Title: Jokers Wild
Author: C. L. Kraemer
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1
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Four brothers raised in the Northwest.
Two choose to stay and pursue life in Oregon. Two are seduced by the promise of Hollywood.
Life throws the Palmer brothers an ugly curve when two are killed in preventable accidents. Even more upsetting is the lack of justice in the trials of the perpetrators.
The remaining brothers will find justice using a shared passion of all the participants--motorcycle poker runs.
The squeak of his teeth against each other reverberated in Joey's ears.
The plaintive cry brought his attention back to the moment. Kandace, Kandi, O'Connell ripped her hand from his, rubbing the appendage and pushing her bottom lip into a formidable pout.
"What the hell is wrong with you? You nearly crushed my fingers!"
He resumed glaring across the courtroom at the dapper figure vigorously shaking the lawyer's hand.
"Joey! What is your problem?" Kandi sidled up to the man, running her hand along his muscled arm.
He slowly pivoted her direction, staring in disbelief.
"Do you think he got what he deserved?"
The couple glanced at the defense table. Corey "Slide" Rigby grinned at the mob of young females clustered near the waist high, wooden retainer separating the spectator section from the main body of the courtroom. Bentley Wellington IV snapped his briefcase closed and looked up at the Hon. Scott Fournier, currently vacating the bench; few noticed the slight nod passing between the two.
Joey surveyed the growing mayhem in the courtroom.
"I need to get some fresh air." He powered through the writhing mass of humanity trying to grab the attention of the action adventure star and marched to the open colonnade.
Kandi scrambled to keep up with his strides, dodging the gauntlet of pushing cameramen and reporters shoving microphones in her face and shouting questions at her.
Joey steered them to the side of the building away from the media circus.
"Damned vultures." He reached around to his hip pocket and withdrew the round tin whose impression was permanently stamped on all the back pockets of his jeans. Twisting the lid, he snagged a pinch of brown flakes between his thumb and forefinger. Using his middle finger, he tucked the flakes inside his bottom lip.
"I really wish you'd give that up. It's disgusting." Kandi wrinkled her nose.
"I suppose your herb habit is any better?"
Kandi sniffed. "It's medicinal."
"Right, and I'm a virginal school girl."
The crowd in front of the building began buzzing until the sound engulfed the immediate area. Cameramen and reporters started spreading across the lawn and down the side corridors of the building, edging toward the couple.
"Must be the star making his appearance," Joey stepped off the concrete walkway onto the manicured lawn and peered at the building's facade. The wide sidewalk in front of the judicial edifice was a sea of reporters clutching microphones aimed in the direction of a podium.
When the action hero stepped up to the provided mike, multiple voices vied for the attention of the man.
The actor flashed his best on-screen smile to the mob and raised a hand.
"I'll get to all your questions--later. Right now I need to give credit where credit is due…"
Joey curled up one corner of his mouth and turned from the scene. A familiar form caught his attention, and he slowed his gait as he watched Bentley Wellington IV casually slip from the gathered insanity.
Odd. I've never seen him relinquish the limelight. He shadowed the lawyer, ducking behind the columns when the man glanced over his shoulder. As Bentley neared the main building, a side door swung open and Judge Fournier stepped into the breezeway. Joey darted to a pillar near the pair. He watched as the lawyer reached into an inner pocket of his suit coat and retrieved a bulging sealed envelope. He started to hand the packet to the judge, glancing Joey's direction.
Joey slipped behind the post, holding back a well chosen swear word.
"I believe this is yours. I found it in my briefcase this morning."
The crinkle of paper tickled Joey's ears. Another familiar voice reached him.
"Uh, oh, oh my. I'm so sorry."
Kandi. He couldn't help himself; he peeked around the support. She was rising slowly and handing the envelope to the Judge with one hand, her opened cell phone in the other.
"No problem, miss. What are you doing here?" The tone of the question was tinged with suspicion.
"Isn't this the door to the ladies' room?"
Joey stuck his crooked forefinger between his front teeth and resumed his hiding spot. He could imagine her big green eyes, luminescent in the refracted light of the windows as she ran her pink tongue over her plump melon tinged lips.
