A Dangerous Lesson

Nick Forte Book 4

Chicago Private Investigator Nick Forte’s official task is to find out what he can about Jennifer Vandenbusch’s new suitor, who fails to measure up in the eyes of the family matriarch, Jennifer’s grandmother. This seems par for the course for Forte, as his personal life has been leading him through a series of men who treat women badly, though none nearly as badly as the Thursday Night Slasher. Forte lives on the fringes of the investigation run by his old friend Sonny Ng until elements of Forte’s case and life dovetail with the Slasher investigation, leading to Forte discovering more about the crimes—and himself—than he wanted to know.

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Excerpt

I made sure to thank everyone before they left. Finishing up with Eddie when Sharon’s voice came from the front door of the building. The un-Sharon-like tone made up for the lack of clarity in her words.

She stood in a cone of streetlight near the building with Zane, who really was as dumb as Delbert said. He had as much chance of going home with Sharon as Joey had to be elected president of Mensa. Her lifetime of deflecting men of all ages made his perseverance impressive, in an out of touch with reality kind of way.

The rest of us laid back to let Sharon handle it. She turned away from Zane and started walking. He took her by the arm and yanked back hard when she tried to separate herself.

I’d taken one step when I saw Joey out of the corner of my eye. He had a twelve-year-old’s crush on Sharon and a thirty-year-old’s body carrying at least two-fifty to take it out on anyone who mistreated her. I changed direction to intercept him before someone got hurt. Delbert or Eddie would ensure Sharon’s safety. Zane was the one in trouble now.

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I put myself in front of Joey with my arms spread so he couldn’t get around me. “Joey! No. We’ll take care of it.” He went through me like a bowling ball through whipped cream on a beeline for Zane. I’d seen him mad a couple of times before. Someone was going to get hurt.

Delbert and Eddie stepped in and each took an arm to guide Joey against a car parked in the street, started talking him down. I turned my attention back to Sharon in time to see her slap Zane hard enough to turn his head.

He called her a filthy name and slapped her back.

Joey made a semi-human sound and Delbert and Eddie couldn’t hold him. I’d already had my chance and failed. I started for Zane, saw I wouldn’t get there in time; Joey had the angle.

Goose hadn’t said ten words all night. He’d moved to within a few feet of Sharon while the rest of us were busy handling Joey. When Goose saw I’d be too late, he extended his right arm and rammed the heel of his hand into Zane’s forehead so fast I wouldn’t have seen it if I weren’t already looking. Zane dropped like he was in a cylinder.

Goose now had the position to intercept Joey. This had its own potential for catastrophe. Goose no more than average size, but even tougher than Sonny Ng. He had no qualms about doing whatever was necessary to serve his purpose, in this case self-defense. Joey wasn’t rational, his rage living in a part of his mind he lacked the intellect to control.

Goose spoke as Joey reached to move him aside. His voice calm, the words unhurried. “Joey. We cool, man. You and me not going to happen tonight. It’s taken care of.”

Joey came up short, which didn’t surprise me any more than seeing a 747 land on Lake Shore Drive. He stopped, his mind still catching up to events. Sorting them out would take a bit. “But he hurt Sharon.”

“Sharon’s fine.” Goose said. The confidence of Goose’s posture and the presence in his voice calmed Joey better than half an hour my cajoling. “Take a look. Nick’ll help me clean up this mess.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward Zane, just now struggling to his feet. Sharon stepped forward and opened her arms for Joey. They hugged, she with tears in her eyes, him in the awkward way adolescents have when an emotion becomes public unexpectedly.

Goose and I each took an arm and hefted Zane to his feet. His eyes still hadn’t refocused as we dragged him on his heels to the wall of the WhirlyBall building.

I took the floor. “Here’s the deal, asshole. That woman means a lot to me, just not the way you think. You know what I do for a living. If I hear of her even seeing you again, I’ll find you. Do you understand?”

Three hours ago he’d walked into a fantasy: free pizza, beer, and WhirlyBall, plus the woman of his wet dreams. The only thing wet about him now was his shirt, soaked through with sweat in the forty degree night. Two quick nods were all the response we got.

Goose and I turned him loose to sag against the building. Sharon looked fine, kidding around with Delbert and Eddie to calm Joey, who kept looking our way in case Goose and I needed help. He knew we didn’t, but a boy needs dreams.

Vanessa said exactly two words on the way home. “Good night.”

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