Excerpt: Hot

Excerpt: Hot

Contemporary Romance

CHAPTER ONE

In Turner Hastings’ opinion, the bank robbery didn’t go truly bad until Yoda shot out the skylight. Which was not to say that the robbery hadn’t had its problems up until that point.

It started out as a typically busy Saturday. Turner was working the drive-through teller station, peering out the bullet-proof glass at the customers in cars. It was almost noon—closing time for the First Wisconsin Bank of Winosha. Nasty old Mr. Johnson had just pulled up and begun fumbling with the plastic canister in the pneumatic tube when she heard the commotion behind her. She glanced over her shoulder in time to see two men rush the bank counter. 

One was tall and spindly in that way some guys are. The kind of skinny where you can’t help but wonder what, exactly, is holding up their jeans because they have no rear end to speak of. He was wearing a black Eminem T-shirt and a Yoda mask, and clutching a sawed-off shotgun in an uncertain way, as if he’d never held one before. The second man was short and hairy. He had the thick black stuff growing on his arms, the backs of his hands, his fingers, and of course, his chest. Unfortunately, he’d chosen to wear a yellow mesh tank, which only served to highlight all that abundance of fur. Perhaps he’d wanted to coordinate with the cheery yellow of his SpongeBob SquarePants mask. He held his shotgun with a bit more knowledge than Yoda, but, under the present circumstances, that wasn’t nearly as reassuring as it should have been.

“This is a floor! Everybody on the stickup!” SpongeBob screamed in a disconcertingly hoarse voice, little tube-socked SpongeBob legs swinging back and forth on the mask.

Everyone in the small bank paused, trying to digest those two sentences. Turner opened her mouth, thought better about it, and shut it again.

Marge, the only customer inside the bank if you didn’t count the robbers, had no such inhibitions. “This is a stickup. Everybody on the floor.”

And you really couldn’t fault her, because she was right. Marge was short and bottom-heavy and wearing turquoise stretch capri pants with a big T-shirt that had glittery pink and orange flamingos on it. She was in her late fifties, which was an age, as she liked to tell anyone who’d listen, when she no longer had to put up with guff from men or boys.

Her correction seemed to make the robbers irritable. 

“On the floor! On the floor! On the floor!” Yoda yelled redundantly, the mask’s little sticky-out ears flapping.

Turner flattened herself to the floor behind the counter because, really, it seemed to be a good idea.

But that only made SpongeBob upset. “No, dickhead! They’ll hit the police alarm back there,” he told Yoda. “We need to get them out here in the lobby.”

“Okay. Yeah. Okay.” Yoda said. “Come on out here, then get on the floor.” 

Turner crawled out after Ashley, the other Saturday teller. Ashley was looking peeved. Before the robbery had started, she’d been talking about her new leaf-green summer pantsuit. She’d found it on sale at the Wal-Mart up in Superior, and she obviously wasn’t too thrilled to be crawling in it now. 

Behind Turner at the window, she could hear Mr. Johnson’s tinny voice through the speaker. “Can I have that in fives? No, better make it ones. And I need some quarters, too, for the washing machines up at the Spin ‘n Go. Make sure they’re nice new ones. Last time you people gave me a bunch of sticky change.”

Those inside the bank were all out in the lobby now. Turner lay on her belly and contemplated the manure-brown floor tiles. They needed mopping. Typical. Calvin Hyman, the bank president, who naturally wasn’t working on a Saturday and thus wasn’t in danger of having his head blown off—more’s the pity—had saved money by cutting the cleaning to once a week.

“Here.” A black plastic garbage bag was thrust in front of Turner’s nose. “Fill this with, like, money.”

She squinted over her glasses at SpongeBob. Did he realize that in order to . . . ?

“We’re going to have to get back up to fill those,” Ashley said, loud, exasperated, and nasal. “Why’d you make us come on out here and get down on the dirty floor if—ow!” 