Silence permeated the moment.
One of the men cleared his throat.
"No, ma'am. The public entrance is back down the breezeway and to the right. I'm sure one of the reporters will be glad to direct you from there."
He could hear Kandi giggle. "I'm so directionally challenged. Thank you."
The click of her heels on the concrete echoed against the building. Joey held his position.
"Do you think she knows?" The voice sounded like the lawyer's.
"No. She's too dumb. Did you see her…assets?"
Joey ground his right fist into his left palm.
"Yeah. That'd sure look good on the back of my Fatboy."
Both men laughed and the tension filling the air dissipated.
"You doing the Jay Leno ride?"
"Naw. The in-laws are in town and I'm going to have to pretend to be a good husband."
"Better you than me. Maybe we can sneak in a quick ride to Donna's Hideaway on Sunday."
"I might be able to finagle my way free for the afternoon. I'll get hold of you by Sunday morning."
"Not too early. Unlike you, I have no wife…"
"…yeah, whatever. So I plan on hitting the clubs on Saturday night. Don't call before ten."
"It's going to take us a couple hours just to get there."
"Yep. That's why it's called a road trip."
The sound of footsteps ricocheted back to Joey, and he ventured to peek from behind his column.
He was about to walk toward the front of the building and locate Kandi when a pair of hands grabbed his side.
He snapped around, arm cocked, hand fisted.
Her eyes were wide and rounded, her face devoid of all color.
"Christ, Kandi. I nearly hit you!"
She wiggled her cell phone back and forth in front of him.
"I got pictures of the envelope," her sing-song announcement reminded Joey of his six year old nephew.
"Terrific. You have pictures of a white envelope stuffed with…"
"Money." Kandi closed her eyes. "My favorite."
"… strips of paper cut in the shape of dollar bills."
"WHAT?!" Kandi's eyes popped open.
Joey put his hand over her mouth and snugged her to him. "Shhh."
The two legal figures standing near the undulating crowd of reporters soon disappeared into the mass.
Joey peeked from behind his stanchion and swore under his breath. His gaze fell to the furious green eyes trying to burn a hole through his head.
"That's the story they would tell anyone who asked. You don't think they'll admit to an exchange of money? And face it, sweetheart, you're not a very reliable witness."
"OUCH!" He whipped his hand from her mouth. "That hurt!"
Kandi stepped away from him. "Then don't put it where it doesn't belong." She stomped toward the parking lot.
Joey caught up with her and slipped his hand through her arm, turning her to face him. He pulled her wiggling body to him and caught her lips beneath his own. The maneuver worked. He felt her relax.
Breaking off the kiss, he put his lips next to her ear. The floral smell of her shampoo tickled his nose and he pulled in the fragrance.
"Sorry, Babe. We just need to be smarter than they are."
She looked up into eyes brimming with pain and gently kissed his chin. "I know. We'll think of something."
"Right now, I'm in the mood for a road trip. Feel like going to Donna's?"
"I was hoping you'd want to ride. I traded shifts with Ally, so I don't have to be back to work for two glorious days."
The pair headed to the parking lot, avoiding the gaggle of television crews intent on getting the first scoop in the Alex Palmer vs. Corey Rigby wrongful death suit.
Joey swung his leg over the bike and backed it out into the street. Kandi stepped on the peg and flipped her leg over the backrest. Pushing the button to start the bike, Joey gave the throttle a full twist. The engine roared to life, echoing off the surrounding towering high-rises as the back tire spun in place filling the parking lot with billowing, acrid white smoke.
Recognizing the maneuver, Kandi wrapped her arms around Joey's waist and clinched shut her eyes.
The motorcycle screeched out of the lot, leaving a black rubber streak on the pavement. When the smoke cleared, the bike and its occupants were nowhere to be seen.
~ * ~
Corey Rigby stepped back from the microphone and searched the crowd for his lawyer. He stood at the podium alone. Cameras zoomed in to feature his pale, sweating face. Abruptly, he turned on his heel and disappeared into the courthouse.
The gauntlet had been slammed down with smoking force.
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