By Geonn Cannon

Chapter Nine,

Hold On Real Tight

Rachel was allowed to sit with Alex and the rest of the company in the front pew reserved for pallbearers. Leary, Alex, Wizell and Murray were four of the volunteers, while Alfred's brother and father took up the front positions. Rachel sat between Alex and Jones's brother, a beefy twenty-something kid with eyeglasses and a pencil-thin mustache. He continually lifted his glasses and blotted his eyes with a hanky. Wizell, she noticed, had become the epitome of class. His evil grin, the playful gleam in his eye, everything that made him "Weasel" was hidden behind a veil of reverence and dignity. She was highly impressed by his about-face.

As the service began, Rachel reached over and took Alex's hand. Alex squeezed it, her hand like steel through her cotton gloves. The priest spoke of Alfred's contributions, of his devotion for the church and the programs he ran with the kids. He revealed that Alfred had approached him for a Junior Firefighter Program in the church which would teach elementary school kids how to observe basic fire safety in their homes.

The brother sitting next to her stood when the priest opened the floor to comments. He walked onto the stage and took the podium from the priest. "Hi, I'm Alfred's brother, Mike." He sniffled softly and he looked down at his hands for a moment before he started speaking. "Alfie... man, he always wanted to be a fireman. Since we were kids and we were playing with matches, he was always the one who squirted us with the water hose." He cleared his throat. "Sorry, Mom, by the way..."

The audience laughed softly.

"I heard that when he died, Alfie was serving as the nozzle man. He was leading the way into that fire. It was fate that he happened to pass away on that assignment, but I know that he died proud. And I want to thank whoever gave him that opportunity."

Rachel felt Alex's hand tighten around her own and looked up and saw tears glistening at the corners of Alex's eyes. Rachel reached over with her other hand and touched Alex's bicep. Alex covered Rachel's hand with her own and smiled weakly.

The brother finished his speech and joined them again on the pew.

The priest resumed his place and said, "Would anyone else care to speak?"

Leary stood, causing every firefighter in the room to turn and look at him in surprise. He straightened his jacket and stepped up on stage, his shiny-as-new shoes squeaking on the wooden floor as he took his place.

He cleared his throat and whispered a thank-you to the priest. He gripped the lectern with both gloved hands and flexed his fingers before he spoke. "I'm going to give the people who know me a few seconds to close their mouths..." A laugh from the gallery. "I'm Chief John Leary. I was Alfred's boss for the four months he was on the Engine and, just recently, after he transferred to the ladder. Before he moved over to the ladder, I had a talk with him and asked him what he wanted to do. He said, 'Fight fires.' I asked him if he wanted to be a hero and he looked me in the eye and said, 'I want to be a fireman, sir.'

"Alfred wasn't a firefighter for very long. But we shouldn't forget that he *was* a firefighter." He pursed his lips, flexed his fingers on the edge of the podium again and then shrugged. "That's it. That-that's all."

He turned, shoes squeaking, and stepped off the stage. After a few moments of silence, the priest returned to the lectern and said, "Thank you, Chief. If no one else would like to speak, Alfred's sister, June, requested that she be allowed to sing a special song for her brother. June?"

A lovely teenage girl with flowing red hair stepped onto the stage, taking a microphone from the stand. She waited for the organist to begin a hymn and began singing something that Rachel vaguely remembered from her days in the church. She couldn't quite recall the words, simply getting a flashback to sitting in a pew and squirming in her least-favorite gingham dress, doodling on the bulletin and wondering how long it was until lunch.

She looked over at Alex, who had her eyes closed and her lips pressed tightly together. Her jaw was working madly, her brow furrowed and her nostrils flaring. She squeezed Rachel's hand, then released it and rose suddenly. She stayed low, ducking her head down and hurrying down the aisle until she exploded out the back doors of the sanctuary. A few people turned to mark her passage, but June Jones showed no sign of disturbance.

When the song was finished, there was a polite smattering of applause. Rachel stood, eased down the row and followed Alex's escape route to the back of the church. She found Alex in the foyer, hugging herself tightly and looking out the glass doors at the parking lot. "Are you okay?" she asked softly.

