RETURN TO WILLOUGHBY

July 27, 2013 

Another red light. Moss cussed, loudly and obscenely. How many more of them were going to hold him up tonight?

Hold him up? He laughed. That sounded as if he had somewhere to go instead of heading nowhere fast. He was jumpy. His eyes darted from the red light in front of him to his rear view mirror. No-one was behind him. Yet.

He craved another smoke.

The last few vehicles crossed the intersection in front of him and his foot moved to the gas pedal. The light changed and he rammed his foot down, only to swerve, tires squealing, when a black sports car shot through the eastbound red light. Heart pumping, he spun the wheel with sweat-slicked hands and slewed into the westbound lane heading for Arkansas.

The near miss shook him up badly. He had to have a smoke. Ahead, a Motel 6 sign beckoned. He pulled onto its lot, lit up and slumped in his seat, sucked smoke into his lungs and closed his eyes.

That was a mistake.

Instantly he saw again the blood spurt out of the chest of the innocent old security guard who had tried to prevent two guys from hustling Shug and Caroline into the car. What was he thinking? That his low-caliber Saturday Night Special would intimidate someone wielding an automatic?

Moss and Logan had watched from across the street where they were trapped by two other Desordenado thugs.

“It’s you they really want,” Logan had whispered hoarsely into Jasper’s ear.

“Get outa here.”

He fired his gun into a trash can, causing a diversion, and they had both escaped in the following ruckus. Jasper was confused. Who was Logan referring to when he said ‘We’ve got them both’? Shug and Caroline? No. He’d have said ‘We’ve got them back’ if he’d meant them. And who was he with? Rick or Bennett? Loose cannons, both of them.

“I won’t know what’s going on unless I go back to Willoughby,” he muttered. “To hell with staying out of sight.”

He fired the ignition and was about to move onto the highway when his phone chimed again.

He hesitated before saying, “Hello.”

“Jasper?”

The voice was soft, muffled, as if someone had used the old trick of putting a handkerchief over the mouthpiece. He couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman. Whoever it was, was faking.

“Who’s this?”

“A friend.”

“I don’t have friends. They’re a liability.”

“Shut up and listen.”

“That’s not nice.”

“Nor are you.”

Jasper stared at the phone before putting it back to his ear.

“What do you want?”

“To warn you that half the Desordenado gang is looking for you.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“The old man wants revenge on you. Wants it bad. That’s why they took Shug and Caroline. They took Charlie Ann, too.”

“Why? She’s not part of anything.” “This is personal, Jasper. Two weeks ago, when you went to check on Bennett, do you recall those two Spanish types staying at Shug’s?”

“Yeah. So?”

“The little fat one was Desordenado himself.”

“No way.”

“Yup. He was fed up with his guys never finding you so he went to Willoughby and looked for himself. Someone told him you were hiding out there. Well, it seems while he was there he contracted Hepatitis A.”

“That’s a liver disease, isn’t it?”

“’Sright. Dessie’s got a bad dose. He’s yellow as a daffodil and doubled up in pain. He thinks he’s gonna die, which is bad news for you.”

“So what’s new. How did he get it?”

“Either someone at Shug’s guest house didn’t wash their hands after going to the bathroom or, which is more probable, he got it through eating the frozen berry and pomegranate mix Shug bought from Charlie’s health food store. You know, the one that replaced the flower shop. According to USA.gov, thirty people from five states are sick with it now.”

“Poor guy. I feel real, real sorry for him.”

“Your concern touches my heart.”

“It’s none of my business.”

“If I know you, Jasper, you’ll make it your business. You just can’t keep your nose out of things, especially where your friends and family are concerned. But, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from Willoughby ‘til I call you again. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.”

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