Chapter Twenty

    The left door swung wide open at the Dusk to Dawn, and let in a flush of light from the bright outside world. Angel looked up from the table he was sitting at, squinting his poor eyes through his thick lenses, to see who was walking in so early. In stepped a tall thin shadowy figure. The brightness of the light outside and the dim darkness of the bar inside kept Angel from being able to see clearly who it was.

    "I have a new job!" the person announced in a loud voice.

    Angel peered down at his watch and saw it was almost noon. He looked back up towards the door, and saw Sid take a few steps further into the bar.

    "No Mitch?" Sid asked, glancing left and right around the bar. The only recognizable face he saw was that of Mitch's friend, oh what was her name.. Krystal.

    "Afternoon Angel," Sid said, as he started towards the table Angel was sitting at. Angel nodded and smiled, pulling a chair out for Sid to take a seat. "Hey Krystal," he said, waving in her direction, cigarette still poised between his fingers as he sat down next to Angel.

    Krystal grumbled, barely mustering the energy for a weak smile and wave, before slumping down into her chair, disappointed that it wasn't Mitch.

ashtray1.gif (2800 bytes)"Well I know I'm no Fabio, but geez.." Sid chuckled, as he tap tap tapped his cigarette against the edge of the ashtray, "what's bugging her?"

    "Well.." Angel said, "Mitch and Krystal are supposed to be going out somewhere with his little girl today."

    Sid peered over at Krystal, and noticed her look down at her watch, shake her head and let out a sigh. "Is he late or something?"

    Angel shrugged. "Not that late." Angel leaned in towards Sid. "But you know how women are."

cigarette1.gif (2020 bytes) Sid silently shook his head, bringing his cigarette to his lips for a long, pondering drag. "Strange for Mitch. Where is he?"

    "Seeing Jessie."

    Sid's eyebrows jumped up. "Again?" he laughed. "Sounds to me like Mitch is starting to lose sight of certain things."

    Angel shrugged and turned away uneasily. "I think they're just good friends, and as a friend Mitch is keeping her spirits up."

    Sid took another quick drag off his cigarette, and leaned forward. "Yeah, but everyday? I mean.. Zip, Zap.. Zonk, Zork.."

    "Zach," Angel laughed.

    "Whatever his name is - he doesn't even see Jess everyday, and he's her fiancé."

    Angel nodded, glancing over at Krystal as he got up. There was clearly more than impatience on Krystal's face. She was a nice gal, and far from dumb, and Angel was sure that she too was wondering why Mitch was spending so much time at Jessie's bedside. After Zach's proposal, Angel had hoped that Mitch and Krystal would be able to hook up, since Jess's engagement had effectively taken her out of the picture.. or had it?

    "How about a drink?" Angel asked, grabbing his own empty beer mug.

    "Sure," Sid said, a smile growing across his lips, his eyes gleaming. "A brew would be great."

    "Coming right up. Maybe a beer or two will help up make sense of this stuff.."

    Stubbing out the last of his cigarette, Sid looked up to catch an antsy Krystal glancing at her watch again. Picking up the ashtray, Sid shuffled on over to where she was sitting at the bar.

    "What's gotcha down?" Sid asked, setting the ashtray down next to Krystal, and taking a seat.

    Krystal shrugged and looked away. "I'm just a little anxious to see Mitch is all."

    "Not upset with him are ya?"

    Krystal turned back to Sid. "Oh no," Krystal sighed, shaking her head, "it's just.. well.. I know Jessie is his friend, but this waiting for Mitch everyday til after he sees Jessie is well.."

    "Frustrating, eh?"

    Krystal nodded. "I don't want to say anything, 'cuz I'm not jealous.. like I said we're just friends.."

    "But it's getting to be a bit too much, eh?"

    "Yeah.. I mean, it's like everyday."

