling his anger spike.
It took a particularly heinous sort of person to do that, in Jeb's opinion, and he looked forward to helping do his part to bring the perpetrator to justice.
Hired on by the most recent victim's family
Rose Marie Wilton, who lost a diamond and emerald brooch which had been designed by the infamous Tiffany Company for Rose Marie's own grandmotherJeb was coming in undercover and would be posing as the grandson of Foy Wilcox, whose central location and popularity would make it easy for Jeb to blend in and investigate. Foy had one of the few houses with a guest bedroom and had been considered ideal for Jeb's purposes.
Consulting the house numbers, Jeb located Mr. Wilcox's residence and noted the red scooter with the orange flames parked by the front door with a dawning sense of dread. His lips twisted. Damn.
Naturally, the Viagra pusher would be his host.
Jeb mounted the steps and with a resigned sigh, knocked on the door.
"Is that you, Mary?" Foy called, a happy note of expectation in his voice.
Jeb opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off.
"Come on in and make yourself at home, my dear," he said. "I'm changing and will be ready to go in just a minute."
Because he didn't see an alternative, Jeb opened the door and let himself into the spacious living room. A cursory glance revealed quite a bit about his pretend "grandpa." Foy was a fan of original art, highend electronics, leather furniture and remote controls given the half dozen that lay on the stand next to his recliner. Jeb was strongly reminded of the so-called boardroom at Ranger Security, which had the same sort of man-cave feel.
The scent of fine cigars and some sort of disinfectant spray hung in the air and various photographssome in color, some in black and whitelined the mantelpiece, presumably family, at least one a bride.
"I'm ready, Mary," Foy announced as he returned to the living room. His flirty, hopeful smile capsized when he saw Jeb and he blinked. "You're not Mary."
Jeb could state the obvious, tooFoy wasn't dressed.
At least, not in the traditional sense, and there was nothing conventional about the turquoise and black zebra-striped Speedo the older man was wearing. Even more disconcerting, evidence suggested that Foy was a man-scaper, because other than the slicked back hair on his head he was as bald all over as a newborn. A silk robe and a towel had been tossed over one arm and he wore a pair of rubber flip-flops. Jeb gave himself a mental shake and forcibly directed his gaze to Foy's face.
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Wilcox. I'm Jeb Anderson, the agent from Ranger Security looking into the jewelry thefts that have been taking place over the past few years. Rose Marie Wilton's family hired me. You were consulted by my boss, Major Brian Payne," he prompted.
Foy's eyebrows united in a dark scowl. "I know who you are and I know why you're here. I'm not a child, so don't talk to me like I'm one. I'm old, not ignorant."
Shit. He hadn't meant to cause offense. They certainly hadn't gotten off to a good start. "That's not what I"
"Yeah, yeah," Foy said, ignoring him completely as he picked up his smart phone and loaded the calendar. He glanced up at him. "You're early," Foy announced. "You weren't supposed to arrive until four o'clock. It's three-thirty. Who looks like the dumbass now?"
Jeb felt himself blush. Foy was right. He'd incorrectly assumed that the older man would be waiting for him and, once he'd packed a bag, had decided not to delay his departure.
Clearly Foy, the resident Romeo, had other plans.
A knock at the door made them both turn and Foy's expression instantly transformed into a smile so smooth Jeb was hard-pressed not to admire the guy.
"Mary," Foy said warmly, striding forward. "Looking lovely as always. Is that a new cover up?"
Mary grinned, clearly pleased that Foy had noticed something different about her. She was an elegant lady, with carefully arranged blond hair, just enough make-up to hint at a more youthful beauty and finishing-school posture that made her appear taller than her true height. "It is," she said, nodding primly. Her gaze shifted to Jeb and she smiled expectantly.
"Mary, this is my grandson, Jeb. He's recently out of the military and is going to be visiting me for a few days. I'm working on my memoirs and he's kindly offered to take notes for me."
That was certainly news to Jeb. Memoirs? What sort of memoirs? Though Jeb would like to discount the remark as a good lieand he suspected Foy Wilcox could spin a yarn with the best of themthere was a disturbing ring of truth to the announcement that made him distinctly uncomfortable.
"How nice," Mary enthused. A slight frown puckered her brow. "Oh. I hate to take you away from"
"No, no," Foy was quick to tell her, shooting Jeb a black see-what-you've-done look over his shoulder. "He's going to settle in and take a nap. He's exhausted, poor lad. Had a nightmare layover in New York."
Jeb barely smothered a snort. Excellent liar indeed.
"Well, if you're certain," she said, still looking unsure.
"I am," Foy told her, herding her back out onto the porch, his fingers in the small of her back. "I'll be back after while, son," Foy told him. "Make yourself at home. There's food in the pantry and drinks in the fridge, but stay out of the liquor cabinet. I've got scotch in there that's older than you are." He settled Mary onto his lap, instructing her to wrap her arms around his neck in the process, then fired up his scooter and took off.
Jeb watched the pair hurtle down the sidewalk toward the pool area and knew a momentary flash of unhappy insight. He imagined his "grandfather" was getting laid with more enthusiasm and much more frequency than he was.
Rather than linger over that little nugget of disappointing information, Jeb decided he'd better call in. Charlie Martin, resident hacker for Ranger Security and new mother, had promised to have some information for him this afternoon.
Considering he was basically working blind, he'd take anything he could get.