The brothers had him on his feet and fully conscious by the time Rinker came down, carrying her aluminum baseball bat; or rather, T-ball bat, which had a better swing-weight for a small woman.
"I'm gonna sue you fuckers for every fuckin' dime you got," Dale-Something said, sputtering blood through his split lip. "My fuckin' lawyer is doin' the money-dance right now, you fucks . . ."
"Fuck you, you ain't doing shit," Ron said. "You raped this little girl."
"What do you want, Clara?" Ernie asked. He was standing behind Dale with his arms under Dale's armpits, his hands locked behind Dale's neck. "You wanna arm or a leg?"
Rinker was standing directly in front of Dale-Something, who glowered at her: "I'm gonna . . ." he started.
Rinker interrupted: "Fuck legs," she said. She whipped the bat up, and then straight back down on the crown of Dale-Something's head.
The impact sounded like a fat man stepping on an English walnut. Ernie, startled, lost his death grip and Dale-Something slipped to the floor like a two-hundred-pound blob of Jell-O.
"Holy shit," Ron said, and crossed himself.
Ernie prodded Dale-Something with the toe of his desert boot, and Dale blew a bubble of blood. "He ain't dead," Ernie said.
Rinker's bat came up, and she hit Dale again, this time in the mastoid process behind the left ear. She hit him hard; her step-dad used to make her chop wood for the furnace, and her swing had some weight and snap behind it. "That ought to do it," she said.
Ernie nodded and said, "Yup." Then they all looked at each other in the light of the single bare bulb, and Ron said to Rinker, "Some heavy shit, Clara. How do you feel about this?"
Clara looked at Dale-Something's body, the little ring of black blood around his fat lips, and said, "He was a piece of garbage."
"You don't feel nothin'?" Ernie asked.
"Nothin'." Her lips were set in a thin, grim line.
After a minute, Ron looked up the narrow wooden stairs and said, "Gonna be a load 'n' a half getting his ass outa the basement."
"You got that right," Ernie said, adding, philosophically, "I coulda told him there ain't no free pussy."
Dale-Something went into the Mississippi and his truck was parked across the river in Granite City, from which spot it disappeared in two days. Nobody ever asked about Dale, and Rinker went back to dancing. A few weeks later, Ernie asked her to sit with an older guy who came in for a beer. Rinker cocked her head and Ernie said, "No, it's okay. You don't have to do nothin'."
So she got a longneck Bud and went to sit with the guy, who said he was Ernie's aunt's husband's brother. He knew about Dale-Something. "You feeling bad about it yet?"
"Nope. I'm a little pissed that Ernie told you about it, though," Rinker said, taking a hit on the Budweiser.
The older man smiled. He had very strong, white teeth to go with his black eyes and almost-feminine long lashes. Rinker had the sudden feeling that he might show a girl a pretty good time, although he must be over forty. "You ever shoot a gun?" he asked.
That's how Rinker became a hit lady. She wasn't spectacular, like the Jackal or one of those movie killers. She just took care of business, quietly and efficiently, using a variety of silenced pistols, mostly .22s. Careful, close-range killings became a trademark.
Rinker had never thought of herself as stupid, just as someone who hadn't yet had her chance. When the money from the killings started coming in, she knew that she didn't know how to handle it. So she went to the Intercontinental College of Business in the mornings, and took courses in bookkeeping and small business. When she was twenty, getting a little old for dancing nude, she got a job with the Mafia guy, working in a liquor warehouse. And when she was twenty-four, and knew a bit about the business, she bought a bar of her own in downtown Wichita, Kansas, and renamed it the Rink.
Reprinted from Certain Prey by John Sandford by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 1999 by John Sandford.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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