Stephen Tillman is an emeritus professor of Mathematics at Wilkes University, where he taught for forty-two years. Wilkes is a small, private college located in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Brown University. He is an avid reader of mysteries and science fiction. Short stories he has written include, “The Tunnels”, published in the January, 2015 issue of Mysterical-E, “Payback” in September, 2016, in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, “Cold-Blooded”, accepted for publication by Vinculinc, Inc., “Reversal” published in January, 2017 in Twisted Sister Lit Mag, and “Resolve”, accepted for publication in Yellow Mama.
Blumberg was dozing in the hospital room when the cop on duty stuck his head in the door. “Saul,” he called softly.
Blumberg awoke and said, “Hey, Jack. What’s up?”
“It’s 4:15. The place is dead. My shift’s been over since 4:00. My relief must be delayed, but he should be here any minute. You mind if I take off?”
“I owe you one, Saul.”
Blumberg stood and stretched. He walked around so that he was between the door and the bed. He heard a noise and looked back. The kid moaned, but was still spaced out from the painkillers. Blumberg turned to the door and saw a large man.
The man entered the room, brandishing a wicked looking plastic knife. Blumberg regretted not having his gun. At least the other man hadn’t been able to get one through security.
“Heard you was doing guard duty,” the large man said, a feral grin on his face.
“Listen, guy,” Blumberg said, recognizing the thug as Bruno Homand. “His testimony’s been signed, sealed, and delivered. Killing him won’t get you anywhere.”
“It ain’t him we want, it’s you,” Homand said, flicking the knife back and forth. “He’s just a bonus. You’re the one fucked up Likharev.”
“Likharev?” Blumberg said in surprise. “He’s in the slammer.”
“Not no more, he ain’t. Wants revenge on the one sent him up.”
“I was a cop then. I’m not now.”
“Don’t give a shit,” Homand said shrugging.
Homand, seven inches taller than Blumberg and seventy-five pounds heavier, had the advantage in size and reach, but not strength. Little of Blumberg’s weight was fat. He worked out daily and could bench press 400 pounds. Homand had a large beer belly and didn’t usually face men who fought back. His job was to intimidate people who were late making loan payments. Blumberg was a street fighter dating back to his days growing up in Brooklyn.
Homand lunged, knife outstretched. Blumberg knocked the extended arm aside, caught it with his own left, and attempted to kick his assailant in the groin. Homand, no stranger to street fighting, was able to deflect the kick with his thigh, though he grunted in pain. Moving in closer, he tried to gouge Blumberg’s eyes with his left hand. Blumberg managed to catch that hand with his own right, and started shouting.
A nurse appeared and Blumberg yelled, “Call security and the police! This man’s trying to kill the patient!” The nurse darted away.
Taking advantage of the leverage and size discrepancy, Homand began forcing Blumberg’s arms back. He leaned forward, putting extra effort into overcoming his adversary. As Homand’s face neared Blumberg’s, the smaller man snapped his head forward, mashing his forehead into the other’s nose. It shattered and blood spurted.
Homand screamed in pain just as two security men appeared, a nurse behind them. He pulled away from Blumberg, slashed one of the security men across the arm, and ran out. The nurse and the other security man went to the aid of the injured man. Blumberg leaned back against the bed, breathing heavily, shaking from his close call.
Blumberg awoke suddenly. 3:17 AM. He listened carefully, and was able to detect noise coming from the kitchen. He got silently out of bed, went to his gun safe, and worked the combination. He took out two handguns and several magazines.
He picked up the phone. No dial tone. His cell had no bars. He went back to the bed, put his hand over Mollie’s mouth, and shook her gently. She came awake, startled, but could make no noise with Blumberg’s hand over her mouth.
“I hear something,” he said softly. “Our landline is dead and there’s no cell signal. If someone thought to jam cell signals, they probably also bypassed the alarm. Take this gun. Get Jonathan. Go to the basement and bolt the door. The noise is coming from the kitchen, probably the backdoor, so don’t put on a light until you close the door to the basement. Don’t let anyone in except me. If someone breaks the door down, shoot. Don’t hesitate. Got it?”
She nodded. He handed her a Glock 42 .380 and extra magazines. He kept a Glock 17 9-mm for himself. She slipped on sweats and went to get their son.