Alex turned and looked at her with red-rimmed eyes. "I got pulled out of a fire when I was six. My apartment was on fire and they got my parents out. They went back and got me, saved my life. I thought the fireman was a monster at first. But he saved me. And then I saw him without his helmet and... he was just an ordinary man." She looked out the door again, her hands balled into fists. "When I was seventeen, he died. House fire. Ceiling collapsed. It was... eleven damn years, but I still couldn't shake the feeling that he died in exchange for me. He died so I could live. It's why I became a firefighter. To make up for his life. Now... Jones is dead for me, too."

"He didn't die because of you, Alex. There's no way to know what will happen in fires or... hell, walking down the street. Would you have felt so guilty if that first fireman had died of a heart attack?"

"But he didn't. He died in a fire."

"That doesn't matter." Rachel put her arms around Alex and held her tightly. "You've made up for what that man did for you. You saved the lives of others. Fate is repaid."

The doors to the sanctuary opened and the priest stepped out. "Ms. Crawford? They're ready for the pallbearers now."

Rachel turned her head until her lips were against Alex's ear. "Will you be okay?"

"Yeah," Alex whispered. She pecked Rachel on the cheek and slipped from her arms. "Okay, I'm coming," she said to the priest. She let her hand trail down Rachel's arm in an effort to stay in contact with her as long as possible. She turned at the sanctuary door and tossed Rachel her keys. "You can wait in the Jeep for me if you want... I'll be there in a few minutes."

Rachel nodded and mouthed, "Okay" as Alex ducked back into the sanctuary. The doors were pushed open a few moments later and held in place by two teenage ushers. Jones's fiancée, mother, and sister were the first ones out and Rachel stepped aside to let them pass. They waited outside as the rest of the mourners filed out into the suddenly chilly afternoon. Finally, the pallbearers appeared.

She felt a surge of sadness and pride as she watched Alex taking the right center section of the casket. The firefighters, resplendent in their dress uniforms, were a sharp contrast to the more casual suits of Jones's family members. Rachel waited until they passed, then slipped out the side door and headed for Alex's Jeep.

The door was unlocked with a remote entry button and she climbed inside, turning to watch as Jones was loaded into the hearse. When she turned back, she spotted several CDs tucked between the driver's seat and the console. Looking over her shoulder to make sure Alex wasn't coming, she pulled them out and catalogued Alex's music choices. The Who, Rolling Stones, nothing too surprising until... She gasped when she found Billy Joel's Greatest Hits. She giggled and turned the case over to read the track listing.

When the door opened and Alex climbed in, Rachel held up the CD. "Busted," she said.

Alex looked at the case and took it from Rachel, tucking it between the seats again. "An old girlfriend got that for me... I should toss it out or sell it online or something..."

"I wasn't making fun of you," Rachel said. "I like Billy Joel. 'Piano Man' might be my favorite song."

Alex held the wheel for a second and stared out the windshield. "Who is the real-estate novelist?"

"Paul. And he never had time for a wife."

Turning in her seat, Alex lowered her voice and said, "No one hears about this."

"Not from me," Rachel assured her.

"Okay," Alex said. "If you swear." She took the disc from the case and fed it into the player. When she started the Jeep, the harmonica signaled the intro to 'Piano Man.' Rachel grinned and fastened her seatbelt.

They joined the procession behind the Chief's Suburban and directly in front of Murray's SUV. Rachel turned in her seat, waving her fingers at Murray. He leaned forward and pushed his nose up with his thumb, poking his tongue out at her. She laughed and said, "Murray and Wizell look unexpectedly... grown-up in their dress uniforms."

"Yeah, it has a maturing effect on us all," Alex said with a smile. "Because every minute wearing them feels like an hour to us."

Rachel reached over and stroked the sleeve of Alex's jacket. "Still... you have to admit, it's very... appealing."

Alex looked down at Rachel's hand, looked at Rachel, then looked back out at the road. She cleared her throat and said, "Mm-hmm."

"What are your plans for after the cemetery? You're off-duty, right?"

"Mm-hmm. Why, did you have something planned?"

"Not particularly," Rachel said. She leaned back in the seat and shrugged. "I just... I don't want to leave you."

Alex smiled. "Well, I'll see if I can think of something."

"Try your hardest," Rachel said. "If I have to, I'll go to the firehouse and wash trucks with you."

Alex laughed and reached over. She slid her hand between Rachel's shoulder and the seat and rubbed Rachel's back. "Thank you. I didn't think I would be laughing today."

