jumped and instinctively stepped in front of Cody as a dark figure in a
trenchcoat and fedora moved menacingly towards them.
Jons couldn’t make out the species, but the build and voice suggested
are you looking for?” he asked.
who are you?”
ferret thought he saw the gleam of a weapon as the coat shifted to reveal a
muscular torso. Gasping, he shoved
the girl towards the bar as hard as he could. “Cody, run!”
saw a flash of orange and heard the faint scurrying of feet on the pavement.
The attacker ignored her and Jons didn’t dare look to see where she
take a ride.”
I really think you’ve got the wrong guy. Here…”
He made as if to reach into his pocket, but the attacker drew and aimed a
gun at him.
Jons noted that it was a Colt .45 and he felt a flash of real fear.
he said. “Okay, just take it easy,
in the truck.”
don’t think so.”
the distance between them, Crabtree grabbed the front of Jons’s shirt and
shoved him bodily towards the car blocking his truck, gun pressed into his
boss isn’t happy with you, LeRoux. He
thinks you need to be… taken out of the picture.”
He shoved Jons hard. “Now,
the quavering voice, they turned to see the girl standing in the open doorway,
butcher knife clenched in one shaking hand.
bear just laughed. “Sweetheart, if
you knew what was good for you, you’d go back inside and play with your
face paled, but she didn’t back down.
Cody!” Jons ordered, wondering why she’d grabbed a knife when she knew he
had perfectly good guns in the living room.
chance,” she told Crabtree. “L—l—let
else?” the man mocked her. “What
are you gonna do, sweetheart? Carve
me up like a Thanksgiving turkey?”
was shaking harder now and she didn’t say anything.
Jons saw her hand go back and the next thing he knew, he was jerked
forward and there was a sharp pain in his thigh. Too shocked to make a sound, he
stared dumbly at the knife protruding from his leg as he heard Cody’s shriek
assailant simply laughed and tossed Jons aside.
The bartender crumpled to the ground as his leg gave way, but immediately
tried to force himself to his feet. Cody
looked panicked as the man advanced on her.
didn’t think so,” he said, reaching for her.
his hand closed around her arm, Sam’s training kicked in.
Swallowing her panic, she twisted away from him, breaking free before he
could get a good grip on her. He
looked mildly amused and reached for her again, but this time, she was ready for
it and danced just out of reach, adrenaline coursing through her, ridding her of
immobilizing fear. Her eyes darted
around, taking inventory of her surroundings.
She had to get him to trip over a trashcan—anything to get the gun from
don’t have time for this.” Impatiently,
he brought the gun up.
Jons had managed to drag himself over to the two and he slammed into the
assassin’s legs, knocking him off his feet.
The gun flew from his hands and spun across the pavement towards the
shadowy area around the trashcans. Jons
strained to reach the gun, but Crabtree swept his arms wide, knocking Cody off
her feet and blocking Jons’s grasp. He
didn’t waste time on Cody. Instead,
he pinned Jons to the ground and impatiently slugged him across the temple,
making the bartender see stars. For
good measure, the assassin slammed the knife further into the man’s thigh and
Jons screamed in agony.
paled, but grabbed the gun and skittered to just out of reach.
Knowing the man was incapacitated for the moment, Crabtree lunged for the
girl, determined to knock her unconscious so that he could finish off Jons.
He gripped her ankle and yanked. Yelping,
she crashed to the ground, her head colliding with the pavement.
While she was dazed, he quickly got to his knees and grabbed her by the
throat as he snatched the gun from her and stuffed it into his waistband.
a grunt, he lurched to his feet, pinning her arms to her chest so that she
couldn’t struggle as he went to the car. He
held her under one arm, ignoring her weakly aimed kicks as he rummaged around
the backseat. “Thought I’d need
this for him.”
he hogtied the girl and looped and knotted the rope around the steering wheel
for good measure. Cody bit him, but
he merely cursed and slapped her.
he muttered. “Don’t know why
that crazy doctor wants you so bad.”
went utterly still, eyes wide and color drained from her face.