Blumberg pulled on dark colored sweats and sneakers, stuffed three magazines into his pockets, and headed down the hallway of their ranch style house. Keeping low he peeked around the corner, looking toward the kitchen on his left. Now he could clearly hear somebody working on one of the backdoor locks. He knew it’d take them a while to get through all three locks. The door to the basement was off the kitchen. He waited until he saw his wife close that door behind her. He regretted that their home was isolated with no nearby neighbors.
Figuring that they, whoever “they” were, had someone watching the front, he crawled through the living room, making sure to keep below the windows. He came to the study at the far end of the house from the bedrooms. It had a window on the side of the house. Silently he opened the window and crawled outside, shivering in the cold.
Blumberg belly crawled to his left until he reached the back of the house. He looked around the corner and saw two men at the backdoor, approximately twenty-five feet away. One was working on a lock while the other was watching, holding a flashlight.
Stupid, Blumberg thought. The second guy should be looking around, not watching his partner, and the flashlight is silhouetting them both.
Facing at least two and almost certainly more adversaries, Blumberg knew this was a time to shoot first and ask questions later. Bracing his gun with both hands, he took careful aim towards the head of the man working on the lock. He fired twice. That man went down, and the other, instead of diving for cover, stood up straight, turning his head from side to side. In case he was wearing body armor, Blumberg aimed at his legs and fired four more times. The man went down, screaming.
Blumberg dashed to the shed in the backyard. Peering out from behind the shed, he heard pounding footsteps. Two more men appeared from the opposite side of the house, barely visible in the nighttime gloom. He emptied his seventeen shot magazine at them, not knowing whether or not he hit anyone, and then darted around to the opposite side of the shed. Several return shots were fired in the general direction of where he’d been.
Ejecting the empty magazine, he inserted a fresh one. He spread mud over his face and peeked around the corner of the shed. Man One was lying motionless. Man Two had stopped screaming, but was still moaning. Man Three was on the ground attempting to crawl around the corner of the house. At first Man Four was not visible, but then Blumberg saw a head poking up from behind the two-foot patio wall.
Blumberg slithered back to the side of the house from which he’d emerged. Once he was out of sight of Man Four, he got to his feet and ran around the front of the house to the other side. He saw Three trying to get to his feet, looking toward the rear of the house. Blumberg silently went up to Three, reached around, grabbed Three’s gun, and pressed his own gun into Three’s back.
“Make a sound and you’re dead,” Blumberg growled. Three stood still and raised his right arm. His left hung by his side, blood coming from it. Wishing he’d thought to bring duct tape or plastic handcuffs, Blumberg marched Three toward the rear.
Four must’ve heard them because he turned and fired wildly. Blumberg and Three hit the ground, Three screaming in pain. Blumberg returned fire. Four ran around the other side of the house. A few seconds later Blumberg heard the sound of a car engine.
Blumberg pushed Three over to One and Two. One was dead. Two was breathing, but had passed out. Three had a gunshot wound to his upper left arm. He winced in pain while being frisked.
After securing Two and Three with their own belts and strips of their own clothes, Blumberg reentered his home via the study window. He went to the basement door, knocked and called, “Mollie, it’s me. Come up.”
Mollie came out of the basement, still carrying her son, who’d slept through the entire ordeal. “I heard shots,” she said. “What happened? You okay?”
“I’m fine. I’ll explain later. Put Jonathan in his crib, get a warm coat, and go out the back door. Have your gun with you.” Then he headed back outside.
Less than a minute later, Mollie came out. “Keep your gun pointed at these creeps,” Blumberg said. “If either of them twitches, shoot him in the balls.”
Mollie nodded and asked, “Where will you be?”
“I’m going to go far enough away to get out of range of their jammer and call the cops.”
“Who are these guys?”
“Gotta be Likharev’s men. I think you and Jonathan should stay with Jaime and David until I can take care of things.”
4:45 PM, Thanksgiving day. The temperature was in the low 40’s with overcast skies and occasional drizzle. The convoy passed the “Welcome to Brindell” sign. Bruno Homand was royally pissed and the weather didn’t help. He’d arrived at the starting point at 7:55 AM, raring to go, and found nobody there. It wasn’t until almost 10:00 that the last two men staggered in, hung over. By that time Homand was pacing like a caged tiger, grumbling to himself, and directing intimidating looks at his compatriots. The others stayed well clear of him.
