Tyler Has Words is the blog of Tyler Patrick Wood, a writer/musician from Texas. You'll get free book excerpts twice a week. On the other days, you'll get words. If you would like an original take on everything by an expert on nothing, this might be a cool place to hang out.

About The Lonesome

About The Lonesome

Post 460:


Together the Lonesome: A Novel



Chapter One: Who is Anna Harrison?


            It was Jim’s second time at Fort Worth’s Harris Methodist Hospital. The first was his birth. As the shroud of drug-induced unconsciousness started to lift, he could see his two sisters standing on either side of him. They looked red-faced and weary. Their fancy outfits were wrinkled. Silk sleeves rolled up. Ready for battle, or already in the thick of it. As long as the conflict could be managed in high heels and perfectly applied makeup. A balding doctor with a drained face and long white whiskers stood over the end of the bed, tapping a metal clipboard against his distended belly. He seemed put out by his job. Jim recognized the look from personal experience, even with his addled faculties.

            “What happened?” the patient asked. The words were forced and almost indiscernible through his parched throat.

            Julie, the youngest of the three siblings, was gently holding his right hand. She started to speak but was cut off by the doctor.

            “Mr. Camp, you’re a very lucky man.” He mumbled lucky like it was a word he used a thousand times a day. It made Jim feel anything but. 

            “I am? In what way?” Jim’s questions continued to come out with a stiff affectation.  

            “We removed the bullet from your right shoulder. There was a good amount of blood loss, but the tissue damage could’ve been much worse. Much worse. Very (cough) lucky.”


            “You got shot, honey.” Lela, the middle Camp sibling, was firmly holding his left hand.

            “Shot?” Jim said, instinctively trying to prop himself up. “Ahhh—okay. Yeah. That makes sense. My shoulder feels—different.” The flash of pain was a catalyst for his memories. One by one they started to poke through the morphine haze.

            “Poor Jimmy,” Julie said, somehow keeping her socialite smile completely intact. Ironically, she maintained it with Spartan discipline. The product of innate good nature and the fact that boiled down, she treated life like an endless glamour-filled night on the town. The visage could be deceiving to the uninitiated, though. Julie was wonderfully empathetic and relentlessly clever if she so desired. Jim called it cocktail clever, and he meant it as a compliment.

            “Oh, it’s fine. You guys didn’t have to come down here. Really good to see you, though.”

            “Poor Jimmy,” Julie repeated. Lela flashed her sharp blue-gray eyes at their doting youngest sister.  

            “I’ll give you the room,” the doctor said, a little too loud considering the limited space. “Buzz for a nurse if you need anything. Other than that, just rest.”

            “Appreciate it, buddy,” Jim said.

            The doctor made a wordless and hurried exit, scratching at the remaining hairs flattened across the top of his age-spotted head.

            “That guy seemed stressed,” Jim whispered, childlike playfulness in his tone.

            “They say the medical profession can be quite taxing,” Julie chirped, nodding a little fervidly for the situation. She was still adjusting to a very unusual set of circumstances.

            “It’s not that,” Lela said, “this has been a rather unorthodox day. And that quack’s probably never had a person of means and consequence on his table. Not to mention the circus.” She threw another admonishing look at her sister and softened a bit to address Jim. “We insisted they fly in the top man in the field, but the administrator said there was no time—something about the rate of blood loss—I’m almost certain it was the hospital playing at some sort of plebian territoriality.”

            “It’s good to see you lightening up, Lela Bear.” Jim made large circles with his head, stretching the dormant muscles of his neck and upper back. The recovering shoulder smarted again, forcing him to accept the present as sternly sedentary.

            “I don’t like being made fun of. You don’t need to be flip,” she said, pulling her dry hand away. On the other side of the bed, Julie seemed to squeeze harder in an instinctual effort to make up for the loss.

            “A little hospital leeway, sis? Sympathy? That’s got to be a thing.”

            “I knew they’d dose you with too many drugs.”

            “Oh no,” the younger sister interjected, “overdosing is terrible. I’m on the board of several opioid addiction foundations. An epidemic, they say. The next generation—that’s something the family should really get behind.”

            Lela took an enormous breath, like she was hailing a higher power for an intake of patience. “Jim will be fine, Julie. But one of us better keep an eye on him at all times.” She pulled out a phone and started grinding her perfect teeth. Eighty fresh emails. Over a hundred new missed calls. All in the last ten minutes. “You hear Julie? One of us stays with James. These provincial hospitals aren’t much better than roach motels.”

            “Provincial? You hear, Jimmy? Lela’s calling our hometown provincial. Again. She’s saying people check in but they don’t check out.” Julie was smiling tightly, trying to hide her pride at knowing the antiquated reference. “Are you referring to the hospital or the city, Lela dear?”

            “Take it easy on her, Jules,” Jim said with a grimace. “Man. Is it supposed to hurt this much? And where’s my necklace?”  

            Lela broke back in: “It’s in the drawer. And I’m calling the family physician. See what the hell is taking so long to get down here. I offered a company car, but of course—people have to do things their own way.”

            “Old Doctor Slattery’s most likely having to sojourn a mile through all the trucks and tents out there. It’s an absolute obstacle course. Dear little man. He’ll be covered in sweat.” Julie went to the window, like somehow she’d be able to confirm her theory with a quick glance.

            “Did you spot him?” Lela mocked, never looking up from her phone.

            “Charmless isn’t a virtue.” Julie let go of the blinds and then stared down at her perfectly manicured fingers, regretting looking outside. It allowed her sister an opening. One had to be on the absolute tips of their toes around Lela.  

            “What are you guys talking about?” Jim asked. “Trucks and tents?” He pressed a button hoping it would send either a nurse or another rush of morphine into his veins. The drugs made the tension a fraction more interesting—as interesting as his sisters’ entrenched rivalry could be. “Fill me in. I’m starting to remember spinning around.”

            “That was most likely the bullet,” Lela said, rejoining her hand with her brother’s.

            “And then—yeah—I remember looking up. Like I was knocked flat on my back.”

            “Also I think—from the bullet.” Lela was stiffening against the possibilities of tears. The drugs kept Jim from noticing, but Julie did. She said nothing and instantly felt guilty for needling her big sister at every turn. 

            “That’s so weird,” Jim said. He was casual about his observations, to where it almost sounded like reverie. The nature of his personality combined with the pressing situation was confounding to Lela and Julie. “I never figured anybody wanted to shoot me,” he continued, “but people get really mad sometimes.”

            “Darling,” said his younger sister, “it wasn’t you he was after.”

            “Who’s he?” Jim asked.

            “James,” Lela interrupted. He tightened up what little he could at the sound of his birth name. He only ever heard it from men in suits in the high reaches of Camp Tower or from Lela when she was trying to get something important to stick . “The man who shot you…”



            “You’re supposed to say allegedly. That’s what they do in the movies. You should get out more.” He whispered the last part. Julie laughed. Lela was nonplussed.

            “I should get out more—this coming from you—of all the people in the—”

            “It’s the drugs, Lela Bear. I pressed the button again. Drugs drugs drugs. I’ll shut up. You were saying. The man who shot me…”

            “He was trying to kill Anna Harrison. Some psycho assassin thing. He got startled. You were in the way, it seems. Dumb luck.”

            Julie was nodding her head and looking at down at him with crooked, tightly-closed lips. A few beats went by. Jim let his blurry eyes explore the fiberglass ceiling for a few seconds. Lela snuck a peek down at her watch, pretending she was searching out a new place to rub her brother’s hand.

            “Wow,” he said, startling his sisters out of the vacuum.

            “I know,” Julie said, still nodding in an offputtingly perfect tempo.

            “Just one of those things,” said Lela. “We should’ve known she was doing the photo shoot downtown today. Apparently it was a last minute change in her schedule. The odds of you walking by—”

            “Wow,” Jim repeated.


            “But you’re going to be fine. The media might be a bit of a challenge. A few questions from the authorities. We understand this isn’t ideal for you, but help is here. Anything we can do.”

            “I was going to London today.”

            “It’s probably going to be a short stint before you can travel,” Lela said, back to her business tone. “Plus, we need to tie some of those loose ends.”

            “That really sucks,” Jim said. The news of his trip being postponed was the first thing to truly breach the happy palisades of his drug euphoria. “You know I have a buddy over there. We were going to have fun.”