    Sid tugged at the back of his pants for his cigarettes, pulling one out, and tossing it between his lips. "Ah.. don't let it bug you too much," Sid said, making a brushing motion with his hand, "he'd be doing the same thing if it was me, Angel, or even you in there." Sid paused, rummaging in his shirt pocket for his lighter. "He's just a very good friend."

    "You really think so?" Crystal asked.

    Sid nodded. "I know so!"

    Krystal smiled.

lighter1.gif (22571 bytes)"Trust me, Mitch is nuts for you," he said, flipping open his Zippo, and lighting up. "He can't stop talking about you."

    Krystal leaned forward and hugged Sid tightly. "Thanks!" she said, smiling.

    Sid smiled, appreciating the hug. "Yeah, well.. I'm sure he's just about leaving the hospital, and rushing his way back now.."

   "Hey Angel," Betty called out from the alley door behind the Dusk To Dawn, "there’s a call for you."

    "I’m a little busy here Sugar," Angel muttered, pen clenched between his teeth as he checked the latest delivery of liquor.

    "Man says it’s important," Betty said, "should I tell him to call back?"

    Checking off the delivery ticket, Angel stood up, a chill crawling up his back. He never got any calls, especially urgent ones. No one but..

    "Finish receiving these boxes for me," he said, handing her the clipboard, "I’ll be right back."

    Angel’s jaw clenched as he walked up to the wall phone by the stock room. The red hold button blinked, only accentuating the blood pounding at his temples. "This is Bernardo."

    "Thought you could run didn’t you Bernardo?"

    Angel’s jaw clench, as the past that he was trying so valiantly to evade was catching up to him. "What do you want?"

    "Don’t play coy, Angel, you know exactly what Mr. Martini wants.."

    "TELL.." Angel started to say, his agitated voice echoing in the room, "tell Martini that he’ll get his money."

    "Not good enough," the man laughed. "You played with the devil and you got the horns. Now it’s time to pay up."

    Angel’s mind raced. What was he going to do? "I’ve been paying.. Martini knows that.."

    "Chump change," the caller laughed. You can do better than that Angel. You did in the past."

    "No.." Angel whispered, incredulously. No, he thought, shaking his head sadly.

    "No? You musta been in the sun too long buddy, because either the heat down here has fried your brain, or you’re just plain stupid. No one stiffs us and gets away with it. NO ONE. Maybe you need a little reminder to refresh your memory.."

    " I’ll find a way to pay Martini back I swear."

    "I’m afraid your word isn’t worth much anymore Bernardo. Maybe we should show your friends just how non-angelic you are. I’m sure Mitch or that doll Jessie would need much less convincing to figure out just how serious we are.."

    "A meeting.." Angel stammered. "Tell Martini I wanna see him.."

    "And why should an important man like Martini wanna meet with the likes of you? What’s in it for him?"


    "This better not be a trick, Bernardo. Or you won’t live to regret it. And neither will your friends. We’ll be calling. Soon."

    Click. The line went dead. Hanging up the receiver, Angel cursed himself for his foolishness. Back in New York it was just his butt on the line, but now, in fleeing back home, he had brought his problem on the heads of his friends. He wasn’t sure how he was going to work his way through this whole mess. All he did know was that he would do whatever it took to keep Mitch and Jessie out of it.

   What a rollercoaster of a day, Mitch thought, the wind whipping past his head as he zipped through traffic. One minute he was having a confrontation with Zach, and the next watching Zach have his scheme to sue the Dusk To Dawn fall apart. What really affected him was the way Jess had stood up to Zach.. Not even the growing traffic could wipe the smile off his face as the image of Zach, dumbfounded, mouth gaping open after Jess chewed him out. Not even landing some well deserved punches earlier that day had made him feel so good.

