Outside the terminal at Lexington's Blue Grass Field, Jessie hunched her shoulders against the chilly air and hurried through the Hertz parking lot. It was beginning to get dark. The threat of rain released an occasional drop here and there. She glanced to the yellowish glow above the city. Laney was out there, alone and scared. The thought that she may not be, that she could be dead, sent her racing down the line of cars. She found the one assigned her, threw her carry on across the seat and got in. With the map the Hertz agent had given her still in her hands, she unfolded it and switched on the dome light. When she had called her answering service from Atlanta, Laney had left a message giving her the name and address of the restaurant where she would be. Jessie located Ester Street and committed to memory the route she would take.
Fifteen minutes later, she turned onto Ester Street and slowed. The neighborhood was rundown, frightening in the darkness. She gripped the steering wheel with both hands, nervously searching both sides of the street. Street lights cast dark shadows that clung to wino's who staggered in and out of narrow alleys. A group of raggedly clothed men were gathered on the sidewalk in front of a boarded up building with graffiti marred walls.
Driving at a crawl, she spotted the dirty fronted restaurant. A single bulb lit a narrow wooden sign where yellow and red paint peeled from the letters, Bonanza Bar and Grill. Relief filled her. She was finally there and Laney was inside. On the side of the building was another sign with an arrow that indicated parking in back. She drove down the driveway into a shadowy pit.
Motorcycles, trucks, and beat up jalopies were parked in the dark lot; Laney's silver Porsche parked next to them seemed to be inviting trouble. "Christ. Nowhere to park here." She rammed the car in reverse and backed up the driveway into the street, found a parking space several doors down. The palms of her hands were damp. The tightness in her chest arose as much from fear as from the anticipation of seeing Laney.
Under the yellowish glow of the overhead street lamp, she scanned the dark surroundings. Though she saw no one, the night air carried the sound of muddled voices and distant TV programs from dim lit squares of broken windows stacked up the sides of buildings. She hurried down the sidewalk toward the restaurant, imagining footsteps behind her. Just as she brought her head around from a quick glance over her shoulder, a man dressed in black stepped from the dark driveway into her path. Her breath caught.
"Ma'am," he said in a deep, dry voice, as he touched the brim of his white cowboy hat and stepped aside. The wide brim shadowed his face.
A chill ran over her. Under the circumstances, every stranger represented danger. This man may be one of the men looking for Laney. Her steps quickened for the restaurant's door.
Inside the rectangular room, the air was stale and filigreed with blue cigarette smoke. Thick country and western music whined from a jukebox that sat against the wall to her left. Lighted beer signs cast rings of moody sapphire blue light on the ceiling and on the smoke streaked mirror that hung behind the bar. Jessie's heart leaped when she spotted Laney in a booth at the back. She wanted to run to her, but instead stayed calm and walked briskly between the bar and tables, ignoring the vulgar comments of beer guzzling patrons.
Laney, her hair tucked under a blue baseball cap, lurched out of the booth and fell into Jessie's arms. They held each other for a long while, both quaking with emotion.
When Jessie could speak, she whispered, "God, it's so good to see you." She drew back and looked into a face so marked with terror that her legs felt they would give way. "Are you all right?"
Laney took in a shuddering breath. "I don't think I will ever be all right again." She eased onto the scuffed brown vinyl seat.
Jessie slid in across from her. The dim light of a Miller's beer sign hanging over the booth deepened the circles under Laney's eyes and made her look years older than twenty-one. She reached across the table and touched Laney's face. For eleven terrifying hours Jessie had thought she would be okay once she saw Laney, held her, but she wasn't. If anything, she was more terrified.
A waitress approached. "I see your friend finally made it," the girl said, looking from Laney to Jessie and back. "Would you like some more coffee?"
"Thanks, but I think I've had my fill of coffee, something stronger." Laney removed the baseball cap and shook out her long blonde hair. "A couple of Coors would be good."
Jessie squeezed Laney's hand. "I should call Cameron. I'll explain everything to him. Maybe he has a contact he can trust at the Bureau here."
The waitress brought the beers and for the next fifteen minutes, Laney went over what she'd told Jessie over the phone this morning. She took a drink of beer, then reached for the newspaper lying on the seat beside her and laid it on the table. Laney touched her finger to the girl's picture. "This is Connie," Laney said, her mouth quivering. "The man is Judge Richard Blanton."
"I'm so sorry, Laney. I know how much Connie meant to you." Guilt weighed heavily on Jessie. Months ago when she first began to worry about Laney, why hadn't she pushed harder for more information about her new boyfriend, her new friends? She choked down the lump in her throat and tried to smile. "Stop worrying. We need to get you somewhere safe."
