Nothing but Trouble | Chapter 26 of 32

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1188 Views | Add a Review

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CHAPTER TWENTY

PJ liked being right, but she preferred to do it from a safe and painless distance.

In another life, or perhaps later in this one, she was a spy. A steely-eyed, roundhouse-kicking secret agent who could flatten Colin with a punch.

In this life, however, she was only a pathetic, slightly tanned, underdressed, hungry, and tired aunt to a four-year-old covered in syrup.

She raised her hands along with Maxine and Ethan.

“Please,” Ethan said, his voice quiet, not quite to pleading yet.

Think, PJ. She tore her eyes from the gun and over to Ethan, then to Maxine, who had shuffled toward her husband.

Silence.

“Run!” PJ channeled all of her stunt-girl experience into a front kick at the gun.

She’d expected an explosion of activity, sort of chaos accompanied by chase music. Last in her mind was the way Maxine looked at her, wide-eyed, while Colin dodged her kick, grabbed her leg, and sent her spinning to the floor.

“Ow!”

“Stay down.”

She crumpled onto the tile, blinking up at Ethan, who gave her a pursed-lipped shake of his head. What? She’d tried, at least. That should count.

“Don’t do that again,” Colin snapped.

“Or you’ll shoot me?” She threw Ethan and Maxine a daggered look. What had happened to them?

If she had superpowers, Maxine might have been able to kill her with her narrow-eyed glare.

Maybe PJ could distract Colin long enough for Maxine to catch on and get away. “You can’t do this,” she said to him. “You can’t just come in here and shoot these people.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re the assassin, aren’t you? the one hired by Rembrandt? You’re here to finish the job, the one you started on Hoffman. Hurts to get the wrong guy, huh?”

Obviously this wasn’t one of those scenes where the bad guy told everything. But she deserved some answers to questions like “Were you the one who shot Jeremy?”

“Shut up.”

“What, you knew I’d figure it out, were to trying to make me look guilt —?” She sucked in her realization. “You followed me here!”

PJ noticed that Ethan had taken this opportunity to roll his chair away from Colin, pocketing his wife behind him.

“Stop your babbling!”

“I don’t babble.”

“Shut up!” Colin lunged toward her.

PJ rolled into a ball and braced her hands over her head.

Behind Ethan, glass shattered. Maxine screamed. A gun exploded, a shot that separated PJ from her self-control. She joined Maxine in the screaming.

A body fell against her. She pushed away from it, opening her eyes.

Colin lay on the tile, bleeding from the chest, making a noise much like a goat.

“Get down!” someone yelled.

She was down; she was down! PJ clamped her hands tighter over her head as the door slammed open.

Another body landed on Colin, who hollered. This one flipped him onto his stomach.

Then hands jerked her off the floor and into a hard, shocking embrace. “Are you okay?”

Was she okay? She wasn’t sure —she couldn’t feel anything and only after a moment became aware of how she had her hands fisted into the cloth of a shirt, clinging to safety.

She looked up.

Jeremy.

And he was just about squeezing the life out of her. She unhinged her hands from his shirt and wrapped her arms around his waist, laying her head on his chest, listening to his heart jackhammer. She’d yell at him later.

Now she just tightened her grip.

“You okay?” he asked again.

She nodded, but another voice answered.

“Yeah.”

Ethan. Maxine sat on his lap, her face hidden in his chest, her shoulders shaking.

And on the floor at everyone’s feet, subduing the assassin, was Boone, wearing body armor and looking fierce.

She wanted to hug him too.

Boone looked up at her just as Jeremy put her at arm’s length. She glanced at Colin. Boone had him cuffed and rolled onto his back and now applied pressure to the wound in his chest —upper left shoulder, not life threatening. He was surrounded by chunks of Maxine’s vase in a puddle of rank water and wounded lilies.

“What happened?”

“I shot him,” Jeremy said.

She leaned away from him and for the first time noticed that he held a gun. “Where did you come from?”

Jeremy nodded toward the back French doors, now hanging open and blowing the rain in past the velvet draperies. Glass from one pane littered the floor like ice. “Nice kick. And by the way, you do babble.”

