In this latest comic mystery by acclaimed novelist Yolanda Joe, Georgia Barnett and her cameraman/ partner, Zeke, are minding their own business on an errand at the bank when they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a dangerous, and unusual, bank robbery. They quickly find out that the gunman, Brett, isn't looking for money. What he really wants is a major media outlet. The police have ignored his pleas to help find his missing daughter. So Georgia manages to strike a deal: in exchange for her investigative powers and televised appeals to the public for information about Brett's daughter, Georgia will walk free. Brett may be a loose cannon, but he's sharp as a tack and, much to Georgia's dismay, decides to hold on to Zeke as collateral.
With a trigger-happy police force and bomb-wielding Brett, Georgia is under the gun, literally, to find Brett's daughter and save Zeke from the crossfire. Her boyfriend, Doug, a tough, handsome, get-'em-at-any-cost cop who works high-profile cases in the Windy City, happens to be away on assignment. Thankfully, Georgia finds an unlikely crew of cohorts in the Video Cowboys -- three of Zeke's fellow cameramen who contribute stories to the local TV stations. Put out to pasture because they were deemed too old to keep up with the demands of the job and the changing technology, the Cowboys are hell-bent on saving Zeke and proving that they've still got the chops to tough it out in the rough-and-tumble world of TV news.
Their fast-paced investigation leads them all over Chicago. Time is running out, even as Georgia and the Cowboys hang on during a high-speed car chase, survive a shoot-out, and uncover an intricate drug scandal. Brett's daughter might not be an innocent kidnap victim. And Brett may not be the only threat to Georgia and Zeke's lives...
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Video CowboysA Georgia Barnett Mystery
By Yolanda Joe
Simon & SchusterCopyright © 2005 Yolanda Joe
All right reserved.
"Yeah baby!" Zeke howled inside our cramped news truck. His howl had the volume of a moon-baying wolf on Prozac and the silliness of Scooby-Doo.
The truck pitched and swerved as Zeke changed lanes left, slammed on the brakes, then changed lanes back. I've had smoother rides on a roller coaster. Zeke acted like he was on a Six Flags ride too, the way he flung both hands in the air and then used his beer belly to hold the steering wheel straight. We had just worked the sunrise newscast.
"Hey-hey," he said in a singsong voice. "It's 9 A.M. on a Friday and we're done for the day. My wife is on a cruise with her sisters. I already called my boys and they'll be waiting for me at the bar for burgers and beer 'round noon. Hot damn. Jesus must be a cameraman."
"If he was," I said while waiting for all my vital organs to shift back into their rightful spots, "he'd drive at a normal speed. Say Zeke. Do a sister a solid and stop off at the bank."
"Amen to the bank. It's my turn to buy and it ain't gonna be cheap, Georgia. The Video Cowboys guzzle booze like Prohibition's coming back."
"Say Zeke. Who came up with that nickname anyway?" I played with the press pass around my neck from the news conference we had just covered. "It's so cool."
"Yours truly, of course." Zeke winked. "I hung that joker on 'em 'bout two years ago. They had just started freelancing after being laid off by the corporate bean counters that took over Channel 8. The Video Cowboys are throwbacks. They'll take on ANY STORY ANY TIME -- day or night -- no matter how tough it is."
"Which one of the Cowboys is the baddest, Zeke?"
Zeke vigorously scratched his chin. His lanky fingers grated against seven-day-old stubble. He repeated my question thoughtfully, "Who IS the baddest?"
"Can't be Choke," I said, throwing out my first thought. I visualized Vicente Ochoa -- Choke. He's a little guy. Everything about him is compact -- his 5'6" height, his cropped hair, his choppy laugh, even his 1992 Plymouth. He has beautiful, thick shiny hair and dreamy eyes. Choke is a frequent flier flirt too. And dancing? I went to his sixty-first birthday party last year; good God that man can jam on the dance floor. Choke can boogie like Bootsy Collins and slow dance like Smokey Robinson. "Naw, it can't be Choke."
"The Salsa King? You're right. Not him. Besides, that guy has more dance trophies than Bayer has aspirins."
That's the truth. I made up my mind right then and there. I told Zeke I was casting my vote for Paulie.
Zeke slammed on the accelerator, blowing through a yellow light. Then, suddenly, as if he'd just heard me, he said very Soprano-like, "Paulie Vitale? My Paulie?"
"Don't go there Zeke. I'm not stereotyping just because Paulie is Italian..."
"And grew up in Little Italy with all the grandsons of Al Capone's crew, naw, that wouldn't make you say he's the baddest, huh?"
I smacked Zeke on the arm with my notepad. "Don't go there! It's just that Paulie is such a big guy. He's what, 230 pounds?"
"That's on a ghetto scale," Zeke laughed. "Told me he went to the doctor last week and weighed in at 265."