            “We’re all aware of your trip, Jimmy.” Julie rubbed his forearm and kissed his hand. “You’ve talked of nothing else for weeks.”

            “I’m really glad you guys came,” Jim said, giving each of his sisters their own wink and smile.

            It wasn’t normal for the Camp siblings, the little displays of affections and kind words, muted as they were. Hospital sounds took over while they figured out what to say: inscrutable beeps from the tree of sensors and wires next to the bed—the commotion of managed chaos out in the hall, mixed with the undertone of the fluorescent bulbs droning that one uncertain note.


            “What’s up, James?” For Lela it was the stuff of life. Having something to do, a question to answer. Things.  

            “You said Anna… Harrison. That’s who was supposed to get shot.”

            “I don’t think ‘supposed to’ is a decorous way of saying it, but yes.”

            “Okay,” James whispered. “I’m pretty tired.”

            Julie and Lela both looked at the door. They could figure out shifts in a minute.

            “Before I fall back. Sleepeee—who’s Anna Harrison?”

            “Oh, my handsome big brother,” Julie said sadly, still with a smile warmly fixed. “I’m afraid things are going to get a tad more complicated for the foreseeable future.”

            “That sucks. Complications have never been my forte.”

            “We know,” Lela said, “but that’s the lay of the land, Jimmy. We’ll sort it out.”

            “Couple things,” Jim said, shaking both their hands with playful abandon. “First, maybe give Jason and Teague a call.”

            “Sure,” Lela said through gritted teeth. “We’ll do that straight away.”

            “They’ve already texted,” Julie chimed.

            “So they know?”

            “Everybody knows,” the youngest sister rejoined, holding the phone up like that was the new universal accepted signal for everybody.

            “K then.”

            “What was the other thing?” Lela asked.

            “Tell that doctor to get back in here. I want to know the max amount of drugs I can do without dying.” Jim freed his right hand from Julie’s grasp and started smacking the inside of his left arm. “If he says no, tell him we’re super rich.”

            “Not sure that’s how it works.”

            “We’ll that’s just dumb. What about a yacht? Say we’ll buy him a yacht. A real nice one.”

            “Right,” Lela sighed. “A real nice yacht. I’ll get on it forthwith, brother.”

            “Thanks guys.” Jim put his head back and closed his eyes. Julie beamed at him like he was newborn baby snuggling down into a crib. Lela took a heavy breath and mumbled something under her breath: Anna Harrison. Nothing’s ever even close to simple.


Chapter Two: To Be Human

            Anna’s ears were ringing worse than usual. They always did, of course, but not like this. One unrelenting drone, on and on until it was the only thing she could think about. The problem had worsened over years of performing night after night, but the morning’s events had exacerbated the symptoms to a new level.

            “My ears aren’t right,” she said, whispering the phrase to no one in particular, interrupting the men asking her questions. Beth reacted by snapping her fingers. Three wooden people stationed around the suite suddenly became animated, looking at each other with saucer eyes, bolting about in random directions to the adjoining rooms. This was the newest crisis and it had to be dealt with swiftly. Cell phones and tablets were pulled out. The three labeled it “The Ear Situation” and began brainstorming and calling experts. There were always experts.

            Even in a Godforsaken wasteland like North Texas.

            Left in the hotel suite were two detectives from the Fort Worth Police Department and her manager, Beth Maclean. The one whose fingers prompted the flurry of activity from the crisis team.

            “Your ears, ma’am?” asked the younger detective. He was a little older than her, maybe thirty. Extremely attractive. Brown skin and perfect teeth, manly and lovely, like Denzel at the height of his powers. For a moment she forgot about the ringing and got lost in his warm eyes. Beth, who was sitting next to Anna on a stiff couch, tapped her leg and held out a watch as if to say, get it together.       

            “Ma’am?” the older one followed. His voice smacked of too many cigarettes and too much everything else. Gruff good looks and a square chin, though a little bit redneck and therefore a little boring.

            She finally broke from the handsome detective’s eyes and said, “I’m sorry. Is it just me?” she asked. “I think it was the gunshots. Hope it goes away before tomorrow’s show.”

            “We’re still talking about your ears?” asked the grizzled one, scratching at his neck stubble. The little hairs somehow seemed like a permanent feature. Like he hadn’t had a clean shave since he figured out that manliness was going to be his thing.

            “Sorry,” she said, “it’s just something musicians deal with. Singers. Perils of the trade and so forth. Only now—well, I won’t bore you any more. Policeman like yourselves, always in dangerous situations—me, talking about perils.” She looked down and rubbed her left earlobe, feeling embarrassed and sure she was embarrassing the officers. “Are your ears ringing as well?” she asked, leaning back and delicately crossing her long, muscular legs. She was dressed comfortably in tight jeans that stretched like sweatpants and an authentic vintage Black Crowes t-shirt.

            “We weren’t there when it happened, ma’am,” the young one said, trying to keep his eyes from fixating on any one part of her for too long. Professionalism. The job.  

            “Weren’t you? Well—it seems somebody that was there should be doing all this questioning. It only makes sense.”

            Beth tapped her on the leg. She’d been the manager for ten years now and knew when her artist was getting snippy, even if these flyover cops didn’t.

            “We know how to do our jobs,” said the older one. “And how to run an investigation. I’m sorry about your ears, though. That sounds like a real dilemma.”

            Never mind, the manager thought, smiling on the inside from the officer’s brush-back tactic. She decided to chime in and perhaps expedite the process. “I think we’d all like to express how much we appreciate your efforts. Anything at all we need to know about today, things that might help us going forward? Is the gentleman who thwarted the gunman in decent enough nick?” Beth was at full speed and didn’t have the energy to tone down her thick Scottish accent or her foreign colloquialisms.

            “It looks like everyone is going to come through,” the junior man said. “And we can tell you that from a search of the assailant’s car and home, everything points to a lone man. That’s not to say for certain, but first glance. Just a loner type, sitting on too many stupid ideas.”

            “And yet he’s walking down the middle of a downtown street with a bloody bazooka. Fucking Texas. Unbloodybelievable.

            “Unfortunately, we can’t withhold rights from folks with no criminal history,” Lorenz said, on a quick path to getting carried away.

            “I think we’re done here,” said the elder, tapping his partner on the arm. They rose together with a clatter of holsters and radios sounding off underneath their bargain suit jackets. “We’ll have a word with your security people, keep a presence around the hotel and at the stadium throughout the week. Very sorry this happened. Not the kind of thing we want our city known for.”

            They laid their business cards down on the table and nodded politely. “Detectives George Lorenz and Eric Gregg,” Beth said, leaning forward on the couch. “For coming by—really, cheers. Sorry for getting terse.”

            On the other side of the door, the investigators exchanged rolling eyes, but for completely different reasons. Gregg was frustrated by the amount of random people roaming the halls and the general confusion surrounding the entire situation. It seemed like all the galaxy’s freaks had descended on his hometown. In his mind, Fort Worth was not a fitting landing pad for madness. Now with the shooting—things would only be worse.

            “Pretty crazy,” Gregg sighed, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his weathered khaki pants. Large men in suits shook the hallway as they marched by—people with weird hair and plastic passes hung around their necks pattered through. Two whole floors of Fort Worth’s Omni Hotel were dedicated to the Anna Harrison crew, but still it felt claustrophobic.

            “That was,” Lorenz responded, dodging a kid in an ironic t-shirt and pants tight enough to grapple any male’s sperm count into oblivion. He shook his head and took out two pouches of tobacco, stuffing them tightly against his bottom teeth.

            “That was what?” Gregg asked. He patted his younger partner on the shoulder and directed him to the little soda and ice station twenty feet away. “You seem out of it.”

            “Sorry, Eric. But you know… ”

            “I don’t. I’m not a for the hell of it question guy. I ask when there’s something I ain’t getting.”

            The raised volume of Gregg’s voice had Lorenz raising his hands in defense. “Easy partner. Just saying—I don’t like saying it—a little intimidated in there.”

            “By the girl?”

            “By the girl.”

            “She’s an attractive woman. Is that what you’re saying? Swear. Marines. Not exactly poets, are you?”

            “It’s more than that, you old bastard,” Lorenz said, sensing their normal back and forth harassment returning to its proper place. “We were sitting there just now with one of the most recognizable faces on the planet.”


            “And that’s not a normal daily activity. I know you were army, but do I have to speak clearer?”

