Parts 8-12 will run Monday-Friday of next week. For now we'd like to give readers a chance to catch up what's been posted so far for Lauren's Run.
Parts 1 - 7
Lauren Blaine rolled down the window as she cruised up Lake Shore Drive in the stolen Camry. No one ever told her the Windy City was so pretty, even at two in the morning. On one side a silver moon spilled a veil of sparks on the lake; on the other a few insomniacs’ lights twinkled in the high-rises. Chicago might be nicer than LA. She smiled, looking forward to a fresh start. Why not? She had the money and the talent. And the Glock.
She turned off the Drive, looking for a twenty-four-hour restaurant. Danger always gave her an appetite, and there’d been plenty of that back in Kansas. She’d spent the last twelve hours racing north to Nebraska in Marlboro Man’s pickup, leaving the carnage – and the bodies -- behind. Then east into Iowa where she ditched the truck at a rest stop and hot-wired the Camry. She mentally thanked Hank for teaching her the necessary survival skills.
Now, she spotted the yellow sign above a Golden Nugget on a corner. She parked, slipped the Glock into her waistband, and stashed most of the cash in the trunk. Ducking her head to avoid the video camera tilting down on the sidewalk, she pushed through the door to the restaurant.
Inside, the staff outnumbered the customers. A waitress chatted up the short order cook behind the counter, and the sole customer, a man, crouched over a plate of what might have been meat loaf.
She slid into a booth in the back and picked up a greasy, laminated menu. She was ravenous. The waitress sauntered over and gave her the once-over.
“What ‘ll it be, honey?”
Lauren was about to answer when the door of the restaurant swung open.
A woman came in wearing tight, black leather pants and a faded bomber jacket over a Roots hoody. Her short-cropped hair was jet-black and so was her skin. She looked directly at Lauren with an intensity, and a smile of recognition, that made her stomach seize up.
She knows me.
But that wasn’t possible. There were thousands of miles, and several dead bodies, between her and any place she’d ever been before and anyone who’d ever known her.
It had to be a mistake.
“She’ll have a rare, double-cheese burger with mayonnaise, catsup, mustard, and raw onions, no tomato, crispy fries and a Coke, no ice,” the woman said as she strode over and slid into the booth across the table from Lauren.
Oh yes, she knows me.
It was exactly what Lauren was about to order, her favorite midnight snack.
But Lauren wasn’t hungry any more. She was scared and tired and pissed off.
The waitress scratched out the order on her pad then looked up at the black woman. “What’ll you have?”
“A slice of chocolate cake,” she said. “Black and sweet, like me.”
“I’m sure you are,” the waitress said and lumbered off.
Lauren stared into the woman’s eyes. Her Glock was already aimed at the woman’s crotch under the table.
“Who are you?”
The woman smiled. “That depends, Lauren. If you give me the money you took, I’m the seductive Nubian goddess you had an erotically-charged, late-night meal with one dark night on the road and always regretted not fucking. If you don’t give me the money, then I’m the bad-ass black bitch who killed you with that Glock you’re holding and then burned this hell-hole to the ground.”
Lauren kept her gaze level and her face expressionless.
Never let them see your fear.
“So you work for that low-life Jimmy?” she said.
“More like he works for me, angel.”
“And the money...”
“Mine. Just like your white ass.”
“Bullshit. Jimmy runs all the crank between St. Louis and–”
The woman’s laugh could have scared a Doberman Pinscher. “He told me you liked double cheeseburgers and were smart as hell. As least he got it half right.”
Under the table, Lauren’s hand was beginning to cramp. A Glock with a full clip is a helluva lot heavier than a man’s cock, even Jimmy’s. “What’s there to keep me from shooting you and hitting the road before you bleed out?”
“Think about it. Jimmy works for me. I work for The Man. You fuck with Jimmy, I’m on your ass. You fuck with me, The Man unleashes a shit storm you cannot imagine.”
The waitress delivered the cheeseburger and fries, but Lauren had lost her appetite. The woman grabbed the burger, French kissed a glob of mayo oozing out of the bun, and took a bite. Grease coated her lower lip, and she flicked at it with her tongue.
