According to the printout Ted gave me yesterday, this sprawling ten-acre farm surrounded by cornfields on all sides is owned by our very own man of the hour: Sven Mendleson. AKA Steve Lawson. AKA lying sack of shit, bail-jumper-hiding, drug-dealing thorn in my side.
Pulling up right in front of the huge wraparound porch, I put my Explorer in park, turn off the engine, and step out onto the gravel drive. I don’t see any other cars anywhere and while this should put me a little bit at ease that the place isn’t crawling with twitchy potheads and dealers picking up their stash, it leaves me feeling just a tiny bit uneasy. As I slowly make my way up the steps, I double-check my gun to make sure it’s fully loaded before sliding it into my holster. Taking a deep breath, I reach up and knock on the door, keeping one hand resting on the butt of my gun just in case.
I don’t hear any noise on the other side of the door, and I take a moment while I wait to look around the yard and keep an eye out for any movement. Not seeing anything of concern, I reach back up to knock again when the door is opened before my knuckles can make contact with the wood.
“’Sup,” the twentysomething guy in front of me says with a jerk of his chin.
As I take in his blue Cookie Monster T-shirt, ratty jeans, fuzzy yellow duck slippers, and open bag of Cheetos, I quickly decide this guy is most likely not going to be a threat to me. And going by his bloodshot eyes that he can barely keep focused on me, I’m going to guess the only threat he could possibly pose would be secondhand smoke.
“Hi, my name’s Kennedy and I’m looking for Martin McFadden. Have you seen him?”
He stares at me while he reaches one hand into his bag of Cheetos and brings one up to his mouth, crunching slowly.
“Weird old dude who believes in aliens, about this tall?” he asks, holding his hand up to his chin.
“Yep, that’s him,” I reply with an excited nod of my head.
“Nope, never heard of him,” he tells me, shoveling a handful of Cheetos in his mouth.
Oh, for the love of God.
“Look, I don’t really care what’s going on here—I just want McFadden. Tell me where he is, I will take him with me quietly, and you can go back to eating your way through the junk-food aisle of the grocery store,” I plead with him.
“Steve will be really pissed if I talk. I wish I had some Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch right now.” He stares dejectedly into his bag of Cheetos.
“I promise, Steve won’t be pissed. And I will buy you twenty boxes of Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch if you take me to McFadden.”
I find it hard to believe the Steve/Sven I know could seriously get pissed about anything unless it has to do with bad hair, but I’m not about to tell this guy that.
“Peanut butter is delicious. Captain is crunchy. Crunchy is a funny word. I think Martin is in the snack making a kitchen,” he tells me with a nod toward the back of the house.
Good lord, this guy needs to be the poster boy for why kids should stay off drugs.
Taking a step past him and into the living room while he stands there licking the Day-Glo orange cheese off his fingers, I hear the unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked and I stop in my tracks.
“Take your gun out of its holster and toss it onto the couch, slowly.”
It’s Sven, without the accent. I slowly turn around with my hands in the air and see him standing at the opening of the hallway with a .44 Magnum aimed right at my head. Holding that gun at me, he no longer looks like a hairdresser with a poodle named Mrs. Justin Bieber. Right now he looks like he would shoot me between the eyes without even blinking.
With one hand still up in the air, I slowly reach down with my other hand and gradually pull my gun out of its holster and do as he says, tossing it onto the couch cushions.
“Now, toss me your car keys,” he demands.
Have I mentioned yet how stupid an idea this was coming here alone?
Sliding my hand into my front pocket, I pull my keys out and chuck them at him. He easily catches them with the hand not holding the gun and puts them in his own pocket.
“Hey, Stevie, are we all out of mayo? I looked in the pantry and I don’t—”
McFadden walks into the room with Tinkerdoodle under his arm and stops speaking as soon as he sees the scene in front of him.
“What’s going on? Oh my gosh, don’t shoot her!” McFadden wails as he looks back and forth between me and the gun pointed at my face.
