Dying to Please by Linda Howard

  “There's a robbery at Twenty-seven-thirteen Briarwood Road,” she said, and started to explain the situation, but the 911 operator interrupted.

  “Where are you calling from?”

  “At the same address. I'm on the cell phone because they cut the phone lines.” She skirted the kitchen island and entered the breakfast room.

  “You're in the house?”

  “Yes. There are two men—”

  “Are they still in the house?”


  “Are they armed?”

  “I don't know. I didn't see any weapons, but they cut the power line to the house, too, so I couldn't really tell in the dark if they were armed or not.”

  “Ma'am, if you can, get out of the house. I have patrol units en route to the location and they should arrive in a few minutes, but you should get out of the house now.”

  “Send an ambulance, too,” Sarah said, ignoring the operator's advice as she entered the hall and added the beam of her flashlight to that of the Judge's, playing it over the two men on the floor. She doubted either of them was capable of leaving under his own steam. The cries of the one under the television had subsided into mingled moans and curses. The one she'd punched in the temple hadn't moved at all.

  “An ambulance?”

  “A big television fell on one of the men, and may have broken his legs. The other man is unconscious.”

  “A television fell on them?”

  “Just one of them,” Sarah said, strictly honest. She was beginning to enjoy the phone call. “It's a fifty-five-incher, so it's really heavy. Both of them were trying to carry it out when one guy tripped and the television fell on him. The other guy landed on top.”

  “And the man the television fell on is unconscious?”

  “No, he's conscious. The other one is the one who's out of it.”

  “Why is he unconscious?”

  “I hit him on the head.”

  Judge Roberts glanced around and grinned at her, and managed to give her a thumbs-up with the hand holding the flashlight.

  “So both men are incapacitated?”

  “Yes.” As she spoke, the unconscious one moved his head a little and groaned. “I think he's coming around. He just moved.”


  “I have him tied up with phone cord,” she said.

  There was a tiny pause. “I'm going to repeat what you said to make sure I have it straight. One man was unconscious, but now he's coming around, and you have him tied up with phone cord.”

  “That's correct.”

  “The other man is pinned by a fifty-five-inch television, and may have broken legs.”


  “Cool,” Sarah heard someone in the background say.

  The 911 operator remained professional. “I have medics and two ambulances en route. Is anyone else injured?”


  “Do you have any weapons?”

  “One, a pistol.”

  “You have a pistol?”

  “Judge Roberts has the pistol.”

  “Please tell him to put the pistol away, ma'am.”

  “Yes, of course.” No sane police officer wanted to walk into a dark house when someone inside was holding a pistol. She relayed the message to Judge Roberts, who briefly looked mutinous, then sighed and put the pistol in a drawer of the buffet. Considering the condition of the two thieves, holding a gun on them wasn't necessary, even if it did appeal to his macho instinct.

  “The pistol has been put away in a drawer,” Sarah reported.

  “Thank you, ma'am. The patrol units will be there momentarily. They will want to secure the weapon, so please cooperate.”

  “No problem. I'm going to the door now to wait for them.” Leaving Judge Roberts to watch their captives, she went into the front hallway and opened one of the nine-foot-tall double doors as two Mountain Brook black-and-whites with flashing roof lights pulled into the curving drive and stopped in front of the wide steps. “They're here,” she reported to the emergency operator, stepping out so the officers could see her. Powerful flashlight beams played over her, and she held up one hand to shield her eyes from the glare. “Thank you.”

  “Glad to be of service, ma'am.”

  Sarah terminated the call as two uniformed officers approached her, hands on their weapons. From their car radios came a stream of static and staccato messages that she couldn't understand, and the rotating car lights made the manicured lawn look like a weird, deserted disco. To the right, the Cheatwoods' outside floodlights came on as the neighbors checked out the action. Before long, she figured, the entire neighborhood would be awake, though only a few would be crass enough to personally investigate. The rest would use the telephone to garner information.