After a moment, Lauren said, “I don’t have your money.”
“I stashed it in a farmhouse in Kansas.”
“You stashed it in the trunk of that dumb-ass Camry.” Another laugh like a barking dog.
Shit. She followed me. Maybe all the way from Kansas.
“So you’ve got the money back...”
“Except for what’s stuffed in your bra. Or did you suddenly become a D-cup?"”
“I don't get it. What do you want with me?”
The woman picked up a fry. Her long nails were perfectly manicured and painted blood red. “You gotta pay for what you did.” She sucked the fry into her mouth, took one bite, and swallowed. “You gotta do a job for The Man.”
One quick fluid motion, and Lauren slid out of the booth and pointed the Glock at the woman’s chest. “Tell the bastard to make an appointment.”
The woman’s fist shot out so quickly Lauren didn’t realize she’d been hit until she heard the Glock hit the tile floor and felt the stinger deep in her shoulder joint. A split second later, the woman was on her feet, a strong hand clamped around Lauren’s neck.
“This is the one who killed all those guys in Kansas?”
It was a man’s voice coming from behind Lauren. Filled with disbelief.
“She’s better than this,” the black woman said.
“I hope so, for your sake.”
Lauren strained to turn her head but the woman’s grip was too tight. She knew it was The Man behind her. What she didn’t know was what the hell he wanted with her.
“Hey! Leave her alone!” It was the guy at the counter. He gave up on his meatloaf and slid off the stool, hands on his hips. “I said let her go or I’ll call the cops!”
The Man laughed and nodded at the black woman. Still squeezing Lauren’s neck, she reached inside her bomber jacket with her other hand, whipped out a six-inch carbon steel throwing knife and let it fly, catching the guy in the throat. His carotid artery erupted in a bloody geyser as he melted to the floor.
Bug-eyed, Lauren looked around the diner. There was no sign of the cook or the waitress. For their sakes, she hoped they’d hit the street running and weren’t looking back. The Man had the same question.
“The cook and the waitress – where the hell are they?”
The black woman shrugged. “Fuck if I know.”
“Well find out, you stupid bitch! Now! We can’t afford any witnesses.”
“What about her?”
The Man grabbed Lauren’s arm, twisting it behind her back until Lauren was certain he’d rip it out of her shoulder. “Her? I can handle her. Now lock the door, turn off the lights and find those two!”
The black woman picked up Lauren’s Glock, did as she was told and disappeared in the back of the diner.
The Man tightened his grip on Lauren’s arm until she grunted in pain.
“You really bite that farm boy’s cock off?”
He leaned in close, cupping her breast and rubbing his cock against her, whispering in her ear. “Guess I’ll just have to play it safe and give it to you up the ass.”
A woman’s scream echoed from the back of the diner. The Man grinned until the lights came on and he saw the waitress, holding the black woman’s head in one hand, blood dripping from her severed neck, and aiming Lauren’s Glock at him. She put a round in the center of his face before he could make a sound.
“I swear to God,” the waitress said, “one more ball-sack-for-brains man comes in here and there’s going to be some serious shit go down. Now what’s all this talk about money?”
She dropped the severed head onto the linoleum floor. A bloody cleaver hung from her apron pocket, soaking the cheap fabric red. The waitress was as good with the knife as with the gun. Lauren knew that she was in trouble.
Still gripping the Glock, the waitress made her way closer to Lauren. Her hair was the color of twine with just about the same frizz. Lauren noticed for the first time that her face was completely dotted like her mother’s—you couldn’t tell when the freckles stopped and the age spots started. The skin underneath her chin sagged. The waitress was too old to accept any bullshit, especially from a younger woman. Lauren would have to play this straight.
“They have it now. Or at least had it.” Lauren gestured back towards the Man’s lifeless body and the smear of brain left on the wall.
“Get his keys.”
Lauren complied, stuffing her hand into the man’s jeans pocket, one at a time. Her suspicions were confirmed: the Man didn’t have much to offer.