Ashley stopped talking to glare at Turner, who’d just kicked her in the ankle.

“Shut. Up,” Turner hissed.

“Don’t you go telling me to shut up, Turner Hastings. If you think—”

“Ashley, honey,” Marge interrupted from her spot on the floor next to Turner, “just get the nice bank robbers their money.”

Good idea. “I’m going to stand up and go get the money, okay?” Turner said to the robbers to give them plenty of warning. She didn’t want to make them any more nervous than they already were.

“Yeah, yeah, okay. Hurry up,” Yoda answered. She noticed for the first time that the mask’s right ear had a tear in it. It’d been Scotch-Taped back together.

Turner stood. She took the garbage bag gingerly and walked back behind the counter with Ashley. Behind them, Marge stayed on the floor. It sounded like she was muttering about dirt and men. Turner hit the release on her teller drawer.

Mr. Johnson’s scratchy voice was still complaining. “Hello? Hellloooo? What’s taking so long? I ain’t got all day here, you know—some people have work to do.”

Ashley huffed at her counter teller station and pulled out wads of cash. 

Turner put a bundle of twenties into her bag and glanced carefully at the big round wall clock—11:56. Fudge. Ashley’s boyfriend, Doug, came to pick her up for lunch every Saturday. And Ashley’s boyfriend just happened to be a—

“Cop!” SpongeBob squeaked.

“What? Where?” Yoda swung around to look, his shotgun going with him.

Sheriff’s Deputy Doug Larson pushed open the tinted glass doors of the bank and paused. The little silver star on his khaki uniform winked in the sunbeam streaming in from the big skylight. His Smokey-the-Bear hat had always seemed a little too big on him to Turner’s eye, but that might’ve been because Doug had such a little pinhead. If you looked at him sideways, the back of his skull was totally flat. Something had to be wrong about that. A ludicrous expression of horror flooded Doug’s face, and Turner could almost hear the Oh, shit.

Then Doug drew his gun.

Turner decided to duck behind the counter at that point, so she didn’t actually see Yoda shoot out the skylight, but she did hear the BOOM! of the shotgun and the subsequent tinkling as glass rained down on them all.

Beside her, Ashley was whimpering, but that soon turned to a shriek. “Doug!”

Oh, Lord, thought Turner. Please don’t let Doug be dead.

Then Ashley’s hollering continued. “Doug! Dougy! Don’t leave me! Goddamnit, Doug Larson, see if I ever let you take me out to the Ridge again!”

Turner blinked at that information slip. The Ridge was the local make out spot. She chanced a look over the counter. Doug, as Ashley had already indicated, was nowhere to be seen. Smart man. He’d probably calculated the odds and gone looking for some back up. Or at the very least, a bigger gun. Meanwhile, Yoda and SpongeBob were still milling in the lobby. Yoda’s right ear was dangling from the mask now. Evidently, the Scotch tape hadn’t survived the excitement.

“What the hell did you do that for, you douchebag?” SpongeBob yelled. “Why didn’t you shoot at the cop instead of the ceiling?”

“Hey, I was trying,” Yoda said. “It’s not as easy as it looks to aim a sawed-off shotgun.”

“Yes, it is!” SpongeBob retorted. And BOOM!, he shot out the front doors.

My, wouldn’t Calvin just be miffed when he saw that? Turner’s ears were ringing, and the bank filled with the acrid stench of cordite.

“Shit,” Yoda muttered. “That’s not fair. You’ve had way more practice, dude.”

SpongeBob had turned away to shoot the doors. In doing so, he’d revealed a stunningly lush growth of back hair.

“Ew,” Marge said from the floor, which pretty much summed it up.

“Fish!” Ashley yelled.

SpongeBob jumped as if someone had poked him in the butt. He swung around to stare at Ashley.

