Chapter Fifteen

    Mitch held Kelly tight as the horse continued along, a few yards behind Krystal's. Kelly's squeals of delight caused Krystal to turn around, smiling when she saw how happy father and daughter looked together. It was a perfect afternoon, even with the occasional thought of Lynn couldn't pry the smile from Mitch's face. The beautiful weather so characteristic of fall announced that Halloween was near. The weather was noticeably changing, so much about the changes in season in Florida was in the air. Mitch had always wondered why so many people said that the seasons never changed in Florida, when he knew in fact they were wrong. Florida seasons did change, you just had to know the signs in the weather. You had to be a native to truly understand and appreciate Florida's beauty, even in the winter, he always said. Mitch enjoyed the slight temperature drop - as much as he joked about it - even though anything under eighty degrees was freezing, and often would toss on a jean jacket and wear heavy clothes straight to the start of summer. Better to sweat than ever catch a cold.

    Krystal smile, she knew Mitch that well, and realized he had dressed heavy to keep Kelly warm too, who was in a T-shirt and jeans, and some new little black cowboy boots Mitch had bought her that day. Wrapped snugly in her father's arms, she beamed, looking up at him with her big blue eyes, her pigtails bobbing with the horse's slow trot.

    Mitch was watching Krystal too, knowing how much she too loved the outdoors. She spent so much time in the sun, that her skin was slightly aged before its time, making her look wise in her youth. But she didn't care. It was small price to pay to drink in the sweet scent in the air that tickled her nose and made her giggle, to feel the sun warm the faint chill on her long thin, pink lips, and warm her cheeks, making her whole face glow. The same sun that at that very moment shone on her hair, tinting it the golden blonde color, like that of a field of swaying wheat. Her long legs were wrapped in blue jeans, her chest tight wrapped in a small plaid shirt, buttoned a little bit low, showing a lot of neck.

    It was a perfect autumn afternoon as they rode through the luscious greenery of Western Broward, and Krystal would be sad to see it end. "Like horses?" Krystal asked, pulling on the reigns to fall back and talk to Kelly.

    "Uh huh," Kelly nodded.

squirrel.gif (7238 bytes) Mitch smiled at Krystal, giving her a silent thanks for the wonderful afternoon. "Oh, see that squirrel?" Mitch asked, pointing out to the right of them.

    Kelly's pigtails swung, as she looked in the direction her father had pointed. "Where?" she squealed.

    Mitch winked at Krystal, as a smile emerged on his lips. Krystal winked back, giggling when she saw him turn away to hide the red flush appearing on his cheeks. Leaning over his little girl, he hugged her tight, and pointed once more. "Over there, sweetie."

    "Oo! Oo! I see him daddy!" Kelly answered, bouncing up and down.

    Krystal took advantage of Kelly's moment of distraction and blew a kiss at Mitch. Again, she caught him flinching. "Problem Mitch?" Krystal joked.

    "You could say that," he laughed.

    "Like what?"

    Mitch frowned for a second, the usual uncertainty involving his love life sweeping over him. He was still confused, unable to sort out his feelings. He still had thoughts of Jessie, but knew he should be centering his attention on Krystal. It wasn't fair to Krystal, or to himself. The last thing his heart need was more aching, the last thing his head need was more confusion.


    Mitch ruffled his little girl’s hair, and Kelly vocalized her protest. He looked away from Krystal again, watching the squirrel frolic in the tall grass. What was he going to do?

    Krystal shook her head. Mitch was thinking about Jessie again, and she knew it. Poor Mitch. He never knew what he really wanted. Sooner or later he'd have to make up his mind, she thought, patting her horse's neck.

    Maybe I can keep things with Jessie on just a friendly basis, Mitch thought. Maybe I can keep things the way they are. That’s how things were going anyway. It wasn't fair to think about Jessie, when he was with Krystal. Krystal deserved better, since she was still in the market for a relationship.

    "I'm fine," Mitch said, "just got a lot on my mind, with the bar and all."