"Dawg, he doesn't look it. He carries it well."
"Height. He's 6'3", Georgia. But the doc says he's gotta lose fifty pounds."
"What?! Paulie's gonna have to give up all that imported tobacco he loves." I laughed. "'Cause if he loses fifty pounds and keeps smoking that pipe, somebody's bound to mistake him for a crack addict."
We finally stopped at a red light. Zeke banged out a drum roll on the dashboard and announced, "Wayne 'Gunner' Anderson is the baddest."
"Get out of here."
"C'mon Zeke. Gunner's the biggest loner since the Unabomber. He only talks to you guys."
"Only because we're tight."
"True, Georgia. Gunner is a solemn son of a gun around other folks besides us. He stays home every day listening to police scanners and the fire department frequency. He calls Paulie and Choke and tells them where to go to cover a breaking story. Gunner keeps all the books too. He knows what they shot and who bought the video."
"So what? He's organized. That makes him tough?"
"You know how he got the name Gunner?" Zeke asked, turning into the outdoor parking lot of the bank.
"Yeah. He used to ride in the TV choppers shooting aerials of fires and stuff for the morning show."
"Right," Zeke said, wrestling the news truck into a tight spot. "But Gunner was also in Vietnam. He rode in the choppers there too: on machine gun. He saved half a platoon once near the Thai River. Kept the enemy off until they could reestablish position and hold that key spot."
"He's a straight-up war hero?" I said, giving him serious props in his absence. "You go, boy."
"We're impressed. Think the bean counters were? HELL NO. All those suits do is count the number of heads holding a camera. They never take into account the heart of the man behind the camera. When they forced all the old camera guys out, I went up to the manager's office and told that chump he was off his rocker. Told him about Gunner and the medals he won in the war."
"Obviously that didn't help."
"In fact it hurt. Gunner never said a word about his military record to the guy. When Gunner found out that I had gone up there and told the new boss -- he punched me in the chops. Sucker punched this old southern boy but good, Georgia."
"Why'd he hit you?"
"Told me he was a soldier, always was one, and always will be and a good soldier takes his marching orders without question. No excuses and no begging for reprieves. If they wanted him OUT, then he was GONE. Gunner don't play."
We got out of the truck. Zeke grabbed his equipment box. It contained spare batteries and a set of lights. Then he grabbed a sack of power cable before slinging the camera up on his shoulder. "Whatya doing? We're NOT moving into the bank for God's sake. We're just making a quick withdrawal."
"Obviously you missed the memo."
"It's posted all over the station. Someone's been breaking into trucks and stealing the equipment. Two guys over at NBC got their cameras ripped off. That ain't happening to me, Georgia."
"Better not. And I can't imagine it will, the way you baby this equipment."
"Hmph. Right about now I'm wishing I had a stroller to put it all in," Zeke said as he huffed up the walkway with the massive gear.
I took one of the bags from Zeke, the lightweight one of course, and we headed inside the bank.
The line stopped me cold: ten people, and only two tellers. "Forget this, Zeke. Let's try the ATM."
"Can't," Zeke said, dumping the equipment in a pile to our left, getting it out of the way of the other customers in line. He reached into his pocket. "No cash card. I'm a passbook guy."
"Well aren't you the Fred Flintstone of finance. Why don't you have an ATM card?"
"It's too easy to take money out and too easy for somebody to rip you off -- including the bank with all those stick 'em up withdrawal fees."
"You got ah point there."
Two more customers were called to the counter by a pinging sound and a blinking red arrow. Zeke limped forward.
"How's the leg?" Zeke had hurt it during a friendly game of basketball between the Channel 8 guys and another television station. "Still bothering you?"
"Still gimpy. How's Doug?"
"Grouchy 'cause he's on light duty."
"Even though it landed him a free trip to Mexico?"
My boyfriend, Detective Doug Eckart, was down in Mexico waiting to bring back a retired Chicago politician who fled there after being convicted of corruption. Doug had gotten the easy assignment because he was just getting over a bum leg. He tore a ligament during a skiing trip we took together a while back and didn't even know it. Not until his doctor told him he had to have surgery, that is, and then boyfriend knew it FOR SURE. I had a thought that made me laugh.
"What's funny?" Zeke asked.
"I guess white men can't jump and black men can't ski."
We laughed together.
That gorgeous blend of sound gave me a warm feeling inside. I guess that's why I jumped so when the cold, deafening sound of a gunshot shattered the peaceful moment. Yeah...real-real-real...a real gunshot.
Everyone in the bank reacted differently. Some screamed. Some were quieted by fear. Half of the people froze and the other half hit the floor. Zeke and I had a twin reaction. We were both half-squatted down, heads up, our gazes raking the room for the source of the shot.
