Deadly Traffic by Mickey Hoffman - excerpt from Chapter 2
Sandi found Win leaning on the bar counter, waiting for her when she came out of the Ladies’ room. A greenish glow from the wine bottles above the bar accented the planes of his handsome face. The young bartender smiled as she returned his change. A hostess led a party of three toward a table along the wall. He frowned at the receipt in his hand and stored it in his wallet. She couldn’t see him turning it in to his boss; since when did petty criminals ask for meal allowances? More likely, it would be kept to demonstrate how well he treated her, right after he told her she didn’t deserve dinner at such an expensive restaurant.
He plucked a toothpick from a shot glass near the cash register and used it like a wand to direct her toward the door. Sandi winced as a punishing blast of hot air struck her face, giving a longing look back at the cool interior of the restaurant. Win slid a stiffened palm to the small of her back to make sure they stayed hip to hip as he chose a pace that suited his long legs.
As they walked, Sandi kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, on a distant point that existed only in her mind, so she could pretend not to see the shock on people’s faces when their eyes landed on her, the ungainly girl at his side. He, as usual, basked in the attention he drew from passersby. Impervious to the heat, he wore all black, chosen, she knew, to complement his hair and highlight the three diamond studs that sparkled in his left ear. A manicurist, outside for a smoke, paused mid-puff and stared in admiration, as if Sandi’s companion had stepped straight off the glossy cover of one of the People magazines in her salon. Sandi wished she could hold that fantasy cover in her hands and shred him to bits, starting with his complacent smile. Why didn’t anyone ever see him for what he really was?
Of course, Win got a kick out of seeing her humiliation. The way he played up his resemblance to Bruce Lee only served to accentuate her inadequacies—skinny legs with thick ankles, a sway back, and pudgy cheeks that refused to go away no matter how much weight she lost. The only thing that marred his perfection was a gold tooth that showed when he smiled. But women didn’t consider it a flaw, they liked it, said it gave him character.
Sandi tracked away, pretending she wanted to avoid a bike rack, but he steered her back to his side as they joined a group waiting for a traffic light at a busy intersection. On the far corner, a steady stream of customers went in and out of the Arbor City Gourmet Deli. A wiry blond man stepped toward the curb, sipping at a large coffee. He barely caught her attention until she saw him retrieve a dog from where he’d tied it to a street sign. In a flash of recognition, she quickly sidestepped into the recessed doorway of a clothes boutique.
“Where do you think you’re going?” barked Win in Burmese, catching up to her in two strides.
“Hah! Not really ‘all American’ yet, are you?” she replied in English. She pressed her nose to the glass, feigning interest in the merchandise. She needed to do something to gain more time. Playing to his vanity, she said, “Look here, these leather jeans would look good on you.” As he checked out the jeans, she chanced a look down the block, starting to breathe again when she saw that her “uncle” hadn’t seen her. He was leading his dog in the opposite direction.
Win opened the shop door, but stepped away as a red-haired woman came out. She brazenly brushed against him, the filmy cloth of her skirt teasing at his leg, then looked over her shoulder to throw him a suggestive look before proceeding into the adjacent shoe store. Sandi hoped he’d follow the woman, but he didn’t respond to the lure. Instead, he was staring at the wall clock inside the boutique.
“Let’s go in and you can try the pants on,” Sandi suggested.
She had a moment of hope while he appeared to consider it, but he frowned and said, “Not now, I have to get you back.”
He took her arm in a firm grip and set a fast pace back toward where they’d parked. She saw with dismay that in spite of her dawdling, they were in danger of catching up to the demon now only a block ahead and paused in front of an art gallery, sipping his coffee while his dog sniffed around an outdoor sculpture.
Sandi prayed for a distraction and for once the gods listened. From across the street, at a table set under the awning of an outdoor café, a triad of raucous coeds noticed Win and began to wave. How she loathed those women. They embodied everything she hoped to be when she reached their age, but would never become. She envied their carefree laughter, hated them for their self-assurance, but silently thanked them for being flirty. She felt the grip on her arm relax.
“Hey there!” Win called out to the women, moving slowly toward them while framing them in the camera of his cell phone.
Sandi dropped back a few paces and eyed the alley up ahead, on the near side of the parking lot where they were headed. It had to be now or she’d lose her chance. The alley was a dimly lit canyon where she felt she could lose him, especially if he didn’t immediately figure out where she’d gone.
A few more steps to increase the distance between them…good, now he would lose sight of her as soon as she ran between the tall buildings. She curled her toes so her sandals wouldn’t flop off and darted to the right. Suddenly, a bicyclist rounded the corner and swerved in front of her. She shrieked reflexively, losing the advantage of surprise, but she kept going. She heard his boots hit the pavement as he ran hard after her, shouting her name. She pushed down her fear and kept moving, into the alley and toward her goal, the little park beyond where she planned to disappear among the throngs of people gathered for a 10K charity run. She ran not for charity, only for her life.
