(The rest of the chapter is now included!)
“We got the email. He’ll meet you at the Texaco station that just went out of business past the Southgate Mall. I suggested the tavern, but that was too crowded for him. I have the money he asked for, so we have an hour before you’re supposed to be there. Like your ride?” he said patting the top of the Toyota Corolla.
“Non-descript gray. Guess that’s the point.”
“I rented it for a couple of days. We can’t use our own cars.”
Jessie’s pulse ramped up to double-time as she thought about all that could go wrong. “Marc, we need to talk about what I’m supposed to say and do.”
Marc grabbed the sack with the wig out of his car and tossed it to her. “Change your clothes first. Do you have anything black you could wear?”
“Yeah, and I have a black raincoat with a hood. It looks like it’ll still be raining.”
She hurried upstairs and when she got to her room she sank on the bed, her knees weak and her hands shaking. Her first test. She repeated, “You can do this, you can do this,” over and over as she dressed. She unsheathed the Leatherman knife she took from her mom’s desk and put it in her coat pocket. It took her two tries to get the copper wig on correctly. She added blue eye shadow, lots of mascara, and red lipstick to complete her disguise.
“I’m ready,” she said coming down the stairs. “What do I tell them and how long do I try to talk with them? “
“Wow—you’re a knockout, Jess.” Marc stepped around her and looked at all angles. “No one would take you for Jessie Jensen in that get-up.” He eyed the black leather pants and the high heeled boots. “Can you run in those?”
“I guess… if I had to.”
He handed her a packet of money. “Put this in your inside pocket. Its $400 for 50 pills. Oh, and your name is Melanie Long. That’s the email I set up.”
“Melanie, nice; so these pills go for eight dollars on the street?”
“Anywhere from four to eight dollars. These must be special. I’ll drive until we get a couple of blocks away, then you’ll need to take the wheel and I’ll get in the back seat. You’ll park a block away from the gas station and walk. It’ll be dark, so I brought us both pocket flashlights,” he said tossing one at her.
“So I don’t have any way to contact you if there’s trouble?”
“No, I don’t have a wire for you so you’ll be on your own.”
“Do you have a gun?” she asked.
“Yes, do you know how to shoot one?”
“No, I was never interested in learning.”
“I’ll hang on to it then. This should be an easy deal, Jessie. You give him the money and he gives you the pills. You try to remember any and everything he says or does. Get a good description of him, too. Tell him you may need more. Remember, we’re after his boss, not him. Hopefully he’ll lead us to him.”
“Right,” she said rolling her eyes. The more she thought about their scheme, the worse it sounded to her. But they were committed now. She had to go through with it.
They drove in silence for the rest of the trip. Jessie made the switch and drove slowly until they spotted the gas station.
“It looks like the field behind it slopes down to the high school track. I can see the lights and the road beside it.” Marc was scoping their position crouched down in the back seat and giving her directions. “Drive by the gas station and go down another block to the State Farm building. See it? It’s on the same side of the road. Park behind it. And Jessie, if you have to leave in a hurry, run down the hill and hide in the bushes by the road. I’ll come get you.”
She parked and got out of the car, looking around. “There’s no one here,” she said quietly.
“Good. There were a few other cars parked on the road, but they all looked empty.”
“Here I go,” she said willing herself strength and extra courage. Her hands shook and her heartbeat echoed in her ears. She was glad she wore a turtleneck because she was sure the pounding pulse at her throat would be noticeable. As she walked she tamped down a nervous giggle that wanted to escape from her mouth.
Jessie approached the gas station main door. A dim bulb was mounted to the side of the door casting a meager shadow of her on the asphalt. She tried the handle but it was locked. She cautiously picked her way around piles of litter and random pieces of two-by-fours to the back of the station. She glanced down the hillside behind it towards the track. The dark sky and the mist in the air gave it the look of an eerie obstacle course. Half way down the back wall of the building, a door stood ajar to a lighted room.
Jessie took a calming breath and knocked on the door, “Hello.”
A rustle of paper muted his reply. “Come in.”
She pushed at the door and hesitantly stepped into the room.
A nice looking blonde young man sat on a plastic crate reading the Wall Street Journal. He couldn’t have been older than 20. The creases down the legs of his Dockers were pressed and he wore a long sleeved green sweatshirt with U of O Ducks emblazed on the front. She hoped her mouth hadn’t fallen open.
"Hey, thanks gorgeous. I appreciate the concern, but it’s a cake-walk.”
She stared at him incredulously and shook her head. “Take me home. I need a shower and a drink. Then I’ll tell you about the guy who sold me the drugs and the one with the gun. And you need to explain what you mean by not necessarily,” she said using air quotes.
“You’re the person I’m buying my drugs from?” she said, her eyes wide.
“Yeah, well, I’m just breaking into the business. I need the money for college.”
Jessie was stunned. “Can’t you just get a job or something?”
“I’m looking for easy money and it’s been pretty easy so far. I’ve just branched out from Eugene into the Portland area.” He folded his newspaper. “So, you brought the money?”
“Of course,” she said fumbling for it in her pocket.