They went the rest of the ride in silence, Alex occasionally humming along with Billy Joel as he sang about Captain Jack's private island. When they pulled into the cemetery, Alex reached down and silenced the piano man. They parked along a narrow gravel road, the doors of every car in the procession seeming to open on cue and a sea of black and brown poured from the cars.

Rachel walked around the back of the car, intercepting the woman everyone was calling Bugs, and met Alex on the other side. Alex said she'd meet up with them soon, hurrying down the row with Murray to unload the hearse. Bugs and Rachel walked together down the gentle slope towards the large green tent covering a freshly dug hole.

"I fucking hate funerals," Bugs muttered.

Rachel looked at her for a moment, trying to determine if it was an attempt at conversation or just a general observation. After a moment, she said, "Yeah, they're awful."

"I'm Heather Riley, by the way."

"Rachel Tom."

"Tom. That's an interesting name."

Rachel smiled. "So is Bugs."

The other woman smiled and then looked over her shoulder. Her smile faded quickly. Rachel turned and saw the pallbearers were carrying the casket down a gravel walkway rather than heading downhill with it. They carried it past the mourners and carefully placed it upon a contraption meant to lower it into the ground. Rachel's eye caught on the mother and fiancée, who were clinging to one another in the front row. When Alex was again by her side, Rachel wrapped an arm around her and put her head down on one sturdy shoulder. She felt Alex's soft glove in her hair and closed her eyes.

The priest spoke again and Jones's sister stood. This time, she sang "Dream a Little Dream of Me." Alex lowered her head and her lips were against Rachel's ear. "Do you have a shift tonight?"

Rachel shook her head, the intimacy of Alex's whisper threatening to send her into convulsions. She felt Alex's fingers tighten on her shoulder, just a slight gesture, there and gone. But Rachel smiled and pressed her face against the wool of Alex's jacket. It was so warm. Cozy, even. She wondered what it would be like to curl up naked in this jacket... she wondered if maybe she'd get a chance to find out soon...

The service ended and the priest thanked everyone for coming out. He led the group in prayer and then sent them away "with God." Jones's mother, a matronly woman with thick eyeglasses, made her way over before the firefighters could escape. "You worked with Alfred?"

"Yes, ma'am, we did," Murray replied.

She took each of their hands in turn, giving each one a shake before moving to the next one. "Alfred spoke of you all often. You treated him well."

"He was a good man, Mrs. Jones," Leary said.

The corners of Murray's mouth twitched, but he contained himself before the woman saw it. She thanked them all again and then allowed her son's fiancée to lead her up towards the cars. Alex asked, "What was the smile about, Murray?"

"Me-ee and Missus... Missus Jo-ones," Murray sang, finally releasing his smile.

Alex rolled her eyes. "Better off not knowing."

They headed up the hill and Murray put an arm around Wizell. Together, they half-whispered, half-sang, "Got a thaaang going on..." Rachel grinned; the Weasel was back.

Ignoring the men, Alex put her hand in the small of Rachel's back and said, "I'm going to go to the firehouse and change, then we'll go to your apartment so you can change into something more comfortable."

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere without a dress code," Alex said. "I'm not specific on all the details yet, but I know that much."


Alex and Bugs changed on one of the sheet while the guys were changing a few feet away on the opposite side. Murray said, "We shoulda put the ladies next to a window. Then we'd get them sexy silhouettes on the sheet. Hindsight and all that."

"I'm sorry, Murray," Bugs said. "Did you say hindsight or harassment?"

Alex had a sweater and jeans in her locker and changed into them in record time. Carrying her sneakers in her hand, she wrapped the tie from her dress uniform around her eyes and crossed the barrier between boys-side and girls-side. "Don't worry, guys, no peeking... the blindfold is as much for me as it is for you."

When she'd made it clear of the locker area, she pulled off the tie and stuffed it into her pocket. Holt was crossing the apparatus bay, puffing on a cigar and apparently heading for the front of the garage. "Hey, Holt!" she called, waving politely at him. He turned and frowned at her. "Did you go to the funeral?"

"Nuh-uh," he said.

"How's the gym?"


"Well, nice talking to you."

He nodded and lifted his cigar in a salute before he turned around again. She went into the kitchen where Rachel was waiting and touched the brunette on the shoulder. "Ready?" she asked.

"Mm-hmm," Rachel said.