They piled into the cars only to find that one wouldn’t start. Homand wanted the men to squeeze into the remaining two cars, but the others balked. Likharev, their leader, said that it’d be too uncomfortable for twelve men to be squeezed into two cars for the three hour ride. He ordered them to get another car.
It wasn’t until 10:30 that a replacement was found. They started out, only to stop immediately because one of the hung over men barfed all over himself, his backseat companion, and the interior of the car. That caused his seatmate, also hung over, to do likewise. Because of the smell, nobody would ride in that car.
Homand had seriously contemplated shooting the two drunks. Likharev sent them home. Finally they managed to get another car. However its gas gauge read nearly empty. It took a while to find an open gas station on Thanksgiving, but by 11:30 they, now down to ten men, managed to get on the highway, only to have one of the cars get a flat tire.
To say the atmosphere was strained would be a considerable understatement, as the convoy entered Brindell proper. Likharev called the private investigator who was keeping tabs on Blumberg.
“Where the fuck have you guys been?” the detective said on answering the phone. “You was supposed to get here by noon.”
“We got delayed.”
“You coulda called. If I knew you was gonna be this late I coulda done some other stuff.”
“Listen shithead,” a none too happy Likharev said. “You’re being paid too much as it is for a simple job–to keep an eye on Blumberg. So. Do you know where the fuck he is? And the answer better not be no!”
“Don’t worry. I did my job. But they ain’t at the place I told you about on Tuesday. I followed them to this big fucking house about ten miles away.” He gave the address.
“Okay,” Likharev said. “You take off. We’ll take it from here.”
Likharev plugged the address into his GPS. When he and his men arrived, they saw a large mansion at the peak of a small hill, set back a ways off the road. It was located in the middle of three acres of cleared land, with a well-manicured lawn. No trees were near the house. The lawn was lit by flood lights on all sides. There was a circular driveway with three cars parked in front. Dense woods surrounded the land on three sides.
Likharev found a spot about a quarter-mile away where they could pull off the two lane road. They trudged back, making sure they weren’t visible from the house. Likharev detailed a man to locate the power and phone lines.
By the time the man returned it’d become fully dark. The temperature had dropped into the upper 30’s, and it was raining harder.
“You find it?” Likarev asked.
“Yeah, and we got a break,” the man replied. “The lines come off poles still in the woods and go underground. Be a piece of cake to cut them.”
“About fucking time something good happen,” Homand grumbled.
“Take the bolt cutters,” Likharev ordered. “Go back to the power and phone lines. When I call, cut the phone line first, then the power line. Soon as that’s done, join us in the front.”
Turning, he pointed to four men. He told one of them to watch the right side of the house, another the left, and the last two, the rear. Each should have a cell jammer, and should turn it on when he called.
“Shoot anyone trying to get away,” he said.
“When these guys are in position, I’ll give the signal,” Likharev said, looking at the remaining men. “The rest of us will charge the house. When we get close, we start shooting. We’ll use the C-4 to bust in the front door. Then we kill everyone. Don’t leave no witnesses. Possible that Blumberg is armed, so get him first.”
Jacob Huffman thought Courtney was kidding when she said her only worry about staying at her mother’s house during Thanksgiving vacation was that her mother would hit on him. But on meeting Lydia Steinman MD, he wasn’t so sure. He knew Lydia was 44, but she looked significantly younger. If he’d seen her on the street, he would’ve guessed early 30’s. Up close she looked a couple of years older, but still much younger than her actual age. Her jet black hair showed no gray roots. She had fine facial features and her skin was devoid of blemishes, at least the part he could see. And he could see quite a bit. She’d been showing more skin than he was comfortable seeing in his girlfriend’s mother. If that wasn’t enough, she had a terrific figure.
Courtney told him, with a mixture of pride and envy, that Lydia was the woman the teenaged boys ogled the most when they saw her in a bikini. Courtney also said her mother had been voted the boys’ number one MILF. On seeing her, Huffman could believe it.
