Using the rope that had
been used to restrain Cody, they tied the ankles of each body, threw the rope
over the overhanging beam and between the two of them, managed to haul them up
the stairs. Occasionally their arms
would get tired and they’d have to let somebody drop, causing them to hit
their head, but nobody complained. Cody
suggested that they save Hardin for last, since he was the heaviest and
they didn’t want to tire themselves out before disposing of the others.
When they were done, both
sank to the floor, panting.
“Whew!” Cody gasped.
“Those guys were more trouble than they were worth.”
Joanna used the hem of
her shirt to wipe her damp forehead. “I could really use a cold drink right
Chains clinking on the
rafter and a steady hiss of acid were the only sounds in the warehouse.
It seemed almost deafeningly quiet. They
turned to leave when they heard the faint whisper of sound behind them.
Both of them jumped when Buck, who had lain unnoticed on the far side of
the vats, stiffly got to his feet, gave them a frightened look, and hurried off
as quickly as his stubby legs could carry him, wailing, “Boss?
Rogers? Eggy? Babette!
Where are you? Don’t leave me here alone with them!”
Neither Joanna nor Cody
tried to stop him.
“Let him go,” Joanna
said wearily. “My hands hurt too
much to dip another one.”
The vixen snorted.
“And he wasn’t exactly the brains of the outfit.”
Joanna swayed a little
from exhaustion. The thrill of their
life-threatening encounter was beginning to wear off, and she just wanted to
curl up and go to sleep. Cody
slumped against the wall, looking as bad as Joanna felt.
“You okay?” Cody asked.
“I will be.”
Pushing away from the
wall, the vixen said, “Well, Diz, I’m outta here.” She paused. “You
“Lead the way.”
They made a slight detour
to the now deserted Stepford Manor. “Don’t
touch anything,” Joanna warned, earning a dirty look. They slipped past
the yellow crime tape, Joanna quickly retrieved her things, avoiding looking at
the chalk outline in the foyer on the way. A
quick exploration of the rooms told them, to their mixed relief, that there had
been only one casualty of their encounter with Hardin’s boys.
With a sinking heart, Joanna knew who it was.
Aloud, she said, “I
wish that Eggsucker bastard was alive.”
“Are you nuts?
Joanna’s voice was low
and poisonous. “So I can kill him again.”
“At least the rest of
them are okay.”
do you know? Oh well, at least that’s off my conscience.”
The trip back to the bar was silent; as they neared the big gray building,
Joanna’s eyes darted nervously around, spotting the alley, though she knew
that it wasn’t likely anyone would bother her now.
She started to go knock on the front door, but Cody stopped her.
“He never answers the front door until he opens at four,” she told her. “If he’s here, he’ll probably be in the back.”
“And if he’s not?”
“I can pick a lock.”
“That’s my department. You couldn’t pick anything but your
We’ll see, won’t we?”
They made their way to the back, and Cody rapped solidly on the door. After a moment, they heard someone moving around and the door swung open. When Jons saw who it was, his disgruntled expression transformed to one of intense relief.
thought..." He hugged her hard and she returned the embrace, burying her
face in his shirt for a brief moment before remembering her new friend.
Hastily, she pulled away and took a few limping steps back.
She glanced at Joanna, somewhat embarrassed by the display, yet too happy
to really mind.
“Where have you been?”
he demanded. He noticed Joanna
standing a little apart from them. “Are
ya’ll all right?”
Much to Joanna’s
amusement, he cupped the vixen’s chin in his hand and tilted her head upwards.
“That’s some shiner
you got there.”
Flushing, Cody took a few
limping steps back and studied him. Her
lips thinned as she noticed the scabs on his neck.
“How about you?” she
asked. “Are you okay?”
“I will be. I think that
goon pulled a muscle when he twisted my arm.
Been trying to clean up the bar, but…”
“Well, do you need
help?” Cody looked at him
quizzically. “Can we hole up here
for a few days?”
He moved aside and let them into his apartment.
“Are either of you hungry?”
Though it had been a long
time since breakfast at the diner, they shook their heads as they stepped into
his small, scrupulously clean kitchen.