            “Your every word only serves to make the clear opaque.”

            Lorenz covered a laugh as they started toward the elevators. “You can act dumb, play around with words too fancy for your brain—but I know you were a little put off by the halo around that girl.”

            “My ten-year-old daughter might’ve been. Now that we’re talking about it, you two got more in common than I’m all that comfortable with. Maybe I call the elementary school, get her on the case.”

            “Funny,” Lorenz said, checking his phone. It was midday and the two men needed to push on. A lot of pressure would be coming—from all directions.

            Gregg felt a buzz from his pant leg and turned the phone slightly away from his partner, responding with a brief text.

            “Who was that?”


            “You really didn’t hear me, or are you doing that thing where you act like you didn’t hear me?”

            “Yeah. It’s called ignoring.”

            “Whatever. Figure out yet why they put us on point with this case? It’s huge. Accept the situation or not, it’s huge.”

            As the elevator closed, Gregg pressed L and decided he couldn’t resist a little self-exaltation. Besides, the real answer was something he couldn’t disclose. “How about you accept the fact that you happen to be blessed, God knows why, with the best frigging partner in Texas. The Rangers call daily for my services. FBI, Homeland—it’s not something I like to bring up, but there it is. Who else would they put on this thing?”

            “Right” Lorenz whispered, rubbing a hand through his closely-cropped hair. “Can you stop? The elevator music is more interesting.”

            “A little gratitude is all I’m asking. I’d like to maybe move up in the world, but I tell ‘em the same thing—this Lorenz kid—jarhead, tobacco-using, teen-beat reading, knuckleheaded—”

            “Enough,” Lorenz said, leaning against the back wall of the elevator. “Frigging longest ride of my life. Things worked more efficient in Afghanistan.”

            “Okay,” Gregg said, “just busting balls kid. You know I love you.”

            “Yeah. Besides, I should’ve said that the music is more relevant. Words matter, you’re always telling me.”

            The senior detective laughed at that one. Lorenz was a damn good cop, young and capable. He liked working with the kid. It felt like the beginning stages of passing the torch. Cops like George made him feel the future might not be the complete pile of crap he always assumed it would be.

             As they finally reached the lobby Detective Gregg said, “Just try to keep it in your pants. The girl and the halo talk and whatnot. Angels. Angels have halos and help people. They don’t bitch about the ringing in their ears.”

            “Noted,” Lorenz said, smiling furtively.

            “Just don’t say I never taught you nothing.”

            Back in the suite, Anna Harrison listened to Beth rattle off the schedule for the remainder of the day. It was truncated. Abbreviated. Shortened.

            A thought occurred to her. After someone tries to violently snuff out my life, shouldn’t the rest of the day be cancelled? Aborted? Squashed?

            “If it were anyone else,” she said, interrupting her manager’s list. Beth looked at her with bemusement and held out her tablet as if to say, can I finish this? Anna remained on the couch, staring at her own lap in silence.

            Seconds ticked by and Beth asked, “What’s that?” It was clear her bemusement had transmuted into full-blown frustration. “I need clarity, Anna. Otherwise I can’t do my job.”

            The singer was poised like a spring. Tension from the day’s events—tension from what was on the rest of the docket—a release was required. The laws of God and humankind and natural law seemed to demand it of her. Beth and all her bluster, those permanently wide eyes, the nest of graying red hair pulled chaotically atop her head—it was about to meet Anna’s release.

            “Clarity,” the star said, standing up from the couch for the first time in hours. “Clarity it is. I’m not doing anything for the rest of the day.”

            “What might that mean, darling?”

            “It means that I’m not rehearsing. We’ve been doing the same set for six months. The same riffs, licks, choreography, lighting, instrument changes, intros, outros, reprises, pyrotechnics, interludes, and any other crap I’m forgetting about. As for later, no charity meet and greet, and no interview with what’s her stupid face.”

            “Is this a proper American meltdown?” Beth asked, brow at full furrow.

            “I don’t know what you call it. I’ve never had a proper meltdown, you British schoolmarm. I’m almost thirty years old, gigantic entertainment empire balanced on my shoulders, and I’ve never had a proper meltdown. You know why?”


            “Because there hasn’t been time for one. Not since I started calling myself an adult and developed a decent pair of tits. Writing, recording, performing, keeping this body, keeping on top, staying away from crazy guys, my movie career—being an international spokesman for whatever unimaginably important cause just popped up all of a sudden out of nowhere that never before existed—”

            “It’s been a proper run. You should be proud.”

            “Pride would require a moment to consider it all.”

            “Isn’t that what you’re doing now.”

            “No! I’m having a meltdown. I don’t pride. I feel like ass.”

            “Well okay then,” Beth said, finally setting down her tablet. It was like watching someone detaching a limb. “It just seems a bit diva if you’re asking me. Are you going to do this every time a nutter with a gun has a go?”

            “How dare—” The singer stomped her foot and thought about a full-throttled physical assault. “Are you shitting me, Beth?”

            “Of course I’m shitting you. Didn’t you see me put down my tablet?”

            Harrison didn’t know how to respond. Beth held out her meaty arms and softly asked for a hug. After an awkward moment the short distance was bridged and Anna was crying and laughing against the shoulder of the person that had spent most of the last decade by her side. It occurred that the manager might be “handling” her, but in that moment it didn’t rate on the priority list. She needed a cry about what had happened to her and a laugh about how bad she was at being outraged. “I’m sorry I called you schoolmarm,” Anna sobbed. “So stupid.”

            A few more hearty squeezes. “No problem, love. You’ve always been a bit bottled.”

            “It’s like I have to be.”

            “I know. But not today. Today you do whatever you want. It can be nothing or anything.”

            A knock on the door. Beth’s assistant walked in and set down a stack of magazines, all with Anna’s face or body featured on the cover. The young woman was sweaty, talking on her phone, completely oblivious to the emotional moment transpiring before her. She was out of the room almost before there was time to react to her entrance. That was the life. People in and out, doing things, setting items in stacks and rows, presenting this or that for approval or review. The people were just delivery machines, mostly. Of course there were some recognizable faces, but Anna never really knew what to say. Thank you was about it. Politeness and cordiality, but hardly ever anything close to real familiarity.

            They finally separated and Anna went over to look at the stack of the magazines. She picked them up and brought them back her couch home base. “The Unbreakable Multiracial Anna Harrison,” she said, holding up a magazine for empowered women.

            “Creative license,” Beth said, smiling down at her client’s teary face. She was a little at sea, trying to figure out what to do with her hands. No tablet and all. After a few twiddles and finger snaps she stuffed her fists into the pockets of her passé  oversized jeans. 

            “The Universally Beloved Anna,” she said, tossing a fashion weekly to the floor.

            “Huh. Your eyes look frigging fabulous in that one. They’re like green and oriental. It’s striking.”

            “They are green. And I’m a little oriental.”

            “And don’t worry about the headline. Universally is a big word,” Beth smiled. “Generally is all one can really hope for, I’ve always said.”

            “You never said that,” the singer rejoined, sniffing snot and holding up an issue of a red-bordered respected weekly news periodical. It read Is Global Ambassador Anna Harrison America’s Next Multicultural Hope?

            “Would you stuff it already? For God’s sake girl you’re going to give yourself a blooming heart attack, looking at all that bollocks.”

            Anna pushed the rest of the magazines over and crossed her arms. Her thoughts were darting in all directions and she needed to slow down. What did Beth say before? Do whatever you want. She consolidated air in deep controlled breaths—some relaxation thing recommended to her by this shrink or that—and focused on what she really wanted. “I know what I’m going to do.”

            “Lovely. How can I help?”

            “I need to get in touch with three guys. Gentlemen.”

            “O-kay. This sounds interesting.”

            “It’s not like that.”

            “Just having a laugh. Who do you want to speak with?”

            “First, my brother. He’s probably worried sick.”

            “Of course.”

            “Then the men who saved me. The cop and the other guy.”

            “I don’t know if they’re going to let you talk to those lads. Not really sure how it works, privacy laws and all that.”

            “Nothing public. I just want to be human and say thanks to the people that saved my life.”

            “You want to be human,” Beth said, grabbing her tablet and reinitiating herself into management mode. “Suppose I can see that.”



