The Desperate Minutes

by Brian Evankovich


.....The bedroom hadn't smelled the same since Lisa left. Nothing was the same. I couldn't smell the musky scent of her perfume anymore. After-shave and dust had replaced the feminine touch that used to give this room so much life. I suppose that's what happens after a "trial separation", as she called it. So far, though, this "trial" had lasted six months, so far.

......I stood in front of my dresser, and the big mirror reflected my stocky image. Heck, today was Saturday. I didn't have to shave for work or get dressed up, and it felt good to wear a simple T-shirt and jeans.

......I held a gun in my hands. A blue-steel Smith & Wesson revolver, a big .357 Magnum with a four-inch barrel. Most guys I knew had taken to fancy automatics, but I still preferred a plain old revolver. I broke open the cylinder and shook out the six rounds in the chambers, dropped them into the open drawer level with my waist, bumped it shut. I crossed the cluttered bedroom to my nightstand, opened the top drawer, set the gun inside and locked it. I'd had the lock installed when Tommy was born. No way he would be getting inside.

......I allowed myself a smile. It was Saturday, and I would get Tommy to myself all day. No work to do, I'd made sure of that. Today was for my son and me.

......I looked around the room and shook my head. I'll never qualify as a neat freak. Clothes strewn about; my briefcase in one corner, still unopened since Friday night; the bed unmade and rumpled; my exercise bike gathering dust. A shade covered the window that looked out the front of the house. The morning sunlight streamed through with the clock on the nightstand reading just after ten. On the evening news last night, the weatherman said it would be clear and sunny all day. Perfect for what Tommy and I had planned.

......I closed the bedroom door and went into the kitchen, washing the remaining dishes in the sink. A car pulled up in the driveway. A door slammed. I went to the front door and pulled it open. Lisa was already backing out, not even looking at me as Tommy rushed up the front steps. "Daddy!" he shouted. He put his hand up for a high-five and I slapped his palm, pulling him into my arms for a big hug.

......"Hiya, Tommy," I said. Looked over his shoulder as his mother pulled out into the street and zoomed off. I sadly watched the car go. I wanted to help settle our problems; she wanted nothing to do with me. Too many late nights, too many broken promises.

......"Come on," I said quietly. Tommy rushed past me into the living room, clothes for the weekend weighing down his stuffed backpack. I shut the door and locked it.

......Tommy tossed his backpack on the floor.

......"Tommy, you know where that goes."

......"All right," he said sheepishly, picking it up. He went down the hall to his bedroom. I didn't watch him but knew he'd put it on the rack I had made for him. He came back out.

......"Can we go now?"

......"Let me get my keys and wallet, and we'll go."

......We got in the car, my old '68 Corvette, which I only took out on the weekends, and headed to the local amusement park.

......Tommy and I spent the day there. I mainly watched while he and a bunch of other kids raced through the smaller rides, though I did ride the cowboy horse next to his on the Ferris wheel. He looked wistfully at a roller coaster as it raced through several loops, and I told him he could ride when he was older.

......"That's not fair, Daddy!"

......"A lot of life isn't fair, son," I said.

......Around four o'clock we got back in the car. I turned the key in the ignition. The engine coughed and sputtered and failed. I closed my eyes and tried again. It grumbled to life and I let out a sigh of relief, but pretty soon I'd be wishing the car had broken down.

****

......I glanced at Tommy, sitting there beside me, as we sped along the freeway. Only six years old and growing faster than I could keep track. Sometimes my job kept me pretty busy and even when Lisa and I were living together, I hadn't seen much of him. My work contributed to our separation, but Lisa just didn't understand. Or maybe I wouldn't look at her side of the story, wanting to cling to my childhood dreams more than anything while my family dissolved around me. Where do you set the priority? The last time I'd spoken to Lisa, she'd said that when I was ready to put her and Tommy first, we could talk seriously.

......"What do you mean, put you two first? What do you think I do every day of my life?"

......"You spend too much time running through alleys and sitting in the car all night to even know what's going on at home."

......I said, "What do you think pays the mortgage, honey?"

......She didn't seem to want to compromise; it was her way, or no way.

......"Why can't you just go back to the police department?"

......"We've covered this, Lisa."

......"Why not? They offered you an inside job! What's wrong with that?"

......"I had a chunk of bone blown out of my leg, remember? They told me I'm no good on the street anymore. That's why I started my detective agency, so I could be on the street. That's where I'm happiest, Lisa."