    "Hey jerk! Watch where you’re goin’!" Mitch yelled, pumping his fist menacingly at the guy in the black Lexus. Damn yuppies, he thought, moving into the right lane to let Speed Racer pass. Just another pretty boy like Zach, throwing his weight around, because he thought he could. Throwing his weight around.. A sobering thought came over him all at once, threatening to overshadow his sunny disposition. What if Zach.. Mitch could hardly bear to let the thought grow into fruition, but it was too late. Zach had gotten rough with Jess that night on the bar’s dance floor. What was to say he wouldn’t or didn’t again.

    You better not Zach, Mitch thought, as he eased his motorcycle to a halt in the growing parking lot that was the street around him, or you’ll know a world of pain. The sun glinted on the tinted visor of his helmet, causing him to avert his gaze, when something caught his eye. He had driven this particularly run down section of 441 a million times, with its used car lots, junk yards and adult video stores – pretty dull stuff. To his right was O’Neil’s Towing and Junkyard. Nothing new about that. Yet something, semi-hidden from view had just made his heart stop.

    Still holding his breath, Mitch drove through the gates of the junkyard, the dust he had just kicked up tainting his lips and causing him to frown. Movement stirred in the make-shift office a few yards away, and Mitch was slipping off his helmet as the creaky door swung open.

    "Anything I can help ya with?"

    "Tommy? Tommy O’Neil?"

    "Yeah, that’s me. Who’re..woah! Mitch Williams? Dude.. I haven’t seen ya since senior year at Piedmont.. GO COUGARS!" he laughed.

    Wow, Mitch grinned. Jessie was right. He did know a lot of people in this town. The unexpected encounter helped him relax a bit. "Seems like a life time ago." Mitch punched Tommy in the arm, as guys tend to do. "You haven’t changed.."

    Tommy shoved his hands into his baggy pant pockets and shrugged. "Same old crap. I work here part time.. for my dad. You know kinda sucks. But I’m takin’ classes at BCC. The frat is cool and stuff.."

    "Yeah, I did the college thing for a while. Really wasn’t for me.."

    Both men kicked the ground uncomfortably. "So what’d you stop in for, Dude, some hub caps?"

    Mitch sighed. "Actually, something caught my eye," he said, motioning to Jessie’s Jeep.

    "The Wrangler? Don’t even bother takin’ a look. It’s a totaled."

    How would he explain without sounding like a morbid ambulance chaser. "The Jeep belonged to a friend of mine. She had an accident. Maybe you remember her. She went to Piedmont too.. Jessie Reynolds?"

    "Yeah.. yeah. Brunette..long hair. Smart.. Nice ass too," Tommy grin, "but way out of our league."

    Mitch shrugged, and slipped his Foster Grants back up the bridge of his nose. "Yeah well.. we’re friends. She hangs out at the bar I co-own."

    "No shit? Cool.."

    "So.. do you think I can go take a look? I wanna make sure she didn’t leave any of her stuff.."

    "Sure dude.. go right ahead."

    Mitch slowly walked over to the Jeep, eyes broadening when he saw just how bad a wreck Jessie had had. Rounding the front of the car, Mitch gasped. The left side of the hood looked like an accordion, the bumper gnarled and hanging loose in a tangled knot. The driver’s side door was smashed in, its paint scraped off, window cracked, matching the web-like point of impact on the windshield where Jess had hit her head. It was a miracle Jess was alive. I have to sit down, Mitch thought, leaning up against the side of the car. Scanning the Wrangler’s interior, he could see traces of blood.. Jessie’s blood.

    "Dad happened to be passing by on the highway just as the cops were arriving. Guess he saw the Cougar’s sticker and figured it was one of my old football buddies or something." Tommy watched as Mitch walked around and opened up the passenger door. "Is she.."

    "She's a little banged up, but fine," Mitch added quickly, "although I don’t know how she made it out of her accident alive. Never seen anything quite like it."

    "She’s lucky. If this thing would have flipped she would have.." Tommy stopped mid-sentence when he saw the look of horror come over Mitch’s face. "Sorry dude, didn’t mean to freak ya out."