    Krystal couldn't help but wonder if Mitch was telling the truth. All she could do was hope that he was. Urging her horse onward, Krystal pushed the thought out of her mind, concentrating on the happier task at hand - showing Kelly her surprise. Trotting around the bend, she veered her horse to the right, dismounting as she arrived at the fenced paddock hidden away in the trees.

    Mitch fought the urge to race ahead, deciding instead to live the moment that he knew was to come.

    "Daddy? Where's Krystal?"

    "You'll see sweetie," he smiled, "just a little farther."

    Kelly craned her neck, looking left and right searching for Krystal. When the moment finally came, as they crossed into a patch of sunlight, it was like a scene straight out of a movie. Spotting Krystal, Kelly waved excitedly, calling out her name. Timing couldn't have been more perfect, as Krystal smiled, and stepped aside.

pony2.gif (9410 bytes)"A pony! Oh daddy, look at the pretty pony!"

    "Surprise!" Mitch laughed, tickled pink at his daughter's reaction.

    "Is it mine?" Kelly asked, bouncing up and down.

    "Sure is," he answered, struggling to keep a hold on Kelly so she wouldn't slip off the horse.

    Noticing Mitch's predicament, Krystal walked over to Mitch's horse, and extended her arms to Kelly. "Come meet your new friend," she smiled, placing the little girl on the ground.

    In a flash, Kelly was up on the fence, petting the pony's head.

    "Thought I'd tuck her away out here so it'd be an even bigger surprise," Krystal smiled. "I did good."

    "Yes, you sure did," Mitch answered, dismounting, and pulling Krystal in for a big hug.

    When she had first gotten the ranch, Krystal had concentrated her attention on the ranch house and the area directly around it. The ranch had been abandoned, a few years of lack of attention was evident by the disrepair of the fencing around the property, not to mention the animal pens. Little by little, she was making repairs, yet trying to maintain the authentic feel to the place, using older, more weathered wood. Initially she had intended on just tying the pony to one of the posts in the corral, but had decided against it - one good tug and the pony would have pulled the post out of the ground, taking most of the surrounding fence with it.

    "I brought her out here to graze this morning since I knew today was the big day. She seems to like it out here better anyway, since she has more room to roam around. Besides, the fencing out here is a lot better off than the stuff back at the house."

    "We can fix that. It'll just take a few weekends.."

    We? Krystal thought. "I'm sure Kelly won't mind coming out to see her pony," added Krystal. Now it was her turn to be taken off guard.

    The pony was about 5 hands high, just the right size for a little girl to enjoy. "She's pretty, isn't she?" Mitch asked, joining Kelly at the fence.

    "What's her name?" Kelly asked, hopping down off the fence, scooting under it to get a closer look at her new pony.

    The pony eyed the rambunctious little girl, prancing nervously in place, prodding Mitch to join his daughter on the other side of the fence. "I don't know honey.. why don't you pick one?"

    "How about Molasses?" suggested Krystal.

    "What's Molassesth?" Kelly lisped.

    Mitch laughed. "Princess?"

    "No!" stomped Kelly.

    Krystal looked up at the sky, racking her brain for a name. "What about Penny?" she said, "because of her pretty brown color?"

    "PENNY!" Kelly giggled, petting the pony.

    "You're a genius," Mitch said.

    "No, you're the genius," Krystal said, hopping up to take a seat on the fence. "Any more surprises in your bag of tricks?"

    Mitch nodded, tilting his head up to kiss Krystal, and taking her completely off guard. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close to deepen the kiss. Letting the kiss run its course, he leaned back, looking her dead in the eyes. "How's that?"

pumpkin1.gif (5954 bytes) It took a good two hours of hard work, but the bar was finally ready for the party the following evening. Kelly's huge pumpkin was in place in front of the large picture window, the other smaller pumpkins carved and scattered around the bar. Jessie was busy working on her last pumpkin, which she was planning to set on the corner of the bar.

    "The place looks great, darlin'," Angel said, sweeping his gaze around the room. "Mitch is gonna flip when he gets back.."

