Welcome to What-A-Burger @janewithay
Chapter 6: Over the Rainbow

Disclaimer: I don't own only thing I own are 100 reviews telling me that Bella should have gone to the police. LOL! Don't I know it! But when has that girl ever had an ounce of self-preservation or a lick of common sense?

Thank you to my beta, Frannie and to Matt and Stephanie for pre-reading!

Welcome to What-A-Burger # Unknown

Chapter Six

Over the Rainbow

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."

Dolly Parton

"Bless your Heart."

Still in shock, I sit in the cab staring in bewilderment at the smiling blonde.

Had I just told her that I'd attempted to kill a man?

Yes, yes I had.

And instead of screaming at the tiny girl named Mary-Alice to call the police, she only grinned at me and acted as if I'd merely told her I had eggs for breakfast.

"Honey, I don't mean to be rude, but what in God's name is that smell? Lord-a-mercy; it smells like a barnyard in here."

At her words, Foghorn woke from his slumber and began cocking and doodling from his perch in the back of the cab. I'd kept him up front with me for hundreds of miles, but his constant wing flapping and eliminate of waste on the seat rattled my nerves and offended my olfactory senses. I found some mesh and a crate in the bed of the truck when I stopped for gas and constructed a makeshift cage. Still, I kept him close to me as I went from town to city and from counties to states. I finally had no choice but to put his cage in the bed of the truck, nestled between Jasper's gray officer's cape and his great –great-great grandfather's canteen.

That was somewhere in New Jersey … When I finally had the courage to pull over and call Jasper.

I grimace now, as I recall the conversation.

Needless to say, it hadn't gone well.

The first thing I said was …

'Thank God … you're alive!'

To which he replied …

"Alive? Why the hell wouldn't I be alive?"

Followed by …

'Where in Jesus name have you been, Bella? I tried calling you half the goddamn morning. Please tell me you got those messages I left you regarding that fucker. I barely made it to Logan and almost turned around twice when I couldn't get in touch with you!'

I sat there quietly, trying to find the right words to let him know all that had transpired, but they simply refused to come forth.

The silence grew between us and was marred only by a single seagull that squawked constantly and defecated on the windshield. I turned on the wipers and the poop smeared from left to right as I tried to gather my nerves and the words to explain. But I needn't have bothered because as soon as the familiar squeak and drag of the dull blades pierced the night air, Jasper spoke.

'Bella, where are you?'

I let out a deep sigh.

'I'm in New Jersey,' I whispered.

Silence.

One, two, three …

'New Jersey! What in the hell are you doing in New Jersey; don't you have your first day of finals tomorrow?'

'Yes, I do, but …' I trailed off, lamely.

'But what?

'Look, unless you've suddenly developed a gambling problem or have a strong need for salt water taffy there is no way you would be in Jersey. You'd better start talking, fast.'

'I …'

'Oh Jesus, no, please tell me this doesn't have anything to do with James. I knew I should have turned around in Springfield, Christ! Are you, did he …'

'No. I mean, yes, I did have an encounter with him, but … I mean, I thought, he tried, I …'

'Tell me everything,' he demanded.

Now.'

So, I did.

I told him how I had gotten up that morning determined to end things with James but that I needed to get my belongings and my life back, first. I told him that after I got his text telling me that he was flying to Texas and wouldn't be able to go with me to the apartment that I decided to go regardless; I knew James was out of town and that he wouldn't be home.

I told him that I found James's secret costume shop that was locked and barred but that I'd found the key and gone inside.

I told him about the mannequins.

I told him about the clothing carousel.

I told him about the notes pinned to the clothing and the files I found.

I told him about the Rolodex

that was hidden under the carpeting.

I told him about the names of the women he had listed alphabetically.

I told him that all but mine were marked with a large red X.

I told him that James had handpicked me from hundreds of women and that he knew that my aunt had left me her small fortune.

I told him all this in between sobs and broken sentences. To his credit, he didn't interrupt me until I paused long enough to take a sip of the acrid coffee I'd picked up when I stopped for gas. The heat had long ceased to be, but it soothed my parched throat and I gulped it greedily.

'So, what did the police say when you called them?'