“You’re Fish!” Ashley was waving a bubble-gum-pink fingernail at him, apparently unaware that it wasn’t a good idea to identify a bank robber when he was actually in the process of robbing the bank. “I’d know that hairy back anywhere. I spent an entire year sitting behind it in sophomore social science. You’re Fish.”

“Am not!” SpongeBob said, confirming for everyone present that he was indeed Fish.

Wonderful. Turner grabbed Ashley’s plastic garbage bag from her.

“Hey—!” Ashley started.

Turner shoved both bags at Yoda and SpongeBob. “Here.”

“What are you doing?” Ashley shrieked.

Turner ignored her. She enunciated very carefully to the robbers. “Take the money. Run away.”

Yoda lunged convulsively, grabbed the bags of money, and galloped out what was left of the front door. He was followed closely by SpongeBob.

“Can I get off the floor now?” Marge asked plaintively.

Outside, a car with a bad muffler roared away.

“I guess so,” Turner replied. She looked around the little bank. Calvin’s manure-brown floor was covered in sparkling glass, and a hot August breeze was blowing through the skylight and doors. Hard to believe that ten minutes ago it had been a normal Saturday.

“What’d you do that for?” Ashley demanded, fists on discount Wal-Mart hips. “You just handed them the cash. What kind of First Wisconsin Bank employee are you?”

“A live one,” Turner replied.

Ashley looked disgusted. “At least I got one of those ink bundles into my bag.”

Turner stared. “You did?”

“Yeah, why?” Ashley asked aggressively.

Turner just shook her head and went to the drive-through window. “I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson, the bank’s closed now.”

Sirens wailed in the distance, getting closer.

“Why, of all the—” Mr. Johnson began, but Turner switched off the speaker.

There was a squeal of tires from out in front and then the rapid slamming of car doors.

“Looks like the cavalry’s arrived,” Marge said to no one in particular.

“Come out with your hands in plain sight!” Sheriff Dick Clemmons’s voice bellowed, amplified by the speaker on his squad car.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Turner muttered. It hadn’t been a good day so far, and she was getting a little cranky. She walked to the doors and peeked though broken glass. Outside, two Washburn County sheriff’s cars were skewed dramatically across Main Street. Predictably, a crowd had begun to gather behind them. 

“They’re gone,” she said.

“What?” Sheriff Clemmons boomed, still using the speaker.

“They’re gone!” Turner yelled.

“Oh.” There was a crackle from the speaker, and then Dick stood, hitching up his black utility belt. The sheriff was a tall man with a sloping belly, and the belt had a tendency to slide below it. He looked a little disappointed. “Anyone hurt?”

“No,” Turner replied in her best repressive librarian voice. She held open what remained of the shot-out bank door.

Dick strode up the walk in an I’m-in-charge kind of way, trailed by Doug, who still looked a little spooked. Turner couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t every day that a man got shot at by a Jedi Master.

The sheriff stepped inside the bank and squinted around. “Okay, now—”

“Doug Larson!” Ashley had caught sight of her boyfriend. 

Doug sort of hunched his shoulders. 

“Of all the low-down, ratty things to do,” Ashley began.

“Now, honey,” Marge interrupted. “You can’t go blaming the boy for not wanting to be shot just so you wouldn’t ruin a pantsuit from Wal-Mart.”

“But he left me!” Ashley wailed, tears running down her cheeks along with a bunch of black mascara.

Marge began patting, Doug started explaining, and Sheriff Clemmons became authoritative. Then the paramedics arrived, crunching over the floor with equipment nobody needed. Two more deputies appeared, as did the volunteer fire department, most of whom had probably heard about the robbery over their scanners and wanted in on the action. 

Turner watched all the people running around, talking, arguing, taking notes, getting in each other’s way, and generally trying to look important. She thought about how easy it would be to rob the bank right at that moment when everyone was so very busy. She glanced at the surveillance camera in the corner, dumbly taping everything within the bank. Then she strolled to Calvin’s big fake mahogany desk and pulled out the middle drawer. There, sitting in plain sight, was the red paper envelope that held the key to his safe deposit box. She stared at it. She’d never have another chance like this one. She knew because she’d been waiting for this moment for four years. Turner smiled a small, secret smile and palmed the key. 