    Sally sat two stools down the bar from Jess, working on her own contribution to the decorations. She gripped the spoon she was using to scoop out the pumpkin's insides tightly, gritting her teeth as she listened to her boss's praise of Jessie. Could she have charmed Angel too? Sally wondered, gritting her teeth. Hadn't they all contributed to the decorating of the bar?

    "I hope so," Jess smiled, as she finished carving the pumpkin on her lap, "I know how much is riding on the success of the party tomorrow."

    The bar did look nice. They had draped spider webs across the front door, and in every conceivable corner, ghosts lights were strewn across the room, just above people's heads, assorted knick-knacks decorated tables tops. Everything was set, right down to the setting up of tables at the corners of the bar for the psychic and magician.

    "I think it would be neat for the waitresses and the rest of the staff to come in tomorrow in costume, to add to the festive air of the evening."

    "Good idea," Angel nodded, unwrapping the large black plastic cauldron Jessie had bought. "What do you think Sally? Think the staff will go for it?"

    "Yeah, sure, anything to please you boss," she answered, eyeing Jessie.

    "Great. I can't wait for tomorrow night," Angel smiled, "it's gonna be a blast.."

    Sally could hardly manage to keep her anger under wraps, and it was all she could do to keep her mouth shut til Angel stepped away, and into the back. "You're not fooling anyone," she said, straight at Jessie.

    "Excuse me?" Jessie asked, looking up from her work.

    "Oh please, don't play coy with me," Sally said, rolling her eyes, "you fancy yourself quite the little bosslady, don't you?"

    "Sally, I don't know what brought this on, but you're way off base. Mitch and Angel are good friends of mine. All I'm trying to do is help them out.."

    "How noble of you," Sally laughed. "Puhleez! We all can see you like to throw your weight around here. Don't even bother denying it."

    "Sally, we have work to do. I'm not gonna even honor that with a response," Jess said, shaking her head in disbelief.

    "See? You're not even denying it, because you know it's true. You've flirted with Mitch, and you're probably gonna hit Angel next. Anything to stroke that conceited ego of yours," Sally seethed as she realized that Jessie was actually laughing at her comments. "Go ahead and throw your weight around and tell Angel. He saw you that night with Nick.. he knows what you are.." Sally was on a roll. The words rolled off her tongue, weeks of resentment coming to the surface. "Wonder if your fiancé knows who he's really marrying.."

    "LEAVE Zach out of this," Jess spat, turning to face Sally dead on, "I don't know what your problem is lady, but keep your vicious mind and tongue out of my business!"

    Sally stopped, mid scoop, and glared at Jessie. "Or what?! You're not my boss."

    "How DARE you talk to me this way, when I've been nothing but friendly to you. It seems like you're the one with the problem, Sally. Get your facts straight.."

    Sally's rage exploded. "You BITCH!" she yelled, flinging a heaping scoop of pumpkin fibers and pulp in Jessie's face.

    Jessie was just about to get up when she heard the door open behind them.

    "Jessie! Jessie! I got a pony!" Kelly called out, running up to Jess.

    "You did? Wow! Christmas must have come early this year," Jessie said, eyes on Sally, as she wiped the sticky fibers out of her face. "Who got it for you?"

    "Daddy did," Kelly smiled, turning to point at Mitch. The little girl stepped on some of the mess on the floor, slipping. "Eouuw," she exclaimed, grabbing onto Jessie's knee for support.

    "Careful sweetie," Jessie said, turning away from Mitch so he wouldn't see her face.

    "Wow, the place really looks great," Mitch said, approaching the women, "you guys did a wonderful job."

    Sally sat very still, staring down at her pumpkin, sure that Jessie would inform Mitch about the little scene which had just transpired.

    Mitch stopped, waiting for a response, when he looked down to see the mess on the floor, watching Kelly try to wipe the muck from the soles of her new cowboy boots. "What's with the mess?" he asked, looking at Jess.

    "Uh.. sorry.. we had a little accident. I'll get it cleaned up," Jessie answered, glancing quickly at Mitch.