Silence

'Bella, please tell me you called the police and turned his pasty-faced-scone-sucking-ass in?

Bella?'

The seagull swooped overhead and let out another loud shrill and I jumped in my seat, bumping my head against the roof. The headliner was in bad shape; Jasper had tacked in up as best he could with dozens of map pins. One of them nearly became embedded in my scalp, and I cried out, in pain.

'Jesus H Christ … Are you okay? Did he take you? Is that why you're calling me from Jersey? Tell me where you are … did you manage to escape? Don't hang up, sweetie; I'll call the police from the house phone. Just stay on the line and I'll …'

'No-no, I'm fine … he didn't take me … I escaped back at your farm ...'

'My farm? What in the world were you doing there?

His yelling, clear as a bell from far away from Texas, woke up Foghorn and he began to flap his wings and cock accordingly.

'Is that … what the fuck … is that Foghorn?'

'Yes.'

'Do I even want to know why you didn't call the cops, went to my farm, took my rooster, and are sitting somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic?'

'No, probably not.'

'I didn't think so.'

He let out a big sigh.

'Tell me everything.'

So, I did.

I told him that after I returned home from James's apartment that the phone had rung as I was trying to call him. How I spilled my story about breaking into James's place and everything I had discovered, blithely unaware that the entire time I was actually talking to James and not to him as I'd first thought.

I told him that he informed me that he had run into him at Logan and that if I wanted to see my chub, er, friend alive that I'd better get back to his apartment pronto.

'Okay, so tell me again why you didn't immediately call the police?'

'Because, James threatened to kill you if I did!' I yelled.

'And …?'

'And?'

'AND … all the more reason you should have gotten your bony ass straight to the police and reported his tail. I can't believe you would have been stupid enough to fall for his shit; I told you the man was a fucking freak and fraud right from the get go, but would you listen? No. And now look where you're at; sitting in the middle of East-Bum-Fuck in a fifty-year-old Ford with a goddamn cock between your legs.'

I giggled in spite of myself.

For some reason, all the tension from the last couple of days began to bubble forth and left me in a series of snorts, snuffles, snickers, and finally, shouts of uproarious laughter. I couldn't stop myself; I was like a volcano that finally erupted after years of being dormant.

Foghorn chimed in with his unapologetic squawks that sounded as if he, too, was letting out some much-needed steam.

To his credit, Jasper didn't say a word until my emotional outburst subsided.

'Are you finished yet, or should I give the two of you another minute to get your shit together?' he inquired, politely.

Of course, this only set me off once again but this time he did interrupt.

'All right, enough of this crap; I am going to the house phone right now and calling the police.'

That doused my laughter quicker than a bucket of ice water dumped over my head.

'No! You can't go to the police, Jasper. Please! James is crazy; he told me that he would kill you, my mother, her girlfriend and me if I didn't give him the summer to let him establish a new identity. You have to promise me you won't go to the police. He told me he was a tracker and that he would keep tabs on me; he said it was his family business ; that he descended from a long line of trackers and hunters.'

'Okay.'

'Okay?' I was stunned silent.

'Yep, okay. Don't go to the police. Go to your mother's and stay there for awhile. I'll handle that little prick.

'But he said that if we called the cops he would …'

'He's full of shit, Bella. He was playing you; can't you see that? Anyway, it doesn't matter; I don't need to call the police to end his god damn shenanigans. Besides, that's what he wants me to do anyway; I may as well give the baby his bottle.'

'What are you talking about?'

'He wants me to find him, plain and simple. He's a tracker, so I'll give him something to stalk.

And when he's staring down the barrel of my grandfather's musket, then I'll blow his snowy ass back to The Isle of Wight, where the good ole boys of Scotland Yard can deal with him.'

'I don't even think he's English; his accent changed dramatically after he lured me back to the apartment.'

'Tell me everything you know about him including all the details that happened at my place.

I told him that after I'd driven to his farm and gone from room to room looking for him; that I'd been up in the apple orchard when I heard James's sleek Mercedes coming down the gravel drive.

'So what did you do then?' he interrupted.