It was time for her own heist.


CHAPTER TWO

The problem with playing hoops on a Saturday afternoon with younger guys was not that they were in better shape, but that they had no fear of death. None. At. All.

John MacKinnon feinted right, and when the tall blond kid guarding him shifted, he shot the ball over the boy’s right elbow. There was a breathless moment of hope, followed immediately by crushing disappointment. The ball bounced off the rim, the sound echoing in the gym. It headed back into the key as four guys collided, trying to nab the rebound.

Not that he was out of shape. Far from it. He lifted weights twice a week, ran every day—well, nearly every day—and played pickup hoops on weekends. Lots of guys his age weren’t nearly as fit.

The other team’s point guard, a rangy college kid with abs you could bounce a quarter off of—damn him—caught the ball and ran down the court. Nine guys followed, thundering in a close pack.

But the thing was, once you reached a certain age—say forty—you became more aware of death. Of the potential of death. That little twinge, high on your left arm, or the stitch in your side that might be a forewarning of something more dire. You worried about what you ate. Thought twice about the deep-fried cheese curds and considered–actually considered–getting the tofu burger for lunch. Young guys, in contrast, were so busy thinking of pussy and beer that there wasn’t a whole lot of room for anything else in their brains. Certainly not worry about trans fats and heart disease.

Someone elbowed him in the ribs. He shoved back, his sweaty arm sliding against an equally sweaty shoulder. The other player grunted. Served him right, the cocky young asshole. Score one for the old guy.

Just last month, Ted York had keeled over from a heart attack right in the middle of lunch with a bunch of desk jockeys from D.C., and wasn’t that an awful way to go? The poor bastard had been eating a salad. Bet Ted would’ve ordered a bacon double cheeseburger if he’d known it wouldn’t’ve made a difference anyway. But that was the trouble with being over forty. You didn’t know what—

John’s pager went off with an obnoxious digital sound. One of these days he’d have to change the ring tone on the thing. If he could figure out how. Everyone stopped, and a couple of guys groaned. The ball bounced into a corner of the gym, and the blond kid went to retrieve it.

“Oh, man!” The rangy point guard bent over, hands on knees, panting. “Figures you’d get paged now, Mac.”

“We were losing anyway,” John shot back.

More grumbling, and a discussion of his mother’s virtue or lack thereof. He ignored the back talk and dug in his gym bag for his pager, pushing aside the Glock to reach it. He read the number on the little device and swore softly. So much for hoops.

The game started again behind him. 

John opened a plastic bottle of water and took a deep swallow as he punched in numbers on his cell phone.

The other end picked up. “FBI.”

“MacKinnon.”

“We’ve got a bank robbery in Winosha,” Tim Holt, the Milwaukee ASAC—Assistant Special Agent in Charge—informed him without preamble.

“Where?” John picked up his bag and headed for the lockers.

“Winosha. Small town south of Superior on Highway 53. It’s in Washburn County.”

“Never heard of it.” He shouldered open the men’s locker-room door.

“No reason you should have,” Tim said in his California surfer-dude drawl. “Not more than three thousand people all told, and that’s at the height of tourist season.”

“Yeah? Figures the assignment would be in podunkville.” John pulled off his sweaty T-shirt and wiped his face with it before dropping it in his gym bag. “Who’ve I got?”

“McHenry’s on leave of absence, Anderson’s still on the Sun Prairie case, and Wilson’s working surveillance this weekend.” Tim didn’t elaborate further because he knew damn well John could draw the obvious conclusion.

Crap.