    Mitch sat in silence, as Tommy made a nervous retreat, leaving his old school mate alone with his thoughts. Thank God you’re okay Jess, Mitch thought. Wanting to divert his attention from such troubling thoughts, he started to rifle through the Jeep, looking under the seats in case there was any of Jess’s stuff in the car. Nothing between or under the seats, or in the back. Zip behind the visors. He was about to open the car door to get out, when he remembered the glove compartment. Popping it open, he found a flashlight, map, a travel pack of tissues, a pen and.. What’s this? Mitch thought, reaching in to grab something.

pills3.gif (1868 bytes)It was a bottle of pills – Darvaset. Pain killers? Mitch’s mind screamed. What were pain killers doing in Jessie’s car. He stared at the bottle, unable to breath. His thoughts came in quick, mind-spinning succession. Was Jessie hooked on pain killers? Was that why she crashed? Had she been popping pills the night of the accident? She wasn’t a big drinker.. much less someone that would get behind the wheel drunk. He could have never imagined he’d find anything like this.

    Tommy looked up to see Mitch walk past him like a blur. "Hey.." he called out after him, "it was good to see ya. If you run into any other Cougars tell ‘em I say hello.."

    Mitch waved quickly as he slipped on his helmet and turned the ignition on. "Aw shit," Mitch groaned. Krystal. He had totally forgotten about his date to meet Krystal back at the bar..

   She would need to go back to the hospital in a week to have her stitches removed, and that hopefully would be the last she would see of a hospital for a long time to come. Jess had every reason to be happy. Zach's suit against the Dusk To Dawn had miraculously been blown out of the water since the hospital had lost her blood tests results. Yet, even though she was home and out of the hospital, the place she had come to view as an impromptu prison, the euphoric high Jess had felt was gone.

    Zach was giving her the silent treatment, clearly as punishment for how she had behaved back at the hospital. Tuning out the sports talk radio show he had blaring on the radio, Jessie looked blankly out the window of Zach's BMW. Just because they were engaged didn't mean she couldn't stand up for herself, or have her own opinions. It was better he realize that from the beginning. Sure, there would be problems here and there, they had had plenty before getting engaged, but as long as they were willing to calm down and talk things out they'd be okay.

cigar5.gif (2034 bytes)Zach bit the end of his cigar, spitting the end off obnoxiously out the window. Lighting it, he puffed away, the smoking end burning a brilliant orange from the long puffs. If you weren't a woman he thought, looking at Jess from the corner of his eye, I'd hit you. Beating on Mitch had helped some, but even now he had to fight the urge to backhand Jess. Mind always working, he decided against it, knowing that Jess would be an mean to his desired ends. Not knowing if it was the wall of cigar smoke thickening between them, or the fact that he was so pissed, Zach looked at Jessie's distorted image. And that scar, he thought, frowning, as he clamped down hard on the cigar with his teeth. Yup, Jessie was far from perfect now, making his prospective flings even more appealing.

    Sneaking another look, Zach wondered how he had missed it earlier. Her once flawless face was marred now. Images of Jessie laughing at him, scolding him back at the hospital only made it worse. Forcing his eyes downward, Zach concentrated on her body, still toned and nicely curved. Memories of their night of passion after he had proposed stirred his blood. If something could be said about Jessie it was that she was as passionate in bed as she was in her views. What's the old saying? Make up sex was all the more fun?

    So his plan to humiliate Mitch had fallen through. So what? he told himself. They were moving soon anyway. Besides, there was always time for continued plotting. Jess was his main concern now, for it was she who would help him be a hit in New York. Okay, he thought. So how do I bridge the gap? Jessie was smart enough to smell a rat. He'd have to go for her soft spot. What would someone like Mitch do to apologize?

    He started by carrying her stuff upstairs, holding the lobby door open for her, even slipping his free arm around her waist in the elevator. She was trying to stay mad, but her resolve was weakening. He could see it in the slight curving of her lips. He let her get settled in, then joined her in the bedroom with a couple of long neck beers.

