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Authors: Fern Michaels

Tags: #Retail, #Suspense, #Fiction

Weekend Warriors (15 page)

BOOK: Weekend Warriors
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“Glitch number four. Call Myra on the cell phone Charles gave you. Repeat the conversation verbatim. I’m sure the D.A. is the one that came to the house. He ran a check on the license plate. I knew it. I had a bad feeling the day he came to Myra’s house. Easy, Murphy, easy. It’s okay,” she said to the big dog who had picked up on the anxiousness in her voice.
Five minutes later, Alexis looked across at Kathryn as she absentmindedly scratched Murphy’s head. The big dog did everything but purr. “Nikki answered and she said to stick to the plan and to call the D.A. when you get back from Bermuda. I think Isabelle’s flight gets in around eleven Monday morning. I’d say call him around twelve-thirty. Time for you to pick up the truck and your load of produce.”
“Is this glitch four or is it five?”
“Four with a hangnail. It’s okay, Kathryn. I like this dog of yours. The truth is, I like everyone involved in this little venture. Yoko is growing on me. I saw Julia smile and once she actually laughed out loud. That has to be hard with a death sentence hanging over your head. Nikki is the one I feel sorry for. Isabelle is so sweet and so very tired. Myra and Charles are just loves. You’re okay, too, Kathryn. Being in prison had to be a piece of cake compared to what you lived through.”
“What was it like, Alexis?”
“It was bad. The worst thing of all was when the doors clanged shut. The word clang is so perfect. Every damn time they shut, I wanted to jump out of my skin. I never close doors where I live now. Even the bathroom door stays open. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over that feeling. Everything smelled like Clorox. The food was inedible. The bed was hard as a rock. Roaches were everywhere. Everything was on a schedule. I made a lot of friends after I learned how to play the game. The whole time I was in there I didn’t have one visitor, nor did I get one piece of mail. Most days I didn’t know what day it was unless someone told me.
“The worst thing, though, was the nightmares. I lived with the trial and the outcome every day since I was convicted. I spent a year in prison so those slimeballs could cheat old people and fatten up their bank accounts. One of them even has a yacht now. I swear it’s as big as an ocean liner.
“My real name is Ann Marie Wilkinson, not Alexis Thorne, and I damn well want it back. I was born with it and it belongs to me.” Tears rolled down her cheeks. Murphy reared up and licked them away.
“We’ll get your name back. Don’t you worry about that,” Kathryn said, with such vehemence Alexis bolted upright. “And I’m going to see to it that you get the ocean liner, providing you take me and Murphy on a cruise.”
“You sound like my champion, Kathryn. Thank you for that.”
“We’re all in this together.”
“You know what I think, Kathryn. I think we make one kick-ass team. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to go up against us. Would you? Are you anxious about tonight?”
“A little. I was pretty calm when Julia did her number back there in the motel. He should be waking up just about the time we get to Lone Pine.”
“What’d you do with his nuts?”
“They’re swishing around back there in Alan’s old lunchbox. It’s in the back by his wheelchair.”
Alexis burst out laughing. “How did you feel, Kathryn?”
“Angry. Bitter. Numb. It was all so surreal. I knew it was happening and I knew I was watching and being a part of it but only half of me was there. The other half of me was back there in the parking lot of the Starlite Cafe where it happened. He was the one that sodomized me. If his nuts hadn’t been in that Snapple bottle, I would have jammed that bottle up his butt.”
“Spoken like a true woman. One down, two to go. By midnight or thereabouts, you will be vindicated. Don’t for one minute think you’re going to magically find closure, Kathryn, because it ain’t gonna happen. People always say they’re looking for closure for this or that. It doesn’t happen. You can’t erase the memory. It will always be with you. The best you can hope for is some kind of vindication,” Alexis said as she settled herself more comfortably in the seat. “Just knowing there are three men out there walking around without their balls is going to please me no end.”
“Yeah, me, too. Do you suppose they’ll walk differently, kind of duck-like?”
Alexis went off into a peal of laughter. “They won’t have to worry about which side to put
them
on anymore. I heard Tom Jones the singer used to pad his pants onstage so people would think he had a big set. I wonder if that was true.”
Kathryn laughed until her sides hurt.
 
 
An hour later, Alexis said, “Kathryn, do you see what I see?”
“It’s the bikers. Oh, God, there’s Charles in the lead. What should I do? Pass them or stay behind?” Kathryn dithered. “Shit, they’re straightening out, that means they want me to pass them. Don’t look at them, Alexis.”
“Hey chickee baby,” one of the bikers shouted as Kathryn pressed down on the gas pedal.
Alexis hung her head out the window and looked at Charles as Kathryn roared past the trail of motorcycles. “Yo dude!” she shouted. Charles waved, a wicked grin on his face.