“I don’t.” She raised her chin.

“PJ, without your babbling, we’d have carnage and lots more blood. Probably yours.”

She warmed at the concern in his eyes. She’d probably have to consider forgiving him too. “Where’d the vase come from?”

“I hit him,” Maxine said, lifting her head, her smile shaky.

“Where’s Davy?” PJ stepped past Colin and Boone and ran down the hall. “Davy?” She found him in the bedroom with Daniel and Felicia, watching a Disney movie at a decibel level that had probably saved them years of trauma counseling, not to mention their lives. “Are you okay?”

“I don’t wanna go.” He sat back, chin jutted out, and she could have swooped him up and hugged the breath out of him for his headstrong, rebellious ways that had directed him to toys and movies and away from danger.

“Okay. Just stay put.” She returned him to his movie, then closed the door and hung on the doorknob a moment, in case her knees gave out.

“He’s okay.” Jeremy came up behind her.

She couldn’t reply.

Jeremy glanced back at Boone, who was turning over his paramedic job to the real guys now rushing in with a stretcher. “How badly is he injured?”

“I think he’ll be fine. I hope so —we’ll need him to testify against Rembrandt.”

She had no words. Not one. She just stared at both of them, shaking her head. “You . . . you . . . I cannot believe you both let me believe that you thought I was nuts!”

She turned to Jeremy, and he stepped away.

“Yeah, you’d better run.”

“Sorry, Princess. But after we talked, I also got this gut feeling that someone was setting you up. I just didn’t know who.”

“You have a lot of penance to pay, partner. Cough it up. How did you know Colin wasn’t just the mailman?”

“It was something you said about how easy Hoffman let his killer into his house. I thought about the people we trust, like the newspaperman and the lawn guy and —”

“Pizza guys?”

He grinned. “Yes, and especially the mailman. You said your mailman had seen you at the shooting range, and Boone gave us a rough sketch of the only person he could remember. I ran a check on your mailman with a buddy of mine in the FBI, and his stated identity didn’t match the description of the guy Boone saw.”

Boone stepped away from the paramedics. “Obviously we had a case of stolen identity. That’s when we started thinking there might be something to your theory.”

“You mean my tall tale?”

They both looked sufficiently chagrined.

“I knew it.”

“And then I got to thinking, how better to find a man in hiding but follow his sales and purchases? Especially a collector of ancient coins.” Jeremy looked smug, like he’d solved the entire thing.

“Except Colin found the wrong man,” PJ said, her gaze landing on Ethan, who still held Maxine’s hand. “Maybe Colin never knew what the Doc really looked like, and when he saw all the registered packages from coin dealers around the world, he must have assumed that Hoffman was his target.”

Boone and Jeremy looked at her with a sort of confusion.

“The registered mail. As soon as I saw the little green slip, I knew Colin was the assassin.” She walked to the envelope now lying on the floor, half-covered with Colin’s blood, and picked it up by one edge. “Ernie had one of these on his floor by the door, unopened.”

Jeremy’s smile came slow and sweet. “Of course.”

“Except . . . why Hoffman?” Boone asked.

“Like she said —he got the wrong man,” Jeremy said.

Like she said. She smiled at the unbelievers.

“So why did he search the house?” Boone asked, mostly to PJ. The girl with all the answers. The girl he should have believed in.

“I got into Ernie’s laptop and saw some of his auctions online,” PJ confessed. “He’d sold a few of the Nero coins, but not all of them. Colin must’ve been looking for the rest.”

“He was also looking for this,” Ethan cut into their conversation. He wheeled over to the hutch by the door, opened a panel, withdrew a safe box, and opened it. “It’s an Athenian dekadrachm, one of fifteen like it in the world. It’s worth millions. I took it off Rembrandt in Italy along with the Nero coins, and Rembrandt knows I have it.” He took the coin out of the case and closed his hand around it. “This whole thing isn’t about revenge. Well, not entirely. It’s about money.”