    "Truce?" he said, raising a beer up to Jessie.

    "Where's the white flag?" Jessie pouted.

    "Sorry, this'll have to do, I'm clear out of flags. I'm clear out of arguments too." Zach sat down next to Jessie on the bed. "I hate it when we fight. I wanted your night back home to be peaceful.."

    "Well I wanted that too, but it's kinda hard when you threaten to sue my friends.."

    "I know.. but you can't blame a guy for goin' a little crazy when the girl he loves is almost killed.."

    Jessie started to melt, seeing the concern on Zach's face, hearing it in his voice. "Don't exaggerate.."

    "No, I mean it, Jess, I don't know what I would have done is I had lost you," he said, pulling Jessie in for a hug.

    "I'm right here," she sighed hugging him back, gingerly. "You were like a wild man back there.."

    "Well, you would be too, at least I hope so, if you thought someone had done something to endanger me, right?" he said, taking a sip of his beer.

    "Mitch would never do that Zach, he's my friend.."

    "Then explain this to me. You're not the kind to drink and drive, right?"

    "No, I'm not.."

    "Then how do you explain the accident?

    "I dunno," she sighed, "like I said before, maybe I fell asleep at the wheel.."

    "It's never happened before," Zach said, "you drank at the party didn't you?"

    "So? I'm drinking now. Your point being?"

    "My point is Mitch was behind the bar. He should have seen that you had too much to drink, but he was so into making money that he didn't bother to notice.."

    "So you're starting this again," Jessie said, taking another sip of beer. "I thought you meant it when you apologized. I guess I was wrong."

    "You can be so stubborn, you know that?" Zach said, "I guess we'll never officially know what happened since you blood test results were misplaced. But in my mind your FRIEND is guilty as sin.."

    Jessie couldn't believe Zach was acting so self righteous, especially since he was guilty of plenty himself. "I still can't believe you actually intended to sue Mitch and Angel. If I don't have a problem with them, you shouldn't."

    "And how do you figure that? You're my fiancée, damn it, and I almost lost you because of his recklessness. From what the cops told me, your Jeep looked like an accordion.."

    Jessie hadn't even thought about that. Maybe if she got to see the Jeep, it would spark a memory of what had actually happened that night. "Where's the Jeep now?"

    "Who knows.. all I know is it was totaled in the accident. We'll go get you a new one tomorrow.."

    "Where have I heard that before?" Jessie chuckled. Maybe Mitch knew where the car had been towed to. She would ask him tomorrow. It's worth a shot, Jess thought.

    "Why are you bustin' my chops like this, Jess? It's almost like you're getting some sort of cheap thrill by rattling my cage. We're engaged, or have you forgotten? Correct me if I'm wrong but don't most people in love back each other up? You threw me to the wolves back there at the hospital.."

    "It was kinda hard to show my love for you when you were acting like such a macho jerk ," stated Jess, walking into her closet to change into an oversized T-shirt. "Besides, you weren't being very loving to me either, threatening my friends that way, even when I begged you not to."

    Zach looked up at Jess with a perplexed look on his face when she walked back into the bedroom. No negligee? Zach thought, just a baggy T-shirt? So much for passionate make up sex. "Let's put it this way. Mitch lucked out tonight," stated Zach his annoyance lacing his words, "you think the ass kicking I gave him was bad? I would have ripped him apart in court."

    Jess slipped into bed, turning her back angrily at her fiancée. "You know, you scare me sometimes. Sometimes I don't know who the hell you are."

    You should be, Zach thought, getting into his pajamas. Jessie was pushing her luck again. Yeah, move the hell over, Zach thought, watching Jess scoot away from him towards the edge of her side of the bed. "Even though you're too pigheaded to listen to what I'm saying, I was just protecting what's mine," he said, turning off the lamp on his night table, "so think what you want of me Jess. I need to get some sleep. Some of us have to work in the morning."

* * * * *

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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