"What's wrong?" Laura asked seeing the abrupt change in my body language.
My mouth had gone dry. I looked at Laura and tried to keep my face locked on hers. In case whoever was in the Sedan had a way to see us.
"I really should talk to Robert. The man saved my life." I said cheerily. Laura looked confused at my sudden mood swing. Paranoia had a firm grip on my spine and I suddenly knew the car was bugged.
"What…what's--" But my eyes communicated what I could not. I gave the slightest shake of the head. She closed her mouth and then smiled. "Of course. I haven't seen him and Emma in forever."
She got out and stretched, I noticed her glancing around, but I don't think she saw the Sedan. She walked in step with me and said under her breath. "What the Hell is going on? Are we in danger?"
"Probably not, I don't think so." I lied.
I rang the doorbell and waited calmly.
The response from inside was a series of derogatory and colorful curses about my mother. Laura's eyes went wide and my mouth dropped open.
"ROBERT!" Came a chastising voice. Emma was yelling through the door "Sorry about him. We just don't want to talk to any more reporters. We have no comment."
"What if I don't want a comment." I responded through the door. "What if I just want to shake the hand of the man who saved my life?"
"George!?! S'at you!?" Robert's voice came as we heard footsteps approach the door.
"Oh wonderful! I'll get lemonade!" Emma called as he opened the door.
Robert squinted at me. "Shit George. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you look worse now than when they hauled you off last night."
"I'm still in one piece though, mostly thanks to you." I said, "Do you mind if we come in for a moment?"
At the word "we", Robert seemed to notice Laura for the first time. A sly smile crossed his face.
"Well if it isn't Laura." He said through his grin, then shouted. "Hey Em, George brought Laura with him!"
"That dog!" She called from the kitchen. "Using a shooting to get back in her good graces. Jesus would not approve."
At another time, I might've laughed at this, but Laura and I were both wound too tight from the situation.
I managed an "I do what I can." but as soon as we were inside I asked Robert if he had a gun. I knew full well that he had plenty of guns.
"What the-" He groaned. "What's going on?"
"It's no big deal, I just don't have a backup firearm on me right now and they took my piece as evidence. I'm going to need to borrow a gun right now." I said.
He frowned and walked to the hallway. "You know, some people might say you're a bad omen Burton. Trouble follows you like stink on a fly."
"I thought the saying was a fly on stink" I said.
"I'm sure flies smell pretty awful." He called back.
"What did you see out there?" Laura asked. "You'd better not be thinking about confronting someone alone. That would be incredibly stupid."
"Look, I'll be fine." I said avoiding eye contact. This was stupid. She was right and I didn't want her to see the truth of it in my eyes. "We don't have a lot of time to be debating this. Someone has been following us since the hospital and I'm not going to let them get out of here unquestioned."
"Laura!" Emma said as she walked into the room with a tray of lemonade as Robert returned brandishing a .22. Her smile faltered. "I take less than a minute to get lemonade and already I seem to be terribly out of the loop."
I smiled to her. "Laura will explain. I've got to go for a sec."
"I got you a .22. It's going to give you the least kick and I think that's most important with your hand lookin' the way it does." Robert said handing it over smoothly.
"I swear to God if you get shot again there will be no reason to drive you to the hospital because I will kill you." Laura said trying to control her anger.
Robert followed me out the back door of his house. There were power lines that ran behind the properties in the neighborhood. For maintenance purposes they had created a small alley between the back yards of the houses on the next street over.
Penny and Jackson happily ran up to greet us at the door. I patted them each and motioned for them to go sit. They both obeyed while their tails wagged emphatically at us.
I used the gate and entered the alleyway.
"Give it a sec." I heard Robert whisper after me. "I can cover you with one of my rifles."
I stopped and looked back. "Oh no you don't. There's no way to explain it if you jump the gun. Just keep Laura from going crazy and strangling me when I get back. I've got this under control."
Maybe if I said it enough it would be true.
Robert nodded and closed the gate.
I moved swiftly down the alley and slowed as I reached the side yard of the house at the end of the block. I was twenty feet behind the Sedan, and could see a figure in the front seat looking in the direction of Laura's car.
I moved crouched and silently across the grass keeping my eyes on the man in the car for any sudden movements. He made none and soon I was closing the last five feet to the car.
When I got close enough that I recognized the person in the front seat, I nearly shot him right there. I stood from my crouch and sidled up to the driver's side window, tapping on the glass with the barrel of the .22.
Officer Bowen nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned to see me leveling a pistol at his head. I made the sign for him to roll down his window, which he did.
"Jesus Christ, Burton! Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" He asked.
"Nope. I'm trying to put a bullet between your eyes unless you can explain." I said resisting the urge to dramatically chamber a round. "And I mean explain, fast."
I saw sweat appear on his forehead. "It's hard to think when you've got a gun at your face. I'm resisting a very real urge to crap myself right now, Burton. I want you to know that. I don't know if it escaped your notice, but you were nearly killed last night." He said, "Two people tried to shoot you and neither of them have been found for sure. Did you honestly think that Bishop was going to let it go without giving you a protection detail?"
'Goddamn him.' I thought.
"You know when putting someone under surveillance. Someone who might be on edge because they've been shot recently. You should really inform them because, let me tell you from experience, they are a jumpy bunch." I said, "It might end with someone at the wrong end of a bullet."
"Yes, in hindsight, this was probably a terrible idea, but at least I can say it wasn't mine." He said and I noticed his hands were shaking. "Bishop knew you'd fight it if he told you about the protection detail so he just decided to keep you out of the loop. If you're going to shoot someone please start with him. Or, you know, at least stop pointing that thing at my face."
I lowered the gun and sighed. "Well you might as well come with me. I've got a room full of people thinking you're here to kill me and it'd be better if I put their minds at ease.
He nodded and got out of the car. Robert's door opened as we got to it and he was standing there with his hands on his hips. I couldn't help but notice the rifle slung over his shoulder. I think Bowen noticed it too. He hesitated when Robert motioned us inside.
"Who the Hell is this?" Robert asked closing the door.
"Everyone, I would like you to meet Protection Detail. Protection Detail, this Emma, Robert, and I'm sure you recognize Laura."
"Well thank the lord that's over," Emma said handing me a glass of lemonade. "We've had enough excitement in this neighborhood in the last twenty four hours. We didn't need any more."
"I couldn't agree more." Laura said. I saw that she was still angry at me, and might've said something else but her phone started chirping. She looked at the display and excused herself. "I have to take this."
"Sorry about all this." Bowen said. "I'd love to stay and chat, but I need to get back to my car. Observe from a safe distance and all that."
I nodded and opened the door for him. I talked with Robert and Emma for a bit, but soon I felt a heavy weariness rising. I stifled a yawn. "I still need to get a motel and get myself set up for the night. I could use a nap."
"We have a spare room. You're welcome to it." Robert said.
"No, even with a protection detail, I'm not the safest person to be around right now." I said. "But I will have Penny intrude on your hospitality at least one more night if that's okay."
"You know we love to have her over." Robert said with a nod. "Keep the .22 as long as you need. I know it isn't much but with your hand, you can't handle much."
I nodded and thanked them again.
I opened the door and walked over to Laura's car. She was leaning against it with her back to me. The phone was closed but she was cradling it against her shoulder.
As I approached, she turned to me. Her eyes were puffed and there was a tear running down the side of her face.
It was like someone had punched me in the gut.
"No." I croaked.