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“Thank you for letting me know, Mrs. Conter,” Cinto said, making no effort to disguise her annoyance. She would’ve liked to slam the handset down, but as she was talking on a cell phone that wasn’t practical.

Cinto’s live-in partner had taken his daughter to visit with his parents. Her two younger children were on play-dates that would be followed with sleepovers. Eleven-year-old Joey, Cinto’s oldest, was supposed to have had the same with his buddy, Billy Conter. But Billy had done something to piss off his mother, so she’d retaliated by grounding him. That meant the play-date and sleepover were kaput. The end result was Cinto had nowhere to place Joey while she spent the day with Hannah Ellman, a badly needed key defense witness in an upcoming trial.

“Joey!” Cinto called. When her son appeared she said, “Mrs. Conter cancelled. Evidently Billy was naughty.”

“That schmuck,” Joey mumbled. Then more loudly, “No problem, Mom. I don’t mind staying home alone.”

“Not going to happen,” Cinto said, inwardly shuddering at the thought of the potential mayhem that could cause. “You’ll have to come with me.”

“But, Mom,” Joey protested. “I’ll be bored out of my gourd while you’re babysitting some old lady. Why didn’t Izzy just hire a security guard?”

“This was a last-minute arrangement. When the threat came it was too late to get someone reliable. Mrs. Ellman’s testimony is important to getting our client acquitted. If she’s scared into recanting, our client would likely be convicted. Besides, she’s not that old. Her fourteen-year-old daughter will probably be there. You and she could play video games or something. No more arguments. We’re leaving in ten minutes. Bring a bathing suit. I think a pool is available.”


Hannah Ellman lived in a new, ten-story apartment complex, still largely under construction. Cinto pressed the intercom button and said she was sent by Izzy Feinstein. Ellman did not look happy when she opened her door to Cinto and Joey. 

“Feinstein said he’d send his security man,” Ellman said. “Not some secretary and her kid.”

“I’m Jodi Cinto, Mrs. Ellman. I’m Feinstein’s chief investigator. I used to be an NYPD detective. I’m sorry about having to bring Joey, but our plans fell through and I couldn’t leave him alone.”

“I don’t care if you used to be a cop,” Ellman said, derisively. “You’re going to protect me if Strenkov’s goons come calling? Not to mention my daughter. Good luck to us. Maybe I should just call Strenkov and tell him I won’t testify.”

“You could do that, Mrs. Ellman,” Cinto replied. “But remember, even if you don’t testify now, you’ll still be a ‘loose end’ hanging over his head. How long do you think it’ll take Strenkov to realize you’ll always be a threat, even if our client gets wrongly convicted? Today is just a temporary measure. Tomorrow we’ll get a full security team for you.”

Ellman stood there for nearly a full minute. She licked her lips, clenched and unclenched her fists, and finally stepped aside, inviting Cinto and Joey into her home. 

As they entered the living room, a young girl wearing a skimpy bikini came into the room. Joey looked as if his eyes would pop out of his head. The girl ignored the visitors. “I’m going swimming now, Mama.”

“I don’t want you going by yourself, Donna,” Ellman said. Turning to Cinto, she asked, “Do you think she’ll be safe?”

“Why don’t we all go,” Cinto replied. Sometimes it’s better to be in the open, she thought. There are more escape routes, and if other people are around, the bad guys are less likely to try something. “We heard you have a pool, so we brought bathing suits.”

“Just what I need,” Donna said, rolling her eyes as only a teenager can. “To have my mother along. Jeff is supposed to meet me.”

“That’s a good reason for me to be there,” Ellman said. “If your father were alive he’d never allow you to appear in public wearing that. At least get a cover to wear until we get to the pool. C’mon Jodi. I’ll show you where you and your son can change.”


The pool was surrounded on all sides by the four buildings of the apartment complex. Ellman and Cinto settled into lounge chairs while Joey, Donna, and Jeff, a good looking sixteen-year-old, frolicked in the pool. Cinto could understand why Ellman didn’t want her daughter to be alone with Jeff. Especially given what she was wearing.

A middle-aged man had been swimming laps when they arrived, but he left when the kids jumped in. There was nobody else there. Ellman watched Donna with compressed lips. She and Jeff took every opportunity to touch each other. Cinto kept a wary eye on their surroundings.

Three husky men in business suits entered the pool area from the building housing the Ellmans’ apartment. With grinning faces they sauntered toward the women. Cinto got to her feet and gave a shrill whistle. Joey immediately headed toward the edge of the pool, calling out to the other two. They saw the men and scrambled after Joey.

“I can’t get a signal!” Ellman exclaimed fearfully as she poked at her phone.

“Mr. Strenkov sends his regards, bitch,” one man said as all three men took out handguns.