......"Obviously there's no room for Tommy and I."

......And so it went. It made me sad. When we'd fallen in love ten years ago, we couldn't imagine anything tearing us apart. Now I was having trouble imagining getting back together. The separation had dragged on for six months so far; I didn't think she would actually divorce me, but maybe that was wishful thinking.

......We got home and I eased the Vette into the garage. We went inside. As the garage door shut behind us, the phone rang. And rang. I told Tommy to go hang up his jacket.

......"Aren't you going to answer, Daddy?"

......"No."

......Probably work calling. No way would I pick up. Today was for Tommy and me.

......The phone rang once more and went silent.

****

......We wandered out to the living room to watch TV and relax. "What's for dinner, Daddy?"

......"What do you feel like having?"

......"Pizza!"

......I eased my tired body onto the couch and Tommy climbed up after me. "I think we can arrange that."

......Something crashed loudly against the door. A loud thud, like somebody dropping a big encyclopedia on a desk. A shiver went down my spine and instinct took over. I sprang up from the couch.

......"Get in the corner, Tommy!"

......I watched the door in slow motion as it crashed open, swinging in an arc, smashing against the wall. My hand snapped up under my left arm looking for a gun that wasn't there. The man was about ten years younger than me, maybe 25 or 26, with a frizzy haircut and wide eyes, breathing heavily, his face flushed red from exertion. His clothes were threadbare and dirty, but the gun in his hand was a Government Model .45 automatic.

......"Don't move!" he shouted, pointing the .45 right at my face. "Get on the floor!"

......"Daddy! Daddy!"

......Tommy rushed to me, I snatched him up and held him close to my chest.

......"Don't shoot!"

......I took a few steps backward as the intruder advanced, the gun shaking in his hand. His chest went up and down as he tried to get his breathing under control. "Don't do anything stupid!" he shouted. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

......"Don't hurt my son! Put the gun down, we'll do what you want!"

......"They're not gonna take me alive! No way!"

......We'd moved to the middle of the room. Behind me, the couch, easy chair to the left, placed in front of the sliding glass doors leading to the patio. Tommy cried against my shoulder, clutching me tight. I stopped, planting my feet.

......"Listen," I said, "I don't have any money. You can have whatever you want, but don't hurt my son."

......"Aw, hell!" the kid shouted, lowing the gun and pacing the floor, breathing fast. "Aw, hell!" he shouted again, running his empty hand through his hair.

......"Let me put the boy down in the bedroom." Where I had my gun.

......He snapped the gun up, his face red. "No! No! Put him in the corner! And shut him up! Stop his crying!"

......"Quit yelling and waving that gun around and maybe he will."

......"Don't get smart, don't push me!"

......"Okay, okay. Just relax."

......I patted Tommy's back, telling him everything would be okay. He nodded, took a deep breath and his crying continued only as light sobs. I put him down in the recliner, picked up a pillow off the floor and handed it to him. He clutched it to his body like a shield and I turned to face the intruder.

......"Now what?"

......"Now, uh, now we sit down. Yeah. Sit on the floor. On the floor!" He jabbed the gun at the carpet for emphasis. "Sit down!"

......I sat, folding my legs under me. Tommy and I looked at each other. His body twitched, his eyes bleary and red.

......"It's okay, Tommy," I said calmly. My heart didn't beat any faster than normal, I noticed. Good. I had to be strong for my son, that was the important thing right now.

......"Why don't you sit down yourself?" I told the intruder. "Put the gun away. Calm down. I ain't going anywhere. Think I want you to hurt my boy?"

......"Yeah, yeah. Relax, yeah." He still breathed quickly and I thought he'd pass out from hyperventilation, but I've never been that lucky. He took a few steps back and sat down on the floor against the big wooden cabinet holding the TV and stereo.

......"What's your name?" I asked our new friend.

......He didn't answer right away, just sat there staring into space, catching his breath. When it slowed to normal, he said, "Jake."

......"Jake what?"

......"Just Jake. What's yours?"

......"Hood," I said. "David Hood. That's my son Tommy."

......His eyes roamed over Tommy and me. It felt odd to be making tea-party conversation with him. Then again, if I kept things light and got him distracted, maybe I could gain an edge.

......"Hi," he said.

......I said, "Who you running from?"

......"Cops."

......"You gonna get up and shut the front door?"

......"Huh?"

......"The front door, Jake. There's a draft. In fact, just walk on out of here. No hard feelings."

