No Way Out - Chapter One
Eldon Fowler’s Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum revolver was missing. He was certain it had been lifted on the last day of the gun show, some asshole rewriting the Second Amendment to include a right to steal arms. Didn’t matter. It was gone, and there was nothing he could do about it now except curse getting too old to protect what was his from some punk.
That, and file an insurance claim, which meant making a police report and turning over records to the cops that the government had no right to force him to keep in the first place as far as he was concerned, which was why he didn’t have the papers.
Better to let the Redhawk go than have to deal with those bastards.He’d set up three U-shaped tables under a banner he’d paid good money for that read ELDON FOWLER’S GUNS at the Expocentre in Topeka, Kansas, laying out a hundred and six semiautomatic assault rifles and fifty-two handguns for the Labor Day weekend show. For three days, he’d sat on a high bar stool with a swivel seat to keep an eye on everything, climbing down to talk only if a customer showed real interest, with the off-duty cops providing security to back him up, and still, he’d been robbed.
The Redhawk had been in the middle of a spread of new and used handguns, including Glocks, Smith & Wessons, Berettas, and Sig Sauers; another professionally made sign advertising them as the best in personal protection. It was a beefy gun that thrived on hot magnum loads, a gun he just had to have the instant he saw it in a pawnshop in Oklahoma two years ago. He was a shooter, not a hunter, and sometimes all he wanted was to feel the power of a gun in his hand. No gun did that for him like the Redhawk. And now it was gone.
More than six thousand people had come to the show. There were more lookers than buyers, one run-down man poor-mouthing him earlier in the day.
“C’mon Eldon, give me a break,” the man said, reading his name on the banner, acting like they knew each other and crying about hard times when Eldon wouldn’t sell him the Redhawk for less than Eldonhad paid for it. Eldon had priced it too high to sell even in good times, just wanting to show it off.
“No, sir,” Eldon told him, grinding his tobacco chew, spitting in a cup. “Your troubles are not my troubles. I’ve got plenty of my own.”
“You act like you don’t even want to sell it,” the man said.
Eldon shook his head. Pathetic, that’s what the man was. “I’d rather pack up my whole inventory than give a single goddamn piece away. You can’t afford it, don’t buy it.”
Another customer had called to Eldon from the next table over, and Eldon left the man behind. He didn’t notice the Redhawk was missing until he began packing his inventory that night after the show had ended. He couldn’t prove the man had stolen the Redhawk, but no one would ever convince him that he hadn’t.
He was in the empty parking lot at the Expocentre, the last dealer to leave, the back end of his four-by-eight trailer open, assault rifles, each in a soft case, packed in canvas bags, his name stitched on the bags and the bags suspended on hooks lining the trailer walls. The handguns were on trays, the trays fitted inside two footlockers. He’d sorted through them three times, checking the guns against his inventory sheet, confirming again and again that the Redhawk was gone, slamming the trailer door closed, turning when he heard the low rumble of an approaching gray Dodge Ram pickup truck.
The driver slowed, giving him a nod, a ball cap pulled low, hiding his face. Eldon didn’t recognize the man or his truck, and that was what bothered him.
Neither belonged in the parking lot this long after the show had ended. The men who sold guns at these shows traveled a circuit, knew one another, what beer they liked, what they drove, and which marriage they were on. There were regular customers, too. People who followed them from show to show like a woman he once knew that followed Elvis Presley when he was on tour. After twenty years, Eldon knew the regulars. The man in the truck wasn’t one of them. Neither was the man who tried to buy the Redhawk on the cheap.
It was enough, in an uncertain world, to make Eldon uneasy, especially after what had happened last month in Nebraska and Iowa. Thieves had followed two dealers home from shows and robbed them of their guns, the thieves quick and professional enough that the dealers never had a chance to draw their weapons, one that tried getting a bullet in the leg for his trouble.
The security in the hall had done him little good. He was down the Redhawk. But outside, there was no protection for the dealers, many of them, like him, transporting enough weaponry to start a small war. No one complained because everyone was armed and certain he could take care of himself and because his brothers in arms were always close at hand. Tonight Eldon was alone and had his doubts.
He was seventy and felt eighty, jolts of pain coming and going in his chest, cutting off his breath and leaving a sour taste in his throat he couldn’t cough up or wash down. He was due to see his doctor in the morning, a woman half his age who’d tell him to quit smoking, lose weight, and bend over while she stuck her finger up his ass and warned him he’d keep getting up to pee every hour during the night unless he cut back on his caffeine.
Eldon breathed easier as he watched the driver of the Dodge pickup follow Expocentre Drive onto Topeka Boulevard, heading south, the opposite direction he was going, his route taking him north to Highway 24, east on 24 to the county roads and back roads leading to his house at Lake Perry. It was a forty-five minute drive with steady traffic in the city that thinned out the closer he got to the lake, especially this late.
The show had ended at six, and it was close to nine. He’d hung around telling lies with his buddies, drinking beer in the parking lot, taking his time packing up. He checked the trailer hitch, making certain it was secure, and climbed in his truck, a Ford F-150, thinking about the stolen Redhawk, the dealers who got hit in Nebraska and Iowa, and the man in the Dodge Ram. He pulled out onto Expocentre Drive and stopped, squinting as he scanned the traffic on Topeka Boulevard for any sign of the Dodge but not seeing it.
He called his wife on his cell phone, relieved when she answered on the first ring.
“I’m just leaving the Expocentre,” he said.
“How was the show?”
“A lot of people but not many with money to spend.”
“Did you do all right?”
“Fair, except for somebody lifted the Redhawk.”
She paused, drawing a deep breath, knowing his fondness for that gun. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” She paused again. “You must be so tired.”
She worried about him; saying he must be so tired was code for she hoped he wasn’t having more chest pains. He’d made the mistake of telling her about the pain, and she hadn’t let loose until he called the doctor and made an appointment. Their house sat by itself at the end of a mile-long winding gravel road, midway down a slope, secluded and sheltered by a tall stand of trees, overlooking the lake. He wanted to ask her if she’d seen anyone around the house but didn’t, afraid she’d panic. She knew about the robberies in Nebraska and Iowa and had begged him to give up the shows until the thieves were caught.
And do what? he asked her. She didn’t argue, knowing there was no point in it. He’d do what he wanted to do, just like he’d always done. It was enough to hear her voice, quiet and steady like it had been for almost fifty years, the one sound that always calmed him.
“I’m okay. See you when I get there.”
“Buckle up, dear.”
“Sure,” he said. His wife knew that he hadn’t used a seat belt since the state passed a law making it mandatory.
He was carrying a Glock 22 .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and had a 12-gauge Browning Maxus Stalker semiautomatic shotgun mounted on the rack behind his head, both of them loaded. It would be enough firepower if it came to that, but paled in comparison to his assault rifles, making him wish he’d brought ammunition for one of them. He laid the Glock on the seat next to him and put the F-150 in drive as a light rain began to fall.