She lost one shoe, heard him closing the distance. She spotted a line of dumpsters and flung herself into the darkness behind, landing hard. She inched backward, feeling the way with her hands. Then the ground beneath her tilted and she slid backwards until she hit a wall. Upended wooden pallets ringed her like a three-sided cage. Her pursuer let out a yelp of pain and his footsteps halted. Was he hurt? If she ran again, would he be able to chase her? Her answer came quickly.
“Don’t move! You’ve got two choices, you can let me get you out of there before the rest of those things fall and crush you, or you can wait and leave in a body bag.”
She froze, sprawled on the broken planks, skirt rucked up, legs askew. She felt a sharp, hot wetness on the palm of her hand and she licked at the blood. There wasn’t enough to really taste, not like when she cut herself. Her ankle was twisted, the sole of her remaining sandal caught in a crevice between two pallets. She slid a hand down to free her foot and found her wristband; it must have unsnapped during the slide.
“Why…are you…running from me?” Win labored to catch his breath.
“You brought me to downtown to hand me over to him, didn’t you!”
“Who’s him? What’s wrong with you?”
Sandi wanted to scream back, “What’s wrong with you?” but she already knew the answer. She sat there in despair, relishing the pain of the wooden splinters in her skin as penance for her own stupidity.
He leaned in, stretching a hand toward her. She recoiled and, in spite of the shadows, pulled down her skirt to conceal the pattern of partially healed bruises on her thighs. When she felt the touch of his fingers on her foot, she threw her wristband at him. He swore at her as it bounced against his head, but managed to grab on to her ankle and reeled her in. She made a last attempt to shake loose, but his arms clamped around her so tightly she could hardly breathe. She’d lost.
“You won’t run off again?” he asked, but it really wasn’t a question.
“Not so you’ll catch me,” she said under her breath.
From a near distance came a muffled cry.
“Someone’s coming,” said Win. “Keep quiet or I’ll make sure you can’t scream.” With a new urgency, he half-carried her through the alley emerging a mere block from the park that no longer was her refuge. Somewhere along the way she lost her other shoe. Eyes cast to the pavement, she numbly let him walk her back to the parking lot.
“You’re bleeding. I think there’s tissue in the car.”
Sandi wanted to believe the concern in his voice but she no longer trusted anyone. For that, maybe she should blame herself. She was angry, but also ashamed, and she couldn’t tell him or ask for help. Not anymore.
When they reached the car, he pushed her into the passenger seat, then got in the driver’s side and reached over to fasten her seat belt. Sure, she thought, don’t damage the valuable cargo. Why doesn’t he just throw me into the trunk like he does with the others and be done with it? Or do the other girls just go along with him?
Win found a package of Kleenex under the seat, took one out and put it in her lap. She picked it up and bunched it in her fist, wondering what he’d do if she rubbed the blood from her wound all over his handsome face.
“We’ll talk when you calm down. I don’t have to tie you up, do I?” he asked in a tone indicating it was an option.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” she spat. “Then you can charge extra for delivering me.”
“You’re sick. I’m taking you home. I don’t even know who you are anymore.” He turned the key in the ignition.
She gave him a look of scorn. “You never did, brother.”
Deadly Traffic - Review
Kendra DeSola is back and ready for action! Sort of. After the previous year's debacle at Standard High (School of Lies) she's taken time off from her teaching job. Complications with eye surgery have isolated her even more. Needing an income, she starts a dog walking business.
Enter Roger Rhus. Slick, handsome, charming and rich, Roger seems like the perfect client. Impressed with Kendra, he hires her to walk his Labrador, Jackson.
Kendra has gone so far as to move and change her number to get away from her stalking ex-boyfriend, Brian. Her new house isn't in the best neighborhood, but she likes it well enough until someone puts a rock through her backdoor. Rushing out to investigate, she literally runs into her new neighbor, Win Ni. Also handsome and charming, Kendra finds herself attracted to a much younger man.
These two chance meetings lure Kendra into another mystery. The accidental discovery of a dead body once more puts her at odds with her police detective adversaries, Detectives Howard and Tapia. And as before, Standard High plays a role in the complex action.
Kendra DeSola is curious to a fault. Scrupulous and trustworthy, she always seems to be getting herself into dangerous situations. Her distrust of the police keeps her from going to the authorities with what she's learned.
Maretta Edwards, Kendra's closest friend, joins her for some of her investigative jaunts. Though she says she hates to be involved, she's right there in the thick of things.
Deadly Traffic is an exciting sequel to School of Lies. Hoffman's characters are engaging, their actions skillfully pulling the reader into the suspenseful plot. I highly recommend Deadly Traffic to anyone who loves a great mystery. Five Golden Acorns.