“All I want is a
bath and to sleep for a hundred years,” Joanna said.
Jons realized that he didn’t even know the name of Cody’s companion.
“I didn’t quite catch your name, miss…”
Cody glanced at the bear
with interest, wondering if she felt safe enough to give out her name to Jons.
The woman hesitated for a
moment. Then she said, “Joanna.”
From her hesitation, both
Jons and Cody wondered if it was indeed her real name but let it go. “Nice to
meet you… Joanna.”
They shook hands and he
felt her roughened skin and involuntarily let out a mild oath. “What the hell
happened to your hands?”
The women exchanged
guilty looks and Joanna said sheepishly, “Dishpan hands.”
Jons thought, but said, “Looks like you both need patching up.”
“I just want a bed.”
“If you don’t mind
sleeping on the couch, you’re more than welcome to it. And the bathroom’s
the last door on the right at the end of the hall.”
“Thanks. After the last
few days, I could sleep on a bed of nails if I had to.”
She stumbled down the
hall and Cody and Jons looked at each other.
“Where am I supposed to
sleep?” she asked.
“Not with me.
“So you’re going to
let me have your bed?”
“Not a chance.
If I slept on the floor, my back would kill me.
You’re young. You can take
Rolling her eyes, she limped away. Hastily, he filled a compress with ice and followed her into the living room.
“You never did answer
my question.” Jons watched as she sank onto a plush armchair with a groan.
“What question was
that?” She frowned as he sat on
the arm of the chair. “Get up!
You’re going to break it if you keep sitting on it like that.”
the wiry ferret wouldn’t have and they both knew it.
“Leave me alone.
I’m fine.” She continued
to lean away from him until he lost his balance and fell onto her lap.
He took advantage of her
momentary surprise to slap the compress on her eye.
Then, he realized that her elbow was in dangerous
proximity to his groin and he hastily slid
off her lap and sat on the couch across from her, eyeing her gravely.
She tilted her head back, one hand holding the compress. “So what?”
“Where have ya’ll been?
I was worried sick about you.”
“I’ve been around.
Didn’t Tony tell you I’d called?”
With a yawn, she closed her eyes. “No,
he probably didn’t. Anyway, I did
try to get in touch with you.” She yawned again and willed herself to stay
awake. She had to take a bath, too,
but she was so tired and Jons’s old armchair felt like heaven after sleeping
on a concrete floor.
“Well, you’ve given
me some new gray hairs. Not a word
for three days and then you just show up on my doorstep…”
Her head lolled to one
side and she started to fall out of her seat.
He quickly caught her before she could topple and lowered her onto the
chair. With a start, he noticed her
hands were even more raw-looking than Joanna’s.
Rope burns? Yeah,
“When you’re cleaned
up and rested,” he said to Cody, “we’re going to have a little talk.”
Going to the linen
closet, he pulled out a couple of blankets and pillows and took them back to the
living room. He laid a pillow and
blanket on the couch for Joanna. Then
he grabbed an ottoman and propped Cody’s feet up, slapping another compress on
one of her ankles when he noticed it was beginning to swell.
The chair was large enough for two people---plenty big enough for one
tiny vixen to use as a bed, so he didn’t feel bad for not letting her have
his. Carefully, he eased the other
pillow behind her head and draped the blanket over her. She didn't stir.
Hurricane Cody strikes
again, leaving disaster in her wake,
The last few days before
Joanna went home were uneventful, but that was just fine with them.
They helped Jons and his employees to clean up the broken glass, right
overturned tables and chairs, and sweep up spilled peanuts.
Tony and Trixie came over the day after Joanna and Cody’s arrival to
check on Jons.
“You must be Cody’s
friend,” Tony said, spotting her behind the bar.
“Must be,” she said,
eyeing him warily. “How’d you
“Boss Man mentioned
you. Said you and the little lady
were on the run.” He looked her over, leering slightly until Trixie swatted
What’d you do that for, baby?” He
rubbed the back of his head. “When
I see something nice, I can’t help but show my appreciation.”
“Don’t be rude.
She’s been through something awful and the last thing she wants
is some old lech leering at her.” The
feline turned to her and smiled. “He’s
harmless, really. I’m Trixie, by
the way, and the pervert is Tony.”