They said good-bye to the other firefighters they passed, Alex promising she'd catch them the next time they headed to the pool hall. When they were safely in the Jeep, Rachel asked, "So... you change with all the guys, huh?"

"Yeah. There's a sheet between us, though. The guys are gentlemen, despite the façade Murray and Wizell put on."

"I'll take your word for it," Rachel smiled. "So, any thoughts on where you're taking me?"

"Somewhere away," Alex said.

"Good," Rachel nodded and settled into her seat. "Away is good."


While Rachel changed clothes, Alex sat on her couch and thumbed through the books on the coffee table. A paperback novel called <i>Sparks of Love</i>, a hardback Stephen King alongside a thick novel by Amy Tan and a leather-bound copy of 'Oliver Twist.' Eclectic taste, Alex thought. Sort of like the kind of woman who reads classic literature and dates a firefighter. She looked around the apartment, bathed in the sun thanks to the skylight. It was gorgeous, impeccably clean... the sort of place people like Alex Crawford only saw during a fire.

The bedroom door opened and, a few seconds later, Rachel appeared. She was wearing a green blouse that wrapped around her torso, her hair down and her long legs hidden by slacks that belled at the bottom. "What do you think?"

"It doesn't show enough leg," Alex said. "Otherwise, it's perfect."

Rachel grinned and said, "Well, then. Shall we go?"

"We shall," Alex said.


Alex got into the Jeep and revealed she was just going to drive until something pointed her in the right direction. Rachel agreed that it sounded like a nice adventure and off they went. Billy Joel serenaded them until Alex had to change the CD, telling Rachel to pick anything that struck her fancy. "If you like Billy Joel," she reasoned, "nothing in my collection should horrify you too badly."

They finally settled on a Leonard Cohen compilation. "Any preferences?" Alex asked with her finger over the 'track advance' button.

"I like all of his songs. Except for 'Alexandra Leaving,' of course."

Alex blushed and skipped ahead to "Hallelujah." She conceded there were versions of the song that were on par with the original, but no one could beat his version of the chorus. Rachel agreed, humming along and idly watching the scenery whip past the window.

After an hour of driving, the sun was getting low in the sky. Rachel suggested finding a campground nearby, getting some take-out and just having a picnic under the stars. Alex agreed and had started searching for a suitable spot to pull off when she saw something just off the road that make her laugh.

"What is it?" Rachel asked.

Alex pointed at the wooden sign by the side of the road as they sped by.

Rachel leaned forward and smiled when she read the announcement. "Oh, this is too perfect," she said. "A winter carnival. There's an honest-to-God winter carnival about a mile up the road." She smiled. "I haven't been to a carnival in ages!"

"In that case," Alex said. She reached over the console to take Rachel's hand, "I think we've found out where we're going for our... um... second date?"

"I think this would be the... fourth."

"We'll well on our way to a real relationship."

Rachel smiled.


According to the flyers, the stands along the boardwalk were set to close at nine. The carnival was set up on a boardwalk, just off the beach. The fence between the boardwalk and the sand had been lined with Christmas lights, making the entire area look like the world's most cluttered landing strip. Alex and Rachel wandered hand-in-hand through the displays, the barkers offering them 'end-of-the-night' specials and promising they wouldn't leave without a 'stuffed bear as big as their heads.'

Alex declined all of the games of chance, telling Rachel she was saving all her money for snacks. About halfway down the midway, Alex gasped and said, "This is what I was saving my cash for. Feel like a funnel cake?"

"I... don't think I've ever heard of one."

Alex gasped and said, "Okay, we're getting you a funnel cake. You obviously led a very sheltered life and, as your girlfriend, I'm obliged to make amends." They stood in line and Alex ordered a plate. She turned to Rachel and presented a paper plate covered by a mish-mash of thin, deep-fried ribbons made of dough. The entire thing was covered over with a mountain of powdered sugar.

They walked together off the boardwalk and found a nicely secluded spot on the sand to sit and enjoy their snack. As Alex settled the plate on her thighs, Rachel said, "You called me your girlfriend."

"Did I?" Alex asked. She honestly hadn't noticed when she had said it, but she wasn't surprised it had slipped out.

Rachel nodded and said, "Am I?"

Alex leaned in and kissed Rachel's lips gently. "Yes. Now... prepare yourself for a treat! A carnival mainstay, a staple of the midway-walkers diet. I present to you... a funnel cake." She tore one of the ribbons off and held it between two pinched fingers. "Open wide."