  “There's a pistol in the buffet in the hall,” she said, giving the two officers that information up front. They were edgy enough as it was; their weapons weren't out, but each of them had his hand on his gun just in case. “It belongs to me. I don't know whether or not the thieves are armed, but they're both incapacitated. Judge Roberts is watching them.”

  “What's your name, ma'am?” the stockier of the two asked as he edged inside the open front door, flashlight sweeping from side to side.

  “Sarah Stevens. I'm Judge Roberts's butler.”

  She saw the glance they exchanged—a woman butler? She was used to that reaction, but all the stocky officer asked was, “Judge?”

  “Lowell Roberts, retired federal judge.”

  He muttered something into the radio on his shoulder as Sarah led them through the dark entry, past the sweeping front staircase, and into the back hallway. Their flashlight beams played over the two men on the floor and the tall, thin, white-haired man standing watch at a safe distance.

  The thief she had punched was conscious now, but definitely not with the program. He blinked several times and managed to mumble, “Wha' happened?” but no one bothered to answer. The one under the television was alternately sobbing and cursing, pushing at the weight on his legs, but he didn't have any leverage and he'd have been better off wiping his streaming nose; at least that would have accomplished something.

  “What happened to that one?” the taller officer asked, shining his flashlight on the face of the one tied up.

  “I hit him in the head.”

  “What with?” he asked, squatting beside the man and conducting a swift but thorough search.

  “My fist.”

  He looked up in surprise, and she shrugged. “Caught him in the temple,” she explained, and he nodded. A blow to the temple would addle King Kong. She didn't add that she had trained countless hours to be able to make that blow. If necessary she would elaborate, but until and unless a law enforcement officer asked her specifically about her skills, both she and her employer preferred to keep the bodyguard portion of her duties private.

  The search produced a knife with a six-inch blade, secured in a sheath strapped to the man's ankle.

  “They were carrying things out through there,” she said, pointing to the sunroom door. “There are sliding glass doors and a patio outside.”

  In the distance came the shriek of sirens—many sirens—signaling the arrival of an entire fleet of policemen and medical personnel. Very shortly the house was going to be swarming with people, and she still had work to do.

  “I'm going to sit over there out of the way,” she said, pointing to the stairs.

  The cop nodded, and Sarah took a seat on the fourth step, her bare feet tucked safely under her. First and foremost she needed to get power restored to the house, then phone service, though they could make do with cellular service. The burglar alarm had a battery reserve, so she had to assume the thieves had also done some damage there, or at least been smart enough to bypass it. Either way, the security people needed to check out everything. Probably the sliding glass doors would need to be replaced, too, but that could wait until morning.

  With her list prioritized and firmly in mind and cell pho
ne in hand, Sarah dialed Alabama Power to report a disruption in service. A good butler memorized all such pertinent numbers, and Sarah was a very good butler.


  IT WAS AFTER TWO IN THE MORNING WHEN THE RADIO alerted him to the call on Briarwood. Thompson Cahill was on his way home, but the call sounded a lot more interesting than anything he had waiting for him there, so he turned his pickup truck around and headed back up Highway 280. The patrol officers hadn't called for an investigator, but what the hell, the call sounded like fun and he could use a little amusement in his life.

  He left 280 and got on Cherokee Road; at this time of morning there wasn't any traffic to speak of as he snaked his way through the quiet streets, so in just a few minutes he was on Briarwood. The address wasn't hard to find: it was the house with all the vehicles with flashing lights parked in front of it. That's why he was an investigator; he could figure out things like that. Duh.

  He clipped his badge to his belt and got his sport jacket from the hook behind the seat, slipping it on over his faded black T-shirt. There was a tie in the pocket of the jacket; he left it there, since he didn't have a dress shirt to pull on over the T-shirt. He'd have to go for the Miami Vice look this time.