“Hey!” Tony was
Joanna liked her.
“It’s okay. Nice to meet you.
I’m Diz… er, Joanna.”
You got the cleaning junk? The
bathrooms are horrible.” Cody limped into the bar.
“Hey, kiddo.” Tony
whistled as he got a good look at her face. “Wow!
How’s the other guy?”
“Dead,” she said
“Who smacked you?”
“How’d you like me to
The bulldog looked
plaintively at Trixie, who covered a smile with her hand.
“What is this --- ‘Be Mean to Tony Day’?”
“Yep,” said Jons,
coming into the bar just in time to hear his friend's last comment.
“Want the day off?”
"I just came over
here to see how you were doing, Boss Man. Call off your girl. She's
being mean to dumb animals again."
"At least nobody can call you conceited, Tony."
The two stayed for dinner
and, to Joanna’s surprise, she found herself more relaxed than she’d been in
a while. She responded to Tony’s
overt flirting with cutting sarcasm, much to the entertainment of the other
Despite her various
aches, having to sleep on a couch, and working hard to clean the bar, she was
actually enjoying the last few days of her vacation.
They limped around the bar, clearing
away the debris, but had to take frequent breaks, at Jons’s insistence.
After their work was done, Jons would mix
their favorite drinks and they’d sit at one of the corner tables and talk.
Cody, of course, had her usual piña
colada while Joanna sipped iced tea.
“What’ll you have?” he
asked Joanna, sliding Cody's drink to her.
“Well…” Joanna hedged, thinking. “I never did get to drink the first one you made me, so…”
“Wait, don’t tell me ---
let me guess.” Jons’s southern accent became broader, less refined. “Why, Ah
bet you’d jest love a nice tall glass of iced tea. With li’l ol’
twist of lime?”
She blinked. “You remember
“’Course I do.
That southern accent of yours was lousy,
“Don’t knock it, Jons,” Cody advised, “That lousy accent saved my life.”
smiled at her.
“Never heard of lime in
iced tea,” Jons mused. “Is that some kind of Yankee thing?”
made it up. Makes it nice and
Both Jons and Cody
“As in ‘citrus’ ---
you know --- oranges, lemons, grapefruit?”
“I make up other stuff
too. Have you ever tried peanut
butter and syrup on pancakes?”
Jons wrinkled his nose.
“No, can’t say that I have.”
She said seriously,
“It’s the best.”
"What planet are you from? Everybody knows you don't put peanut
butter on pancakes."
"Oh, yeah? And
just what are you supposed to put on them, smarty? Boring old syrup?"
"Everybody knows you
put chocolate and whipped cream and those little candy sprinkles on
expertly twisted a lime rind around a straw and slid Joanna's drink to her.
The women exchanged glances.
toasted with cinnamon and sugar. That's what you put on pancakes."
The bartender winked, grabbed his rifle, and military-marched into his
Joanna darted a glance at
Cody, her expression clearly askance.
"Yeah, well, you spend
as much time around alcohol as he does, you're bound to be a little off."
They sipped their drinks.
Joanna told the vixen about the Freddy incident that had prompted her to
take a vacation and started the whole thing.
something about that when we were on the run. You really locked that
guy in a safe? Wish I
could’ve seen it.”
“Funny how we bumped
into him the night that nightclub burned down.
Never thought I’d see him again. What are the odds?”
Joanna glanced at
Cody’s feet, which dangled from the barstool, but smiled and said nothing.
gotta know.” Cody took a long sip of her drink and regarded her. “That old
witch’s joint—it doesn’t seem like your kind of place.
How did you end up there, anyway?”
“Helen.” Joanna snorted. At the vixen’s blank look, she added, “She’s my boss. I didn’t know anything about Land’s End, so she did some checking around for me and found Miss Martha’s hotel.”
“Hell of a travel agent.”
The taller woman stirred the ice with her straw.
“Helen means well but sometimes her good intentions, well, get me in
sure. Blame her.”
decided to change the subject. “Say…
did you know Miss Martha made her own watercolor
paint from dew?”
vixen wrinkled her nose. “Do? As
no, no --- dew! As in morning
Cody laughed. “Seriously? Aw, man!”