“Look Sven, Steve, whatever your name is, I don’t want any trouble. I could care less what’s going on here. I have a cousin who smokes pot for his glaucoma. Great stuff, excellent results. I just want to take McFadden in nice and peacefully so the bondsman can get his money back,” I say.
“It’s okay. Stevie won’t hurt you, will you, Stevie? I’m finished with my life of crime. I’ve learned my lesson. The life of a thug is no life for me,” McFadden says wearily as he starts to walk toward me.
Before he can even make it a few steps in my direction, Steve quickly reaches out and grabs hold of McFadden’s arm, yanking him back so hard that he drops Tinkerdoodle to the floor. Steve keeps McFadden close to him and brings the gun up, pressing it right against McFadden’s temple.
“STEVIE! What are you doing?! Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” McFadden cries hysterically.
“I’m gonna go take a nap,” the pothead over by the door suddenly announces before shuffling off down the hall in his duck slippers.
“I knew letting you hide out here would be a bad idea. Now the fucking cops are going to be swarming this place. Do you have any idea how much product I’m going to lose when they storm in here? How many millions of dollars are going to go right down the drain because you’re a fuckup?” Steve yells angrily.
“Stevie, don’t say things like that! I thought we were friends!” McFadden cries.
“Oh, shut up. We were never friends; I just tolerated you so you’d take the fall for me back in high school. And now look where that got me. A fucking cop here in my living room and thousands of pounds of weed in my basement,” he growls, gesturing toward me with his gun.
I need to get McFadden away from this lunatic and get out of this house. How the hell am I going to do that without a gun?
Tinkerdoodle lets out a small little yip when her stares at McFadden go ignored and a thought pops into my head. It’s not the brightest idea in the world, but I’m obviously not very full of bright ideas today, now, am I?
I’m hoping McFadden is pissed off enough at finding out our boy Steve here was never really his friend and he’ll play along. Otherwise, we’re all screwed.
“Hey, McFadden. Remember that day we hung out at the tailgating party and you made me a hamburger?” I ask him, staring pointedly down at Tinkerdoodle.
Come on, get the hint. Get the hint.
“Remember how sweet and loving Tinkerdoodle was with me before you left?”
I’m starting to lose my faith in this guy and Steve is beginning to look suspicious when I see the lightbulb go on in McFadden’s brain.
I give him the tiniest of nods. He swallows thickly, squeezes his eyes closed, and screams, “TINKERDOODLE! ATTACK!”
Just like on tailgating day, Tinkerdoodle jumps to action in a blur of fur, snapping teeth, yapping barks, and flying spit as she charges at Steve’s leg and clamps down on his ankle.
“SON OF A BITCH!” Steve screams in pain as he shoves McFadden away and tries to get the dog off his leg.
The pitter-patter of dog toenails echoes around us as Mrs. Justin Bieber flies into the living room to get in on the action. Luckily, she’s decided to be a joiner, chomping her teeth down on Steve’s other leg.
Without hesitation, I lunge forward, grab McFadden’s arm, and drag him behind me as fast as I can toward the front door while both dogs bite down harder on Steve’s leg and he shouts and flails around the living room trying to dislodge them.
We stumble out the front door and down the steps when it hits me that I don’t have my keys and have no way to escape. I don’t have time to worry about that right now though, because it won’t be long before Steve comes racing out here after us, guns a-blazing.
Yanking McFadden in front of me, I shove him as hard as I can and scream at him to run.
“GO! Into the corn! Don’t stop until I tell you!”
We sprint full speed the ten yards or so across the grass until we burst into the first row of corn, smacking stalks out of our way as we go and hearing the first sounds of a gun being fired in our direction.
I’m too busy running and looking over my shoulder to notice McFadden stop suddenly and I slam into the back of him, both of us stumbling forward.
“What the hell? Why are you stopping? KEEP GOING!” I yell at him as another shot echoes behind us, this one closer than the last.
“A crop circle,” he whispers in wonder. “Oh my God, they’ve been here. They’ll save us!”
Looking around him in irritation, I see a huge, matted-down area of cornstalks directly in front of us.