'I hid behind an old Macintosh and watched him get out of the car, go over to mine, and remove my keys from the ignition. Then I saw him go around the back of the house and go inside.'

'Bella, at any time during this encounter did it ever enter your pea brain to call the police?

Of course it did; I'm not stupid, Jasper,' I said in a huff.

'Sorry, I know you're not stupid. I just can't, for the life of me, understand why you didn't go directly to the police after you left his apartment. Even if he had kidnapped me and were holding me there, you still should have had the sense to call the cops.'

"I know, I know I should have, Jasper, but I didn't. I was scared out of my wits and terrified that he'd hurt you, or worse, had left you for dead. I didn't want to take the time to explain myself to the police and possibly delay the hunt for you,' I finished off, weakly. No matter how I tried to justify my actions, they sounded lame, even to my own ears.

'Okay, I'm sorry; please continue.'

'Well, after awhile he came out of the house and went into the barn. I heard Foghorn clucking and flapping madly at him and then I saw James running out of the barn holding his nose a few minutes later, yelling that he was going to kill that "fucking chicken" as soon as he dealt with me.

'He called him a chicken?'

'Yes.'

'Christ he's so dumb he could throw his ass to the ground and miss. I can't believe this idiot has been able to pull the wool over anyone eyes, including Berty's and the board.'

'I should have killed him when I had the chance,' I cried. Then I cried harder when I realized I wished that I had killed someone; I never thought I'd feel that way in my entire life.

'Yeah, well, if you'd have gotten your damn nose out of Austenworld and occasionally watched The Walking Dead you would have known the fundamentals of how to properly destroy a monster.

I stopped mid tear. 'What?"

'The first rule of thumb; always tap them twice.'

I laughed again, in spite of myself. Jasper's sense of humor never failed to assuage any anxiety and fears I might have, even when it came to murder, mayhem, and misery.

'Okay, Look; I won't call the cops just yet, but I am going to contact my buddy in Boston. He is a private eye; a brilliant detective and is someone I trust explicitly.

Now, is there anything else I should know other than he is crazier than a bedbug in June? '

'Well, he did tell me that his real name was James Hunter and that he was distantly related to the-'

'Bella, you're breaking up; can you move around and get a stronger signal? '

The static in the phone increased dramatically as I continued to rove around the outside of the truck in an effort not to lose contact. I told him about James assuming the identity of his cousin James Witherdale and that he was instrumental in his death. The static was ever present and our conversation was peppered with "Say that again? Uh-huh- wait-what?"

'Hunter? Is that right? '

'Yes.'

'Huh. Well I can have my friend run his name through the database and see if there's a hit but I doubt it; why would he give you that kind of info?'

'Most likely because he didn't think I'd live long enough to tell anyone.'

There was silence on his end and I thought for a moment that I'd lost the connection.

'Are you there, Jasper?'

'Yes, sorry … I just had to plug my own phone in; please continue.'

'He knew I was close, but he didn't know where I was exactly so he just kept shouting things in the air hoping that I could hear him. And I did, nearly every word.'

'That's the way the land is laid Bella. There are days when I've been up in the orchard pruning and I could hear a cricket fart from my living room fireplace.'

'Well, he was a lot closer to me at times than he should have been; I was scared that he would see my legs shaking under the shadow of the trees. But after he yelled that he wanted to assume a new identity and that he'd let all of us live if I gave him the summer, I was in a dilemma. I knew if I went to the police that he'd carry out his threat.'

'I still think he was fucking with you, Bella. If you went to the police, they would have arrested him on the spot. But since you didn't and you don't want me to call them because you're petrified he's going to do us all in, I have no choice but to do it myself.'

'You can arrest him?'

'Yes, I not only have a degree in Criminology I am also a licensed detective; thought you knew that. How do you think I managed to pay for all my schooling? '

I had no answer for that so I simply listened as he continued. The misty rain had given way to a significant storm; the sky was filled with lightning bolts and the sound of thunder echoed in the horizon. If I was going to get back on the road, I needed to do so sooner rather than later.

'I need to get in touch with my buddy from Boston. He's a Private Eye and he'll advise me on how to handle this asshole. Right now what I need you to do is to get going. You said you're in New Jersey?