Chapter Three: A Town to Run

            The footage of the shooting was everywhere. By the following morning, it seemed all of humanity had viewed it at least once. The clip had everything. A beautiful auburn-haired worldwide star surrounded by admirers, an icy-eyed man bent on violence, an act of attempted heroism, plus an act of actual heroism. Tacked on the end of the version getting the most circulation was video statement by the gunman himself, left on his phone the day before. How this “manifesto” got out was still a matter of speculation and mystery. Someone involved in the chain of custody at the PD was paid by the journalist and businessman Colin Adair, owner of one of the internet’s biggest news outlets, but no one knew the identity of the particular culprit. Adair’s version, posted on TheInformers.com, included several pedestrian’s phone videos and bits of traffic camera footage spliced neatly together in an almost cinematic fashion. It was reaching a billion views. Mayor Tilly Werner watched it on a laptop from her seldom-used downtown office, not five blocks from where the incident took place. “Crank up the dad-gum air conditioning already, Lester. My holy heaven, it’s got to be a hundred already. And get me somebody from the police department, crying out loud.”

            “Chief Ryland, I’m assuming,” Lester said, stomping over to the dusty thermostat hanging slightly crooked on the wall opposite Werner’s desk. They rarely used the downtown office, but under the circumstances, things had to appear official. Mayor Tilly Werner was going to be in her office, because, by Holy Mary and the Saints, that’s probably where the average idiot imagined she should be.

            “Does it have to be Ryland?” the mayor asked, slipping off her heels, sinking begrudgingly back into the stuffy leather rolling chair. She hated it. Everything about the office. They’d ripped everything right down to the floorboards and sheetrock, but it still smelled like spit tobacco and cattle drives. Tilly was a tough lady, Texas in her bones, but Blessed Christmas, she ought to have a decent place to do her “official” work. She ought to have someone “official” to talk to other than Chief Ryland.

            “The first call, you need to talk to him. It’ll look better, politically,” Lester said. He was already sweating through his blue short-sleeved button-down, and it wasn’t far past breakfast.

            “Politically’s all you care about, Lester. This ain’t Chicago or New York. Someday you’re going to understand that, I guess, or I guess you may never. This city has its own ways, deep in the dirt—things an Atlantic finds hard to decipher. Handshakes over whisky. Making deals on real stock. Not pieces of paper. Living things, brought up with sweat and toil, life ripped right out the pages of the Bible. Men and women on the land, putting in more than a day’s honest labor. Without them, there’d be none of this. No fancy glass buildings or ritzy neighborhoods or anything else. The realness of the past. And now this mess. Holy Moses, it feels like I’m the mayor of Dallas. They should’ve outlawed banking in this county. Ruined everything. Speaking of Dallas, Why wasn’t Harrison staying there?”

            Lester Orsonhall thought about sitting down but opted not to, knowing he’d soak his pants through. “You get that out of your system?” he asked, looking unwaveringly at the day’s itinerary. He didn’t expect an answer to his question and wasn’t really seeking one. The whole salt and spit and Fort Worth is the last bastion of the Real West speech was one he’d heard on many occasions—always triggered when the boss had too much on her plate and no firm footing. Tilly Werner was a smart woman, but her temper could play tricks with the better angels that normally held sway over her moods. Nonlocals became “Atlantics” and old black and white footage of the Fort Worth Stock Exchange played like Wall Street and OPEC and the IMF in her mind. Orsonhall was still young, but he’d been at her side long enough to ride the ups and downs. The hot air and bluster would dissipate as the day went on, assuming there were no major setbacks.

            “Okay,” he started, calm and even, like hitting the room’s reset button. “Chief Ryland and you need to get on the same page, for obvious reasons. The press—”

            “Do we need a press conference?”

            “I don’t think it can be avoided. This is one of those deals that’s so big, it’s going to be a little while before we can get our heads around it.”

            “Bring in the cutie,” the mayor said, referring to Sela Stein, their new media relations consultant. “Is she available? Tell me good news, Lester.”

            “She is. I’ve already put a call in. This is the type of thing people like her live for. She’s got the bit between.”

            “Well that’s good.”

            “It is until she starts grandstanding. We’re paying her to help you, not herself.”

            “That’s not how this thing works. People have to understand their roles.”

            “I’ll watch her. Make sure she’s not making a mark at your expense.”

            “Cutie’s smart enough to know that’ll get her a bad reputation.”

            “One would think.”

            “Flying in from Washington?”

            “Yes ma’am. Landed at DFW a few minutes ago.”

            “We should’ve sent a car.”

            “We did,” Lester said, keeping his eyes on the itinerary and his mind sharp. He had to address the barrage of questions already launched his way before moving  forward. Mayor Werner was hunched at the laptop, pressing the spacebar over and over again, like every other person in the world with an internet connection. “And Harrison was staying here because her people thought it would be less of a scene. Probably a shorter drive to AT&T Stadium from here. Travel time. Not sure if that’s a factor with these entertainment types.”

            Tilly Werner paused the video and looked up but said nothing.

            Lester pressed forth. “But first the police. We need to figure out how this Colin Adair asshole got those tapes. Obviously the one from the shooter is bad enough, but the city footage probably makes us look even more inept.”

            “You think anybody in that gang of back-patters is going to inform?”

            “Probably not, but we have to ask. It’ll look bad if we don’t. Po—”

            “Politically. I wasn’t born yesterday, Lester.” Mayor Werner stood up and smacked her computer closed, giving her young advisor a sporting punch on the arm. “But you’re right to wrangle me in. The folks said I was a hothead from day one. You do a good job taking care of things around here, son. Next year it’ll be the statehouse or even a congressional run.”

            “Absolutely,” he said, reveling in the boss’ sudden reacquired solidity. Lester was bereft of a social life in Panther City or Cowtown or Funkytown or whatever the hell the yokels called it. He was ready to move on and advance his career. Austin or Washington D.C. would be huge; in his mind, he was already ten pounds lighter and back to his unassumingly handsome self, able to get laid without propping up his sexual market value with future career prospect credits. “Absolutely,” he repeated, stalling the whole cart before the horse thing going on in his head.

            “So after I talk to the chief, it’s a call to both heroes.”

            “I think that’d be wise.”

            “What are the odds?” Mayor Werner asked, slipping back into her heels. “James Camp coming to the rescue. Nobody even remembered he was alive until he almost gets himself killed. Unbelievable. I haven’t seen that boy’s face in a heap a years.”

            “What’s with this guy?” Lester asked. “Obviously I know the Camp family—”

            Werner put a halting hand up and sat back down on her desk, crossing her arms. “Let me just stop you there, Atlantic.”

            “I’m from Little Rock.”

            “Exactly. Anyhow, my people and the Camps go way back. The Werner family built up a lot of this area, development and the like. The Camps built up a hell of a lot more. Investment land. They jumped on that idea while every cowpuncher and dirt farmer thought this wouldn’t amount to nothing more than played-out prairie.”

            She walked to the window and pulled up the blinds with a little bit of drama. The view took in everything east of downtown plus a good chunk of the land to the north and south. Thirty miles to Dallas was basically nothing but urban sprawl, highways built on other highways. Shopping malls. Fracking rigs for natural gas drilling. Places that served too much food to too many fat people. Countless little strip malls and storage units and office plazas and enough concrete to build a road to the Moon and back. The more country suburbs were down south of town, miles and miles of mildly undulating rows of identical houses. The northern neighborhoods were newer, but not much different—from any high point (not that one would be easy to find) a person might be baffled by the sheer number of neat little roofs winding off to the horizon. For the people that owned the land it was built on—people with patience—investment land, as Tilly Werner called it—the riches were untold. Unless the new generation was screwing the pooch.

            “I checked their net worth last night. Couldn’t believe it.”

            “Don’t believe it. Jove’s sake, some dinky computer search ain’t gonna lay out all the dirty pies and dirty fingers. Google doesn’t track that kind of rich.”

            “So they’re corrupt?” Lester said. He had his pen out, writing down any and all new information. So far he had dirty pies and dirty fingers.

            “Well,” Tilly said, drawing out the word. “Corrupt has a fluid definition.”

            “Does it?”

            “Gets more fluid all the time. Not that I’m really all that concerned about it. The Camp boy is going to be fine.”

            “Yes,” Lester said, looking at his notes. “And he’s not a boy. Almost forty, my notes say.”

            “Bit of weirdo. Find out the real story there, work with the cutie. See if there’s anything the media and this Informers site missed. Sleazy bastards. Nothing’s sacred anymore.”