Then, as he turned his back, she began to struggle in earnest.
Not going back! Ever!
heard Crabtree muttering and when she looked out the door, she didn’t see Jons
anywhere. Her heart leapt.
Did that mean he’d gotten away? Maybe
he’d managed to get one of his guns.
she heard Crabtree’s amused voice. “There you are.
Let’s get this over with.”
she blinked back tears and returned her attention to ineffectually tugging at
the ropes binding her to the steering wheel, all the while waiting for the
never came. Suddenly, the car
you hold still?” Crabtree sounded exasperated, but still there was no
was going on out there? Was Jons
fighting back? If so, why couldn’t
she hear any punches or cries of pain? And
how was he able to fight back when he was so badly injured?
When she realized there was no way she could loosen the ropes, she went
into a blind panic which escalated as the car rocked again.
she began to chew on the ropes with all the ferocity of a trapped wild thing.
She didn’t see Crabtree’s shadow pass across the back of the car or
hear him muttering under his breath as he stalked to the driver’s side.
that!” He charged forward and grabbed her muzzle.
She bit him again. “Ow!”
he looked at her with fire in his eyes and she shrank into herself as he roughly
untied her from the steering wheel and threw her hard onto the floorboard.
little… just as soon run you both over,” he muttered as he jammed the
key into the ignition and started the car.
he was reaching to shut the door, Jons grabbed his arm and pulled hard.
Crabtree nearly lost his balance, but caught himself on the steering
wheel and jerked back. With gritted
teeth, Jons used his whole weight to anchor himself to the ground.
gun in Crabtree’s waistband caught Cody’s eye.
it! Get it now!
the two men struggled, she wiggled and contorted herself until she’d managed
to get back onto the seat. Awkwardly,
she reached for the gun. It took her
several tries to get it. As soon as
it cleared the waistband, Crabtree turned around and roared, “I’ll beat
you bloody, you miserable brat!”
Jons hanging desperately onto one arm, he released the steering wheel to knock
she closed her eyes, pulled the trigger, and yelled, deafened as the report rang
the smoke cleared, she found herself shoved painfully against the far door,
knees against her chin and her arms over her head.
Gasping, she dropped the gun and sat up.
Crabtree’s unmoving form lay halfway out of the car.
Her voice was high, almost shrill.
was no answer. Whimpering, she
rolled onto her side and maneuvered herself as far as she could toward the
driver’s side, taking care not to touch the body.
She saw Jons’s head first. He
was sitting up, staring wide-eyed at the body.
Her inexpertly aimed shot had been at such close range that missing would
have been impossible. As it was, the
bullet had torn through Crabtree’s neck, severing the jugular.
stayed that way for several long minutes, until the back door flew open and
Buckteeth and Tony burst into the alley. They
skidded to a stop and gaped, mouths open at the scene before them.
Their boss sat, frozen, beneath a man with a ruined neck.
Blood dripped from the body to spread across the dirty pavement in thick,
dark pools. Suddenly repulsed the
bartender violently twisted away from the dead man and tried to stagger to his
feet. His injured leg wouldn’t
hold his weight and he grimaced and slumped back to the ground.
that, Buckteeth and Tony started forward.
happened?” Buckteeth demanded.
number,” the younger man said through clenched teeth.
got to get you inside. Tony, help
me out of here!”
Cody’s shriek, they glanced into the car to see the girl lying on her side on
the front seat, tied hand and foot.
Are you okay?” Immediately,
Buckteeth raced to the other side, opened the door, and untied the girl.
She slithered to the ground and he grabbed her arms to pull her upright
as he checked her for injuries. Thankfully,
she appeared unscathed and he enveloped her in a tight embrace.
she demanded. “Where’s Jons?
don’t know,” Buckteeth said grimly. Together,
they went to Jons, who leaned heavily against Tony.
with pain, the bartender glanced at her. “You
she saw the blood staining nearly his whole leg, she was horrified.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jons! I’m
sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t
grunted. “Teeth, give me a hand
the two of them, they managed to carry Jons into his apartment with Cody
nervously following. They sat him on
a kitchen chair.
why don’t you wait in the living room?” Buckteeth suggested when he noticed
the girl hopping anxiously from one foot to the other.
went into the living room and perched on the edge of the sofa while Buckteeth
cut off the leg of Jons’s pants and boxers to assess the damage.
look too bad.”
for you to say.” Jons grunted with pain as Buckteeth began to clean the wound.