When they first met, Lydia put her arms around him, pressed her body against his, and kissed him lingeringly on the lips. She insisted that he call her “Lydia” rather than “Dr. Steinman.” He could see Courtney grinning broadly at his evident discomfort, and even when Courtney later admitted she’d put her mother up to it, he was still uncomfortable whenever he and Lydia were alone.
Therefore Huffman was relieved when, on Thanksgiving morning, a man introduced as Scott Carmintz showed up. Carmintz was muscular, slightly over six feet, with thinning salt and pepper hair. Courtney said he’d been a “friend” of her mother for several years.
Huffman knew that Courtney’s grandfather, Stuart Renninger, was wealthy, but he’d still been impressed by both the man and his home. Renninger, bald, with a fringe of hair around the edges, was well into his 80’s, yet he stood erect and had a firm handshake. His home was a twenty room mansion. It was obvious the owner was very security conscious. The doors were steel reinforced, the first floor windows were barred, and all windows were made of bullet-resistant material nearly an inch thick.
Courtney saw Huffman looking at the bars on the windows, grinned, and said, “If you’re thinking my Grandpa is paranoid, you may be correct. The roof and the walls are made of flame-retardant material, he’s got spy holes for shooting on the second floor, and a bomb shelter in the basement with enough food and water to last a long time.”
About an hour after Huffman, Courtney, Lydia, and Carmintz arrived in Lydia’s Escalade, two more cars pulled into the driveway. David Steinman, Lydia’s ex and Courtney’s father, Jaime Kantor, David’s current wife, and their twin sons got out of one. Saul Blumberg, Mollie Nielsen, and their son got out of the other.
Courtney had said that Huffman would get a kick out of the way her mother and Nielsen interacted. The blonde Nielsen, the younger of the two, and the dark haired Lydia looked nothing alike, but both could be described as gorgeous. Huffman was reminded of a video he’d seen of two female lions meeting for the first time. Although everyone else was on a first name basis, Nielsen addressed Lydia as “Dr. Steinman,” and Lydia reciprocated with “Professor Nielsen,” as Nielsen was on the faculty of the local college.
The group was in the process of eating dinner, when there was a loud buzzing. “What’s that?” Nielsen asked.
“My intruder alarm,” Renninger replied, getting to his feet. “Local high school kids sometimes cut across my property to the woods. They have pot parties, drink beer, and screw. Probably nothing, but just in case, I’ll check my security cameras.”
“In the dark? In the rain? When it’s close to freezing?” Blumberg said, also standing up. “I hope you’re right, but I doubt it’s kids. Sorry Stuart. I may have led the bad guys here. Let me look at the cameras with you.”
“I’ll go also,” Carmintz said.
“I’m a former cop,” Blumberg said, implying that this was no job for amateurs.
“Scott’s an FBI agent,” Lydia said.
“Cut the phone line and the power line,” Likharev said into his cell. “Soon as the lights go out, start up the jammers. The guys on the sides and back, keep watch for someone trying to get away. The rest of us charge the house. We wanna hit it real quick, so they don’t got no chance to react. Bruno, soon as you’re close enough, throw that Molotov cocktail.”
“My pleasure!” Homand said.
About a minute later the lights went out. The man with cutting tools returned and the six gangsters sprinted toward the house.
“Shit,” Blumberg said, taking out his gun. “That big guy is Bruno Homand. I did lead the assholes here. They have a goddamned army. Call the police. You armed Scott?”
“Yeah,” Carmintz said, taking out a gun and checking the magazine. “But we’re outgunned and I have no cell signal. For sure they cut the phone lines.”
“Not so outgunned as you think,” Renninger said, grinning. “Follow me.” Turning to Courtney, who’d trailed along, he said, “Court, get Jaime, Mollie, and the kids to the bomb shelter. Then have everyone who can handle a gun come to my study. Hah! Who’s paranoid now! Nobody invades my house!”
“What if they break in while we’re in your study?” Carmintz asked, as Courtney sprinted back to the dining room.
“They won’t get in that easily,” Renninger replied. He was clearly enjoying himself.
“Mom!” Courtney yelled as she entered the dining room. “Some guys are gonna attack. Lead Jaime, Mollie, the kids, and Jake to the bomb shelter! I’ll bring the help. Everyone who can handle a gun head for Grandpa’s study!”
“Why should I be hiding if you’re not?” Huffman asked, his pride wounded.
