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Note: I owe a special thanks to Robb for doing the final proofreading and catching all those silly little errors I missed.

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by Jeff Allen


"Paul! Paul! Are you alright?"

Luis' voice cut through the fog and noise inside my head. The blast had set off car alarms in the parking lot. Through the cacophony of the car alarms, I recognized the sound of police and fire sirens approaching in the distance. I opened my eyes; not sure what I would see and thinking that I probably didn't want to see it. I was lying on my back. Luis cradled my head in his lap, and one of my neighbors, an internal medicine resident at the hospital, was kneeling next to me.

I reached behind my head and felt a lump where a piece of debris from my destroyed Tahoe had struck. I struggled to a sitting position helped by Luis and the doctor.

Where my shiny SUV had been parked just moments ago, there were only the unrecognizable burning skeletal remains of the truck. Pieces of various sizes were spread all around the parking lot and front yards of the condos. One large piece, possibly what was left of the dashboard, had crashed through the windshield of my neighbor's brand new BMW. My insurance company was not going to be very happy with this. A smoldering tire lay on the sidewalk not more than four feet away from us. It would have killed one of us if it had struck us.

The doctor leaned closer to look at my eyes and felt the lump at the back of my head.

"Your eyes are focusing just fine, but that knot on the back of your head is going to hurt in a little bit."

"It hurts already."

The doctor chuckled. "Believe me, it'll get worse. When the Rescue Squad gets here, I want you to go to the hospital to get some x-rays just to be sure there isn't a small skull fracture. I don't think there's any problem, but I want to be certain."

"Okay. I understand."

"Was that your truck that exploded?"


"Was anyone in it?"

Luis broke in, "No, I just used the button to turn on the truck from outside. No one was inside."

The doctor patted Luis' hand. "It's a good thing. If you'd been inside you'd be dead now."

A fire truck turned into the condo parking lot followed in short order by the Rescue Squad, and two cop cars.

The next few minutes were like a scene from a disaster movie. Most of the car alarms stopped gradually either because the owners turned them off or they had run through their programmed time for the alarm. The Rescue Squad guys were trying to load me into the ambulance after a quick consultation with my physician neighbor. The cops were busy putting yellow crime scene tape up around the pieces of wreckage strewn around the parking lot while the firemen concentrated on putting out the fire in the twisted hulk of what had been my Tahoe. Darn, I'd really liked that truck!

I insisted on having Luis riding in the ambulance with me to the hospital. The cops weren't too keen on the idea. They wanted to question everybody at the scene, but they finally relented and allowed Luis to accompany me after telling us not to leave the hospital until we'd given our statements.

Given how fast things happened in an emergency room I was sure we'd still be there when the cops got around to talking to us.

I was right.

The trip to the hospital took just a couple of minutes. Then we sat for over an hour before one of the emergency room docs decided to write up the orders for the x-rays. Another hour passed before the x-ray technician arrived to take me down to the radiology suite and then it was another two hours before the emergency room doc came back to tell me everything looked fine. During the wait for the x-ray technicians, Luis slipped out and called James Padgett to let him know what had happened. James wanted to come to the hospital right away, but Luis convinced him that I was alright, there was no need for him to come rushing over, and promised to call as soon as I was released

The doc checked my eyes again before saying, "While you don't have a skull fracture, Mr. Nichols, you may have a concussion. I don't want you to go to sleep for the next twelve hours. If you experience any dizziness or nausea in the next twelve hours, I want you to come back in here right away. Do you understand?"

He turned to Luis. "Is some one going to be with him for the next twelve hours?"

"Yes. I will be."

"Good. Look at his eyes." Luis leaned closer. I winked. He smiled in return.

The doc cleared his throat and continued, "See how the pupils are the same size? Okay, I want you to check his eyes every hour for the next twelve hours. If his pupils are different sizes, or if he appears disoriented, or if he complains of dizziness, I want you to get him back in here. Understand?"


"Good. I'll bring the discharge papers by in just a couple of minutes. I understand there are some cops out there that want to ask you about your car blowing up. I'll tell them they can come back. You guys look like okay people to me. Who'd you piss off?"

"Doc, I wish I knew."

The doctor left. He was replaced by two San Diego detectives and an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They got kind of excited when I told them about the events of the last few days. They asked all sorts of questions about the murders of the migrants on my land, the murder of one of the coyotes in my barn, and Luis' identification of the other coyote. Luis and I went over the whole story a couple of times. At the end they urged us not to go back to the condo to stay since the bomber was still at large, but they stopped short of offering police protection.

As they were leaving one of the San Diego detectives gave us his card and asked me to let him know where were would be "...just in case we want to get in touch with you or you remember something that might be important."

As soon as the cops left, the doctor returned with my discharge papers. While I was finishing the paperwork to be released Luis called James Padgett and asked him to come over to the hospital to pick us up.

We climbed into James' old Camry and headed out of the hospital parking lot.