"There's some out of the way motels outside Paris, about sixteen miles." Laney closed her hands around Jessie's. "I'm sorry, Jess. I'm so sorry."
is each other. There is nothing in this world I wouldn't do for you. I love you more than you could even imagine. I'll always be here for you. Now, don't worry. Everything will be all right. As soon as we get to a motel we'll call Cameron." She gave Laney's hands an assuring squeeze. "Come on, we'll leave your car and go in my rental."
A tall large man who stood in front of the bar yelled out, "Listen up." He looked about the room. "Which one of you is driving the silver Porsche?"
Jessie and Laney's eyes shot to him. Breathless, they froze.
The man took a few wobbly steps farther down the bar and bellowed, "You've got my motorcycle blocked in. Whoever you are, I suggest you get your highfaluting ass out there and get that piece of shit out of my way."
The bartender shoved a beer in his tattooed hand. "Calm down, Zack. In your condition you need more than two wheels under you."
"How 'bout I put you under me?" he said, weaving slightly.
Laney let out a held breath. "Come on, Jess, let's move my car before he comes out." Jessie threw a twenty on the table and followed Laney out the front door and down the driveway to the corner of the building.
Jessie watched Laney run to her car and get in. The interior lights came on, then she heard the Porsche's motor catch, then sputter. Maybe the car had hit empty. She started to go to her and tell her to just leave it when the motor caught and the headlights came on.
The car began to move forward. A second later it exploded, blasting Jessie to the ground. She screamed, her head snapping to the car to see the Porsche flip in a perfect somersault, then slam to the ground. The roof burst open, doors flew free from their hinges, wheels launched from their axles and tumbled across the sky. She could not hear herself screaming for Laney, but she knew she was. Fiery debris raining down on her, Jessie shielded her face with her arm and started for car. Something solid struck her head, knocking her to the pavement. Almost to her feet, a second explosion knocked her back down. Heat prickled her skin. She tried to get up, but was too weak. Flames ignited another car. She heard panicked voices, shouting. People were running down the drive, out the back door of the dive, everywhere. Two men attempted to advance toward her, but the heat pushed them back.
"Somebody get her out of there," a female voice shouted.
"She's going to die," another said.
Then she felt arms lifting her. She could not make out a face, only the blur of a white hat. Unconsciousness threatened to overtake her. Was the man the same one she had seen on the sidewalk? Somewhere in the deepening dark void she heard sirens and horns. Her eyes fluttered, then closed.
When she came to, the attending hand of a fireman was on her forehead. His voice sounded far away. "It looks to me like a bomb," she heard him say.
"Laney," she screamed. "Where's Laney?" She fought against his restraint, tried to pull herself from the pavement. "Let me go."
The fireman held onto her. "Was she the person in the car?"
Jessie could only nod.
"I'm sorry, Miss."
Jessie's knees buckled. At that moment, she wanted to close her eyes and die. The fireman eased her back to the ground. "An ambulance is on the way," he said. He said she was hurt, but she didn't feel the pain.
Through blinding tears, Jessie saw people being held at a distance. Was Laney's killer among them, watching? Hate swelled inside her. Somehow, she would find him and make him pay. A thought jolted her. She must leave. Now, before the police came. Before anyone knew who she was.
When the fireman left to get more gauze from his truck, Jessie staggered to her feet. She stumbled, dizzily, hate driving her. She pushed past the onlookers and ran up the driveway to the street. At her car, she fumbled for the keys in her purse the strap still anchored over her shoulder, found them, but dropped them when she tried to unlock the door. Her head spun. She grabbed onto the car until the dizziness passed, then she snatched up the keys and unlocked the door.
She dropped her head against the steering wheel, sobbing. If only Laney had left the car where it was. She beat the wheel with her fists. "Why? Why?" she screamed, her eyes focused on the fiery blaze rising above the restaurant.
Hearing sirens, she glanced over her shoulder out the back window and saw the blue rotating lights of a police car speeding down the street. She turned on the ignition, pressed her foot to the floor and recklessly sped off just ahead of them.
As she drove without thought as to where she was going, tears blurred the lights of oncoming traffic. She drove for what seemed miles. In the rearview mirror, the city lights were gone, the orange blaze still visible. Ahead, a reflective sign indicated a sharp curve. Too dead inside to feel fear, she kept her foot on the gas. The car cornered, fish tailing as she gunned the accelerator.
Nothing in this world would keep her from finding whoever murdered Laney, and when she did, nothing in the whole world would keep her from killing him with her own bare hands.
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