    Something is definitely up, Mitch thought, sensing the tension in the air. "Okay," he said, "wouldn't want anyone slipping and getting hurt." He leaned down to pick Kelly up, to set her on the bar, and clean up her shoes. As he did so he caught sight of the orange splattered on Jessie's face and shirt.

    "I'll take care of it right now," stated Jessie, replacing the lid on the pumpkin, and setting it on the bar.

    Mitch couldn't help but notice how quiet Sally was, as he wiped off the bottom of his daughter's shoes. "All better," Mitch smiled, "now why don't you take this candy, and fill up the cauldron," he said, placing Kelly back on the floor. Grabbing the candy and the cauldron, he led Kelly to the closest table. "Mix up the candy real good, okay? Daddy will be right back.."

    Jessie was ringing out a large bar towel at the sink in the kitchen as he approached. "Is everything okay, Jess?"

    It would serve Sally right if she told Mitch about what had just transpired between them, but Jess decided against it. What good would it do, other than add to her friend's already heavy load. "Fine," she smiled, "it's just been a long day. I'm gonna clean up the mess out front, then head on home, and rest up for tomorrow.."

    "Okay, if you say so," Mitch answered, unconvinced. "But I'll do that," he said, taking the wet bar towel from Jess, "you've done plenty already."

    "Thanks," Jess smiled softly, "I have the beginning's of a headache," she said, wiping the crud off her shirt the best she could.

    Jess ran upstairs to get her costume, and zipped back downstairs in no time flat. "See you tomorrow sweetie," she said, stopping to grab a candy out of the cauldron, and kiss Kelly on the top of her head.

    "Bye Jessie," Kelly smiled.

    Mitch waved to Jess from behind the bar. "See ya Jess.."

   What a bum! Jess thought, stretching lazily in the bed. It was almost three and she was still in bed. What was up with her? Had the last few days really been that draining? Must be, she thought, the sound of the doorbell bringing her further out of her sleep-laden haze. Who in the world could it be? she thought, rushing to throw on a pair of faded Levi's and her old, worn UM sweatshirt.

    Looking through the peephole, a shock of salmon pink filled the fish eye view of the hallway. "What in the world?" she muttered, opening the door.

    "Jessica Reynolds?" asked the florist deliveryman.

    "That's me.." Jess smiled.

    "I'm sorry, didn't mean to wake you," the young man said, awkwardly handing Jess the vase of perfect Oceana roses.

    "Hang on a sec," Jess said, setting the flowers down on the table in the foyer, "I'll be right back.." Rushing back to her bedroom, she grabbed some money out of her wallet to tip the deliveryman. "There you go.. thanks.."

    "No problem."

    Even now, the scent of the roses filled the room. Leaning down, Jess breathed in the heavenly scent, taking the card out of the holder. Who could have sent her roses? Angel as a thank you for her help at the bar? Her parents as a congratulatory gesture on her engagement? There's one way to find out, she thought, opening the envelope.

    "Just a little reminder that somebody loves you
    til I get back this Sunday.. Miss you bunches
    and bunches.. Love, Zach."

    How sweet, Jessie thought, taking the flowers back into the bedroom. Laying back onto the bed, Jess lavished in the feeling of love that swept over her. Rolling over onto Zach's side of the bed, she grabbed his pillow to her, drinking in the scent of his cologne lingering there. Two days and they would be reunited, and what a reunion it would be.

    Jessie walked over to her dresser, reaching into her lingerie drawer for a tissue-lined box she had tucked away for a special occasion. The creme colored negligee had caught her eye in the Victoria's Secret window one afternoon when she and Carrie had been window-shopping. It was one of the prettiest pieces of lingerie she had ever seen, soft silk satin, edged with delicate lace. The neckline plunged low, revealing quite a bit of cleavage, accentuated by even fancier lace, contouring down to the hips, where it was also high cut and trimmed in the same lace, just more flouncy. The negligee seemed to be dusted in starlight, with its scattering of pearls and beaded work.