......"No. No, I ain't shutting the front door. Forget about it." He stiffened suddenly and jerked the gun up at me. "You shut it! Go on! Shut the door!" I took a deep breath. Looked at Jake, looked at the gun. If he'd had a revolver I'd be a little more confident trying to tackle him, but he had one of those single-action .45s, the hammer cocked back, and I wasn't going to take the risk. I rose to full height and stood there a moment.

......"I'm going to go shut the door," I said slowly. He aimed the gun at Tommy. My son squealed.

......"Do anything stupid and I shoot the boy."

......"I won't do anything stupid, Jake."

......Footsteps pounded up the porch. "Police!"

......Jake screamed curses at the cops and sprang to his feet, swinging toward the door, blasting away with the gun. The thunderous booms shook the walls. "Get back! Get back! I'll kill them both! Get back!"

......One of the cops ducked around the doorway, the other dropping prone to fire.

......"Don't shoot!" I shouted to the officers. "There's a boy here!"

......"Get back!" Two more blasts. The cops scrambled back, one shouting into his radio. Jake pivoted around to face me, the .45 smoking in his hand. "Sit down! Now!" I quickly sat beside the recliner. Tommy held the pillow close over his face now, still crying.

......"Shut that kid up!"

......He closed the distance between us in a flash, holding the gun inches from my face. I shrank back against the chair.

......"Shut him up!"

......A car screeched to a halt outside. Shouts, more cars, engines revving. Jake turned away from me, stalking toward the open door. He waved the gun out at the cops. I couldn't see how many there were, but there'd be plenty very soon.

......"I got hostages! Do anything stupid and I'll kill them all!" He slammed the door.

......Tommy whispered, "Do something, Daddy."

......I reached behind me and patted his hand. "Just stay quiet, son."

......"But -- "

......"Stay quiet."

......Jake lowered the gun and came back into the living room.

****

......The next half hour seemed to take forever. I didn't dare look at my watch, fearing Jake would take it as a threatening move. I sat quietly against the recliner, Tommy hid behind the pillow, and Jake sat against the TV cabinet and sweated. No matter how often he wiped his forehead, the sweat kept coming, and I noticed him twitching.

......"Why don't you tell me what's going on, Jake. Why are the police after you?"

......"Forget about it."

......"I'd like to know."

......"No. No. Forget about it." More twitching.

......"I can't help you unless you tell me, Jake."

......He just sat there and sweated and twitched.

......Tommy said, "Are you gonna kill us?"

......"Be quiet, Tommy," I said quickly.

......Jake didn't seem to hear. He got up and I felt Tommy tense. He stared pacing back and forth, muttering under his breath. He plopped down on the couch, setting the .45 beside him. He put his head in both hands.

......I focused on the gun. Thought about making a move, but the way I was sitting, with my legs folded under me, made it impossible to get up quickly. My legs had gone numb. I wanted to shift my legs, get the circulation going, but figured that would set him off, too. So I just sat there. If there was one thing I'd learned throughout the years, after hundreds of stakeouts and long surveillance watches in cramped cars, it was patience.

......The phone rang. Jake jumped in surprise like a spooked cat. The phone rang again and again and he just stared at it.

......"Why don't you answer?" I said.

......"Why? It ain't for me."

......"Sure it is."

......He inched over to the table beside the couch and picked up. "Yeah?"

......I watched him as he listened. His face went pale white. "You cops stay back! Don't even make a move! I'll kill them!" Jake snatched up his gun. "I swear I'll do it! I'll kill them both!"

......Jake listened for a moment.

......"I want a car. With a full tank of gas. And five thousand dollars in cash, unmarked bills. Yeah, yeah." He slammed the phone down.

......"Hey, Jake," I said. "The boy and I are getting hungry. How about some dinner?"

......"Huh?"

......"Dinner, Jake. Why don't you order some hamburgers?"

......Jake didn't say anything, just nodded and started muttering again. He got up and went into the kitchen, which is right off to the left of the front door with a wall separating the two. He went to the kitchen window. "Hey, cops! We want food!"

......I leaned over to the left, but he jabbed the gun at me and I popped back up. Jake wasn't stupid. He had his back to the wall, shouting out the window over his shoulder. He faced Tommy and me in the living room, the ugly snout of the .45 pointed our way. He wasn't taking any chances. I grunted as I slowly stretched my legs out. I felt feeling come back into them, the itchy pins-and-needles effect growing slowly.