"Where should I take you guys? Do you want to go back home?"

I responded, "We need to go back there to get some clothes, but the cops didn't think it would be such a good idea to stay there. Whoever put that bomb in the Tahoe is going to be upset when they find out we weren't killed. They might try again."

"Shit. Do you want to come stay with us?"

"James, we can't do that. It might put you and your family at risk. I think the best idea is for Luis and me to just rent a car and leave town. Take us to the the condo so we can pack some clothes and then out to the airport"

"If the cops think this guy might try again shouldn't you have some protection?"

"They didn't offer. Just said to be careful. Guess the budgets are tight this year. We're out in the cold. That's why I think the best plan is to get out of town."

We drove in silence the rest of the way to the condo. The scene was still crowded with personnel from the crime scene and a couple of cops who were keeping the curious from getting too close to pieces of debris that the crime scene squad was examining.

We got into the condo without drawing too much attention from any one. Luis and I threw some clothes into suitcases and headed back out to James who was waiting in the car.

We climbed into the car. I couldn't resist the temptation. "To the airport, James."

"Man, that was bad, even for you. That bump didn't improve your sense of humor." James grinned at me as he put the car in gear.

Poor Luis sat in the back seat not understanding the exchange between James and me.

"Where will you guys go after you get the car?"

"I have an idea, but it might be better if you don't know. I'll keep in touch by cell phone...damn, my phone was in the Tahoe. Okay, we'll pick up one of those prepaid cell phones once we get the rental car. I'll call and give you the number."

"I've got a better idea." He tossed his cell into my lap. "Take my phone. I know the number. If you gave me some new number, I'd have to write it down on a piece of paper, and then I'd lose the paper. I'll snag Beth Ann's phone and use it. Do you know her number?"

"Yeah. It's one up from your's."

"Got it. Okay, here's the airport. Which rental company do you want?"

"Just turn into the first one you come to."

Budget was the winner of our version of rental car roulette. James pulled in to the rental car lot. He and Luis waited while I went in and got a car. Since I didn't have a reservation, the clerk quoted me an exorbitant rate for a standard Ford Taurus. I told the clerk that I was going to need the car for at least a week, and I didn't want to pay that rate. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and the clerk brought the price down to their advertised weekly rate. I turned over my license and mastercard and soon was sitting behind the wheel of a boring silver Taurus.

James said his good-byes and headed back to the office. Luis and I got on I-5 headed north.

"Where are we going?"

"I've got a couple of ideas, but I didn't want to say anything in front of James. We could head up to Los Angeles. It'd be easy to be anonymous up there. We could get a room and just stay out of sight for a while. I have to tell you having my truck blown up has got me spooked."

". Yo también. Paul, if you were the bomber and found out that we had escaped, where do you think we would go?"

"Well, I guess my first choice would be to check out the condo. Second choice would be to look up north in LA."

". And what about Mac?"

"We need to tell him what happened."

". And what do you think he will want to do."

"Well...he'll probably want to come to us."

". So why don't we go to him?"

"We can't go back to Ranch del Abuelo. This guy has already torched the barn out there."

"No. Not to your rancho. To Mac's"



Luis was right. It made sense. Mac would be upset and want to come to wherever we were staying. And I really wanted to see him. I desperately needed some of his strength at that moment. I was holding my emotions in check to try not to scare Luis too much, but I wasn't sure how long I could hold it together. The last place the bad guy...or bad guys...would think of looking for us would be back in Santa Teresa.

"You're right. Let's go surprise Mac."

We were already well past the I-8 exit so I continued north to 52 east and then took 805 south to I-8.

Once on I-8 it occurred to both of us that we hadn't eaten any lunch. We pulled off the interstate and grabbed a burger at Jack-in-the-Box before heading back on the highway to Santa Teresa.

About four forty-five I turned into Mac's driveway and pulled the rental car into the shade of one of his big oak trees. I dug around in my wallet to locate the card with Mac's cell phone number on it.

I got his voicemail and left the message that we were alright and to call back. Then I called James to let him know we were settled for the night.

"Glad you called. That asshole INS agent, Napier, has been calling every ten minutes all afternoon. He wants you to call as soon as you guys get settled."

"Napier can wait. I'll call him later. Anything else?"

"No. The ATF guy called and wanted to know where you were. Let me give you that number, and you can call him back too."

"Might as well give me Napier's number too. I'm not sure I've got it with me."

I scribbled the numbers on the back of the card with Mac's cell number.

The cell phone rang almost as soon as James and I hung up.


"Paul! Man, am I glad to hear from you! I heard about the bomb around lunch time. They said you were in the hospital, but when I called down there, they said you'd been released. How's Luis? He wasn't hurt, was he?"

"He's fine. He's right here with me."

"Thank God. Where are you? Both the Sheriff and Napier have been shitting bricks over this thing. Napier's been on the phone yelling at the San Diego police and the ATF because they let you go without giving you any protection."

