SHORTS FROM THE SHELF features short serialized fiction by author Shannon Muir, administrator of SHANNON MUIR’S THE PULP AND MYSTERY SHELF, that may be later released as part of e-book or print collections. The story line featured currently the first of the two part “Taking One For the Champ”. Part Two will run next Saturday, June 8th, 2019.
“Champ?” he asked, concerned. “You ok?”
“Yeah,” she sighed heavily. “I think so. Hoping it’s just something I ate.”
“Maybe it’s the caseload. If you want to take time off until she’s born, I’ll pay anything you need. You’ve got a month to go at best. They tell me these things aren’t always precisely on schedule.”
“You can’t afford someone else to help you.”
“Then I’ll do it on my own.”
She struggled to get up from her chair, eight months big on a fairly small frame.
“No you won’t. That’s why you hired me in the first place.”
“And then knocked you up. Some boss I am.”
“We both nearly died, J.B., and stress and fear led us to make a mutual choice. Human nature does crazy things. Believe me, I’ve seen it.”
She rubbed her belly. J.B. longed to do that, to feel his first and probably only child kick. Yet, he didn’t dare.
“I refuse to call it a bad choice,” she said. “Maybe an inconvenient one.”
“That’s how I feel, too,” he agreed.
The phone rang. J.B. picked up the phone. Before he could even give the agency’s name, someone spoke.
“I know she’s there with you.”
A young female voice spoke on the other end of line, filled with threat and rage.
J.B. looked over at Champ. He’d known a lot about her life before hiring her, more than he’d shared. He related to her because his investigations found her to have survived her own sort of hell, and he wanted to give this brilliant young girl a chance the way he would any fellow vet. That’s why he hated himself so much for what he’d let happen to this young lady, whom from the minute he’d brought her on board just kept calling her Champ. She thought it to be just a nickname but it would be his way of cheering her on through living every day.
“You’re correct about that,” he responded, not wanting to clue the young woman in that someone on the phone asked about her. At eighteen, she’d basically disconnected from all her family. He had no idea who might be looking for her, yet he knew when he met her she’d been running from something.
“Imagine how she’d feel knowing that you’ve been hiding things from her.”
“I’m aware of it every day,” he told the person on the other end.
“What happens if someone beats you to it? It’ll destroy what trust she has left in you, after what you did to her.”
J.B. wanted to give the caller a piece of his mind, but he didn’t dare let say anything that might stress Champ. He feared her going into labor early.
“Do you want to meet and discuss this?”
He tried his best to make it sound like he was on a call for a business lead.
“Only if you come alone, old man.”
The female voice gave him a time and a place for them to meet up.
“I will see you there,” he spoke as if guaranteeing a meeting to a client, as he heard the caller hang up.
“What was that, J.B.?”
“A, um, new potential client. Due to the nature of the issue, we need to meet in person.”
“You think this call’s legit, J.B.?”
“I can see why you’d be concerned, Champ.”
“I’m always afraid calls like this are a setup,” she said. “I’m not letting you go alone.”
“Hey there, Champ! That’s our daughter you’re talking about putting in the line of fire.”
The word our felt alien on his tongue. He’d seen himself a single bachelor for life. Not that be and Champ would get married, but kids created a bond in their own way.
“I’ll drive you at least.”
“I’d rather you went back home,” he told her.
The caller strongly said for him to be alone.
“I’ll take you to Rampart and Chelsa’s first,” J.B. responded. He knew Champ said that to try to force his hand to let her go along. “I’m not a fan of your friends Rampart and Chelsa, but at least you wouldn’t be alone if something happened and you needed to get to the hospital.”
“You’re pretty serious if you want to leave me with Rampart and Chelsa. Okay, then, I’ll do what you want.”
After dropping Champ off, J.B. went to the address he’d been given on the phone, an old abandoned industrial area of the city not yet touched by any sort of gentrification revival. Many decades earlier, hopes of a new age dawned as cars rolled off assembly lines, and other factories churned out the latest desired innovations. Now, all those hopes and dreams lay fenced in by temporary metal chain links and covered with layer after layer of gang graffiti.
“Took you long enough to get here, old man.”
J.B. turned at the sound of the voice.