......Someone shouted back, "What would you like!"

......"We want hamburgers. Like, six of them. Yeah, six! And something to drink!"

......"You want fries with that?"

......I almost laughed. I would have at any other time.

......"Yes!"

......"Comin' right up!"

......Jake left the window and came back to the couch.

......I said, "There a lot of cops out there?"

......"A ton of 'em. In the driveway, up and down the street. Looks like they were getting the neighbors out of the other houses, too. Oh, man. What am I doing here? I didn't want this!"

......"What did you expect, Jake?"

......He sank back in the couch, loosely holding the gun now.

......"Why are you running?"

......Finally, he talked. "This guy and I tried knocking over a liquor store. Some damn cop was in there, off duty. He chased us. Shot my partner in the leg, I took off. Cops comin' out of the woodwork chased me. I ran through a park and they had to chase me on foot. Thought I lost them, but I guess they saw me come into this neighborhood."

......"Put the gun down and surrender, Jake."

......"And go to jail? Forget about it! I'm not going back to prison!"

......"Where'd you do time?"

......"San Quentin."

......"For what?"

......"Two years. Drugs." His twitching had stopped and a sudden calmness came over him. He looked me in the eye. "What's your job?"

......I stuttered, but got the words out. "I'm self-employed."

......"Make money?"

......"Enough."

......"Like your job?"

......"Most of the time."

......"Got any people working for you?"

......"About six guys."

......"How old's your son?"

......Good, I thought. Getting personal now. "Six."

......"He gonna hide under that pillow all night?"

......"You gonna keep waving that gun around and shouting at us?"

......He jumped up and started pacing again. "Gotta keep control," he said. "Gotta keep control." He repeated it like a mantra. I didn't know how close to cracking he was, but it was still too early to
try for the gun and obviously I hadn't accomplished much through the chat.

......The gun. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, thinking of the empty, locked-up revolver in my bedroom. Even if it had been loaded I probably wouldn't have been able to get to it; no use even thinking about it.

......"Think the cops are gonna get your car?" I asked.

......"If they don't, they'll be taking you two out in body bags."

......"Where you gonna go?"

......"Detroit. Got a girl up there I can stay with."

......A knock on the door. A cop on the other side said, "Food's here!"

......Jake stopped and stared at me.

......"Want me to go?" I asked.

......"Send the boy."

......"No."

......"Do it!"

......"No, Daddy!"

......"Do it or I start shooting!"

......Another knock.

......"It's okay, Tommy."

......"No, Daddy!"

......"Just go to the door and get the food, Tommy." I got up and stood over the chair. I tugged at the pillow. "Give me the pillow, Tommy. Come on. I'll be right behind you."
Tommy let go of the pillow and I set it on the floor.

......The cop outside knocked again and said, "Come get the food!"

......Jake pointed the gun at us and Tommy and I froze. He shouted over his shoulder, "Leave it on the porch!"

......"But -- "

......"I said leave it! Let me see you back away!" Jake moved back a few steps to look out the kitchen window. He nodded, turned back to us and gestured with the gun. "Go get it."

......I stared at him a moment. This guy wasn't dumb. Slow, but not dumb. I gave Tommy a push and he walked, shaking, toward the door. I kept two steps behind him. He turned the knob, pulled the door open, and a large box loaded with fast-food bags sat on the front step. I looked out at a uniformed cop about twenty feet away, squatting by the hood of his car with a pistol in his hand. The cop and I looked at each other. He shrugged his shoulders at me.

......Tommy picked up the box but almost dropped it and I stepped in to grab it, backing away. "Come on, Tommy."

......I kicked the door shut and headed back for the living room. I set the food down on the floor.

......"Get back!" Jake said, tucking the .45 in his belt. Tommy and I stepped back while Jake tore through the bags. He pulled out burgers and fries and drinks and started setting up piles for each of us. Tossed the box top across the room when he was done, the bags flying everywhere.

......"Gonna clean that up later?"

......"Shut up and eat."

......Jake sat on one side of the room and ate ravenously while Tommy and I sat on the other side. Tommy forgot our predicament and ate almost faster than Jake, and I had to tell him to slow down. I took it slow, chewing calmly, keeping an eye on Jake. Twenty minutes went by; we were done. The floor looked like a war zone, but housecleaning was the least of my worries right now. Tommy went back to the recliner and pulled the pillow to him once again. The phone rang. Jake stared at it but did nothing. It kept ringing. I told him to pick up. "Maybe they got your money."