Rachel did as requested and Alex rested the treat on her outstretched tongue. She chewed it carefully, swallowed and took a swig of her drink. "Well?" Alex asked.

Instead of answering, Rachel moved onto her knees and leaned forward. She cupped Alex's cheeks and leaned in to kiss her. Alex picked up the plate and moved it to one side. Rachel settled on Alex's lap and ran her fingers through Alex's short hair. After a few seconds, hoots and whistles began to rise from the boardwalk and both women parted, blushing.

Very aware of the audience they now had, Alex picked up the plate and guided Rachel back to the boardwalk. "I haven't had this much fun at a carnival since I was a kid," Alex laughed. "And I haven't been kissed at a carnival since I was sixteen."

"So that kiss wasn't fun?"

"The kiss was okay," Alex said. "But what happened after the carnival was even more fun."

Rachel laughed and pressed against Alex's side. As they headed down the boardwalk, Alex spotted a stand selling balloons. It was about to close for the night, so Alex hurried over. "One green balloon?" she asked.

The man peeled a green one away and said, "On the house. My last customer of the night."

She took it and stuffed three dollars into the tip jar he still had set up. "My last purchase of the evening."

He laughed and tipped his hat to her - he actually tipped his hat; she could barely contain her laughter - and went back to Rachel. She stood close, reaching around and gathering the brunette hair in one hand while holding the balloon with the other. "What are you--" Rachel asked, trying to look above her head.

"Shh," Alex admonished as she tied Rachel's hair into a ponytail using the string.

Rachel pressed her face against Alex's sweater and smiled, wrapping both arms around her waist. "What if I float away?"

"I'll just have to hold onto you extra-tight," Alex whispered into the top of Rachel's head.

"Okay," Rachel breathed.

They held each other for a few moments before the flow of the crowd forced them to move on. The street lights remained on, but one by one the midway's lights turned dark. Booths stood empty, abandoned for the night with curtains pulled down over their fronts. Signs proclaimed bargains that were no longer available and knick-knacks that were no longer on the market.

When they got back to the Jeep, Rachel ducked her head and used her hand to guide the balloon into the car so she wouldn't accidentally pop it or get it caught in the door. They sat in the darkness for a while, watching as sweepers moved out and started to clean up after the day. "Erasing the day," Rachel said softly.

"Yeah," Alex said.

Rachel looked over at Alex in the darkness of the car. "What was the name of the fireman who saved you when you were six?"

"Michael Graham," Alex said without hesitation.

"Do you feel fate is still trying to get you?"


Rachel reached over and took Alex's hand. "Then do you mind if *I* hold on real tight, too?"

Alex smiled. "I think it would make all the difference."


Rachel's apartment building seemed almost closed for the night. From the outside, a few windows were alight, but the lobby issued forth only a dim glow. Rachel opened her eyes long enough to key in her code at the front door, getting them past the intercom system. Alex escorted Rachel up to her apartment, practically carrying the exhausted doctor into the elevator. During the trip home, Rachel had grown progressively quieter and her head had dipped towards her chest a few times. Now, she was just barely conscious, her eyes shut, her weight resting against Alex like a drunk being escorted from a bar.

At Rachel's door, Alex smiled and kissed her cheek. "Hey," she whispered. "You're home. I need your key to get in."

Rachel's eyelids fluttered and she glanced towards the door, groaning and standing up. "Right." She fumbled around in her pockets for a moment, finally producing a key and opening the door. As she stumbled inside, she stepped out of her sneakers and flipped on a light switch. Three lamps in the living room immediately came on. "Do you want something to drink?" she asked, heading into the kitchen. "I have wine, grape juice... some apple juice."

"I should probably get going... it's kind of late."

"Are you sure?" Rachel eyes, eyes tired but focused intently on Alex.

They looked at each other for a moment and then Alex reluctantly nodded. "Yeah. Probably should."

"Well... okay..."

Alex kicked herself. Rachel sounded so damn rejected. She walked around the island and into the kitchen. "I had a really great time today. I... never would have imagined it waking up this morning, but... you really made today good." She tucked a strand of hair behind Rachel's ear. "You look good with your hair up."

Rachel pressed her forehead against Alex's shoulder and whispered, "I really wish you'd stay."