  The usual assortment of uniforms were milling around: cops, firemen, medics, ambulance attendants. The windows in all the neighboring houses were ablaze with lights, and occupied by onlookers, but only a few had been curious enough to leave their houses and gather in the street. After all, this was Briarwood Road, and Briarwood meant old money.

  The shift supervisor, George Plenty, greeted him. “What are you doing here, Doc?”

  “Good morning to you, too. I was on my way home and heard the call. It sounded like fun, so here I am. What happened?”

  George hid a grin. The general public had no idea how much fun police work was. Parts of it, the parts that could drive a cop to drink, were grim and dangerous, but a lot of it was just damn funny. Plain and simple, people were nuts.

  “The two guys were smart; cut the power and phone lines, and disabled the alarm system. Seems they thought only one old man lived here, so they figured he'd never even wake up. Turns out, though, he has a butler. The smart guys were busy carrying out a big-screen television when she tripped the one in the lead. He fell, the television fell on him, and for good measure she sucker punched the other one in the head as he was going down and knocked him cold. Then she tied him up with telephone cord.” George chuckled. “He's come around, but he still isn't making a lot of sense.”

  “‘She'?” Cahill asked, not certain George had his pronouns straight.


  “A female butler?”

  “So they say.”

  Cahill snorted. “Yeah, right.” The old guy might have a woman living with him, but he doubted she was his butler.

  “That's their story and they're sticking to it.” George looked around. “Since you're here, why don't you give the guys a hand with the statements, get this thing wrapped up.”


  He ambled into the huge house. Battery-powered lights had been set up in the hallway ahead, the spill of light—and the congestion of people—leading him to the scene. Automatically he sniffed the air; it was habit, a cop checking for alcohol or weed. What was it about the houses of rich people? They smelled different, as if the wood that framed the walls was different from the ordinary wood used to build ordinary houses. He detected fresh flowers, furniture polish, a faint, lingering odor of dinner—something Italian—but neither alcohol nor smoke of any kind, legal or illegal.

  He reached the hallway and stood to the side for a minute, studying the scene. A team of medics was crouched around a guy on the floor; the carcass of a huge, broken television lay nearby. The guy on the floor was moaning and carrying on as they immobilized his left leg. Another man, a big dude, was sitting on the floor with his hands cuffed behind him. He was answering questions asked by a medic shining a light in his eyes, but it was evident the little birdies were still circling his head.

  A tall, skinny old man with a shock of disordered white hair was standing to the left, out of the way, calmly giving a statement to an officer. He wore his dignity like a cloak, despite the fact that he was in a robe and pajamas, with slippers on his feet. He kept an eye on the proceedings even while he was answering questions, as if he wanted to make certain everything was handled correctly.

  To the right was a flight of stairs, and on the fourth step from the bottom sat a woman in light cotton pajamas, talking on a cell phone. Her feet were bare and pressed closely together, perfectly aligned; her thick dark hair was tousled, as if she had just gotten out of bed. Well, she probably had. In another example of astute detective work, he deduced that she was the live-in, otherwise why would she be in pajamas? Damn, he was sharp tonight.

  Even in pajamas, no makeup, hair a mess, she was a good-looking woman. No, better than just good-looking. She was downright fine—from what he could see maybe an eight, and that was without makeup. Money might not buy happiness, but it sure did buy old geezers some prime pussy, assuming he could still do anything other than reminisce.

  The familiar anger bit at Cahill; he had lived, slept, and eaten with that anger for over two years now, and he was well aware he wasn't being fair to this woman. Finding out his wife was a lying, cheating bitch, then being dragged through a long, bitter divorce was enough to sour any man. He pushed the anger aside, though, to concentrate on the job. That was one thing he'd managed to do: the job.

  He approached one of the patrol officers—Wilkins, fairly young, fairly new, and damn good, but then he had to be good to land a job with the Mountain Brook P.D. Wilkins was standing guard over the burly guy with the handcuffs and the concussion, watching as the medic checked him.