“I could use a drink.”
jumped off the couch and grabbed his arm as he hurried past.
will be.” Tony didn’t stop to
chat. He ran towards the bar,
puffing from the unaccustomed exercise. She
caught up to him easily.
saved his bacon, kiddo.” He
grabbed a half-empty bottle off the shelf and shoved it at her.
“Here. Take this to him.”
you gonna do?”
bulldog sat heavily on the nearest stool, panting.
“I think I’m having a heart attack.”
girl ignored him and hurried back to Jons.
Buckteeth’s help, Jons had managed to make his way to his bedroom where he sat
in bed, propped up on pillows, injured leg straight out in front of him and
handed him the bottle, though it was with some trepidation as she remembered
what had happened the last time he’d needed a drink.
thanks, Cody.” He reached for the bottle, glanced at it, and took a long
swallow, grimacing. Then, to her
relief, he corked it and handed it back. “Tell
Tony he can have the rest.”
are you okay?” she asked fearfully.
be fine,” he assured her. “But I
won’t be dancing the tango any time soon.”
about the… the… body?”
men looked at her curiously. She
seemed… oddly calm.
sure you’re okay?” Jons asked anxiously.
she nodded. “You sure you’re
he and Buckteeth exchanged glances.
rabbit cleared his throat and said, “I’m gonna go give this to Tony.
He looked like he could use a drink, too.”
other two were silent for a long moment after he left.
Jons stared at her speculatively, ignoring twinges of pain in his leg.
she realize what she’s done?
fact, Cody had been so concerned with Jons’s welfare and had felt so guilty
over injuring him, however unintentionally, that she hadn’t realized
the greater impact of what she’d done until that uncomfortable moment.
I killed somebody! I… I killed
didn’t feel sick exactly, but she felt an intense wave of shame at the thought
of what her parents would have said.
was gonna kill you, Jons,” she whispered.
“I… I had to do it! I
had to! He would have killed you!”
shh, shhh! I know, I know.
Calm down!” He was suddenly
sorry he’d said anything.
girl’s voice rose with hysteria. “I
don’t wanna go to jail, Jons! I…
I didn’t mean to…!”
by the shouting, Buckteeth and Tony skidded into the room.
Buckteeth immediately grabbed Cody’s shoulders and gave her a little
calm down,” he said. “Tony, get
a paper bag.”
the bulldog huffed off as quickly as his stubby legs would go.
Meanwhile, the rabbit dragged the girl to Jons’s arm chair, sat her
down, and briskly rubbed her back.
she repeated in a panicked, hoarse whisper as she shook violently.
know, I know. Calm down.” Gently,
he chafed her hands between his while Jons watched with helpless frustration.
Buckteeth glanced over at him. “You
calm down, too, before you tear open that wound.”
made a face, but sat back. Within
moments, wheezing alerted them to Tony’s return.
The bulldog stumbled into the room, thrust the paper bag into
Buckteeth’s hand, and promptly collapsed onto Jons’s bed.
time you need something, get it yourself. I’m
done,” he said.
ignored him. Buckteeth forced the
girl to breath into the paper bag until she was somewhat calmer.
it easy, Cody,” he said firmly. “You’re
not going to jail. It was
self-defense. We know that.
You’re going to be okay.”
began to look hopeful.
added, “Now, we’ll just take care of this… problem.
Leave it to us, okay?”
was an unmistakable dismissal and she resented it.
are you gonna do?”
worry about it, okay? Let us handle
chin jutted. She hated it when
adults told her to leave it to them. In
her experience, it could mean trouble for her more often than not.