            The political advisor scribbled away and wiped some sweat from his brow. Cold air was finally shooting down from the vents in the high ceiling, making the old room almost comfortable. “And the main thing?”

            “It’s still the main thing. We need to find out that pretty girl’s state of mind. If she doesn’t play those shows, the whole year’s a big fat fail. You find out, Lester. I’ll go crawling on my hands and knees. Kiss the ring. Whatever it takes. The entire economy of North Texas is riding on those four days going off without a hitch.”

            A knock on the door. The mayor’s personal assistant poked her little head in and said, “It’s Bill. From the Chamber of Commerce. He’s out in the hall. Also Pedro from the DOT wants to go over a few highway reroutes for the concerts. Then there’s Alison Green from Public Works and your mother’s personal nurse. She leaned a little more into the office. “And—calls from the city council.”


            “All of them,” she said, retreating with collapsed shoulders and a look of defeat.

            “Looks like you’ve got a ship to steer,” Lester said, looking up to gauge his boss’ reaction. She appeared set to the task. Unflagging.

            “I’ll take care of this crap. After that, we get to work on everything that matters.”


Chapter Four: The Cracks

            “I want to know how that bastard got the recording. Swear to God, I’m not a violent man—” The interrogation room in the downtown precinct was cramped and uncomfortably warm. Men with bigger titles and less time questioning bad guys stood outside, armchair quarterbacks spectating in their fanciest uniforms. In case someone from the press happened to snap a picture on the walk in or out of the precinct.  

            “He’s not a violent man,” said George Lorenz, nodding at Gregg and shoving two more pouches of dip in his mouth. “And I hate to interrupt my partner here—”

            “Please do,” Detective Gregg responded, pivoting away from the table he’d been leaning over with the smooth surety of a man with much younger legs. The partners had a way of working off each other, hard stints of trial and error. It wasn’t a style necessarily endorsed in the handbook, but it suited them. Years spent regularly busted each other’s balls could be considered practice—it made working tension-filled rooms easier and suspects all the more tractable.

            Gregg lit up a long Marlboro Red and sucked in an audibly hefty drag as Lorenz took his position, hovering across from Dennis R. Albany. The shooter looked almost placid. Even features. Vaguely handsome. Brown hair, small mole on the left cheek. Almost pleasant to look at, except for a large cut above his right eyebrow—result of being forced to the ground by a policeman’s knee while being cuffed. “It’s the intransigence, Dennis. My partner, maybe he’s getting up in years, maybe had one too many of life’s pleasures go slipping through his old-ass fingers.” Lorenz took a second to spit into a used coffee cup and then continued, leaning closer in. “So that nice guy—that nice guy I used to do the barbeques and the softball with—he’s blinking out a little. Got to say, it’s the intransigence.”

            Lorenz stood up straight and rested his hands on his hips, looking over at Gregg. The older detective was nodding solemnly, saying intransigence every three or four seconds, between sharp puffs.

            “I get why you’re calm, Dennis,” Lorenz continued. “There’s obviously something severely unhinged in your noggin.”

            “Obviously,” Gregg said, lighting another Marlboro.

            “A part of the brain that’s off. Missing. Something that makes your responses a damn sight different than the average John or Jane. Like you’ve lobotomized. Partner, has Mr. Albany been remanded to any institutions wherein a lobotomy-type procedure might’ve occurred?”

            “Funny enough, Einstein’s record is clean,” Gregg grunted. “Almost uncanny how someone so stupid could go through life till thirty, never getting wrapped in the system, one way or another.”

            Gregg was standing right beside his younger partner now. Both men had their arms crossed as they stared into the steady eyes of Dennis Albany. Good-looking figures with badges and authority, in sync and doing their jobs well—all the same, it seemed to be positively boring the suspect. Neither interrogator would let their burgeoning frustration show. The senior detective pressed forth. “George, I’m thinking with Dennis here we have one of those classic slip through the cracks situations.”

            “I was thinking along the same lines.”

            “Of course you were. But the thing is, and correct me if you have different information, Mr. Albany—”

            No response.  

            “The thing is, that classic slip through the cracks situation is more of a nice story than something that actually occurs all that frequently.”

            “Something for Hollywood and dumbass reporters,” Lorenz whispered. His tone was gathering a hint of venom as the moments rolled by. “Maybe you haven’t been caught, and maybe that’s another way of saying you slipped through the cracks, but it doesn’t take a shot-blocker’s reach to say there’s a pile of skeletons in your closet. You drowned a puppy. Maybe a whole litter. Doesn’t look like you have much family. You drown them too? Daddy play it rough? Mommy stifle your sense of worth?”

            “Where I was heading,” Gregg said, with just a hint of a smile.

            “Just following your lead.”

            The senior detective noticed a slight tightening around the eyes of Dennis Albany. A chink in the armor, perhaps. Something to explore. Gregg blew a thick cloud of smoke in the prisoner’s face and said, “Don’t be modest,” referring back to his partner.

            “Well, proper due is all,” Lorenz said.

            “See that. My young friend here is the smart one. I mean, let’s lay out our cards. Three guys in a room, breathing the same smelly air—least we can do is be honest.”

            Albany shifted slightly in his seat. For a moment it looked like he was going to say something, but Gregg kept on. “That’s right. Detective Lorenz here went to one of those fancy Ivy League places. Top of the class. Decorated military man. Not only is his brain intact, he’s got clever to spare.”

            “You got a point?” Albany growled.

            “Look at that,” Lorenz interjected. “It speaks.”

            “High and mighty, aren’t you.” Albany lunged toward Lorenz but was thwarted by his constraints.

            “Our boy don’t seem to like you too much, George,” Gregg said.

            “Wonder why?”

            “Wouldn’t be the particular shade of his skin, would it?”

            “That couldn’t be it,” Lorenz said, spitting into his cup. “I mean that would just be a cliché. Dennis is unique. Old-fashioned racism would be plain boring.” The junior investigator moved around the table and bent down to whisper in Albany’s ear. “What’s going on up there, Dennis?” Lorenz’s breath was hot, laden with the smell of smokeless tobacco. “Why’d you take a shot at that nice lady yesterday? What’d she ever do to you?”

            Albany looked ready to burst now. “You saw the tape. I said what I had to say.”

            “You said a whole heap of nothing,” Gregg said, finally sitting down in the chair opposite Albany. “And you want us chasing our tails, thinking some other dumbass punk’s gonna take another shot at that girl.”

            “Think what you want,” Albany said, glowering at Gregg.

            “How’d Colin Adair get your manifesto?”

            “Someone in your department,” said the belligerent gunman. “Someone that wanted to feel important. And that’s the point. The little people. They want to feel important.”

            “I’ve had enough,” Gregg said, looking up at the camera. “C’mon George. Let’s give our new buddy here some alone time. Practice for the next thirty years.”

            The detectives walked out like they entered, calm and with an intentional air of indifference—a message that no matter how grand Albany thought he was, for them his whole bit was just something they had to scratch off their list before happy hour.

            Outside, they were met by three of their commanding officers. Now it was their turn to be interrogated. “That didn’t get you much,” said Chief Ryland, a corpulent, wrinkled old bureaucrat who probably hadn’t done a day of honest police work in decades. If ever. Two captains stood on either side of him—just like Ryland, company men all the way down to the shine on their shoes.

            “I went in and asked about the tape,” Gregg said, taking a rest against a wall of the narrow corridor. “Like you told me to.”

            “But you don’t want us asking about the tape,” Lorenz followed, standing straight and soldierly for his superiors.


            “Detective Gregg did well to remember the camera in the corner.”

            “We tape every interview,” said one of the captains.

            “Remember might be a bad choice of words. Point is, if someone from the department leaked this mope’s little video diatribe, the same thing could happen again.”

            “It doesn’t matter, anyway,” Gregg said, coming to the end of his cigarette.

            Ryland was clearly annoyed at the older detective’s flaunting of the rules. “Put that damn thing out. You’ll set off the fire alarms.”

            “They don’t work in this part of the building,” Lorenz answered. “Or any other part, last time I checked.”

            The three commanding officers grew more annoyed with every passing second. “Tell me what your plan is here, hotshot,” Ryland brayed. “We’ve got a serious problem. Albany’s sitting in there making our city look like a bunch of idiots. And you two—”

            “Sir, we don’t know the scale.”