    Jess held it before herself now, draping its sheer matching short robe over it. The soft color of the material brought out her lightly tanned skin, making her complexion look like porcelain. Seeing the reflection of the garment bag behind her on the bed, Jessie smiled. Sunday would be so different than tonight. Tonight was a night to relax and have fun playing dress up. Sunday would be a night of romance that Zach would never forget.

    But first thing's first, Jess thought, putting the negligee away. Tonight would be a night to have fun, and unwind. She started her transformation by taking a shower and washing her hair, setting her long locks in big rollers. Next, she made up her face, using a heavier hand than usual - black kohl eyeliner to rim her eyes, smoky eye shadows in gray and plum shades to bring out her hazel eyes, false eyelashes with two coats of mascara made Jess's eyes look even bigger. Scarlet red lipstick finished her dramatic makeup look, with just a like brush of matching red toned blush on the apples of her cheeks.

    Slipping into a strapless bra, Jessie groaned. What women do to look pretty, even in costume, she laughed. But she would need to wear the uncomfortable bra with her off the shoulder, poet style white shirt. She tucked the shirt into the frilly underskirt, worn under the wine colored flounced gypsy skirt. Last but not least, she slipped on the black leather corset-like lace up vest, lacing it up tight. Black espadrille tie up sandals, and gold oversized hoop earrings, and all she had left to do was her hair.

    The oversized rollers gave Jess's hair the desired effect - loose, cascading, silky curls that tumbled wildly over her shoulders, and down her back. A quick spritz of hair spray and she was set. Grabbing a mini drawstring purse, just big enough for her keys, license, and a credit card, Jessie headed for the Dusk to Dawn.

    "Oh my God, look at you," Angel chuckled, seeing Jess walk in.

    "How totally retro of you dude," Jessie laughed, giving the hippied out Angel a hug. From the bell-bottoms he wore, to the love beads around his neck, Angel looked like the perfect flower child. "Where's Mitch?"

    "He and Krystal went to pick up Kelly from preschool. They were gonna take her over to the mall for some trick or treating, then they'll be headed back here.."

    "What's Mitch dressed as?" Jess snooped.

    "Let's just say that he and Krystal are dressed in coordinating costumes.." Angel laughed, peering over the edge of his Lennon glasses at Jess.

    "Roy Rogers and Dale Evans?"

    "No.." Angel chuckled.

    "Janet and what's his face from Rocky Horror?"

    "Nope.. want me to tell you? Just promise me you'll act surprised.."

    "Scout's honor.."

    "Mitch is a greaser, and Krystal is a bobbysoxer.."

    "Oh how cool! I can't wait to see em.."

    "Everything's pretty much ready to go. The karioke guy's here, setting up next to the stage, you friend Phoebe is here too, crystal ball, tarot cards and all, and the magician is on his way.."

    "Great," Jessie smiled, "I'm gonna go over and talk to Phoebe, maybe have her read my tarots.."

    "Groovy, doll.." Angel said, giving Jess a peace sign.

    Let's see if Phoebe picks up on my impending marriage to Zach, Jessie thought, slipping her engagement ring into her purse. Phoebe had set up shop, pushing two tables for two together in the far corner of the room. Draping the tables in a black velvet cloth, two wide red candles flanked her crystal ball, Phoebe's tarot cards neatly stacked before her.

    "Hey Madame," Jess said, waving at Phoebe as she approached.

    "Jess? Is that you? Wow, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were here to steal my business. Nice outfit, by the way," Phoebe grinned, motioning Jess to take a seat. "So.. how have you been, or do you want Madame Phoebe to tell you?"

tarot.gif (7213 bytes)"If you have the time," Jess smiled, leaning in towards Phoebe. Knowing the routine, Jessie let Phoebe shuffle the tarot cards, letting her know when to stop, then cutting the deck once. Jessie sat quietly, watching Phoebe methodically lay out her cards, her face changing expression, as Phoebe examined the dealt cards.

    "You have been torn," Phoebe started to say, "unsure of where your life is headed.. you've questioned yourself, and the choices you've made, but I see a major event happening that will help turn the tide for you.. shift you in different direction.." Phoebe looked up at Jess, then back down quickly to the tarot cards again. "A dark haired man will have a big effect on your life.. will change your life forever, but it will be up to you to remain true to yourself, and not allow his strong presence in your life overpower you.."