......He kept watching the phone. It rang again.

......"Answer it, Jake."

......"No. No way." He took his gun out.

......"Answer it, Jake."

......"I'll shoot the phone, I swear it!"

......"They got your money, Jake. Answer the phone." I'd failed to reach him; now I only wanted a chance to nail him.

......He grabbed it and jammed the receiver against his ear. "What?" he shouted, turning slightly. I was still in his peripheral vision, no doubt, but I stole a glance over my shoulder as he listened.

......The visor-covered face of a SWAT cop peeking around the edge of the window, the majority of his body still covered by the back wall. He saw Tommy in the recliner and withdrew.

......"Get behind the chair, Tommy."

......"No."

......"Shut up I can't hear!"

......"Tommy, move. Now."

......"No, Daddy."

......"Tommy, don't make me ask again."
I watched Jake. He was losing it. I'd have to make a move soon, ready or not. Jake snapped around to face me, the .45 in my face. His eyes narrowed as he shouted, "No, that's not what I asked for! I want the money and the car right now. I'm gonna kill these assholes! Then you'll do what I say!"

......He slammed the phone down on the floor and I could hear the shouting cop through the receiver. Jake's finger tightened on the trigger. I sprang forward, grabbing his wrist, forcing his arm up. The .45 boomed; plaster and dust rained down from the ceiling. I twisted his arm back, his upper body twisting and arcing with it. He was thinner and weaker than I was, and he stood no chance. I stepped in and slammed my free fist into his back just above the kidney; he doubled over. Jake's grip on the gun loosened. I brought my knee up into his face, and I heard his teeth crunch just before he hit the floor. I leveled the .45 on Jake's face, the rubber grips of the automatic warm in my hand. Jake's lips were a pulpy mess.

......The big black hole at the end of the gun looked Jake straight in the eyes. All it would take was one little squeeze, and --

......The window shattered behind me. "Police! Drop the gun!"

......I cursed under my breath, but I flicked up the safety and tossed the gun onto the couch. Two cops in tactical gear rushed past me as I stepped back. They hoisted Jake up, wrenching his arms back violently. He cried out as the cuffs snapped on his wrist. The room was suddenly full of cops; I saw one take Tommy outside.

......Jake panted, the two tactical cops supporting him. I gave him a hard look and said, "Just ain't your day, Jake. You rob a liquor store with a cop in it, then you take a private detective hostage. And I just happen to be an ex-cop, too."

......His jaw dropped open and he groaned.

......"Guess I should have told you," I said with a smirk. "I run the Hood Investigative Agency."

......He tried to say something but only a moan came out; the two cops dragged him away.

......Sergeant Jerry Wise came over to me. We'd worked street patrol together and he'd risen steadily in the ranks. "You okay, Dave?"

......"Fine, Jerry."

......"We chased him all over the city. When we saw him going into this neighborhood, we tried calling you, tell you to keep an eye out, but you didn't answer."

......I would have laughed, but my body started shaking and my legs felt like rubber. I reached out to grab Jerry's shoulder. "Jerry -- "

......"Take it easy, Dave," Jerry said, letting me lean against him for support. "It's been a long day."

......"Yeah," I said. He led me over to the couch and I sat down. Stared at the floor a few seconds until an officer came over and said, "Excuse me, Mr. Hood. Your son wants you."

......I got up quickly; the cop led me outside to where Tommy sat in the back of a patrol car. I squatted down in front of him. He came to me and I scooped him up, rising. His arms tightened around my neck and he started to sob. "It's okay, Tommy," I said, patting his back. "I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."

......I'd almost lost my son today. He'd almost lost his father. I told myself it was a random event, it could have happened to the neighbors, anybody. But then I thought of Monday morning, when I'd venture out on the mean streets in wild pursuit of some dream. It suddenly didn't seem as important as making sure I stayed alive so I could go home at night. To Tommy. And Lisa. As I stood there holding my son, I thought about my employees, wondering who could take care of the field operations while I stayed at the office and ran the business. From behind a desk. The irony made me smile.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Brian Evankovich.



Brian Evankovich is 25 years old and has been writing since age 14. A radio broadcaster, he currently works behind-the-scenes at KFAX-AM and carries out news anchor duties at KJQI-FM in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark, Andrew Vachss and Donald Hamilton as his main writing influences. "You can't go wrong with those guys," he says. "I devour their work." When not writing or working, Brian directs the youth drama program at his church.

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