“Stop,” he said. “Keep your hands where I can see them. I’ll get the money out of your coat.”
Suddenly a gun appeared in his hand. “Can’t be too sure, you know.”
“It’s here,” she said, pointing to the inside of her coat.
He moved towards her and pulled her coat away from her, reaching into the inside pocket for the cash. He pulled a vial from the front pocket of his sweatshirt and placed it in her coat where the money had been. He felt the heaviness in her outside pocket and pulled out the knife and flashlight. He studied the knife. “It’s good to be prepared, but you don’t need this with me.” He put it and the flashlight back in her pocket. This couldn’t be the person her mom was dealing with.
“Have you been in Fernhill very long?” she asked.
“I hacked into another companies program last week and got the email addresses of most of their clients. You were the first one to contact me after I sent out the new email.”
She couldn’t believe how young he was. It had sidetracked her from the mission of the night momentarily, so she brought herself back to it. “I may need more. Can you take care of that for me?”
“Certainly. But I’ll tell you a different place to meet. If the other company catches wind of my enterprise and I need to be pretty mobile.”
Jessie’s maternal instincts kicked in. “Are you sure you’re capable of dealing with the other company? You seem so young. I’m betting they’ll be majorly pissed and will go all out to stop you.”
"Hey, thanks gorgeous. I appreciate the concern, but it’s a cake-walk.”
They heard footsteps just before a man dressed in black sweats and a black-hooded sweatshirt pushed open the door and stepped into the room, pointing a gun at them. “Death-walk you mean. You’ve made some people unhappy. I’ve been told to take care of it.”
Jessie’s breath caught in her throat and she flattened herself against the wall, inching towards the door.
“Sorry, man. Thought there’d be enough business to go around.”
Jessie’s movement caught the other man’s attention and as he turned towards her, she put all the force she could into the motion she practiced in her kickboxing class catching him square in the groin with her high heeled boot. He folded over grabbing his crotch and her contact easily wrestled the gun from his hand. He pushed her out the door. The man leapt after them, knocking all of them into the barbed-wire fence.
Jessie was the first to react. She struggled her way out of the fray of arms and legs but found her pant leg caught in the barbed wire. She grabbed the knife from her pocket, flipped it open and cut the material free.
The two men rolled on the ground, wrestling for the gun. Jessie kicked at their hands entwined around the weapon with the toe of her boot and the gun went flying into the field on the other side of the fence. Her contact jumped up shaking his hand. “Nice moves.” He grabbed his gun and pointed it at the man while she held her knife toward him.
“Two against one. You lose,” he said.
The sound of fast approaching sirens split the night air. Jessie’s free hand flew to her mouth and she groaned, “Oh no.”
“We’re outa’ here,” her contact said pushing her towards the fence.
He leaped over, grabbed the other gun on the ground and disappeared down the hill.
She heard doors slamming and static from the police radios. The attacker scrambled up and sprinted towards the next building. “Not done with you,” he snarled disappearing into the night.
She climbed over the fence scraping her hand and leg on the barbed wire. She ran for all she was worth down the hill, falling once, but getting back up and running again. Half way down she flipped up the hood of her jacket to cover her red hair and picked up her pace. She’d worn the wrong shoes for running, but they’d certainly come in handy for other reasons.
By the time the police lights swept the hillside, she was at the bottom dripping wet, dirty, and gulping for air, but hidden in the bushes. And mad as hell. She frantically felt her pocket. The vial of pills, her knife, and the flashlight were still there. Thank God.
“You so better be here, Marc” she said grinding her teeth. She crept further down the road along the bushes away from the lights of the police above while watching for the Toyota.
She heard Ryan’s voice on the bull horn telling them to come out with their hands up, but they’d been gone moments before—over the fence and down the hill—nothing left behind. Except perhaps a small piece of her leather pants. She wouldn’t know until she could see them in the light.
She breathed easier when she saw the Toyota coming down the road with its lights off. Marc had his head out the window calling softly, “Jessie? Jess?”
She flashed her light at him and stepped out onto the road well in front of the car and out of sight of the police above. When he slowed, she leaped into the car and shouted, “Go, GO.”
Marc sped up and moments later turned onto a main street. “You okay?” he asked looking at her closely, reaching over to grab her arm. “Whoa, you’re a mess.”
The adrenalin rush had her whole body shaking uncontrollably. “Where were.. were you? I thought you sa..said you’d be there if you saw..saw I was in trouble. Didn’t you see..see that guy with the gu..gun?”
“I was coming, but I heard the sirens and figured it would be best if I got the car and made it and down to the street below to pick you up.”
She leaned forward and hugged her knees, tears starting to fall. “Marc, that ..that was Ryan. We could have been caught. We probably screwed up his drug bust.” Anger replaced her tears. “Did you hear me, we could have been arrested!”
“I’m sorry, Jess. It shouldn’t have attracted their attention. It was a simple deal.”
“Why can’t you just go to Ryan and tell him who you are and why you’re here? We could work together with him. We’re after the same guys for the same reason.”
He was quiet for a moment. “The same guys, but not necessarily for the same reason.”