    "Who have you been talking to?" Jessie asked, amazed at the accuracy of Phoebe's reading.

    "Nobody," Phoebe said, gathering up the cards. "Mitch is back," she stated quickly, trying to shake the feeling that was coming over her, as Jess reached out to smack her hand playfully.

    "I don't know how you do it," Jess smiled, "remind me to fill you in later on, on just how right you are.." Jess couldn't help but smile, as she slipped her ring back on. Dark haired man.. she had to mean Zach.

    Phoebe's heart was pounding, as Jessie walked back towards the bar, and her friends. Could she be picking up vibes from someone else in the room? There were a lot of people, and lots of energy around.. All she could do was pray that it wasn't Jessie's vibes she had tapped into, for the feeling that chilled Phoebe to her very core just then could only mean one thing - trouble.

   The phone rang, screaming into the silence of Lynn's hotel room. Curtains drawn, pillow shoved roughly over her aching head, Lynn groaned. It had been one hell of a night, blurred at the edges by her becoming reacquainted with an old friend - Jack Daniels. By the time the weekend was over, she would owe the hotel's baby-sitter a mint. But it would be some of the best money she ever spent.

    The phone continued to ring. Could it be the baby-sitter? she wondered. There was no way to know for sure.. it could be Nick. "NICK," she groaned, trying in vain to push the memories of last night from her mind. You have pulled some stupid stunts girl, Lynn thought, a chill racing up her spine, causing her to snuggle deeper under the comforter. She should have never let Nick into the equation - good lay or not. She could have very easily brought Jessie down on her own.. but not this way.. "Not this way," Lynn cried, with frustration, reaching blindly for the incessantly ringing phone.


    "Sorry to disturb you ma'am.." said an apologetic young female voice.

    Snap out of it Lynn, she berated herself. Be thankful it's not Nick. Besides, if she was nice to her, maybe Susie would take care of Kelly for the rest of the day so that she could get her shit together. Luckily, Bahia Mar had an excellent baby-sitting service right on the premises. A quick call to the pre school, and she wouldn’t even have to crawl out of bed to drive.

    "It's okay sugar," Lynn answered, "I just had a long night last night. So.. how's my little angel doing?"

    "Just fine," Susie said, "she gets along great with the other kids in the play group. But she's missing her Mommy.."

    Think girl.. you need time to yourself.. Lynn thought, her mind spinning. The last thing she needed was an energetic, low attention spanned preschooler to stretch her patience right now.

    "I know I dropped her off at your room very unexpectedly last night Susie, and I'm truly sorry about that. But Kelly likes you.. you're so good with her. One of the mothers by the pool just sang your praises earlier this week, or I wouldn't have even bothered to trust you with my little baby."

    Susie was eating it up. "Well, I have had a lot of experience with kids.."

    "Of course dear, and that's why I'm appealing to your knowledge as a caretaker when I say that I think I'm coming down with a cold. It would be so much smarter for Kelly to stay with you.. you know how frail children's little systems can be.. besides.. I'll make it worth your while. You name it it's yours.. dinner, a movie.. whatever you like.. just charge it to my room number. Plus of course, they'll be a nice little envelope for you tomorrow for your trouble.."

    "No trouble ma'am, it'll be my pleasure. I'll give you a call before I come to drop Kelly off tomorrow after breakfast.."

    "Excellent.. thanks sweetie.. you're a life safer. Give my baby a kiss for me.."

    A life saver. She would need a friggin’ miracle to get out of this mess. The plan had seemed so foolproof. Slip some drugs into Jessie's drink, scurry her off to the motel down the street from the bar, snap a few pictures. Lynn pressed the pillow over her head in vain, trying to squeeze out the vision's of the previous night's fiasco..

   The fact that Mitch had gone up to the stage and sang some hokey karioke song love song, his eyes glimpsing again and again at Jess, had only egged Lynn on. She had worked so hard on her Forties siren costume - red silk off the shoulder dress a la Rita Hayworth, showing a tantalizing amount of cleavage, heels so high her legs looked a million miles long.. yet Mitch hadn't even acknowledged her presence.