  “Need a hand taking statements?”

  Wilkins looked around, a little surprised to see him. In that split second of inattention the guy on the floor lunged forward, knocking down the medic and surging to his feet with surprising agility. Wilkins whirled, quick as a cat, but Cahill was quicker. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the woman on the stairs kind of flow to her feet as he pivoted on the ball of his left foot and planted his size eleven right boot square in the guy's solar plexus. He put just enough power in it to double the big guy over, gagging and gasping for breath. Wilkins was on the perp before he could hit the floor, and two other officers came up to help. Seeing they had him controlled—after all, he couldn't breathe yet—Cahill stepped back and glanced at the medic, who was wiping a bloody nose as he climbed to his feet. “Guess he wasn't hurt as bad as he acted.”

  “Guess not.” Taking a pad of gauze from his supplies, the medic held it over his nose, then caught a deep breath. “Do you think he might be now?”

  “He's just winded. I didn't kick him that hard.” A full-power kick to the chest could stop the heart, crush the sternum, do all sorts of internal damage. He'd been careful not to even crack the guy's ribs.

  Wilkins stood up, panting. “Do you still want to do some paperwork, Cahill?”

  Paperwork was the bane of a cop's life; it was a measure of how bored Cahill was that he said, “Sure.”

  Wilkins nodded to the woman, who had resumed her seat on the stairs and her conversation on the cell phone. “Take her statement while we get Rambo here into a unit.”

  “Be glad to,” Cahill murmured, and he meant it. The way she had moved when the robber tried to get away had piqued his interest. She hadn't screamed, hadn't scrambled to get out of the way; instead she had moved smoothly, totally balanced, her attention focused on the robber. If he himself hadn't stopped the guy, Cahill thought, she would have—or at least tried—which brought up a lot of questions he wanted to ask.

  He approached the stairs, the glare of the battery-operated lights behind him and the stark light full on her face. She continued talking on the cell phone, her expression calm and focused, though she held up one finger at his approach to tell him she'd be finished in a m

  He was a cop; he wasn't used to people telling him to wait. Faint irritation flashed through him, then instantly morphed into amusement. God, maybe he was an arrogant shithead, as his ex-wife had been fond of telling him. Besides, even if this woman was an old man's arm decoration, she was definitely easy on the eyes.

  Because looking at her was so easy, he did, automatically cataloging the details: dark hair, not quite shoulder length, and dark eyes. If he were taking down a description of her, he'd have to say “brown” and “brown,” but that didn't come close to the actual color. The lights glinted on her hair, making it look like dark, rich chocolate—and her eyes were darker.

  He pegged her age at late twenties, early thirties. Height . . . five-five, maybe five-six. He was tempted to give her another couple of inches but realized it was her almost military posture that gave the impression of her being taller than she actually was. Weight between one-twenty and one-thirty. Her skin was smooth and flawless, with a creamy texture that made him think of licking an ice-cream cone.

  She ended the call and extended her hand to him. “Thank you for waiting. I had waded through the phone company's computerized multiple-choice menu and didn't want to start over. I'm Sarah Stevens.”

  “Detective Cahill.” Her hand felt small and cool in his, but her grip was surprisingly strong. “Could you walk me through what happened here tonight?” Her accent wasn't southern; it wasn't anything that he could nail down. Yeah, that was it: it wasn't anything. She didn't have any kind of accent.

  “I'd be glad to.” She indicated the stairs. “Would you like to sit down?”

  He sure would, but then he'd be rubbing shoulders with her, and that wasn't a good idea while he was on the job. His thoughts since first seeing her had been way out of line, and that wasn't good. His mental brakes went on, and he pulled back from the edge, forcing himself to concentrate on the job. “No, thanks, I'll stand.” He took his notebook from the pocket of his jacket and flipped to an empty page. “How do you spell your name?”

  “Sarah with an h, Stevens with a v.”

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