“You had to do that, didn’t you?”
“Yeah,” Alexis laughed. I’ve been called a lot of things in my time but no one ever called me chickee baby before. They must have stopped for food or something. They had at least a fifty-minute head start on us. Before you can ask, I think there’s thirty-seven of them. That’s counting Charles.”
“How far from ground zero?”
“Three hours, maybe a little less.”
“I’m counting the minutes,” Alexis said as she snuggled with Murphy.
Jack Emery rubbed at his tired eyes before he picked up the stack of papers he’d printed out. They could just be papers or they could be something else. He leaned back in his swivel chair as he scanned the sheets in his hand. Why would women in their late 30s and early 40s be playing bridge with an old lady like Myra Rutledge? Just by scanning the sheets he’d say they were more likely to belong to the same gym as Nikki. But they were at Myra’s.
A prominent plastic surgeon married to a United States senator might conceivably travel in the same circles as mega-rich Myra Rutledge. He’d seen the power couple’s picture in the paper at least once a week but never with Myra Rutledge. The name Isabelle Flanders tickled his brain but he couldn’t remember where he’d heard it before. Alexis Thorne and Yoko Akia. And of course Nikki. Myra said Nikki wasn’t there the day he’d walked through the ruptured gates. He frowned. Were the others in the house that day? If they were, he hadn’t seen them. But that didn’t have to mean anything. They could have been in the sunroom or the dining room. So what? People like Myra Rutledge played cards in the middle of the day and served little finger sandwiches to the cardplayers.
Unlike his mother, who cleaned houses for a living to support his three sisters and two younger brothers while he was growing up. She was always home to make dinner and then left again to clean offices at night. She didn’t know the first thing about playing cards. She probably didn’t know how to make little finger sandwiches either. He thought about the hundred bucks a week he kicked in along with his siblings to pay for her care in a nursing home. He didn’t begrudge the money because he loved his mother. He just wished she would get better but he knew no one recovered from Alzheimers disease. His eyes burned when he remembered his last visit to the nursing home. For one minute she’d recognized him and called him Jackie. A second later she asked him if he was a doctor.
No, his mother didn’t know people like Myra Rutledge.
He wondered now if he should have told Nikki about his mother. Why hadn’t he? Why did he let her think he didn’t know how to manage money, that he was a playboy D.A.? Why did he trade in his old reliable Honda for the Lexus and was now sucking wind because the lease payments were strangling him? Why did he do half the things he’d done where Nikki was concerned? Had he in some cockamamie way been trying to compete with the life she had with Myra Rutledge? Did he think a boy from the Bronx couldn’t measure up? Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what he thought.
He looked at his watch. If he drove like hell, he could make the nursing home before they got his mother ready for bed. Maybe she’d call him Jackie again tonight. Maybe.
Jack made it to Winchester just in time before lockdown. He waved to the charge nurse and beelined down the hall to his mother’s room. He stood in the doorway watching her for a full minute before he said, “Hi, Mom!”
“Is your mother here, young man? I don’t see her.”
“I guess she left,” Jack said perching on the side of the bed. “Would you like some company?”
“I always like company. Where is your mother?”
“She’s close by. She won’t mind if I stay and talk with you for a little bit.”
“I think I’m a mother. Do you know if I am, young man?”
“I think you’re probably the best mother in the whole world. I’m Jack. Do you remember me? Think, Mom. Jesus, I miss you. I try to get out here as often as I can but I can’t always make it. I just want you to know I try.”
“Are you going to cry, Jackie? It hurts me to see you cry, honey. No one is here so if you want to cry it’s okay. I won’t tell anyone.”
Jack dropped to his knees. He almost swooned when his mother stroked his hair and started to hum under her breath, “Hush little baby . . .” He blubbered like a baby and didn’t know why.
Jack moved away and reached for his mother’s hands. “Mom, listen to me. If someone killed Betty Ann, what would you do?”
“Who’s Betty Ann?”
“Your daughter, Mom. My sister. What would you do if someone killed her?”
“If I was Betty Ann’s mother, I would kill them. What would you do, young man?”
“I tried to stop her, Mom, but I wasn’t quick enough. I was going to send her to jail for the rest of her life but she skipped out on me. I have to find her.”
The woman sitting in the chair grappled with what he was saying. Jack watched as she struggled to find words to respond. “Mothers are . . . they love . . . they protect their young with their lives. Are you sure I’m a mother? Do you need someone to protect you, young man? I think I can do that. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Jack leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Just say good night Jackie. The nurse is here to get you ready for bed.”
“Good night, Jackie.”
“I’ll see you next week, Mom.”
“If I see your mom I’ll tell her I saw you. What’s your name again?”