“No. Tell me what you’re
looked nonplussed and Tony and Jons eyed her curiously.
She seemed more upset about getting into trouble than the actual killing.
It should have been worrisome, but for Jons, at least, it was hard to
worry when he had a hole in his leg.
really don’t think you should---!” Buckteeth started.
really shouldn’t’ve axed somebody, but I did,” Cody said roughly.
“It’s my problem, too.”
studied her for a moment, disconcerted. Then,
he sighed. “Okay, okay.
We’re going to get somebody to take care of things.
Sam would do it.”
and he wouldn’t charge that much,” Jons put in.
“Especially since his protégé here did the deed.”
give him a call.” Meditatively, Buckteeth left the room.
took some time to get Sam on the phone. When
Buckteeth told him the problem, the canine was silent.
He paused. “Cody did it?”
little bitty thing? The girl who’s
scared of her own shadow?”
was another disbelieving pause.
“How is she?”
Buckteeth hesitated, not wanting to admit that the girl’s reaction made him a
little uncomfortable. “She’s…
you’ll do it?”
course. Let me dig up some dirt and
get my stuff and I’ll be right over.”
the time the late night crowd had filled the bar, it was all taken care of.
returning, he told Jons, “You sure do tick off people in high places.
He was hired to do you in. Do
you in and kidnap… well, that’s not important.”
you bury him?” Jons asked.
Left a little present on a certain front lawn.”
what?” The bartender grimaced. “Why?
What if the paperboy trips over it?”
he’ll get the message, too,” Sam replied evenly.
Turning to Cody, he clapped her shoulder.
“I see you’ve been using what I taught you.
smiled wanly at his approval and he nodded shortly. “See you tomorrow.
Usual time. We’ll talk
about what you did and what you coulda done.”
have done about what?”
the new voice, they all turned to see Pat standing in the doorway, looking
questioningly at the people congregated around Jons’s bed.
was the first to react. He started
forward and gave his wife a hug and kiss. “What
are you doing here?”
and Jons were supposed to be coming for dinner,” she reminded him.
“When they didn’t show up, I got worried, so I came looking for
them.” She turned to Cody and Jons, brow furrowed.
sorry, Pat,” Jons said. “There
was a… an accident.”
you have a wreck?” Immediately,
Pat went over to Cody and examined her face and arms.
“Are you okay, honey?”
It wasn’t a wreck. I…”
she hesitated, looking at Sam, then Jons.
had her first kill,” Sam said easily.
paled and would have collapsed if not for her husband’s arms around her.
hung her head, cheeks burning. “It
was self-defense,” she muttered.
pursed her lips and Jons was glad he wasn’t Buckteeth, though he would have
liked to be a fly on the wall during the discussion he was certain was coming.
like to talk to Buckteeth and Jons, please,” she said curtly.
two men exchanged glances.
tone softened as she smoothed Cody’s tousled curls.
“Why don’t you wait in the kitchen, honey?”
girl’s chin jutted forward and she faced Pat, arms crossed in front of her.
“It’s not their fault.”
didn’t say it was, dear,” Pat said tartly.
“But I want to talk to them for a minute.”
it’s about me, I want to hear it.”
groaned. “Cody, please just go.”
go,” he repeated through clenched teeth, feeling a wave of embarrassment.
Humiliating enough that he was sitting in his bedroom, injured leg
exposed to halfway up his thigh, but having everyone witness what he was certain
would be a major dressing down would be truly unbearable.
looked mutinous for a moment, then stormed away.
Sam and Tony followed, the former looking amused, the latter confused.
closed the door behind them and whirled to face the two men.
were you thinking?” She advanced
on them, her expression livid. “How
did this happen?”
dear, it wasn’t intentional,” Buckteeth said.
you start that, Adam Wheat! These
things don’t just happen! How did
a little girl just happen to kill a man?”
don’t think she meant to,” Jons said. “He
was after me. Thought I was someone
he’d been sent to kill. She was
only trying to help.”
stared in disbelief. “Only trying
to help? She couldn’t have called
the time they got here, I would have probably been dead,” Jons said.
she had to kill him?”
think she meant to just hurt him.”
little girl like that? What was she
thinking? What were you thinking
not helpless. Sam’s been teaching
her.” At Pat’s expression, Jons wished he’d kept his mouth shut.
sighed. “How to take care of herself. I
talked to a lady who thought it’d be a good idea.