Now what do you think a gunman would look like? A gunman with the guts to come into a bank to rob the joint in broad daylight? I figured a big guy, wearing a mask. Very plain clothes. Someone carrying a large bag to stash the cash in. If he's solo in the bank, he's probably got someone waiting in a car outside with the motor running, right?
Wrong as Shaq in drag.
I wouldn't cast this guy as a bank robber no more than I'd cast Britney Spears in a remake of The Flying Nun.
This man was white, about 5'10", slender build, a gaunt face with prickly grayish brown growth on his cheeks and chin. He had a pronounced nose, sharp and angling to the left. His deep black eyes were very cold and determined. He wore a strange getup -- a black sweatshirt with a light blue sea horse on it. His trousers were too big; the cuffs had been doubled up by hand, floating above his ashy, bare ankles and a pair of dirty white Keds sneakers. He had a bag -- a red sack with a white drawstring and black lettering that said laundry. But the bag couldn't be to stash the cash in -- it was already full; something was in it. But what? I asked the question in my head. What's in the bag?
"I've got a bomb!" the gunman shouted.
Sorry I asked.
"And I'm gonna use it..."
Don't tell me no mo'.
I felt Zeke tense beside me. I didn't even look at him. I was studying this guy with the bomb in the sack and the gun pointed at the guard who was standing by the door.
"Take the money and go," the guard said.
"Please!" one of the tellers groaned.
"Shut up!" The gunman set the bag ever so gently on the counter so everyone could see it. "Everybody just shut up and listen or we're all gonna die. Now," he pointed at the guard, "put your gun on the floor and slide it over."
The gunman looked like one of those homeless guys selling newspapers. But don't let nobody fool you. There was an edge to him -- like at one time things were really good -- and now things are really bad. I'm a TV news vet and I can size up people pretty darn well. This gunman was desperate and whatever he had in mind to do, it was going to be full speed ahead.
The guard followed directions to the vowel, child. He moved slowly, easing his gun belt onto the floor and sliding it away with a soft kick.
"Lock the door. Close the blinds too."
The guard went to the door and locked it. He yanked on the gnarled drawstring and turned day into a dusky evening. That's when I noticed something, something important.
I spotted a little boy no older than seven, fidgeting on his knees, looking around, panting, alone. What was a seven-year-old kid doing alone in a bank?
Ten feet away from us, a door began to screech open.
The gunman cast his gaze and his gun in that direction. The little boy jumped up and ran toward his pregnant mother, who was coming out of the restroom.
Her smile turned into a muffled "Oh God!" as she realized what was going down.
The gunman glared at her, glanced at the little boy, then bit his lip and cast his eyes back and forth. He seemed angry that he had not cased the situation properly, and was clearly distracted by his error. That's when Zeke made a move. He lunged forward. Somehow the gunman sensed it coming and took a jerky step backward. Zeke grazed his right side, knocking his gun hand up.
Meanwhile, the guard had flipped the lock and swung the door open, yelling for people to run. Like he had to tell 'em? Please. Bank customers were running the 100-yard dash toward the door already. Chivalry is dead and buried in a shallow grave with Fear standing over it holding the shovel. ALL THOSE PEOPLE were cutting in front of the pregnant woman and her son.
The guard took a run toward his gun on the floor.
The gunman took a SWING at Zeke, grazing his temple with the butt of the gun, opening up a small cut. Then he threw ANOTHER PUNCH that caught Zeke in the throat. That did it. Zeke slumped over, grabbing his neck.
I was trying to push the pregnant woman and her son out of the door ahead of me. Too late. A gunshot shattered the ceiling tile above our heads. I froze. The rest of the people, who were just steps from freedom as well, froze too. The guard slid to a stop, just a step or two away from his gun on the floor.
"Nobody else move! Get on your knees now!"
We dropped to our knees.
The gunman turned on Zeke and took aim. "Why don't people listen to me? You're trouble, man. Just like the rest of them. You wanna hurt me, don'tcha?"
Zeke made a choking sound.
"Don't!" I shouted. "Don't kill him."
The gunman stared at me. His stone-washed face came alive with the prickly red color of blood rushing to his head.
"Let me help him," I said, then slowly moved beside Zeke. A little bit of blood from his forehead got on my clothes. Zeke pulled a long, white hanky out of his pocket. I took it and held it against the cut on his head. Zeke just winced. He wasn't hurt too bad but defeat STINGS.
The gunman leaned forward and pushed the gun into the middle of my chest. I felt a chill roll up my spine and my mouth became desert-dry.
"TV people?" he said, tapping the laminated media pass that hung around my neck. The gunman stepped back and motioned with his pistol toward the pile of equipment.
"Okay." He appeared to perk up. "TV people. You're gonna help me."
Copyright © 2005 by Yolanda Joe
Excerpted from Video Cowboys by Yolanda Joe Copyright © 2005 by Yolanda Joe. Excerpted by permission.
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