Encouraged, Joanna described the elegant, yet cloying dinner and the girls’ ideas of ‘fun’. “And,” she finished with a theatrical shudder, “the bathmats are made of hair they collect from the drain!”
“They actually weave
hair from the drain? Ugh!”
It took forever to get it untangled from my toes.”
“And here I thought unclogging
the toilet when somebody flushes too much toilet tissue down it was
“Now you know
“Okay, next time it gets clogged up, I’ll call you and let you fix it.”
“You’d do it on
The vixen gave her an
arch look. “Be a great joke,
“Only if I’m
You couldn’t even think of it!”
Joanna said haughtily. “I could
think of much worse.”
Their conversation turned
into a contest on who could think of the grossest joke, which only ended when
Jons, who had returned to the bar to check inventory on a newly arrived
shipment, made them get back to work.
Jons’s Place (daytime)
A few days later
“I really appreciate you letting me stay here until I healed up.” Joanna said to Jons. “Helen --- my boss --- would have a cow if she’d seen me a few days ago.”
He shrugged and winced at
the small stab of pain from the bruised muscles in his back.
“Ow. Some vacation. You’ve
been helping my girl here mind the store and cleaning up all the spilled drinks
and broken teeth.”
“Yeah, that was some
rough bunch last night.” Actually,
she really didn’t mind. It took her mind off the events of the previous week.
Cody said, shaking her head as she
dried the last of the beer mugs and put it back on the shelf.
Joanna asked Jons,
“How’s your back?”
You sure you’re all right to travel?”
As long as the bus doesn’t jostle me too much, I’ll be fine. Helen
only gave me a week and if I’m not back by tomorrow, she’ll send out a
posse. I wish I could pay you for
the room and board, but…”
You girls have given me peace of mind. I won’t have to worry about
Hardin’s boys coming back. That
alone is worth much more than the price of a lumpy sofa and a few meals.”
She gave him an impish
grin. “I wish every hotel was as reasonable as you are, Jons.”
He chuckled a little.
“Oh, I think you more than earned your keep.”
“True.” Joanna looked
around the bar. “You know, I think
I’m going to miss this place.”
“Come back any time.”
But she knew she wouldn’t. As
much as she liked excitement, she also craved safety.
She still couldn’t step out into the alley where Eggsucker had
nearly… She shook her head. Besides,
she had already spent too many years sleeping with one eye open.
The ferret watched her expression for a moment, then he said, “You could do me one last favor, though. Cody, leave those mugs for now and get on over here.”
The vixen shrugged and
ambled over. “What’s up?”
He reached behind the bar
and produced a camera. “For
“For cryin’ out loud,
“Oh no, I don’t like
having my picture taken…” Joanna began. You never knew who might see
“Nonsense, you’re both gorgeous. Come on.”
She made a face. “Fine, but on one
They each borrowed a hat
from the Lost and Found. Cody wore a dark gray fedora, while Joanna’s was
brown --- not that anyone would be able to tell the difference.
They had also carefully tucked their hair inside, tilting the brim over
one eye. They posed on the bar
stools, each raising a heavy mug of beer in a mock-toast.
“It’s a shame they
don’t make colored film,” Jons commented.
“Y’all look great.”
“Shoot it, already,”
Cody complained. “My arm’s
The bartender snapped the picture and the women lowered the mugs with sighs of
relief. Cody eyed her mug, then
downed half the beer in a couple of gulps.
When Jons frowned at her, she said, “Well, no use having it go to waste.” Making a face, she added, “Man. This stuff’s…raunchy.”
Not to be outdone, Joanna
drained her mug and set it down. Wiping
her mouth on her sleeve, she let out an unladylike burp.
Cody dramatically cleared her throat and belched even louder.
Joanna raised her hands
in mock surrender. “You win.”
The bartender blinked.
“Y’all ever consider goin’ to finishing school?”
“I did,” Joanna
replied, “but I never finished.”