With her hand inside her beach tote Cinto fired four shots at the man in front, hitting him three times. She dropped the bag and fired twice toward the largest man, who managed to duck without getting hit. The third man leveled his gun at Cinto. Before he could shoot he was hit square on his nose with a stone. His shot went wild and he dropped, stunned. Joey had his slingshot out and sent a second stone whistling toward the large man, catching him on his side.

“Let’s go!” Cinto shouted, as she ran toward the nearest building. The others were right on her heels. Several shots hit the building as they disappeared into the entrance. 

Cinto got down flat on the floor and peeked out. One man was down and out, probably dead. A second man had blood gushing from his nose and seemed out of it. Three more men came into the pool area, all holding guns. The large man gesticulated wildly while yelling at the three newcomers. Then all four men headed toward the entrance where their targets had disappeared. 

“Four guys are coming toward us,” Cinto said. “They’re proceeding cautiously because they know I’m armed.”

“Head down those stairs,” Ellman said, pointing. “It leads to the parking garage.”

“I’m glad you did, but what possessed you to bring your slingshot?” Cinto asked her son.

“I saw you pack your gun and thought you might need backup,” he replied, eyes shining with excitement.

“This way,” Ellman said as they reached the second level down. “It’ll take us to where my car is parked.”

“Do you have keys?” Cinto asked.

“Oh!” Ellman said, stopping short. “They’re in my bag. I left it by the pool.”

“Same with mine,” Cinto said. “I only have seven bullets left and no spare magazine. It’s four to one.”

“Four to two,” Joey contradicted. “I still have my slingshot and a bag of stones.”

“Four to three,” Jeff said. “Give me some of the stones. I have a 90 mile per hour fastball. College coaches have already contacted me, and it’s only my junior year coming up.”

“Let’s head in the other direction,” Cinto said. “They probably know where your car is, Hannah, and have it guarded. I doubt they have enough men to cover all the exits. Let’s see if we can find one with nobody there. Proceed with caution. How come there are no parked cars on this level?”

“My building is the only one where apartments have been rented,” Ellman replied. “Even it hasn’t been completed. My car was pretty much the only one on level two.”

“Let’s head up that ramp,” Cinto said pointing. “If there are cars around they might give us some protection.”

“I hear footsteps behind us!” Donna exclaimed.

“Hurry!” Cinto said, keeping her voice low. “Be as silent as possible.”

Just as they reached the top of the ramp Donna screamed. She’d stepped on something with her bare foot, twisted her ankle, and fallen. Jeff helped her up. She was unable to put weight on her injured leg. Donna wrapped one arm around Joey and the other around Jeff. As they hobbled toward some parked cars, Cinto realized that whatever Donna had stepped on had pierced the skin of her foot. She was leaving a blood trail. They hid behind a large SUV. Cinto cautioned them to stay low.

Cinto slid under the vehicle. In the dim light of the parking garage she could see that the four men chasing them had spread out. One of them pointed toward the blood. They headed unerringly toward their quarry.

With a two-handed grip Cinto aimed carefully at the closest man. She squeezed off two shots, hitting him in the face. The other three hit the ground and began firing toward where Cinto’s flash had come from. Their shots slammed into the SUV, but were too high to hit anyone.

As soon as the shooting stopped Cinto beckoned the others to follow her. Keeping low they scurried toward another vehicle, a minivan, a few yards away. They hid behind it. 

One of their pursuers rolled something under the SUV. A loud explosion lifted it and knocked it over onto its side. The minivan rocked back and forth, but it didn’t fall over. In addition it blocked the shrapnel from the grenade.

Evidently hoping to take their prey by surprise while they were stunned by the bomb blast, the remaining three men charged the minivan, guns blazing. Suddenly one of them was hit in his shoulder by a rock. He turned and started firing toward a concrete pillar. The others stopped and looked toward the first man’s target. Cinto could see Jeff ducking down behind the pillar. That gave her the opportunity to line up a shot and take out another of their attackers. 

At the same time Joey hit a third man in the neck with a stone from his slingshot. The man dropped his gun, fell on his rear, grasped his throat, and seemed to be having trouble breathing. The last standing man turned tail and ran. 

“Is it over?” Ellman asked.

“They could still have more men waiting by the pool or your apartment,” Cinto replied. “We’ll have to figure out a way to get to a phone and call the police.”

“Hey!” a new voice called out. “What’ve you people done to my car?”

A red-faced man, followed by a timid appearing woman, was striding angrily toward them pointing toward the SUV. Cinto grinned. These people didn’t know it yet, but they were just what the doctor ordered.


I am an emeritus professor of Mathematics at Wilkes University. An avid reader of mysteries and science fiction, I have published several stories in both genres. My novels, Leopard’s Daughter and Leopard's Revenge have been published by Azure Spider Publications. 


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