    "I see someone's primed for tonight's little 'festivities'," Nick whispered into her ear. "What a get up," he added, copping a feel of Lynn's well outlined derriere.

    Lynn turned, slowly, not wanting to call attention to herself, brushing her Lauren Bacall-like curl out of her eyes. Nick looked pretty much the same as usual - dressed head to toe in black, T-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots - the only difference tonight was the grayish-white makeup and fangs he sported. "Nice teeth."

    "The better to BITE you with," he chuckled, pulling Lynn roughly to him, and nibbling on her exposed neck and shoulders.

    "Are you nuts?" Lynn growled into his ear, "last thing we wanna do is call attention to ourselves," she stated, pushing Nick roughly away.

    "No problem babe," he smiled, meeting Lynn's gaze. "There's plenty of me to go around.."

    Lynn gladly settled back into the shadows, watching tipsy patrons as they attempted to sing, even giggled at the sight of funky costumed dancers cutting a rug on the dance floor. Nick, on the other hand, kept his eye on Jessie all night, even when he was on stage. Do I look like that when I look at Mitch? Lynn thought, noting the hungry, predatory expression in Nick's eyes.

    It had been so easy for Nick to slip a mickey into Jessie's drink. Mitch had made some Monster Punch, electric green in color, surrounded by a ring of dry ice smoke, served with a plastic claw-shaped ladle into black plastic ghost covered cups.

    "Nice turn out," Nick chitchatted, setting his own, identical looking cup next to Jessie's. One quick twist of the wrist, and she had taken the drug laced cup of punch.

    "Mitch did a great job," she answered, taking what she thought was her drink, and walking away.

    "The night is young my dear," Nick muttered under his breath, "you'll come to realize just how monstrous his punch actually is.."

    Before long Jessie had gone from a looking relaxed, dancing and chatting with her friends at the bar, to slurring her words when she did manage to speak, eyes glazed, her steps stumbly. To those who didn't know better she looked like someone who had just indulged in one too many drinks. Nick had pulled the drink switch one more time, making sure to render their victim sufficiently helpless, the familiar look of perverse pleasure on his face. All Lynn could do was hope that he knew just how much to give her without killing her..

    "Our little plum looks ripe for the picking," Nick smiled, watching Jess stumble towards the door looking more than a little pale. "You got the camera, right?"

    "In my trunk.."

    "We just wrapped for the night," Nick whispered, taking a swig of beer from a long neck. "I'm gonna make like I'm headed for the employee lounge and slip out the back. Gimme like a ten minute head start. I'll meet you at the motel. Room 305.. don't be late.."

    Lynn nodded mechanically, swallowing down the feeling of dread washing over her. Think about the prize you're aiming for, she told herself. A few anonymous pictures, and the debonair Zach would be hers. Slowly, Lynn crossed the room, cursing her choice in costume - very sexy but very impractical when trying to go unnoticed. Setting down her drink on the bar, she headed towards the back, and Mitch's office, where she had stashed a small bag with a change of clothes, and her purse.

    The slim skirt of the vixen style dress made her look like she seriously needed to pee, adding to her desired effect. Hopefully anyone who saw her from the staff would assume she was off to use Mitch's private bathroom. Entering Mitch's dark office, she locked the door behind her, and started to shimmy out of her dress. She yanked off her fake dangle earrings, tossing them roughly onto the pile of discarded clothes - dress, hose and heels - on Mitch's couch.

    Lynn brushed her hair, gathering it back into a nondescript ponytail, buttoning her shirt and stuffing it into her jeans. Slipping on some soft soundless loafers, she grabbed her pile of clothes and stuffed them into the bag. Lynn glanced down at her watch.. not even five minutes had passed since she had entered Mitch's office. Not wanting to press her luck, she quickly unlocked the office door, before slipping out the second door from Mitch's office that opened onto the alley.

* * * * *

Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.


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