Julia Morrell Waters is not a patient woman. Less than five minutes after I open her note welcoming me to the Fifth Column, some guy holding a pizza box starts banging on Katherine’s door. A message on the same stationery as her welcome note is taped to the top of the box: Max will bring you to me. Go out the back. Climb the fence and he will pick you up one street over. Come alone. JMW.
The pizza box is empty—yes, Connor checked before he handed it to me—but the car out front has a Valenzia’s sign slapped on the top, so the Fifth Column has done their homework. It’s certainly not the first time Valenzia’s Pizza has pulled up to the house at this hour. But the guy they sent—Max, I guess—seems closer to a linebacker or a bouncer than a pizza guy.
“She’s not going alone,” Connor tells him.
Max’s eyes look like they’re going to pop out of his head. He jerks the box from Connor, pulls a pen out of his pocket, and scrawls the word bugged!!! on the back of the note. He shoves it toward me, then points to the kitchen and the patio door beyond, as though the matter is settled.
It’s not. I snatch his pen and write: Still not coming alone.
Trey looks at Katherine, who is still on the sofa, and then at Connor. They both nod. Then he taps his chest and points to me.
Max takes two menacing steps toward me, and judging from his expression, I’m pretty sure he’d have tried to sling me over his shoulder if not for the fact that Connor and Trey both move toward him at the same time. I kind of wish they hadn’t. This guy needs an attitude adjustment, and being flipped onto his back by a girl half his size would be a step in the right direction.
And he’s obviously not thinking things through. Julia’s instructions say for me to go out the back. If anyone is watching the house, they’d find it very suspicious if the pizza guy returned to his car with a passenger, especially one fighting him every step of the way.
Daphne has clearly picked up on the vibe in the room. She barks again, and as soon as Katherine lets go of her collar, she takes up position next to me, growling softly.
Max shakes his head like we’re being totally unreasonable, then reaches for something in his pocket. Daphne growls again. “Hold back your dog, okay? I need to call the office and see what happened with your order.”
I kneel down and put one arm around Daphne. She relaxes slightly but keeps her eyes on him.
We wait. Finally he says into the phone, “They say they ordered two. Not just the one.”
Max listens for a moment, then looks at the four of us—five, counting Daphne—and says, “No, I don’t think that’s gonna work . . . Okay . . . yeah.”
He stashes the phone back in his pocket. “Two it is. I’ll be back with the other pizza shortly.”
Connor says, “Sure. No problem. But we get a freebie, right? Since you messed up the order?”
Max rolls his eyes. “I’ll ask my boss.” He gives me a long stare, looks toward the kitchen door again, and then he’s gone.
Trey and I follow the directions on the note and sneak out the back. We hop the fence and squeeze through the neighbor’s cypress hedge, and we see the Valenzia’s car waiting at the curb. Max is on the phone again, keeping an eye out for us through the open driver’s side window.
The car is an old red junker. I think it used to be a cab because it’s got one of those partitions between the front and rear seats. After we get in, Max turns around and looks through the opening. “Okay, here’s how it’s gonna go. You can ride with her, but you’re gonna have to wait in the car when she goes in. Security reasons.”