“Have you ever fired a gun?” Courtney asked.
“Well, ah, no.”
“I have!” Courtney stated. “This is no time for macho bullshit! Don’t argue. Get going!”
As Blumberg, Carmintz, and Renninger entered the latter’s study, the lights went out.
“Crap,” Blumberg said. “We’re screwed.”
The attackers were about halfway to the house. Homand couldn’t conceal his glee. “Got you now, you bastard,” he yelled. “Teach you to break my nose!”
Suddenly the lights came back on, nearly blinding them. Startled, Homand heaved the Molotov cocktail, but it fell well short of the house. The fiery explosion did little more than scorch the grass.
“Fuck!” Homand roared. “They must have a backup generator.”
“Why’d you throw the firebomb before you was close enough?” Likharev yelled.
“Reflex,” Homand said, defensively. “We still got the C-4.”
“It don’t matter none, anyway,” Likarev said. “They probably figure the storm knocked out the power. Probably happens a lot. Why they got a backup generator in the first place. But even if they see us, so what? We break in the front door, shoot them. Done! Don’t hafta burn the place. Let’s go. Start shooting soon as we get close.”
“Just hold on a second,” Renninger said as the lights went out. A short time later the power came back on. “Back up generator. Has enough fuel to last several hours.”
“But we’re trapped here with only two guns,” Carmintz said. “Handguns at that. No signal to call for help. I saw a couple of them carrying sub-machineguns.”
“We have more than two guns,” Renninger said, leading them to a cabinet in the study. He opened the outer doors, took out a key, and opened an internal cabinet revealing a gun closet with more than fifty guns of various types. Blumberg just gaped, as Courtney, Lydia, and David ran into the study.
A smile appeared on Carmintz’s face as he pointed toward one of the guns. “A Thompson?”
“Yep,” Renninger said.
“Where’d you get it? Got ammo for it?”
“Was a souvenir from my army days,” Renninger said with a sly smile. “Wouldn’t have a gun without ammo.”
Renninger started handing out guns and giving orders as if he were an army master sergeant, which he’d been. “Lydia, take the left side of the house. Court, take the right side. I’ll take the rear with this rifle. Scott, you take the front with your new toy. Stay on the second floor where you’ll have a better field of fire. Saul and David, go downstairs in case they manage to break in. The floodlights will give a good view. We’ll have to hope we can hold them off until someone comes, since we can’t call out.”
“I have a satphone in my car,” Lydia said.
“It’s raining. That a problem?”
“Nope. No trees nearby and we’re on top of a hill.”
“David, you take the left side of the house,” Renninger said, changing assignments. “I’ll turn off the floodlights illuminating the front door. I’ll join Scott on the second floor with my scoped sniper rifle. We’ll forget the rear for now. We’ll keep them away from the front long enough for Lydia to dart out and make the call. Everyone got it?”
The mobsters started shooting as they neared the house. “Hey,” one of them yelled. “Them windows got bars, and the glass is cracking but it ain’t breaking. Nothin’ happening to the door. What the fuck?”
“Concentrate on the windows,” Likharev screamed. “We still got the C-4 for the door.”
Suddenly automatic fire came from the second floor, where Carmintz was using Renninger’s Thompson sub-machinegun. One of the attackers fell, screaming in pain. Three retreated quickly, but Homand and Likharev continued on.
“You guys,” Likharev shouted at the three retreating men, and pointing toward Carmintz. “Fire at that window. Get that guy to keep his head down. Me and Bruno will get inside and finish this!”
“Where the fuck they get a machinegun?” Homand screamed in frustration.
Just then the floodlights by the front door went out, and another shooter started shooting with deadly accuracy. Two more men fell, but Homand and Likharev were close enough that they were beneath the sightlines of the second floor shooters and not visible to Blumberg on the first floor.
Homand slapped the C-4 against the door lock, stuck in a detonator, ducked back, and pressed a button. The explosion blew open the door. Likharev entered with Homand right behind. Blumberg fired several rounds into Likharev, but then his gun clicked empty.
“Got you now, fucker,” Homand said, baring his teeth and advancing on Blumberg.
“I don’t think so,” a feminine voice said.
Homand whirled around, just as Lydia put two slugs into his body.