"I know," Alex half-breathed, half-sighed.

"So stay. I won't regret it in the morning."

"I-I don't think we should."

"Are you scared of me?"

Alex closed her eyes and kissed Rachel's temple. "Yeah."

"I'm just a woman," Rachel said. "I want to hold you. I want to be with you." She kissed Alex's neck just below her ear and felt the taller woman tremble. "But I'll wait for you."

Alex stepped back and kissed Rachel's lips, moving her hand from the small of Rachel's back to the curve of her ass, cupping it through her trousers. Rachel's lips parted and the kiss deepened, Alex moaning helplessly as her tongue moved into the warmth of the other woman's mouth. Speaking against the kiss, Alex said, "I should go."

"Then go soon," Rachel begged.

Alex broke the kiss and touched Rachel's hair again, taking a moment to release the balloon string. She handed the balloon to Rachel and said, "Good night."

"Good night. I want to cook for you."

"I'm off tomorrow night."

Rachel nodded. "Good night, Alex."

Alex wanted to go back to her, kiss her again just for good measure. But she resisted. She held herself back, knowing she wouldn't be able to stop. She opened the door and stepped into the hallway, shutting the door behind herself before she did something she would regret.

Alone in the apartment, Rachel smiled and whispered, "Suddenly, the night has grown colder." She snickered and tied the balloon string around the back of a chair. She ran her finger down its length, making the head rise and fall like a fishing bob. Sighing, her body electrified from the parting kiss, she headed down the hall to take a long soak in a bubble bath.


They hadn't spotted him after the funeral, nor had there been any sign they realized they were being tailed during their insanely long road trip. He couldn't decide if they had a specific destination in mind or if they were just driving aimlessly north. When they stopped at the carnival, he climbed out and wandered the midway a few paces behind them, always close but almost never within earshot. They bought a snack and sat on the sand, feeding each other.

He turned away during their putrid display of affection, waiting until he saw them move apart from the corner of his eye.

Tracking them back to Shepherd wasn't hard; by that time, they were practically the only other car on the road. They stopped outside of an old apartment building and Crawford practically carried the brunette inside. He groaned, expecting to not see them again until morning. The neighborhood was quiet, the cars on the street speaking to the level of money secured behind these walls. It was high-dollar, which meant security systems.

He waited a few minutes, watching the face of the building until he spotted a window light up on the top floor. He planned to stay until the light went out and head home. Or at least somewhere he could stop thinking about what they were doing.

To his surprise, Crawford came out of the building alone a few minutes later. He trailed her at a safe distance until she parked in front of a brownstone in a seedy part of town. It was apples and oranges compared to the neighborhood they'd just left. He parked in an alley and sat in silence, paying attention to the door Crawford entered.

A few minutes later, a light came on in the window over a hairdresser's shop. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel until the light went out again. He gave her some time, just in case she planned on leaving again, but after half an hour he slipped out of his car. This neighborhood wouldn't bat an eye at the sight of someone getting into a car he didn't have the keys to.

He hurried across the street and worked the lock. He'd picked up the skill at a 'camp' that was supposed to have repressed his criminal activities. Even before his teens, he'd been a holy terror. He snickered at the thought, knowing that the camp had been the origin of his more horrendous acts. It was there he learned how to set a good fire, there that he had learned how easy it was to pick someone's pocket.

The lock was pathetic. He was in the car before anyone happened by and spotted him. He went through the glove compartment, looked at her CDs - he resisted the urge to break the Billy Joel disc in half - and searched for something good. The bad part about the neighborhood was that Crawford was smart enough not to leave anything expensive in the Jeep overnight.

Then, he found it. A cell phone.

He picked it up and flipped open the front. The screen saver was a fire department seal. He fiddled with the keys until he found the phone book. A smile spread across his face as he read the names and numbers of people near and dear to Alex Crawford's heart. He closed the phone book and went to 'recently received calls.'

"Tom, Rachel" was at the top of the list. He closed the phone and tucked it into his shirt pocket as he got out of the car. A kid in low-riding jeans and a skullcap sidled by on the sidewalk, eyeing the Jeep. They locked eyes and he slammed the door. "Keep walking, kid."

The boy held up his hands in acquiescence and kept walking.

He patted the side of the Jeep before returning to his own car. The kid had his pick of people to rip off; Crawford was his designated victim.

To be continued in Chapter Ten

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