To make her feel less… jumpy.”
faced her husband. “What have we
gotten ourselves into? What are we
going to do with her?”
sighed heavily. “She needs help,
know that,” she snapped. “I’m
not suggesting we get rid of her. But
nodded slowly. “I can homeschool
her. Maybe by high school we can
re-enroll her. I think I can handle
teaching her everything until then.” The
woman shuddered. “If someone said
the wrong thing to her… teased her and she got into a fight…”
she’d probably get into ‘em,” Buckteeth said.
wife looked at Jons and said abruptly, “You said you thought she had a rough
day. What happened?”
the phone! You said she stopped by
because she had a rough day.” Pat was impatient.
“She didn’t get into a fight, did she?”
no. Nothing like that.” He
shifted, reflecting that the army should really recruit this woman as a
professional interrogator. “She
was a new kid and she’s a little shy around new people, anyway.
I think it was just… hard for her.”
well, this has been an… interesting day.” Pat glanced at Jons and seemed to
notice his injured leg for the first time. “Oh!
Did that man…?”
Sighing, the bartender closed his eyes and risked the lie. “Yeah. He would have killed me if Cody hadn’t taken care of him first.”
woman collapsed weakly onto Jons’s armchair.
“I just don’t know what to think.”
She looked up at her husband. “I
don’t even know what to say right now.”
know.” Buckteeth moved to caress her hair.
glanced at Jons, then struggled to her feet.
“I’m taking her home. Now.
I… don’t think it’s a good idea for her to spend a lot of time
Jons frowned. “Are you saying you don’t want her to be around me?”
Oh, no, Jons. I just don’t
think it’s a good idea for her to be… here.
Especially during business hours. She
seems to have a knack for trouble and I just… I just want her to be safe.”
started to say something, but changed his mind.
She swept out of the room, collected a belligerent Cody from the kitchen,
where she’d been having an earnest conversation with Sam, and left without
another word to anyone.
was a week later before Cody and Jons really had a chance to talk about what had
happened. Buckteeth brought Cody to
work with him because Pat had been called out of town to help nurse one of their
five of them,” Buckteeth groaned when Jons asked.
“She couldn’t leave Emmy to handle them alone, so she’s gone to
help out for a few days.”
her than you, right?” his boss said slyly.
a roomful of rowdies and five sick kids, I think I’ll take the rowdies,”
Buckteeth agreed. He put an arm
around Cody and gave her a quick hug. To
Jons’s surprise, she grinned up at the rabbit.
“So that’s why my girl’s with me tonight.
I didn’t think it’d be a problem.”
smiled. “Of course not.
I can always use the extra help. Pat’s
forgiven me, then?”
and Buckteeth exchanged glances. “Let’s
just say she’s… working on it,” Buckteeth said.
“She’ll come around. She
does send you food, remember?”
boss groaned. “I feel like she’s
fattening me up like a Thanksgiving turkey.”
little more meat on your bones wouldn’t hurt you, son.”
piped up. “How’s your leg?”
better,” he said.
how’d you like to make sure he takes it easy tonight?” Buckteeth asked.
“He’s been trying to do too much.
Fell last night and broke a half dozen wine glasses.”
bartender rolled his eyes. “C’mon.
I don’t need a babysitter.”
girl arched an eyebrow and glanced at the ferret.
He stood behind the counter, so she couldn’t see his leg.
From what she could see, he looked perfectly normal: tousled dark hair
falling haphazardly to the top of his collar, neatly pressed white shirt and
maroon tie tucked into a gray pinstriped vest.