Ethan handed the coin to Boone. “Here. Give it to Scotland Yard. At the time I thought it was insurance —if Rembrandt killed me, he’d never know where I’d stashed it. But it’s just brought me heartache.” He glanced at Maxine, who took his hand despite the whitened hue to her face.

“The truth is, this is all my fault. The Nero coins were probably how our killer found Ernie. I stole the coins from Rembrandt while I was working undercover for the art squad. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I wasn’t a Christian at the time, and I let my greed get ahold of me. I’ve regretted it ever since. Jack admired them one day, and I thought he’d like a souvenir from Europe, so I gave him the coins. I never thought he’d sell them, that he even knew their value. And I just wanted to be rid of them and their hold on me.”

Maxine had wrapped her arms around her waist and was looking at the floor. PJ walked over to her, put an arm around her.

“If I had known, I would have never put Jack in danger by giving him the coins. I’m sure that as soon as they hit the market, Rembrandt’s men flagged them and came after Hoffman.”

“Then why was Hoffman broke, if the coins were worth so much money?” PJ took the coin from Boone, running her thumb over the ornate silver head of an ancient warrior.

“He was probably reinvesting. It’s easy to catch the bug.”

“Using Jack’s money to do it. That’s why Jack went after him at the pool. He needed his money back.” PJ remembered Ernie’s shock, the way Jack had tackled him. “Ernie probably figured he’d give Jack a cut of the profits.”

“And in the meantime, his activities flagged Rembrandt’s attention or at least Colin’s,” Ethan said.

“So are you still working for Scotland Yard?” Boone asked Ethan as PJ dropped the coin back into his hand.

“Yes. On the art squad. I still consult for them as an appraiser. Which is why I receive certified mail.” Ethan’s gaze settled on PJ.

She shrugged. “With the assassin acting as the mailman, it probably wasn’t hard to get Ernie’s bank information, connect him with Jack, and then pin the blame on Jack. I wouldn’t be surprised if he emptied out Jack’s bank account before the murder, just to cement the blame.

“In fact . . . hey —” PJ walked over to Colin, who lay writhing in pain, an IV snaking from his arm. “I saw you that day in front of Hoffman’s house, in your little red Geo. You waved to me. And then when you saw me at the shooting range, you thought I’d figure it out. You knew —” she sucked in another breath of disbelief —“and you saw Jeremy at Hoffman’s too. Who exactly were you aiming for at the park, me or Jeremy?”

Colin looked away.

“Or both.” Jeremy came up, curled his hand around her elbow. “PJ, let’s get out of here.”

Boone’s face was full of the remorse she’d longed for ten years to see. “So . . .” He looked away and cleared his throat, and when his eyes found PJ again, the expression was gone. “You did steal the lawn truck.”

PJ didn’t know what to say. Thankfully he didn’t know about the country club. Yet. She didn’t answer.

“And you . . .” He cut off Jeremy. “You were there too?”

Jeremy shrugged, stepped around him.

PJ went back to the bedroom and scooped up Davy, hiding his eyes from the blood as they moved toward the door. As she glanced back, she saw Boone staring after her, something forlorn again on his face.

The rain had stopped, only a haze of humidity in the air, the sky clearing to a crisp blue. Police cruisers flashed red lights across the houses, and a news crew had arrived, probably listening to the scanner. PJ moved over to the driveway, Jeremy beside her as Ethan rolled out, followed by Maxine and the twins. Boone directed his deputies to tape off the house while he pulled out his cell phone. PJ watched his eyes train on Ethan. Clearly a conversation with Scotland Yard was in Boone and Ethan’s near future.

“Nana!” Davy wiggled out of her arms and hit the pavement running. PJ turned in time to see her mother stalking toward her, a hard look on her unmade-up face. She took Davy’s hand and kept coming, like the Terminator. She looked like she’d thrown on an old pair of jeans and one of her husband’s ragged sweatshirts. PJ barely recognized her.

PJ had begun to edge behind Jeremy when her mother flung an arm around her neck.

Tight.

Can’t breathe . . . Mom.