            “The call to arms could be complete garbage. We think it probably is. Odds are there’s no organization behind it, but he’s probably got one cohort out there. Probably.” Lorenz didn’t like working with so little, but they hadn’t had much time to get things in order. All the politics and celebrity mixed up in the case made each step a tenuous one, but still, they couldn’t be cowed by it. Throwing shit against the wall was part of any investigation, no matter the profile.

            “Why one cohort?” asked one of the captains. Ryland looked fatigued by the question.

            “Because he had to think he was on a one-way trip,” Gregg said, moving off the wall and next to his partner. “This cracker has a death wish, and the memory stick they pulled off him—no way he knows beforehand that’s gonna get leaked. He wanted it to be, sure, but he had a backup. And like George says—someone that was waiting in the wings to send out that backup once he got dead.”

            “More conjecture than I’m comfortable with. Conjecture and suppositions.”

            “We’re going to figure this out, Chief,” Lorenz said, stiffening his back and his resolve.

            “Just be quick about it. I’ve got the FBI calling now with the possible hate crime angle.”

            “Ah hell,” Gregg said, rolling his eyes.

            “They’re being friendly, the weasels. But that can turn on a dime. You two start sorting this out forthwith—otherwise the whole mess will be out of our hands.”

            Ryland and company did an immediate about-face and left the detectives standing alone in the hall.

            “Is there ever a scene where the higher-ups just shake hands with the detectives and tell them what fine investigators they are?” Lorenz asked.

            “I heard a story once. Long time ago. More of a legend, really. Sorta like Bigfoot.”

            “No matter what, we need another meet with your celebrity,” Gregg said.

            “Agreed,” nodded Lorenz. “I’ll get on the horn to her manager right now. Better chance of getting through. Only one thing to tell her, far as I can see.”

            Gregg’s phone buzzed and he pulled it out to read a text, taking a few steps away from his partner in the process.

            “What’s the deal, Eric? You’ve been doing that a lot since yesterday.”

            “Doing what?”

            “Never mind. None of my business.”

            “Thanks, youngster,” he said, all sarcasm. “Appreciate you watching out for me.”

            Lorenz made a call while Gregg tended furtively to the text.

            Thirty seconds later: “You’re not going to believe this, Eric. Our victim is meeting with the cop and the guy.”

            Gregg finally looked up from his phone. “What cop? What guy?”

            “Anna Harrison is at frigging Harris Methodist right now. Apparently decided a confab with the heroes might be nice.”

            “Who the hell authorized it?”

            “Something tells me this didn’t go up any chains.”

            “Might be we stumbled on the one time I wish the chains actually got in the way of something,” Gregg said. He was still having a hard time grappling the news. “I’ll meet you downstairs. We can be there in five minutes if we haul ass. Don’t tell anybody where we’re going.”

            “Pretty sure this isn’t staying a state secret.”

            Gregg rubbed the rough skin on his neck and reached in his jacket for his cigarettes. “I’m starting to hate this case.”

            “Me too, partner.”


Chapter Five: Visiting Hours

            Considering the nature of the request, Beth Maclean was fairly impressed with herself. Transporting a celebrity of Anna Harrison’s ilk surreptitiously to a hospital glutted with security and media seemed an almost impossible task.

            Turns out, not really.

            The arrangements had taken roughly thirty minutes. The trip itself took less than five. The hotel was only a few miles away from the Omni Hotel, just across I-30, the interstate running east to west along the southern edge of the bulk of downtown. In two calls Beth learned that Fort Worth was, to her amazement, a bastion for all things helicopter. Securing the hospital’s landing pad was a little trickier, but nothing that couldn’t be remedied with an extra ten thousand in the pockets of the Harris Methodist administrator and the aircraft’s pilot.

            Beth followed behind Anna and two bulky bodyguards down the brightly lit hallway where they were keeping James K. Camp. She knew the rendezvous to be a bad idea, just two days away from her client’s biggest string of back-to-back shows. Two full performances a night, Thursday through Sunday, at one of the country’s biggest venues—incredibly, the booking agency handling the tour was estimating close to a million tickets sold.

            Anna Harrison had crested the summit. She had redefined the summit. Beth Maclean was an integral part of it, and now, having taken the ride to the top, she felt it was time feel that clean victorious air and retire into dignity and quietude. Anna would be informed Sunday, after the last performance. Beth had a teenage daughter and husband back on their estate outside Glasgow, a loving family overdue for her attention. The thrill of success and the draw of money had been sated in equal measure—though the music business was all the forty-five-year-old woman had ever known, it was time to hang it up. Entertainment was an exhausting line of work, no matter the amount of success. Beth and Anna exchanged the same talk in cars and on buses and planes, like the next hit record or the next sold-out tour would bring them a sense of calm and rest. However, no matter the accolades and no matter how big the crowds, calm and rest never came.

            She felt too much like Sisyphus. Unlike that poor bastard, though, she could retire to her bonnie homeland with millions of dollars in the bank. Enjoying the fruits and annoying the piss out of her daughter were next on her agenda.

            “What room is it?” Anna asked, turning around with her head down to see her manager wearing a checked-out expression. “You okay, Beth?”

            “Perfect,” Beth said, swiping away the pictures of not too long from now. “It’s up there. The one with the cop outside.”

            “Right,” Anna said, turning back around. She was wearing a baseball hat and loose-fitting clothes. It seemed to be working. Despite them being a random foursome in a hallway where they didn’t belong, none of the hospital staff seemed give more than a passing glance. Either they didn’t recognize her, or sick and dying people took precedence over the rich and famous.

            Refreshing, Anna mused, realizing instantly that it was a strange thing to feel refreshed about. “Hello,” Anna said, tapping her guards to give her space while she addressed the officer at the door. “We have an invitation.”

            Behind her, Beth rolled her eyes and came close to laughing. Anna was talking to the poor beat cop like he was wearing white gloves, taking tickets to a swanky European gala.

            “Julie Camp put us on the list. Beth Maclean and Ava Harold.” The officer barely looked up. His eyes sat atop huge bags, like he’d been standing there trying to stay conscious since last Christmas. Anna got the feeling he wouldn’t have had the energy to care even if they’d used her real name. People-people look busy and exhausted. Why don’t they perk up? Again, another renegade thought that Anna was instantly ashamed of.

            The officer gave two gentle knocks and cracked the door. “Ava and Beth to see you, Mr. Camp?”

            Julie Camp answered and took the door, aggressively perky as always. “Thanks so much, Bobby. Let us know if we can do anything for you. Poor thing, having to stand out there all by yourself.”

            Bobby tipped his cap and smiled at Julie’s lovely face and saccharine ways. He had the look of a man inclined tip over into her arms expecting the softest landing imaginable. Something in the realm of angel wings and white goose down pillows.  

            “Come in. We’re so glad you called,” said the youngest Camp sister, ushering in “Ava” and Beth.

            Anna quickly took stock of the room. It was cold and unwelcoming; there wasn’t even a couch. A sink, bathroom, and four chairs that probably hadn’t been decontaminated in years, if ever. Get it together. You’re not here for you. Not really. Sort of. Nobody’s totally selfless. Stop it. Stop it. It’s just a place-place. And people-people. Stop that too. Wow. You’re a crazy person.

            Julie could see things were a little strange, so she barreled right through once Bobby closed the door. “I’m Julie Camp. So good to meet you Ms. Harrison. Mrs. Maclean. Actually—this isn’t the first time we met. I used to date Cal Webster.”

            “My old producer,” Anna said, out of sorts, trying to recalibrate her social speed. “I think I remember. A party out in L.A. was it?”

            “Your memory is as perfect as your music. I’m honored that I made even the slightest of impressions.”

            Anna smiled and shot a quick look that Beth would understand. James Camp’s little sister was something to behold. Pale but in a beautiful way, wearing the hell out of a form-fitting dress too perfectly white to be brought within a mile of a hospital. Probably somewhere around Anna’s age, but with a strange sort of voice—like an old movie star. Certainly not the kind of character you’d expect to meet from Texas, and most likely why Anna remembered meeting her all those years back.

            After the protracted handshake, Anna looked around the room. The young cop who brought down the shooter was sitting on the windowsill, hands in his pockets. James K. Camp looked annoyed—downright furious, even. He was trying to sit up but having a rough time with it.

            “Oh please don’t do that for us,” said the pop star, rushing over to the patient’s wounded side. “I’m guessing by your expression that our arrival is sort of a surprise.”