'Yes.'

'Did you take 87 South or-'

'No, I went on 95 South- you know how bad I am with driving through the mountains; I always get lost.'

'All right, then the first thing I want you to do is to get the hell off of that and use rural routes only.'

'Why? I don't know my way around back roads, Jasper. You know I have trouble with directions I-.'

'Open up the glove compartment.'

I did as he asked and spotted a GPS device.

'Look, you're tooling around in a 1954 Ford Pick-Up; people take notice to that sort of thing. If that prick is on your trail, all he would have to do is inquire at a toll booth. With his phony-ass charm, the old lady who takes his token will give him an escort right to you.'

'What do I do?' I asked now, genuinely frightened. I looked uneasily over my shoulder certain I would see blue eyes glittering in the lights from the gas station.

As if he could see me, Jasper told me to stay calm and that in all likelihood if James were on my trail he would have found me by now.

'He's probably got to rest up given the ass whooping he took today. Besides, he's cocky enough to figure he could give you two weeks to hide and still be able to find you. So, I want you to call your mother and let her know that you're coming for a visit. Once you get there, you can tell her exactly what has been happening. Hopefully by then I will have found his sorry- ass and hauled it off to the cooler.

'Now, do you have any money?'

'A little; I cashed the stipend I received for coaching the men's debate team last week. There was an armoire I wanted to buy; I planned to go antiquing.'

With James.

I was planning to go antiquing with James in Stockbridge. My God, had that only been a week ago? I started to become rather emotional at the thought, but Jasper doused that before I started weeping in earnest.

'I don't want you to use your debit card or any other credit card until you hear back from me.'

'Why?'

'Because, James is crafty and even though he's as dumb as a stump in some areas he's smart as a whip in others; how do you think he managed to skirt the police so far? He's more slippery than a slop jar. He probably has connections. I don't know. What I do know is that I want you to keep off the main highways, and use the GPS. Oh, and open the gray box under the passenger seat; it has my 1850, Navy Colt Revolver and some ammo inside.'

'Jasper, I don't know how to use a gun! I cried out, horrified.

'Yes, I know little-Miss-Massachusetts-No-Gun-Law-I'm-a-proud-card-holding-Democrat. But this isn't a political debate; this is your fucking life we're talking about here!

Besides, the gun is mostly ornamental; I don't actually use it to kill those Yankee boys when I'm in a reenactment. Not that I haven't been tempted a time or two.'

'Then why do you have ammunition?' I asked, puzzled.

'Well, it was my Great-great-great-granddaddy's and he kept it in use. It is loaded now because I saw a copperhead in the barn last week and I figured I would rather enjoy sending him to Jesus compliments of Pee-paw's pistol. But as it turned out I ended up killing it with a hoe; thing was still sluggish from his winter solstice, I guess.'

'So you think James is really going to come after me?'

'I don't know yet. I need to get inside his twisted mind and dwell there for a day or two so I can get a feel for him … Figure out how he plans and plots. It is like playing a game of chess with a pro; you fumble about and keep on losing game after game until one day you put his strategies together and wham! He finally loses and you're the winner.

Until I figure him out, I want you to keep off the highway and head straight to your mothers. Keep your phone handy and make sure to keep it charged. I've got a double charger in the glove compartment; it's my old one so it'll work with your antique granny phone. I cannot believe you have Foghorn to deal with on top of all this, but I guess, given the circumstances he is safer with you for the time being. Besides, I've trained him to attack intruders and he's meaner than owl shit. I've got a box of dried corn somewhere in the bed of the truck.'

'I've already found it; it looks like a homeless person lives back there, Jasper.'

'You're chiding me about my housekeeping when you've got a potential killer on your ass? Jesus.'

I listened to him give me explicit instructions on how to use the revolver. ( "Just point it at the fucker and pull"). And his warning not to answer the phone from anyone unless it was him. He told me that he would be flying back to Boston first thing in the morning. He said he'd handle everything from there, right down to letting Jessica know that I had to take emergency leave to be with my mother.

'But James said he'd tell her that we eloped and that she'd believe anything he said.'