However, she noticed that he leaned heavily against the counter and she
had a feeling he was probably keeping his weight off his injured leg as much as
got anything to eat?” she asked.
the matter? They’re not feeding
hid a smile. “Looks like Tony
needs some help putting the chairs down.”
hurried away, leaving them alone. Cody
stared at Jons expectantly.
in turn, studied her. She seemed…
Her hair had regained its youthful glossiness, her fur was sleek, and her
figure was no longer skeletal. But
what caught his attention were her eyes. They
were no longer wary. Not of him,
anyway, and she no longer nervously darted looks around the bar, expecting to be
trusts us, he thought. ‘Bout
She looked puzzled.
himself a mental shake, he cleared his throat and limped backwards. “Yeah,
I’ll get you something. Come
walked more slowly than usual, but seemed to get around all right as he led her
to his kitchen.
made some beef stew the other night,” he said.
started to get it out for her, but she waved him off and rummaged around in the
refrigerator until she found it.
don’t you sit down?” she suggested with just a trace of irritation when he
tried to take it from her. “I can
heat it up myself.”
why’d you ask me to fix you dinner?”
smiled slyly. “I asked if you had
any food. I didn’t ask you to fix
it for me.”
was taken aback. Then, he chuckled
and sat at the table while she bustled around the kitchen, heating up enough for
sure getting a big appetite,” he observed.
figured you hadn’t eaten, either.” Industriously, she got two bowls, spoons,
and glasses from the cabinet and set the table.
didn’t know whether to be offended or amused as she cast him a look that would
have made Pat proud.
are things going?” he asked as she ladled out stew for the both of them and
poured them both glasses of milk.
she said carefully. “I like Pat
didn’t tell him that the nightmares, though becoming less frequent, still
haunted her sleep. But curiously
enough, she couldn’t work up any regret over killing Jons’s anonymous
attacker. The way she saw it,
she’d had no choice and there was no reason to feel sorry over it.
It wasn’t as if she’d done it intentionally or maliciously.
He’d been looking to do harm. If
she hadn’t killed him, he might have killed both of them or he might have done
worse to her.
and Buckteeth didn’t seem to want to talk about it.
In fact, they often seemed to pretend it hadn’t happened.
She didn’t care. They left
her alone and didn’t insist that she confide in them.
The schoolwork Pat assigned her was enough to keep her morning hours
full, but she almost always finished by afternoon.
Then, she helped Pat in the kitchen or simply sat on the porch, reading.
kept up her lessons, when Pat thought she was taking a walk.
She hated lying to the woman, and it wasn’t really a lie, she tried to
tell herself. She was going
for a walk… right over to Ferret’s Folly where she spent an hour learning to
defend herself. She hated admitting
it, but those walks were always just a little frightening for her and she was
always tense and alert, fearful that Fletcher or someone in his employ would
find her and take her again. She
hated that feeling of insecurity, remembering resentfully that once she had been
unafraid of being out all day with nothing but her horse for company.
at least life’s getting bearable again.
good people,” Jons said, breaking into her thoughts.
nodded. Then, she took a deep
breath. “Jons, I’m sorry.”
was puzzled. “For what?”
leg. I didn’t mean to.”
know.” He moved a few chunks of vegetables around his bowl.
“Guess I should be glad it was my leg and not something important.”
was aiming for his head,” she told him.
stared at her. “Sam have you
working on your aim now?”
nodded. “Said if you can’t hit
what you’re aiming at, you ain’t got no business flingin’ knives around in
the first place.”
He paused. “I’m glad you
were there.” He grimaced and shifted slightly as his leg twinged.
“I just wish you’d hit what you were aimin’ at.”
least you’re still breathing.”
blinked. Then he laughed.
I’m glad you were… you were there, too,” she whispered.
I’m not! Getting cut
isn’t my idea of fun. In
fact…!” He stopped abruptly, realizing she meant his rescuing her.
“Oh… I…” Glancing at his leg, he coughed and said lightly,
“Looks like I owe you one now.”
looked surprised. Then, she gave him
a hesitant smile as they lapsed into companionable silence.
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