“Jack Emery. Good night, Mom.”
Outside in the hall he heard his mother say, “That young man lost his mother. It’s so sad.”
Outside in the warm spring night, Jack sat down on an iron bench in the little courtyard by the main entrance. He bit down hard on his lip, his shoulders shaking. He didn’t see the tall thin man walk through the doorway, nor was he aware of him when he made his exit a half hour later. He did see the man talking on his cell phone when he passed his car on his way to the Lexus that was parked three aisles away.
 
 
In the kitchen at the farmhouse in McLean, Myra Rutledge listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, her jaw dropping as she absorbed what the private detective was telling her. She hung up the phone and looked around for Nikki. She called out.
“I’m upstairs, Myra. Do you want me to come down?”
“If you don’t mind, dear. I have something to tell you.”
“I hope it’s something good,” Nikki said coming down the steps.
“It’s sad, Nikki. Sit down and I’ll tell you. It’s about Jack Emery.”
Nikki’s face turned white. “Did something happen to him?”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
She still loves him,
Myra thought.
“That was the private detective Charles hired to . . . a . . . tail Jack.”
“What?”
“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time, dear. I think you’ll be glad when I tell you what I just found out.”
“This better be good, Myra.”
Chapter Eleven
Kathryn slowed the truck to a mere crawl as she instructed Alexis to look for a side road that Charles had marked on the map in red pencil. “We should be coming up to it any minute now. We’ve passed all the landmarks he told us to watch for. What does it say on the margin, Alexis?”
“You’re to drive one and one-half miles down the road and park once you turn off. He said there is a huge outcropping of rocks on the left side. Once you pass that, there’s a clearing and you can stash the truck and the girls can park. He said no one uses this road anymore.”
Kathryn sighed. “How
does
he know all this? The man absolutely boggles my mind. No wonder he was tops in his field. If you stop to think about it Alexis, we wouldn’t be here doing what we’re doing if it wasn’t for him.”
Alexis waved her hands in the air. “He does that click, click, click thing with the maps on the computer. He can bring a dot on a map into full view and you can see the bushes and practically count the blades of grass. Who cares? I see the rocks, Kathryn. There it is, slow down. Turn on your blinker. Jeez, don’t miss it. Can you turn this baby in there? Looks kind of narrow to me. Watch it.”
Kathryn rolled her eyes. “Shut up, Alexis. I can do this. There, see, I did it. The others are following. I wonder if anyone is behind Julia. What if they see all three of us turning in here? For a secluded road, all of a sudden three vehicles turn off. That could rouse some suspicion.”
“I don’t think it’s secluded. I think it’s a bear habitat,” Alexis grinned. “We aren’t going to worry about this, Kathryn.”
Kathryn parked the rig and opened the door. “No, we’re not going to worry about this. Julia, was there much traffic behind you? Did anyone see us turning off here?”
“There was a pickup pretty far back. Why?”
Murphy nudged Kathryn’s leg. “You stay right here with me. Go on, you can lift your leg on that tree. Right back here, Murph. I gotta go myself.”
Alexis pointed. “I see four thick bushes. Take your pick. Here,” she said, handing Kathryn a wad of tissues from her shoulder bag.
“The last time I peed in the bushes I was six years old. My mother told me to pretend I was picking flowers,” Kathryn giggled. “Alexis said this is bear country, so we do it one at a time. Or were you putting me on?”
“I was. Go pee.”
A light rain started to fall just as Alexis said, “Showtime, ladies!”
The women waited until Murphy bounded into the back of the truck before they boosted themselves up and inside. Kathryn lowered the back gate just as Yoko turned on six crank operated flashlights that Charles had ordered from the Sharper Image catalog. Guaranteed to provide light forever.
Kathryn stood to the side, Murphy next to her as the women stripped off their wigs and shed their clothes. Julia was so pretty in a wholesome way with her thick chestnut hair and light dusting of freckles. In one way she looked plain and in another way she looked elegant. In college she was probably called preppy. When she smiled, which was rare, her whole face lit up. Kathryn smiled at her assessment of the doctor.
“Julia . . . I . . . want to say something to you. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough. We,” she said, waving her hand to indicate the others, “are just along for the ride, in a manner of speaking. It’s your knowledge, your expertise, that is accomplishing what we set out to do. When it’s your turn, I just want you to know I’ll do whatever it takes to do whatever it is you want. That’s a given. That’s all I wanted to say.”
Julia walked over to Kathryn and hugged her. “I know that, Kathryn. Now, let’s get dressed. I can hardly wait to get on that Night Train again. You know, I just might buy myself one of those when we get back home.”