'Look, I don't know what is in this sick bastard's mind just yet, but I will; trust me. Criminology has always been my area of expertise; I might as well put it to use in a real-life application. What I do know is that James Hunter is one sick fuck and he's dangerous. We can't let him destroy another woman's life by assuming a new identity.

I promised you that I won't call the police and I won't until you're safely ensconced at your mothers.

What I do know is, I am not going to head back to Old-Howie until all of this is sorted out.'

'Wait, you never told me how your grandmother is doing; is she okay?'

'Yeah, she'll be fine in a day or two. It turns out that she had a minor stroke, which the doctor thinks was a result of taking too many BC Powders; the woman is a damn addict with those things, I swear. Anyway, he put her in the hospital overnight but she's being released in the morning.

Look, I'm going to let you go for now. I've got to make my reservation and get in touch with my buddy. Knowing him, he'll put a trail on him tonight.

If you get tired, pull over to a hotel and lock yourself in the room. You can sneak Foghorn in if you have to; just put him in your big-ass- purse and pretend he is a dog. If anything happens, call the police immediately and THEN call me, understood?

And Bella?

Yes?

'I love you. You're going to be just fine, honey. Go to your Mama's; you'll be safe there. I'll keep in touch with you throughout your trip until you get there.'

That was two days ago.

It feels more like a life-time ago.

That was after I found out that my mother was out of the country and wouldn't be home for months.

I made it as far as South Georgia before I was finally able to get through to her office and spoke to her assistant, Frances, who confirmed, "Renee cleared her calendar for the next three months and won't be returning until August; didn't she call you and let you know, Bella?"

Of course not.

When did Renee ever let me know anything?

I tried to call Jasper to let him know that I was heading back to Howie but his phone went straight to voicemail.

I was almost back in South Carolina when I stopped to feed Foghorn and get gas for the pick-up.

My hand reached frantically under the seat for my small handbag, clawing at the carpet, for what felt like hours.

But the only thing I found was my aunt's, crystal and sapphire barrette.

The one I'd left on James' closet floor.

***WTWAB***

"Yep, she's dead all right," the robust blonde, named Rosalie, proclaims, slamming the hood down in defeat.

"What's wrong?" I ask, anxiously.

"Blown head gasket, would be my guess.

Whew, it's hotter than two rabbits screwing in a wool sack!" She declares, removing the kerchief from her head and patting her face with the bright swatch of calico.

"Ali, fetch me a Sundrop from the cooler?"

"You drank the last one an hour ago, Ro. You want a Cheerwine instead?"

"That's fine. Would you care for one?" she asks me, politely."

"I- (don't know what you're talking about) would love one, thank you."

I'm dying of thirst; I've not had anything to eat or drink in days. Besides if it's some kind of wine, I could certainly use a glass right now. It doesn't look as if I'll be driving anyway.

I have no identification, no money, no clothes, no phone; nothing whatsoever on my person.

What I do have is a hungry rooster and a fifty-year-old pickup with a dead engine that looks like the war was fought and lost in the deep recesses of its bed. My life is so surreal that at this point, I wouldn't be surprised to find Jeb Stuart and Robert E. Lee playing a resounding game of whist back there, with Abraham Lincoln keeping score, and Jefferson Davis pouring them each a snifter of brandy.

However, it's been a lifesaver.

I'd sold a pair of leather Calvary boots and an old canteen to the kid I'd bought gas from in Georgia. He gave me a free fill-up and two hundred dollars in cash. I took the money eagerly and the boy acted as if he'd won the State Lottery.

Jasper is going to kill me, I think to myself.

If James doesn't get to me first, of course.

"Here you go; I brought a pack of Nabs too; you look like you haven't eaten a bit in days."

"What are you going on about Mary Alice; I stuffed myself silly at Esme's table only an hour ago."

Still, she reaches for the crackers and opens the pack neatly with a single swipe of her long, red fingernail. How she managed to avoid chipping them while poking around under the hood is beyond me.

"Gel," she says, swiping them on the front of her pink uniform. I look at her puzzled.

"My nails," she grins. "Caught you staring at them just now. I had them done yesterday. Gel polish, cost me twenty dollars but worth every last cent. This will last me at least two weeks; three if I don't have to work the kitchen this month."

