Written by Katherine Tomlinson
Illustrated by Mark Satchwill
Shannon was worried sick about Liam.
She’d been promised police protection for him but after a drive-by shooting on his school’s playground, the principal had asked her to teach Liam at home “until the dust settles.” She couldn’t really blame the principal, three kids and a teacher had been wounded and one of the kids had been paralyzed from the waist down.
So she’d made arrangements to home-school her son, borrowing tons of books from the library and searching the internet for lesson plans.
Liam had been a good student before the shooting but now getting him to focus on anything for more than five minutes was a struggle. He was anxious and hyper-vigilant and complained of stomach aches and headaches. He’d never needed a night light, even as a toddler, but now he refused to go to bed unless all the lights were on.
She and Liam had moved into Barbara’s apartment behind the motel’s office, which offered a little more security than the flimsy door of their old room, but not much.
Shannon had called a locksmith to install extra dead bolts on the door connecting their apartment to the main office, but had sent the locksmith home when she saw his Hispanic features and the tats that sleeved his arms.
She’d told him she was sorry, but that she’d had a cash flow problem and offered to pay him for his drive-time and gas.
He’d been surprisingly nice about it, which had made her feel guilty.
She’d quit her day job when Liam inherited the motel, the income from the rentals being $100 more a month than she’d brought in before. She kept up the medical transcription gig, though, because she could do it at home and look after Liam and the needs of the guests at the same time.
Not that guest services was a big part of the motel experience. There was no maid ser vice—guests were responsible for dumping their own trash.
They got clean towels and sheets once a week, but if they washed the linens themselves, they got a little bit taken off their rent.
Like Barbara, she turned a blind eye to the illegal hot plates and slow cookers plugged into the wall sockets in the tiny bathrooms. But like Barbara, she kept an eye on the people she knew were slobs, posting little notices about not leaving food out lest roaches move in.
She also kept an eye on Nori, a teenage girl she suspected of being a runaway who often entertained male visitors for a couple of hours at a time. But Nori kept a low-pro and the only real problem she’d ever caused was once when her pot dealer came around looking to barter his goods for her services.
The guy in the unit next to Nori, Kevin Eastman, was a recovering addict who had no problem confronting the “businessman” in the parking lot. Shannon hadn’t seen the pot dealer again. She had thanked Kevin and he had ducked her gratitude, saying only that he didn’t think the kids who lived at the motel should have to worry about druggie scum hanging around.
He asked her often how Liam was doing. He was a vet of the Gulf War and recognized PTSD when he saw it.
He’d told Shannon how sorry he was the boy had been caught in the middle of things and he’d praised him for being so brave.
He seemed to think it was a good thing that Barbara had left the motel to Liam. “Maybe something good can come out of something bad,” he’d said.
“I’ll pray for you both,” he’d added.
The other guests, some of whom had been at the motel longer than she and Liam, were jealous as hell about her son’s inheritance, and suggested that maybe Barbara had been a lesbian and Shannon had serviced her in return for favors.
They didn’t care if Shannon heard the gossip.
“Don’t listen to them,” Kevin Eastman had said.
Shannon didn’t care that much about what they said about her but she didn’t like Liam exposed to their nasty tongues.
If she could have come up with a legal reason to evict the haters, she would have.
Especially since the nasty remarks about prostituting herself hit too close to home.
She’d once traded sexual favors for car repairs and while the guy had been decent about it, she had been so consumed with self-loathing that she’d never been able to go back to the gas station, even though it was the one closest to the motel.
Liam didn’t really talk about Barbara much but she knew he missed her. The bitter old woman had been the closest thing he’d ever had to a grandmother and he’d soaked up her attention like a thirsty paper towel.
Shannon did not want her son to testify against the shooter, who’d been identified as a shot-caller for a gang called the Burbank Trece Rifa. When the cops first used the phrase “shot caller,” she thought they were saying “shock collar” and she’d been puzzled.
When the DA defined the term for her, she was still confused. The way she understood it, the “shot callers” were the ones who gave the orders, not the guys who actually got blood on their hands. She’d asked him about that and his answer had been chilling.
“He missed the juice,” the DA had said. “And this one was personal.” The kid he’d killed had been his nephew, Shannon had learned. The shooter had suspected him of working with the cops.
“Was he?” Shannon had asked.
The DA had shrugged. “Yeah. Someone dropped the ball there,” he’d admitted.
It had not been an answer calculated to instill confidence.