            “This is Jimmy,” Julie said, ignoring the previous few seconds. “And over there, young Sgt. Adrian Perez. The heroes of the hour.”

            Anna went over to shake the cop’s hand. He was indeed young, in his late twenties. He sat up and smiled with a contained sort of dignity. Either he wasn’t intimidated by her celebrity, or he was good at pretending not to be. “It was nothing,” he said, only trying to be polite.

            The star smiled back and said, “I’m going to have to disagree with you. Not getting shot is supremely preferable to the alternative.”

            “She’s right about that, Perez,” Camp said. It seemed he had finally found a comfortable position in his hospital bed. “I will stand by—lay by the lady’s words.”

            Julie let out an admonishing Jimmy and hit him on lightly on the leg. “I’m so sorry, Ms. Harrison,” the “hero’s” sister said.

            “Don’t be. It was a really dumb thing to say.” Anna kissed the hand of the young officer and turned back toward the middle of the room. She exchanged another look with her manager. Beth shrugged her shoulders and smirked, as if to say, you tried to be nice, what are you gonna do?

            A dense moment of silence passed. Everyone in the room tried to focus on something other than the awkwardness. It wasn’t working. Finally, Jim cut through the lack of noise. Rubbing the top of his shoulder, he started to apologize: “Please, it’s not like me—being so rude. Mrs. Maclean, Ms. Harrison—I’m truly honored that you took the time to come by.”

            Anna was still too embarrassed by her not getting shot comment to respond.

            “Truth is, everyone in here is great. The hospital’s been great. My sisters are great. Perez is the real hero. He’s obviously great. You two ladies, for coming by. A great surprise.” Jim reached for Julie’s hand. “I think I’ve said great way too many times.”

            In the corner, Perez laughed. It had a much-needed disarming effect on the room.

            “It’s the morphine,” Julie said, talking through her own laughter. “Jimmy’s usually the sweetest person in the world.”

            “That’s not true, but I have enough manners not to treat guests so poorly. Very sorry, really. It’s thoughtful for you to make the trip. How busy you must be and everything.” Jim gave his head the tiniest of shakes and let out a long breath. “I’m starting to come around, now. Sorry. Just takes a few for the clouds to dissipate.”

            “After my accident, I remember the morphine,” Anna said. “Did the same thing to me. Made me crazy. Or was it cranky, Beth?”

            “Both. Simultaneously and in perfect, horrific harmony. Cemented you proper in the halls of diva heaven.”

            “There you go.” Anna took a step to the foot of Jim’s bed and gave his face an honest look. She realized that for the past day, he’d been the real celebrity. James Camp, the hero that helped save the big star. Screens across the globe had been blasting his picture out relentlessly—he wondered if he knew what it meant—somehow, she knew he couldn’t. “So don’t feel bad. Do you prefer to be called Jim? It’s only that they’ve been using James on all the news sites.”

            “Jim’s better.”

            Beth chimed in, feeling a bit responsible. “We thought you knew we were coming.”

            “That’s my little sister. She’s prefers turning introductions into events.”

            “How lovely,” Beth said, hoping the sarcasm wasn’t completely obvious.

            “So you’re a singer,” Jim said.

            Perez laughed again from the corner. This time he added a single clap of his hands for punctuation.

            Anna, still standing over Jim’s bed, tilted her head and smiled warmly. “Not a music fan?”

            “Oh no,” he answered, “music is one of my favorite things in the world. All over the map with my tastes, though. Country. Classic rock. Folk. Maybe that’s how I never came across your collection.” He was beginning to ramble and knew it, but stopping was proving difficult. “I probably have, in fact. Truth of the matter. Just with all the options…”

            Julie’s head was in her hands. Perez was trying to contain himself. Beth was slightly amused but didn’t look up from her phone; she was sorting out the rest of the day’s plans.

            “Mostly I like older stuff,” Jim added. “I think I’m one who tends to romanticize the past.” There was no guile to the man, far as Anna could see. He was hopeless, sure, but something told her it was a passing stage.

            “I can understand,” said the celebrity. “The past has always looked better to me—especially being so heavy in the present.”

            Jim nodded and rubbed his shoulder. The morphine was running low in his system and he was able to give his guests a proper look. The manager was a tall, rugged-looking woman with messy bangs and a plain face unassisted by makeup. She had a certain agitation about her, as if any given moment was only about the next. Though he was sure she had an exciting career, Jim couldn’t help but feel a touch sorry for her. “I like the way you put that,” he said, returning his attention to Anna. “Lyrical. Can see why you’ve made such a mark. And obviously, you are quite lovely.”

            “We should get going,” Beth said, looking like she was about to reach for the door handle. Jim went over his words. Did he say something inappropriate? Was Mrs. Maclean’s haste the product of something errant? He couldn’t remember anything particularly insulting. Maybe he overestimated the power he had over the pain and the drugs.

            “That’s kind of you,” Anna said, offering a gentle touch to the part of his leg Julie had been slapping. “And it was more than kind of you. What you both did.” She turned so she could address Jim and Perez as one. The young cop started to say something but the singer raised a hand against it. “And before either of you explain that it was no big deal and anyone would’ve done the same thing—oh shit,” she said, starting to cry. “God I’m really pathetic lately.”

            “No ma’am,” Perez said, standing with his hands crossed and head down, the consummate gentleman.

            “Thank you, Ms. Harrison,” Jim said. “And I won’t attempt any masculine obfuscations. Honestly, it would be hard to feign manliness when they’re still helping me to the bathroom.”

            Beth went through the chasm of her purse and excavated a traveler’s-sized pack of tissues, handing them to her client. Everyone gave Anna a second to bring it back together, now sold in their respective spirits that her response was the right and proper one. She had been shot at. Jim spotted the gun and flailed toward it, taking the bullet. Perez used his skills and strength to subdue the shooter. Now the country and indeed the world were using the incident for entertainment over breakfast, fodder for Twitter feeds. On television, men with bloated heads were arguing about guns. Women with too much lipstick were debating the pros and cons of masculinity. Toxic—yes. Necessary—yes. A darn sad fact of life—yes.

            Crying seemed like the thing to do. She dabbed her eyes with the tissues and had one more look around the room; everyone was being polite. Jim was staring at the ceiling awkwardly—it’s not like he could turn around and retreat. She laughed and said that the show was over. “I’m not usually this fragile. Still… thank you both again.”

            Each man offered a polite smile and silence. Anna felt human, just as she wished, but shouldn’t she do more? Weren’t they owed something besides a thanks and her backside? Maybe now wasn’t the time to be mulling it over.

            Two heavy thuds on the door interrupted her thinking. The room suddenly became positively claustrophobic as the detectives from the day before blustered their way in. “Hello everyone,” Gregg said, taking position in the center of the little room. He set his hands on his hips and started rotating back and forth, almost like the point was to be as thoughtless as possible. “Sergeant Perez,” he said, not bothering to look at the younger officer.


            “It’s gotta be a record. You went from a hero to the biggest moron in the force in less than a day. That a record, partner?”

            Lorenz, who was standing between Beth and the door, answered simply: “Be hard pressed to find a quicker fall.”

            “The press know you’re down here?” Gregg asked. Perez couldn’t look him in the eye.

            “Julie—Ms. Camp invited me down this morning. Showed my badge. Used the north emergency entrance. The EMT guys know me down there.”

            “Wow. We’ve got ourselves one of those smart dumb guys,” Lorenz scoffed, shaking his head. The women in the room were on their heels. This sudden and rampant display of testosterone was unnerving. Jim rubbed his necklace and looked quizzically back and forth, trying to gather what he could.

            “I think Perez should leave the way he came and hope to God this doesn’t get out. Maybe we even forget he was here. Could be he still gets that promotion he’s in line for. Obviously the kid’s the kind that’s in it for the gold stars.”

            Lorenz cracked the door with his arm but didn’t move any other part of his body. He was staring with disdainful dismissiveness at the young sergeant. Perez knew not to say another word. He kept a low head and weaved through the room, out into the hall.

            “That was something,” Jim whispered. It was the first thing that entered his mind.

            “It was rude,” Julie said. She was sitting on the corner of the bed, pushing Jim’s feet to one side. “Who do you think you are?”

            “We’re the lead detectives on the case. Haven’t met yet, Ms. Camp. I’m Eric Gregg and that’s George Lorenz.”