"I brought the crackers for her, Ro, not you. Lord … If your ass gets any wider it's gonna have to file separately next year."

I look at her horrified; what a mean thing to say to the poor woman. But Rose only laughs back at her insult good-naturedly.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she says proffering the pack to me. I take one out and nibble on it gingerly. After tasting the peanut buttery goodness, I gobble the rest in a single bite. She reluctantly hands me over the remaining crackers and the Cheerwine, which isn't wine, unless they sell it in six-packs south of the Mason-Dixon border. I look at the bright red can; it appears to be some kind of soft drink. I pop the tab and take a hesitant sip.

Heaven!

I down half the can in three gulps and then I am horrified when I feel a burp rise from my throat. I manage, just barely, to squelch it back before I embarrass myself.

'It's good, right?" Allie says to me. I nod my head in agreement and continue sipping the soda pop as delicately as possible, but it's difficult because I am so thirsty and is it ever so good!

"So, you ever gonna tell us why it is that you've got a damn rooster sitting next to you like he was your boyfriend? Or is this one of those elephants that sets up shop in the living room on a permanent basis?"

"Um …"

"Rose, can I talk to you for a sec?"

"What?"

"I need to talk to you."

"Okay, well then, talk."

The tiny girl, Allie, turns to me and rolls her eyes.

"Pardon us while we go over to the side of the Jeep and talk about you behind your back."

I blink my eyes at her; talk about being blunt!

Rose lets out a big huff from the side of her mouth.

"Excuse us a second." She storms off in the direction of her vehicle and I sit there on the side of the road, sipping a foreign soda and listening to Foghorn grunt and flap about in his cage. I walk over to the truck and release him. He looks happy to see me so I put him in my teacher's bag that I rescued from James's apartment only two days previously.

Even from a distance, I can hear their conversation quite clearly.

"This girl is in a world of trouble, Rosie."

"Don't I know it, girl. You get a vision of her or what?"

"Well, it's not clear yet, but I know it involves a -." She mouths.

"Psh, doesn't it always? What else do you see?"

"I see …" She glances over at me and puts her mouth to the blonde girl's ear.

"Ooh, that's creepy. What else?" I hear her ask. They continue to chat amongst themselves and now I can only hear fragments of their discussion. Rose's face is all wide open eyes and mouth. I can hear her clucking and sighing worse than Foghorn when he's rattled.

"Well, shit. I know she said something," She whispers in the tiny girl's ear… "But I figured she was talking about her rooster.

So what do you think we ought to do, Al?"

"I'm not sure, but I do know that there's a reason her truck crapped out here and that we were sent help her."

"Huh."

"Yeah."

"Well, shit. I expect we've got to make a few calls then," she sighs.

"Okay, you call Boots and see if he can get here with the wrecker; tell him I said to get his tail moving or I'll cut it off and use it to whip his ass. I'll go and call Miss Vick."

I hop out of the truck and walk over to a grassy knoll and sit. Rose glances over at me and gives me a thumbs-up. I try to smile back, but my face simply won't do as it's asked. I give her a sort of half-wave and look down at my hands.

They resume their conversation.

"Okay, you do that little thing, Allie. I'll take care of Boots. He's not going to be too happy seeing those Massachusetts plates, though; I can tell you that for a fact."

"Well, the same for Miss Vick. I mean, she's from up North. Do you even think Miss Vick will take her, Rose?"

"Pft, the girls got a damn rooster stuffed inside her Michael Kors, she'll love her; hell, she'll probably adopt her."

I sit here in the heat wondering who Miss Vick is and why they're calling to see if she'll take me. A shiver runs down my spine imagining the possibilities.

Maybe she's the madam of a brothel and I am going to be her new sex slave.

I stand up quickly, prepared to run if necessary.

Allie catches my move and rushes over to me.

"Hey there, I never did think to ask your name."

I look at her blankly and feel the anxiety that I had put on tap begin to work its way back into my system.

My name … she wants my name.

I look over the terrain and catch a sign post that says, Lake Annabelle.

"Um, my name is Annabelle … Annabelle …."