The ferret changed the subject. “I’m gonna take this film and get it developed. Y’all need anything while I’m out?”
shook their heads, so he turned to go. Joanna
was in the process of rinsing out her mug when she remembered that she’d
promised to bring Helen back something nice.
She hurriedly set the mug in the sink. “I
need to do a little shopping before I leave.
Could you tell me where I could get a nice teapot or something like
scratched his head. “There
are a couple of antique stores in town. Or
you could go to W.H. Macy’s. They’d
probably have something you’d like.”
grimaced. “I’ve had enough of
department stores for now, thanks. Could
you tell me where the antique stores are?”
There’s one on the way to the photo-developing place.
If your bus doesn’t leave for a while, you can walk with me.
That way, I can give you a copy of the picture, if you want it.”
considered for a moment. Then, she
nodded. “All right.”
turned to Cody. “You want to come,
her nose, the vixen shook her head. “Thanks,
but I’ll stay here.”
couple of hours later, they returned. Joanna showed the vixen the teapot she’d
picked up at a little antique store a couple of blocks from Jons’s bar.
It was a deep blue, with gold trim --- much better than the old one, in
Helen,” Joanna grinned. “Isn’t it cute?”
shrugged. “It’s a teapot.”
I like it.” Joanna glanced at the clock. “I
guess I’d better hurry.”
Gathering up her few belongings, she stowed the teapot between the clothes in the duffel bag so it wouldn’t get broken. The newly developed picture she carefully slid into a side pocket in the bag. She shook hands with Jons and thanked him again for his hospitality.
“Say goodbye to Trixie and the rest of them for me.”
will, honey. Have a safe trip.”
Then she turned to Cody, unsure of what to say.
the vixen said, “You want me to walk with you?”
“I'd like that.”
Soon they passed the ill-fated Mel’s Diner, which was now boarded up.
A wooden sign was nailed on the door:
quietly, “Poor guy. I’m really
sorry we went into that diner.”
“Spilled milk, Diz.”
“Yeah… I know.”
Cody said hesitantly, “Hey… thanks for coming back for me.”
Cody said hesitantly, “Hey… thanks for coming back for me.”
“Oh, you’d do the same thing for me.”
At Jons, remember?”
She didn’t like to remember being helpless.
Carnival life had softened her muscles, dulled her instincts.
She would have to practice her old skills, get back in fighting
condition. Get her edge.
Her experience with Eggsucker was an unpleasant reminder that she
couldn’t afford to be civilized completely.
“So… I guess you’re
off to wherever you came from. Where is that, by the way?” Cody looked at her
“No place,” Joanna
replied. “I work at a carnival. We travel.”
Cody gave a hoot of
laughter. “You work in a circus? With a freak show, the whole nine
yards? Why aren’t I surprised?”
There’s a world of difference.”
“Whatever. What do you
“I play in their stupid
We have to wear costumes too.”
“So why stay, if you
don’t like it?”
She thought, remembering
how just a few days ago Helen had taken care of her when she was sick, bringing
her broth and telling her stories until she fell asleep.
She even thought Helen had said something to her just as she drifted off.
Joanna grimaced, then
shrugged. “It’s a living.”
Which was easier than explaining that she liked being mothered.
She had a feeling that the tough little vixen wouldn’t understand
Half seriously, she said, “Why don’t you come with me? You could be billed as the world’s shortest mercenary. Can you juggle?”
“Thanks, but I think
It’d be nice to have someone to talk to about real stuff for a
change. Like how to get dead goon
stains out of your clothes.”
“Oh, now don’t worry
your empty little head about it, Diz. With
your personality, you’ll make lots of friends.
Until they get to know you, that is.”
“Hey, that’s further
than you get. I’ve got some
advice for you --- try to remember to take a bath once in a while and doll
yourself up sometimes. You’re not completely
“And something else…
what you told me that first night…they’re not all like that creep, you know.
I’ve met a few good guys --- not during the last few days, of course
--- but they’re out there.”
The vixen smirked.
“Yes, O Wise One.”
“Really. They can be
“If that’s your idea
of fun, you can keep it.”
Joanna saw the bus
approaching in the distance. “Oops, here’s my ride.”