But Elizabeth didn’t let go. “I was so worried about you. The phone rang off the hook this morning. People said that you shot Boone yesterday at the park —”

“I didn’t shoot Boo —”

“And then when I went by the house, you weren’t there, and I couldn’t believe that you’d shoot —”

“I didn’t shoot anyone!”

“So I went to the station, and the fiasco came over the radio, and, PJ, are you okay?”

PJ pushed away from her, held her at arm’s length. Her mother looked old. Worry etched into the lines of her naked face. She wasn’t even wearing lipstick. “Mom?”

Elizabeth blinked; a tear winked out and trailed down her cheek. She didn’t even bother to wipe it away as her voice fell to just above a groan. Or maybe a prayer. “I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you. Not now, when I have you back.”

PJ opened her mouth, but only a hiccup of breath emerged.

Her mother touched her face, holding her hand there a long time. Finally the smile —even, calm, Sugarized —took its place. She patted PJ’s cheek. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”

PJ nodded.

“She’s more than okay. She stopped an assassin from killing her and the entire Hudson family.” Jeremy put a hand on her back. PJ didn’t bother to move away. For now.

“Well, of course she did.” Elizabeth smiled. “PJ can do anything.”

Someone had stolen her mother.

Or maybe PJ had finally discovered her.

The static of police radios competed with the murmur of neighbors clumping in curiosity behind them. Jeremy moved his hand onto PJ’s shoulder.

Brakes screeching on the wet pavement parted the crowd, and PJ saw Trudi tumble out of her car.

She ran to PJ. “Are you okay? The police dispatcher just called.”

“Yes —now. We’re all okay.”

Trudi swallowed her in a clench. “Thank you for standing by us.”

“Well, it’s about time. I’m really sorry I left town all those years ago and didn’t stand by you then.”

Trudi pulled away, wiped her eyes. “You’re here now.”

Yeah, she was.

“Oh, by the way —” Trudi reached into her purse, one nearly as big as PJ’s —“I found this in Chip’s diaper bag. I think it was from when Davy read it to him on the beach that day. So cute.” She handed her a book.

The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings. PJ flipped open the front cover. Of course, there it was: “Property of Fellows Academy Library” printed next to an IPC coded label.

“Thanks, Trude.”

Trudi gave her another squeeze before she ran to Maxine and her family.

PJ turned to watch as the paramedics loaded Colin into the truck. Boone stood in the sweep of red lights, looking grim. He shot her a glance, his gaze flickering to Jeremy and back to PJ. Then he turned away.

“Wonder if he’ll pull through,” PJ said, nearly under her breath.

“It wasn’t much more than a flesh wound,” Jeremy said, but she wasn’t exactly thinking of Colin. “You did a good thing here, PJ. If it weren’t for you and your nosiness, Jack would be in prison, Trudi would be broke, and Ethan and Maxine would still be living a lie with a price on their heads.” Jeremy directed her gaze to Maxine and Ethan with Trudi and the twins.

Yeah, well, it wasn’t all her. In fact, maybe it wasn’t her at all. But, like Peter, it was just being the person God made her, letting Him do amazing things as she . . . surrendered.

Surrendered her reputation. Her future. Boone.

She glanced back at Boone. As much as she missed him, she wasn’t sure she could be with Boone and love God at the same time.

Boone must have felt her gaze on him for he met her eyes. She lifted her hand in a wave. His mouth tipped, just a little.

“So, I’m wondering if you want a job.”

Huh? PJ looked at Jeremy. “As a pizza delivery girl?”

“No, as my assistant.” He pulled out a business card from his wallet and handed it to her. Kane Investigations.

She flicked it between her fingers. “I don’t know; I was kinda looking forward to free pizza.”

“I’ll write it into your benefits package.” His eyes laughed, clear of anything dark and mysterious. “That is, if you’re sticking around town. Boone says you do this run thing.”

She glanced over his shoulder at Boone folding himself into his cruiser. “There’s more to that story.”

Jeremy followed her gaze. “He says you’re nothing but trouble,” he said, more in his voice than she was prepared to address.

“He’s probably right.”

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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