John finished stripping and rolled his right shoulder. It still ached from when he’d pulled a muscle shoveling snow back in April. It was the kind of injury kids in their twenties never sustained, and the guys at the office didn’t let him forget it, either. Goddamn Wisconsin winter. Another problem with getting old: the body didn’t bounce back from injuries as fast.

“Mac?” Tim queried.

“Yeah.” John grimaced. “Give me Torelli.”

“You okay with that?”

“Sure, I’m good. I’ll call him.” 

“Fine. Paperwork’s waiting for you here.”

John said good-bye, punched the button to hang up, and dialed another number. He rubbed his shoulder while the other end rang.

“Hello?” A New York accent this time. Music played in the background, something kind of sultry and jazzy.

John grinned. Maybe Dante Torelli was with a girlfriend. Ohhh, too bad. “Torelli?”

“Yes?”

“We’re on. Bank robbery. Meet me at the office at”—he glanced at his watch; it was 3:14. “Four o’clock.” 

John hung up without waiting for the reply and threw the cell back in his gym bag. He carried the bag into the showers and placed it on a nearby bench while he washed off the sweat. Then he dressed in old jeans and a light blue T-shirt. Damn, he’d have to change into something more businesslike at his apartment. Not that he’d be able to compete with whatever designer suit Torelli would decide to wear today. 

He snorted and stuck the Glock at the small of his back under the loose T-shirt before grabbing his bag. Outside the gym, the August heat slapped him across the face, and he felt the sweat start again as if he hadn’t just showered. He had transferred to Milwaukee from Philadelphia last fall and still hadn’t acclimated to the Wisconsin weather, despite the fact that he was originally from Lander, Wyoming. First the howling cold of the Midwest winter, and now the hostile heat of summer. Who knew it could be this ghastly hot so close to Canada, for God’s sake? 

John crossed the sticky asphalt parking lot to his black Chevy Silverado pick-up and unlocked it. Naturally, it was baking inside. He popped both doors and watched the heat waves roll out from the interior. It was a wonder the steering wheel hadn’t melted yet. Anchorage began to look like a good posting at times like this. He got in, took out the Glock, and tossed it on the passenger seat within reach before starting the engine.

Ten minutes later, when he pulled into his apartment-complex parking lot, the Silverado’s interior was arctic-cold. He lived in a newer area built up in the late eighties and his apartment building had the tasteful, bland look of that decade. He went in the so-called security door and hung a left in the hall to take the beige-carpeted stairs. He unlocked the door to his apartment—also done in beige—and tossed his keys on the little table by the door. The wall above the table was blank. Probably should’ve hung something there by now, maybe a southwestern print, but there never seemed to be time. Besides, the apartment had come furnished. Why mess with the decor when it wasn’t really his?

On that depressing thought, he crossed the central living room to the bedroom. In the back of his closet he had a duffel he always kept half-packed. He hauled it out now and threw in a couple of clean shirts and slacks, then went back out to the kitchen and grabbed a box of granola bars—the old-fashioned kind that weren’t too sweet—and some plastic containers of microwaveable stew. Meals could be real unreliable in small towns. John threw the food in his duffel and shucked off the jeans and T-shirt. He replaced them with khaki slacks, a navy polo, his brown leather shoulder holster, and a brown blazer. Then he pulled on bullhide Wilson boots with stitched swirls on the calves. Not that you could see the stitching, of course, with his slacks over them, but he knew it was there.

John straightened and stood for a moment, looking around his generic apartment, trying to remember if he’d forgotten anything. The AC kicked in, its mechanical hum loud in the silence. There were no plants to water, no cat to feed, no one to call. No one who would care that he’d be gone a few days. In fact, he could pretty much walk out of this apartment right now and never have to come back. He wouldn’t be leaving anything important behind.

Man, his life sucked.

If he stood here any longer he was going to eat his own gun. John stuck the Glock in the holster under his left arm, picked 
up the duffel, and walked to the front door. He turned off the AC before he left.