They looked at each
I guess this is it, then.” The vixen sounded a little disappointed.
I don’t think I’ll be coming this way again, even to see if you can
survive without me.” She grinned.
Cody rolled her eyes.
“Don’t flatter yourself, Diz. Nobody’s
Joanna feigned sorrow.
“That’s exactly why the world is so screwed up.”
Cody held her ears and
began to sing. “La-la-la-la-la…”
They stuck their tongues out at each other and giggled.
The bus screeched to a
stop, and the doors whooshed open with a clatter.
The driver, a weary-looking raccoon, waited patiently.
Eyeing Joanna’s blue duffle bag, he asked her, “Anything to put in
“No, I’ll keep it
“In a minute.”
“Well, so long, Shrimp.
Look me up… if you can find me.” She offered her hand.
After a moment’s hesitation, Cody took it and squeezed.
Hard. So Joanna squeezed back… harder.
Eyes twinkling, Cody
squeezed even harder. Joanna’s
eyes widened slightly and she bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from yelping, but that was her only reaction.
No way was she going to admit that the petite vixen had won that little
contest. It was another unsettling
reminder of how she’d changed from her old life.
They stayed that way for
a moment. Then, Cody released her.
Joanna resisted the urge to massage some feeling back into her hand.
Cody turned to go.
“Take care of yourself… Joanna.”
“You, too… Cody.”
Bus ticket in hand, Joanna hurried up the bus steps.
It wasn’t crowded and she was able to find a seat by herself.
She’d go back to the
carnival and Helen would mercilessly mother her, ask her questions, worry about
her and generally drive her crazy… but…at least she knew the old dear cared.
As annoying as being fussed over was, it would be kind of nice to be
bullied into eating a hot meal and going to bed early.
Joanna would never admit it, but she was actually getting quite fond of her.
She hoped she liked the new teapot.
She smiled to herself.
Of course Helen would like it.
The driver called for
everyone to find a seat. As she got
onboard, Joanna noticed that something was missing.
There was residue of scotch tape on the bare dashboard, each punctuating
corners of squares faded in the sun as though someone had removed something from
it --- photographs? She remembered
that that friendly driver --- Ralph Something-or-Other --- used to have pictures
of those homely grandchildren of his. She
wondered if he had been fired or something.
Oh well. Nothing to do
with me, she decided.
Joanna breathed a sigh of
relief. It was over.
Really over. As
Land’s End slipped away, she thought about her little misadventure. It had
been thrilling in a way, thumbing her nose at death. She remembered the disgust
of finding the body in the alley and frowned as something else shoved its way
into her memory. Galloway’s shoes had had an odd half-moon heel. Almost
unbidden, she recalled the bruise on the vixen’s chest that had made Joanna
tell her to pull up the bodice of the pink dress. And Galloway had been stabbed.
Well, Joanna had seen how good Cody was with a knife, and what was it she’d
If you give ‘em the
up close and personal, at least you’re sure they’re dead.
Then, the image of the
flat-chested vixen's sudden ample endowments in that costume came back to her
and something Hardin had said--something about Galloway's assassin being paid
ten thousand dollars made it click.
… paid ten G’s
… to snuff Galloway.
The way the color had drained from Cody’s face when Hardin had mentioned the bounty he'd put on the assassin's head…
Her mouth fell open and she slapped her forehead. “Why that little---!”
The lemur across the aisle
looked at her warily, but she ignored him and glanced out the window where the
vixen stood, watching the bus.
Cody waved to her. Awkwardly, Joanna waved back. Again, she remembered the vixen’s stuffed bodice and two words came to mind.
Then she began to laugh.
Completely unnerved, the lemur got up and hurried to the back of the bus.
Joanna shrugged and leaned back, still chuckling.
What the hell.
Cody watched her go, shaking
her head. Then she reached into her
back pocket and withdrew a thick wad of bills.
She counted them --- ten thousand shaboozies, plus the money she’d
taken from the gangsters --- stacked it neatly and put it back.
It hadn’t been the easiest money she’d ever earned, but it was
Think I’ll go back to Jons’s, she thought. The whole mess made her hungry and he’d made a cheesecake last night.
What the hell.