“My son is not testifying,” she’d said.
“If Liam doesn’t testify, we got no case,” he’d replied. “Your son can help us put away a real bad guy.”
“They said they would kill him,” Shannon said.
“They’re trying to intimidate you,” the DA said.
“They’re succeeding,” Shannon said.
The DA had sighed then.
“Nothing is going to happen to Liam,” he’d said.
Two hours later a couple of big guys in suits had shown up at the motel. “The DA sent us,” the first one said. “I’m Marshal Sullivan and this is Marshal Altieri.”
“We’re here to protect Liam,” Altieri said and then added as an afterthought, “and you.”
Shannon had introduced them to Liam as “friends,” and he seemed to accept their presence without much surprise.
The two men traded off shifts for the next two weeks, Sullivan sitting in the motel lobby during the day and Altieri spending the nights lounging on the couch in Barbara’s apartment, watching dvds with Liam until he went to bed and then working on his laptop as mother and son slept.
Shannon found it surprisingly easy to sleep with a stranger in her space. She’d forgotten how nice it was to have a man in the house.
On the morning Liam was to make his first appearance in court, Shannon dressed him up like a little man in a suit she’d found at a thrift shop.
“He’s a handsome kid,” Sullivan had told her as he bundled them into a black SUV.
“And brave too,” he’d added.
He’d touched her arm lightly then. “You’ve raised a little hero,” he said. “You should be very proud.”
Shannon had nodded, not trusting herself to say anything.
At the courthouse, the marshals had by-passed the screening but she had set off the alarms somehow.
“We’ll meet you upstairs,” Altieri said and he and Sullivan had walked off with Liam between them, looking very small.
The minute they turned the corner out of sight, Shannon started to panic.
She cleared the security scanner and ran down the hallway without retrieving her purse, hoping to catch the men before they got onto an elevator.
She was hyperventilating before she reached the bank of elevators and there was an alarmed bailiff trailing her.
“My son,” she gasped out, “they took him!”
The bailiff’s anxious look turned to one of alarm.
“Who took him?” she asked.
“The marshals,” Shannon said, punching the UP button on the nearest elevator.
“You need to calm down, ma’am,” the bailiff said, signaling one of the nearby cops for help.
The bailiff reached for Shannon and she drew back.
The cop closed in.
Shannon took a deep breath, trying to calm herself.
Before she could exhale, a tall blonde woman wearing a skin tight skirt suit in a shocking shade of orange glided up next to her and took her arm.
Shannon was so shocked to see her mother that she didn’t even resist.
“I’m so sorry,” Maeve said to the bailiff and the cop, “my daughter has been under a great deal of stress lately.”
The cop and the bailiff hesitated.
“It’ll be all right,” she said and gave them both the big smile that had won her the title of “Miss Henrico County” back in 1979.
The Bailiff had given Maeve a hard look—women always distrusted her southern charm—but the cop backed off right away, glad not to have been drawn into what was obviously a volatile situation.
“Your little boy?” she’d asked.
“He’s fine,” Maeve had said firmly. “His mother is a bit of a drama queen.”
She’d turned to Shannon then and given her a smile meant for show, a smile full of motherly fondness with a touch of despair.
“Let’s go Shannon,” she said.
She kept her grip on Shannon’s arm, her manicured fingernails biting through the thin fabric of Shannon’s blouse.
No, no, no, no, Shannon howled in her mind and then, when others in the hallway looked up, realized she’d screamed aloud.
“Stop making a scene,” her mother hissed.
The elevator opened onto the floor housing the criminal court and Shannon nearly sobbed with relief when she saw Liam sitting on one of the benches, bookended by the two marshals.
Liam saw her and waved happily, then stopped in confusion as he saw the woman in the shockingly orange suit.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m your grandmother,” Maeve said.
“I don’t have a grandmother,” he said and glanced at Shannon for corroboration.
“Oh you poor boy,” she said as she swooped down like a vulture to engulf him in a hug.
“Take your hands off him,” Shannon said, knowing even as the words left her mouth that she sounded crazy.
Sullivan raised his eyebrows. Maeve pouted in his direction, playing out a part.
“Grandma’s here now and she’s going to take good care of you.”
She looked back over her shoulder at Shannon and her eyes had a triumphant gleam.
Shannon’s heart sank and she could barely hear her mother’s next words over the pounding blood in her temples.
“We’re going to have such fun while I’m here.”