“For God’s sake, get your shit together, man! We need to get the hell out of here!”
The hard, cold steel of the nose of a gun presses roughly into the back of my head and I realize we’ve just lost our chance at escaping.
GD crop circle.
Will you stop crying? Goddammit, you’re giving me a headache,” Steve complains to McFadden.
I have an unnatural urge to reach out and smack Steve upside the head. However, this wouldn’t be a wise idea since he currently still has a gun aimed at me.
“Just tell me Tinkerdoodle is still alive!” McFadden sobs as he stands next to me in the middle of the “crop circle” where Steve forced us to walk.
Oh, don’t worry about me with a GUN TO MY HEAD. The dog that you stole is perfectly fine, thank you very much.
“Hey, dude. I heard some shots. You need my help or something?”
Pothead waltzes into our little party with a gun in his hand, using the tip of it to scratch his head.
This just keeps getting better and better.
“It’s about fucking time you got here. Keep an eye on Martin; this one’s all mine,” Steve says as he wraps his fingers tightly around my upper arm and digs the gun back into the side of my head.
“You couldn’t just forget about Martin and go on your merry way. You had to keep digging, didn’t you? Now you’re both going to die,” Steve threatens.
McFadden begins wailing embarrassingly loud and Steve and I both groan in annoyance. At least we’re in agreement on something: McFadden is irritating. But not so much that he needs to be shot in the middle of a cornfield.
“Look, how about you just let him go and deal with me?” I ask him, trying to plead with the tiniest bit of humanity I hope he still has left in him.
“Sorry, no can do. I don’t trust either of you. You’re each getting a bullet to the brain.”
Okay, maybe not. On to Plan B.
Except I don’t have a Plan B. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have a Plan A.
“I don’t think that will be necessary, Steve.”
Pure elation and downright dread fight in the pit of my stomach when I hear the sound of Griffin’s voice and the click of a gun that I’m pretty sure he has aimed at Steve’s head right at this moment.
I’m so happy he’s here that I want jump up and down and point and laugh in Steve’s face. But I’m also scared to death that he’s here right now. What if he gets hurt? Griffin can’t get hurt just because of me. Especially when he doesn’t even know I love him.
“What are you going to do, hotshot? Shoot both of us? In case you haven’t noticed, there are two of us with guns and only one of you,” Steve taunts Griffin.
We all turn at the same time and look at the pothead standing on the other side of me, swaying back and forth, twirling his gun through the air like he’s writing his name with a Fourth of July sparkler.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Gunnar, FOCUS!” Steve yells at him.
Gunnar? Note to self: Never name any future children that I may or may not have Gunnar. They will indeed be brainless twits.
Gunnar jumps into action, sort of, and stands at attention with his gun held up to his forehead and his chest puffed out.
As soon as I look away from him, I feel Steve remove the gun from the back of my head and in a flash, he twists around and pistol-whips Griffin against the side of his face, taking him by surprise. I watch as Griffin’s gun goes flying through the air and he stumbles backward a few steps. He gains his footing and shakes the cobwebs from his head. With a growl, he ducks his head and charges right at Steve, tackling him to the ground like a linebacker.
McFadden stands in the middle of the clearing flapping his arms wildly and screaming as he jumps up and down in place like a six-year-old girl throwing a fit in the toy store.
While Gunnar is distracted by Steve and Griffin’s scuffle and McFadden losing his ever-loving mind, I take that moment to pull my arm back and throw an uppercut. His eyes roll into the back of his head as soon as my fist makes contact and he crumbles to the ground at my feet.
I turn around with a satisfied look on my face when I see Steve kick both of his feet into Griffin’s chest and send him soaring backward, knocking the wind out of him when he lands. While Griffin groans and tries to catch his breath, Steve rolls over and grabs one of the fallen guns, jumps up with blood dripping from his mouth and nose and aims the gun at me.
Pulling the slide back to load the first bullet into the chamber, he winks at me while I watch his finger tighten on the trigger. There’s nothing I can do at this point but squeeze my eyes closed and brace myself for the pain.