"Yeah, they said the guy might try again and to be careful, but they couldn't offer any protection. Budget problems I guess. We decided it wouldn't be a good idea to go back to the condo."

"Where are you? I'm about to get off shift. I'll come get you."

"Just go home."

"No! My place is with you and Luis. I want...I need to be with both of you right now. Tell me where you are, and I'll get there as soon as I can."

"Don't you have to feed the horses first?"

"Yeah, but that won't take long. Just tell me where you are. I want to be sure you're safe. You could use a big strong guy with a gun right about now."

I had leaned over in the seat and tilted the phone so Luis could hear Mac's part of the conversation also. He grinned at me as Mac's voice grew more concerned.

"Okay. Luis and I will take care of the horses. Why don't you stop and get a pizza and some beer. Oh yeah, some stuff for breakfast too."

"What? Where...are you where I think you are?"

"Yup. We thought it would be the last place the bomber would look for us. Do you have a spare key to your trailer."

"Wow. I like your thinking. There's a spare key out in the horse shelter. Look under the flat rock next to the water tap. I'll be there as soon as I can. I'm so glad you guys are safe. See you in a few minutes."


As I hit the "end" button on the cell phone, Luis leaned over and licked my ear.

I shivered. "What was that for?"

"I'm glad we will all be together again tonight."

My cock twitched at the thought of another night with Luis and Mac. I reached over and cupped Luis' crotch. He was semi hard.

"Does that turn you on?"

He cupped my crotch in return. ". And it feels like you are turned on too, no?"

I pulled him into a deep kiss before saying, ", but let's save it for when Mac gets here. Come on the horses are probably hungry."

The horses all acted like they were glad to see us, but once the new food was out they were more interested in that. We found the key right where Mac said and let ourselves into his trailer.

It was fairly clean inside, but obviously not up to Luis' standards. He set about dusting and cleaning while I brought our bags in from the car. Mac arrived with the pizza, beer, and groceries. We stayed in a three-way hug for a long time. Mac's sheltering presence seemed to wrap around both Luis and me. I felt myself relax for the first time since the bombing that morning. As I fought to hold back tears, Mac just held us and kissed the tops of our heads.

After several minutes Mac pulled back from the embrace. "Okay guys, the pizza's getting cold and the beer's getting warm. Let's eat while you tell me all about this morning."

We sat around the small table in the trailer eating the pizza and drinking beer. Mac listened as Luis and I took turns relating the events of the day. He didn't comment while we were talking, but I watched the look of concern grow in his face. He finally spoke when Luis and I were finished with our narratives.

"Guys, you have seriously pissed off a very bad dude. Are you sure you've told everything to Napier, the San Diego cops, the ATF, and us?"

I tried to keep a neutral expression following Mac's statement. Luis quickly looked over to me and then cast his eyes downward on the table. Mac noticed.


Luis looked up. First at me and then at Mac. His eyes filled with tears.

"If I tell you, you will send me away."

I slid over to put my arms around Luis. Mac took Luis' hand.

"Luis, I really care for you. I think I'm falling in love with both of you, but whatever it is, you have to tell me. It's the only way to catch this guy."

Luis looked up and met Mac's gaze. "I was there that night."


"I was there that night when the coyotes killed all those men. Later, I saw the coyote who was killed in Paul's barn at the McDonald's. He recognized me. I am the one they want to kill, not Paul. I should go. You and Paul are not safe while I am here."

"You were there when the shooting started?"

". I had to pee so I went into some bushes. Then the shooting started, and I hid. When the coyotes left, I came out. Every one was dead. I ran. In the morning I found Paul's barn and went to sleep in the hay. Paul found me there."

Mac pulled his hand away from Luis. "What were you doing with lowlife scum like Manuel Estrada and Pete Allman?"

"I needed to get into this country. There were no jobs. Here I knew I could find a job."

A look of relief washed over Mac's face as he realized that Luis was not partners with Allman and Estrada. That was followed almost immediately by the realization that Luis was an illegal alien.

"Oh shit. You're an illegal. Where'd you get the driver's license?" He stood up from the table. "No. Don't tell me. I don't want to know."

He got up from the table, snagged another beer from the refrigerator, and started out the door. "I've got to think about this, guys."

I watched through the screen door. Mac strode over to the horse fence. The horses came over and nosed his arm, but he only paid absentminded attention to their actions. The horses soon gave up trying to get Mac's attention and wandered away. Mac stared off into space as he nursed the beer.

In the trailer, Luis still sat at the table with his head in his hands.

I went over to Luis, pulled him up from the table, and sat down with him on Mac's couch. I wrapped my arms around him and just held him without saying anything. Words weren't needed. We both knew that Luis' admission of his immigration status...really his lack of status...meant that Mac, as a police officer, would have to report him, and that would result in Luis' deportation back to Mexico.

(To be continued)