Lauren remained silent, and fished a circle of keys—including a Ford’s—in the left pocket. She also felt something round and hard which she kept hidden in her palm.
She dangled the keys for the waitress to see. The nose of the Glock directed her out the door to the parking lot.
Police sirens wailed in the distance and Lauren estimated that they had a good five minutes before the black-and-whites arrived.
“Let’s get on with it.”
Lauren didn’t have any arguments with that. But she discovered that she didn’t need any keys because the truck door was already open. The cab was empty, aside from a couple Circle K coffee cups on the passenger side floor.
Underneath a dim street light, yards away, they saw a slight man in an apron carrying a duffel bag make a run for an old Impala. The door slammed and the engine revved before the car tore out of the gravel lot onto the street.
“Fuckin’ Felipe,” the waitress said.
Around the corner on the other side three police cars came speeding in, their sirens and lights blazing.
Before Lauren could react, the waitress had grabbed her by the good arm and hustled her around behind the truck. Five minutes? There were still sirens in the distance but these boys couldn't have been more than a block or two away. As the cruisers slammed to a halt before the restaurant, the waitress put a hand on Lauren's head to push her down and out of sight. The muzzle of the automatic pressed hard against her temple. The waitress peered through the cab and didn't let her up until the cops were safely inside the building.
"Okay, Barbie," the waitress said. "Let's see how well you drive."
"I got punched in the arm," Lauren said. "I can't feel my fingers."
"Sunnuvabitch," the waitress said. "Just get in."
The cops were still inside the diner as the truck pulled away. If any of them heard the squeal of the tires, no one made it out in time to witness their departure.
Two skipped red lights later the waitress said, "I guess it's fair to say that's me well and truly fucked insofar as Cook County's concerned." The woman glanced at Lauren across the cab of the Ford truck, her expression hard in the passing streetlights. "You got a lot to answer for."
"Sorry," Lauren said, squeezing her shoulder and wincing as sensation returned.
"Where are we going?"
"Got to take care of some business," the woman said. "Lucky for us Felipe drives like somebody's Grandma."
The Impala was about half a block ahead of them on an empty street of parked cars, and the distance was narrowing fast. The waitress sped up to get alongside and then, with one deft tweak of the wheel, cut across Felipe and drove him into the side of the road where he hit first a Volkswagen and then a Toyota, which rammed the empty Chevy van in front of it.
About a dozen car alarms were making a screamers' orchestra as the waitress climbed out of the truck and walked toward the Impala. Felipe was kicking at the driver's door to get it open. He scrambled out just as she got there, and tried to run. She tripped him easily, put a foot on his back to stop him rising, and a shot in the back of his head to stop him for good.
Then she got back behind the wheel.
"Poor guy was heading for home," she said. "Got a wife and two babies waiting for him there. It's a damned shame."
They made a U-turn, and headed back toward the diner.
“The fuck are you doing?” Lauren shouted. “The money’s back in the Impala!”
“Yeah, but I got to get rid of you, first, Barbie.” The waitress laughed. “The cops ‘ll wanna give me a fucking medal when I deliver their prime suspect -- all tied up with a neat pink bow.”
Lauren stiffened. She felt her eyes narrow. No fucking way was this bitch gonna get her stash. It belonged to her. No one else. She’d decide who to share it with. Maybe Hank. Maybe she’d even give Jimmy a cut. If she was feeling generous. She whipped her head around. The Impala was receding in the rear view. They were just about back at the diner. She had to act fast.
Three cruisers were double-parked in the street, their engines running. She lunged across the front seat of the truck. Before the waitress could react, Lauren wrenched the wheel hard to the left. The truck slammed into one of the cruisers. The impact threw her back, and Lauren felt her shoulder tear. A wave of pain washed over her. But the Glock, which had been in the waitress’s lap, slipped to the floor. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Lauren bent down and grabbed it. Opening the door with her good arm, she rolled out of the truck and onto the street. She had about two seconds to take off before the cops came outside. She staggered to her feet and took one last look at the waitress. The bitch hadn’t moved, and blood was trickling down her cheek.