Or so I thought.
I tried to duck ‘n weave but she was real mad at me. She grabbed both my arms and stared into my eyes. ‘Where’s my sister, Shayne? I’ll friggin’ kill you.’
I shook my head – wished I hadn’t – thought she must be hallucinating, but the entrance door shut and Smokin’ Joe was right behind me. He gave my shoulder a squeeze – the squeeze that told me to keep my mouth shut.
‘Hold on there … We’ll find Clarissa.’
I blinked. Kinda told her, huh…?
Ginny was holding on all right. My arms ached as she turned her attention to him.
‘What’s that supposed to mean? You called the cops?’
Smokin’ Joe looked like he was struggling with words. ‘It … won’t … help.’
Ginny’s voice became louder. ‘Why not?’
A winning smile from Mr. Muscles. ‘Trust me.’
It didn’t cut the mustard. Ginny shook me off like a discarded dishrag. ‘Trust you? … Both of you got my sister in this mess … now’s she’s been abducted or worse … and you want me to do nothing?’
It had gone too far. I held up my hands. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Smokin’ Joe has been trying to protect you … trying to protect me …I’m sorry … Clarissa’s dead.’
Ginny’s mouth opened; then closed. Her eyes shot between Smokin’ Joe and me as if seeking a denial. It wasn’t on offer.
I caught her when she fainted.
‘Now you’ve gone and done it,’ said Smokin’ Joe, shaking his head at me. ‘Might as well put on handcuffs and turn ourselves in.’
Seeing Smokin’ Joe so low, hit me harder than I realized. It was my wakeup call.
‘No,’ I said again, as we carried Ginny into the diner and laid her on the lounger. ‘Le Chef’s going to fry for everything he’s done to me … to us … to Janet, and to Ginny. I might be down, but I’m not out.’
I saw the light change in Smokin’ Joe’s eyes. Maybe he thought he’d staked a winner after all – it seemed like he now had belief in me. That I could go all the way.
If Le Chef had underestimated me – he had made a mistake...
…‘I think Clarissa contacted Le Chef, told him where I hung out … he ambushed me and killed her to stop her talking … maybe she was in the way … maybe he wanted to make sure I got sent down for good … who knows?’ I sipped at my coffee – took another glance at Ginny through the kitchen hatch. Amos was with her, and she seemed out for the count, but I kept my voice low. ‘He took my cell phone and all the documents in my backpack …rummaged around inside the Dodge … thought he’d tied up every loose end.’
Smokin’ Joe grinned at me. ‘You got nuthin’ of value in that rust-heap, brah.’
I grinned back for the first time in a long while. ‘Except my camera charger plugged into the lighter socket - he missed that.’
Or did he?
I wasn’t going to wait to find out. We had to be proactive – and I needed Ginny’s help.
She started to stir, and I heard her moan. Amos dabbed a damp cloth at her face.
Her voice was weak. ‘Where am I?
I heard Amos comforting her – I furrowed my brow and shot a warning glance at Smokin’ Joe.
He held up a hand to pacify me. ‘Don’t you worry, none. Amos is like family … been with me longer than my pa … hell, he is my pa.’
I started to feel a little better; we had another person on our side but Ginny was another matter. I decided to play one card at a time.
She turned her head as I approached.
I could imagine what must have been going through her head, and none of it would be good.
‘Clarissa,’ she said between clenched teeth - it told me I’d better have a damn good explanation - or else.
‘We were ambushed. I got knocked out … all I know is that the killer put her body in the trunk of my Dodge.’
‘Where is she?’
I pointed at the kitchen exit. ‘In the garage.’
Ginny looked at me as if I was insane – shrank away from me.
Smokin’ Joe butted in. ‘Ginny … it’s true.’
Ginny pushed herself up. ‘I don’t believe you. Show me.’
‘Don’t do that,’ I said. ‘Clarissa has been beaten-up real bad.’
Tears started to fall down Ginny’s cheeks. She hugged herself, like a little girl lost. ‘Who would want to hurt Clarissa? Please tell me it’s not true.’
When she became more composed, she bit her lip. ‘I have to see for myself.’
In the garage she took one look at Clarissa’s body and began to scream.
I felt exactly the same.
Smokin’ Joe whispered something to Amos. Next thing I knew Ginny was sedated and Amos took us both back to the lounger in the kitchen while Smokin’ Joe attended to the body.
‘Clarissa’s wrapped up good and proper in the freezer,’ he said on his return.
Like a frozen turkey.
Only one thing I could do if we were ever going to enlist Ginny.
She had to see Janet.