Archer shot the naked woman at nine thirty in the morning; the naked man was in his sites at nine forty-five.
Three more shots: the front door and address, the womanís car nestled in the shadows of an Acacia tree, the manís car parked in front of the house Ė as subtle a statement as a dog pissing to mark its territory. That was when the camera started to whir. Deciding he had enough to satisfy his client that the missus wasnít exactly waiting with bated breath for him to high tail it home, Archer reloaded, stashed the exposed film in his pocket and let his head fall back against the carís seat. Cradling the camera in his lap, Archer felt his body go heavy as his eyes closed. He was tired to the bone and not just because he had another couple of hours to wait before Don Juan decided to pack up his piece and take his leave. This tired was in Archerís soul. This tired crept way deep into that heart muscle and made it hard to pump enough blood to keep him going.
He moved in the seat, put one leg up and tried to stretch it out. There wasnít a comfortable place in the rental for a man his size. He missed his Hummer but it was too noticeable on surveillance. He could live in that baby if he had to. His brain was another matter. A rental, his car or his home, Archer couldnít find a comfortable place in his mind for the thoughts that had been dogging him these many days. Maybe spying on wayward wives was making him uneasy. No self-respecting cop would be doing this kind of work even if the wronged husband was paying big bucks.
But then Archer wasnít a self-respecting cop anymore. He was a part-time photographer, a retired detective, a freelance investigator and a man who was running on empty when it came to making ends meet this month. And then there was the anniversary. He didnít want to think about that either, but it was impossible to clear his mind when California autumn had come again, a carbon copy of a day Archer would just as soon not remember. It had been sunny, like today. Bright sky-blue up high; navy in the deep sea. A nip in the day air. Cold at night. Lexi, his wife, was sick. And then there was Tim.
Archer stirred and held the camera in the crook of one arm like a child. His other one was bent against the door so he could rest his head in his upturned hand. He moved his mind like he moved his body, adjusting, settling in with another thought until he found a good place where it could rest.
Always Josie. The woman who saved him from insanity after Lexi died. Theyíd hit a little rough patch lately but even that didnít keep the thought of her from putting his mind in that good place. Sleep was coming. What was happening in the house was just a job. The other was just a memory. Josie was real. Josie was . . .
Archer didnít have the next second to put a word to what Josie meant to him. The door of the car was ripped open, almost off its hinges.
Archer fell out first, the camera right after. Off balance already, he was defenseless against the huge hands that grappled and grasped at his shoulders and the ferocity of the man who threw him onto the asphalt and knelt on his back.
ďJesus Christ. . .Ē Archer barked just before the breath was knocked out of him.
ďShut up, fuck face.Ē The man atop him growled and dug his knee into Archerís back, taking hold of his hair.
Archer grunted. Shit, he was getting old. The guy in the house not only made him, he got the drop on him. Archer ran through what he knew: the guy was a suit, one seventy tops, didnít work out. He should be able to flick this little shit off with a deep breath.
Hands flat on the ground, Archer tried to do just that but as he pushed himself off the pavement he had another surprise. It wasnít the guy in the house at all. The man on his back was big, he was heavy and he wasnít alone. There were two of them.
While the first ground Archerís face into the blacktop, the second found a home for the toe of his boot in Archerís midsection. Archer bellowed. He curled. He tried to roll but that opened him up and this time that boot clipped the side of his face, catching the corner of his eye. The blow sent him into the arms of the first man who embraced him with an arm around his throat. Archerís eyes rolled back in his head. Jesus, that hurt. His eyelids fluttered. One still worked right. He looked up and stopped struggling.
The guy who had him in a headlock knew what he was doing. If Archer moved another inch and the man adjusted his grip, Archerís neck would snap. As it was, the guy was doing a fine job of making sure Archer was finding it damn hard to breathe.
His eyes rolled again as a pain shot straight through his temple and embedded itself behind his ear. He tried to focus, needing to see at least one of them if he was going to ID them when Ė if Ė he got out of this mess. They could have the car. No car was worth dying for.
But he couldnít tell them to take it if he couldnít speak and he couldnít identify them if he could barely see. There were just the vaguest impressions of blue eyes, a clean-shaven face, a checked shirt. Archerís thoughts undulated with each new wave of pain. Connections were made then broken and made again like a faulty wire. The one that stuck made sense: these guys didnít want his car but they sure as hell wanted something. Just as the chokehold king tightened his grip, and his friend took another swipe at Archerís ribs, one of them offered a clue.
ďYou asshole. Thought you got away with it, didnít you?Ē
That was not a helpful hint.
Read Rebecca Forster's INside article on writing.