            “Apologies for coming in hot,” Lorenz said, not looking very apologetic.

            “We haven’t met either,” Jim said, holding out his right hand as firmly as he could manage. Gregg shook it saying Mr. Camp and nodded at Lorenz to come over and do likewise. “It’s good to meet you, detectives.” He did his best not to wince. These were men of stout bearing—he wished to God he could get himself upright without tearing at his wound. Prostrate and helpless was no way to begin such a charged encounter.

            “I have a feeling there’s more to this visit than chastising a subordinate,” Jim said. The room was segregated now. After shaking hands the detectives were on the side with the windows. The women were near the door, looking like retreat was the first thing on their minds.

            “There is,” Gregg said, calmer now. “And we really are sorry. But this just wasn’t a good idea.”

            “I think we all gathered that,” Jim said.

            “We would’ve come by sooner,” Lorenz interjected, “to see how you were holding up—but there’s been developments. It’s been a hell of a morning, Mr. Camp.”

            “I can’t imagine the stress you guys are under.” It was a truth Jim felt needed telling. He knew he could be crafty, but the honesty adage made the most sense. Playing games with men who made a living out of punching holes in prevarications didn’t seem a wise course. “Please,” Jim said, smiling at the women to his left before focusing back on the policemen. “Tell us whatever you think we should know.”

            Gregg crossed his arms and thought a moment before speaking. Camp’s question was asked carefully. He’d try to answer with a similar dose of propriety. “The gunman—Mr. Albany—he says there might be more people coming for you.”

            “We know that,” Beth interjected. “Any sod with an internet connection knows that.”

            “Right,” Gregg said, speaking louder now. “But we think this so-called organization that he’s fronting is a farce.”

            “So that’s good,” Anna said. “Anyhow, we can’t be ruled by every angry little soul out there. You gents probably can’t imagine how many death threats I get a year.”

            “Just over four thousand,” Lorenz answered. “We’ve spoken to everyone on your current security staff and anybody that’s ever worked for you in the past.”

            “Geez,” Jim said, truly shocked.

            “That’s horrible,” Julie mumbled. The idea of one person hating her was terrifying, let alone thousands. “How do you deal with it?”

            Gregg decided to interrupt. “We understand your need to soldier on, Ms. Harrison, but keep one thing in mind.”


            “This nut did more than make a threat. The man in the bed right there is proof to the point.”

            “And we think you should consider,” Lorenz followed, “the possibility that there’s a few more people out there that are willing to follow in Albany’s footsteps.”

            “How many?” Beth asked, placing a hand on Anna’s arm.

            “You’re not going to like this answer,” Lorenz said, “but we don’t know yet. We need some more time. Do things right. I wish there was an easy solution.”

            “What evidence has you worrying about another attack?” Jim asked.

            Gregg explained the theory about the manifesto—how somebody else was probably holding a backup of the video—explained about the number on the cell phone—basically going over the information previously disclosed to Ryland back at the station. Surprisingly, the rich boy and the cover girl seemed to carefully consider what he was saying. As he spoke and watched them nodding their heads, he started to understand what was at stake. He wasn’t dealing with yokels working down at the feed store. These folks had pressures he couldn’t imagine. Usually he wouldn’t care. Maybe he was getting soft in his old age.

            Lorenz’s phone rang while Gregg was wrapping up his explanation. “What?” the young detective asked, eyes widening. Gregg could see the muscles in his partner’s arm flexing as he held the phone to his head. “How did they know? When did this come in? So that’s it? I’m not sure—just call back when you have something more.” Lorenz’s charged tone of voice had everyone waiting and pregnant with anticipation.

            “Come on then,” Beth urged. Her arm was around Anna, like they were listening to a doomsday countdown.

            “Another threat. Package delivered to the station. Handwritten note saying they know you’re visiting the ‘traitor’ at the hospital.”

            Julie covered her mouth to keep from crying out.

            “Okay,” Jim said, sitting up despite the pain. “Get her out of here.”

            “Of course,” Lorenz said. “But where is the question.”

            “What else?” Gregg asked. “How’d it get there. Clearly it wasn’t mailed yesterday.”

            “Yeah. They’re checking the cameras, but apparently the CCTV at the station crapped out. The package just showed up on the doorstep. No witnesses.”

            “What the hell is this?” Gregg grunted.

            “One more thing,” Lorenz said. “The package had a Grammy inside. One of yours.”

            “What?” Anna asked. “Is this a joke?”

            “Afraid not,” answered the young detective. They dusted prints right off—several hits, some partials that didn’t come up in any databases—and yours.”

            “Bloody hell,” Beth whispered.

            “Do you travel with your—trophies?” Jim asked. “Ms. Harrison?”

            “No. We keep all that stuff at the house in California. I never even see the damn things.”

            Gregg and Lorenz covered their mouths and started whispering in the corner, but the room offered little to no chance at keeping anything to themselves.    

            Jim tapped his sister on the back, a signal for her to move. “Get me some pants, Julie.” He started pulling out needles and tubes. Alarms started ringing.

            Bobby, the cop standing watch, burst through the door. “Everything okay!?”

            “Come in here, officer,” Jim said, swinging his legs down to the floor. “Ms. Harrison, do you have plans today?”

            She wore a look of incredulity. A nurse passed between them, turning off the racket caused by the machines. A little river of blood was dripping down Jim’s arm as he waited for an answer from the pop star. Bobby the cop looked as confused as his first day on the job. Gregg and Lorenz ceased their mumbling, wanting to stop—whatever was going on. “We have a rehearsal. Right Beth?”

            Another bloody hell was all the manager could muster. Usually she’d be poised, itinerary at the ready, brandishing her tablet. Not right now. Right now her hands were shaking.

            “We have a helicopter,” Anna said.

            Jim grabbed a pair of jeans from his sister and forged a path through the group toward the bathroom. “Perfect,” he said. As he closed the door and struggled to work them on with one hand, he asked and the nurse and Bobby to wait outside.

            “What do think you’re doing, Mr. Camp?” Lorenz asked.

            Jim emerged from the bathroom, barefooted and shirtless, shoulder covered with a dressing and arm in a sling. He was blinking rapidly as the blood shifted in his body. Attempting to keep to his feet, he said, “I know about laying low.”

            Gregg was the only one following. “You’ve got a place in mind, I’m supposing.” The first priority was to keep Harrison safe. That meant getting her away from the hospital and somewhere safe as quick as possible. It also meant doing it without tipping anyone in the police department or the press. Camp, crazy as he appeared, seemed to be thinking along the same lines.

            “I do,” Camp said. Tilting his head down gingerly, he became fully aware of how ridiculous he looked. “How many can you fit in that helicopter?” he asked Anna.

            “I’m not sure—it’s big, I think. Not really an expert.”         

            “Big,” Beth said.

            “Let’s get going then,” Jim said, casting a look at the detectives. “Seems like the thing to do, right?”

            Gregg nodded and nudged Lorenz with an elbow. Julie started talking about how Jim was going to die if he walked out with a hole in his shoulder. Anna and her manager fell silent until the singer asked, “Where are we going?”

            Jim closed his eyes to the pain beginning to rise from his wound. Julie asked if he needed a wheelchair. “Nothing wrong with my legs, Jules. It’ll be fine.” He smiled and put his good arm around the shoulder of his worried little sister. “Love you, kid.”

            “I love you too, Jimmy.”

            Gregg and Lorenz were moving quickly, gathering Jim’s remaining personal items from the little particle-board hospital closet in the corner. “Those two guys we passed in the hall,” Gregg said, looking straight at Anna.

            “Bodyguards. Troy and Vince. They’ve been with me for years.”

            “Nice to know. Get rid of them.”

            “Is anyone going to tell me where we’re going?” she asked.

            “Once we’re in the air,” Gregg said.

            Beth grabbed Anna’s hand. “This is crazy. Are you sure about this?”

            The singer wasn’t terrified, but the veracity of the detective’s words were strong enough to stick. They’d dealt with nuts all over the world. People saying she was The Antichrist. Run-of-the-mill obsessed weirdoes. Former fans hating her for being a sellout. All kinds of crazy. But none had ever fired a gun at her. Anna put her cap back on and looked at James K. Camp, the strange man, her strange hero—he was now leaning on Detective Gregg for support. “After you, Jim.”



About Straying Sparingly

About Straying Sparingly

About The Divorcer

About The Divorcer