Think Bella, think.

A blackbird flies overhead, stirring Foghorn from his slumber.

"Crow."

Crow?

"Well, Annabelle Crow, I'm certainly pleased to make your acquaintance.

My name is Mary-Alice Cullen and that gal over there is my sister, Rosalie Cullen."

I look at her in astonishment; these two girls can't possibly be sisters; they look nothing alike!

Before I can say a word, Rose walks back over to us with a grin on her beautiful face.

"Okay, we're all set; Boots will be here in ten minutes. He just got back from the beach with Elizabeth."

"Rose, come and officially meet Miss Annabelle Crow.

Annabelle Crow, this is Rosalie Cullen, my sister."

"Adopted sister, Allie."

"Whatever, you're my sister regardless of whose womb you crawled out of, Rose."

"Indeed."

"It's nice to meet you," I say, overwhelmed, shaking their hands.

"Um, forgive me for being rude, but I'm sort of in a hurry to get back to Massa-, well, to get back home. I had my pocketbook stolen out of my truck yesterday when I was pumping gas and-"

"Oh my God … did that little bastard steal it, Honey? Is he still coming after you?"

I look at her in astonishment and utter dismay.

She knows.

That must have been what they were talking about privately. I've got to get out of here now!

"How-how do you know … wait… is there some kind of news story about me? Oh, my … I –I need to get out of here. If you'll just call a tow service maybe I can-"

"Hey, slow your roll, Missy. Ain't nobody got a feeler out after you as far as we know. Now sit back down and adjust that wedgie you got going on; Lord, we're not gonna hurt you; we're gonna help you."

"But-but … she said … you said …"

"Yep, we said, you got that right. Now listen, I don't know what's got you come undone but it's no sweat off my hiney. I took one look at you sitting in the truck with your fingers embedded in the wheel and that damn rooster just cock-a-doodling to beat the band and I knew straight off that you were in trouble. It don't take a psychic to figure that shit out.

But Mary-Alice here, well she's always had The Gift."

The Gift?

"Second sight; she's known around here as having the gift of discernment.

"It's biblical," Allie turns to assure me, patting my arm.

Biblical?

"We'll explain it all to you later, once we get you settled."

Settled?

"Look, Annabelle, I know from the way you're looking at us that you've already got us pegged as a couple of eccentric, but lovable, Southern waitresses who look, talk, and act like they tumbled right out of your television set, circa 1975. And frankly, you might be right.

But here's the thing; we ain't Flo and Alice, hun, but we're all you got."

I look at both women standing side by side; they don't seem like they would hurt a fly let alone me. There's an honest look about them; sincere and kind.

Before I make up my mind as to what to do, a large, yellow tow truck bearing the name Boot's Tow and Go on the side panel pulls up next to us.

I watch as a pair dark, scuffed, leather boots and denim covered legs climb gracefully out of the door.

My eyes travel upward to his lean hips, long torso, and wide chest that is clad in a dirty, white V-neck T-shirt. They finally settle on a sharp jaw that looks like the owner ran out of razors a few days back. His mouth is full and almost feminine in color; his lips are cherry, they're so red. His nose is what the romantics would call aquiline. His eyes are green. Not like emeralds or grass or celery or even cats. No, they're more like moss or the kind of green that a pond turns in the springtime, deep and full of secrets.

I study his face and watch his swamp-eyes narrow as he goes around to the rear of my truck and stops dead in his tracks.

"Oh joy, just what Masenville needs; another Mass-hole," he spits, literally spits, out the side of his mouth.

I hate him on the spot.

*****WTWAB#U*****

A/N:

Yes, I know she should have gone to the police.

Yes, Jasper should have told her to go to the police.

But where's the fun in all that? You can assume that there will be a Jasper's POV in this story at some point so, to quote Rosie, "Get the wedgie out of yer hiney's! He might be dying to get his hands on a real life crime story but he ain't that big of a dumb ass."

I'll leave that for Bella.

But, I kinda have the feeling that Rose and Alice are about to give Ole Bella something she never learned from a book.

Common Sense!

Now ... about Boots ...

;)

Thank you for reading and reviewing!

Jayne

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