Alexis dug into her magic sack of disguises. She handed out black push-up bras and skimpy bikinis. “It’s part of a set,” she said. “One goes with the other. So you give up your flowery underwear for one day, Kathryn, what’s the big deal. Leathers for you, Yoko and you, Julia. Mine are over here. Dolly Parton wigs for everyone. Bandannas for everyone. They’ll help secure the wigs because they’re heavy. Who wants to be a redhead?”
“Me,” Julia said.
“I want the white one,” Kathryn said.
“The sable brown one is mine,” Yoko said.
“I always wanted to be a blonde,” Alexis giggled. “A black biker chick with blonde ringlets. Just call me chickee baby.” She pirouetted around the truck in her underwear for the benefit of the others. They clapped and whistled their approval.
Murphy howled when Alexis plopped the blonde wig on her head.
Kathryn, with Julia’s help, set up the folding table. Yoko perched on the end to wait for Alexis to open her magic box of cosmetics. “Mata Hari, I think, Yoko. I’m going to give you a tattoo on the right side of your neck. I have the stuff that will take it off, so don’t panic. I’m thinking since you’re oriental, you might want a small dragon. One that’s belching fire.” She wiggled her eyebrows like Groucho Marx. “You okay with a dragon?”
“Absolutely.”
Alexis’s brush flew across Yoko’s face. She dipped and swirled, patted and blew on the irridescent powder. “You want the ring in your nose or your eyebrow?”
“For real?” Yoko said, drawing back.
“No. But it will look like it’s real. I know what I’m doing.”
“I think I’ll take the eyebrow.”
“Done,” Alexis said, fastening a small silver hoop to Yoko’s thick eyebrows. “You’re starting to look real good, kid.” Alexis stepped back to view her handiwork. “Let’s plump up those boobs. They’re starting to melt. Somebody spit on this decal and paste it on her neck. In the meantime, pick out your own decals. I suggest you put them on the top of your boobs.”
“I don’t see anything symbolic,” Kathryn grumbled as she flipped through the artificial tattoos. “I want one that says something. I’m going with the teddy bear.”
“I’ll take the rose,” Julia said.
“What about you, Alexis?”
I’m going with Peace and Love,” Alexis said.
“Wow!” Julia and Kathryn said in unison. Yoko shook her rump as she sashayed around the inside of the truck. They watched as she pulled on her jeans and the leathers. The boots had steel tips with flowers painted on the sides. The vest with the silver hob knobs was the last thing she put on. Her breasts spilled out the top, her cleavage deep and seductive. The dragon wiggled on her neck each time she took a deep breath.
Julia slid onto the table. “Alexis, you might want to put on a pair of latex gloves,” she said quietly.
Alexis bent over until she was eye level with Julia. “I’m not afraid of you, Julia. I don’t need the gloves. We aren’t exactly exchanging body fluids here. Now sit still so I can make you more beautiful than you already are.” She waited while Julia knuckled her eyes. “Okay, now, I’m going to make you look like Anna Nicole Smith, that blonde bimbo that married that really rich old man.” She was as good as her word. Fifteen minutes later, Julia slid off the table. “Ta da!” she said, jiggling to unheard runway music.
“Fantastic!” Kathryn giggled.
“Okay, Barbarella, you’re next.”
Kathryn hopped up on the table. “Do it!” she said dramatically.
Alexis’s brush swirled and dipped again, up and down, across and then back up. In the blink of an eye, Kathryn sported outrageous false eyelashes that were curly enough to hold a pencil. “This is the most petulant mouth I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said, staring into the mirror Alexis held up. “I love it! I didn’t think it was possible to look this
slutty.”
“We look like tramps,” Yoko said, peering at Julia.
“Yoo hoo!” Alexis said. They turned around and gasped in awe. Who was this long-legged creature in the leopardskin jumpsuit that was unzipped to the waist?
“Holy shit!” Kathryn said.
“Holy shit is right,” Julia said.
Yoko was totally speechless as Alexis fastened her leathers and then slipped into the black leather vest. Her boots were covered in leopardskin and had three inch heels. She looked to be six feet tall. Murphy growled as he sniffed her feet.
“What time is it?”Julia asked.
“Ten minutes of eight,” Kathryn said, staring down at her watch. “Yeah, yeah, it’s time to roll out our transportation. I didn’t see any road lights so that means it’s gonna be dark. Just stay behind me once we get to the main road. We don’t have far to go, so nothing should go awry. Oh, shit, it’s pouring rain.”
Alexis dived into her sack of goodies and came up with four black ponchos. Don’t thank me, thank Charles,” she said, tossing one to each of them.
Kathryn pulled hers on. “Come on Murphy, time to settle you down for the night.” Inside the cab, Kathryn shooed Murphy to the back where a bed was set up. “Here’s your baby,” she said, handing the dog a battered, bald Raggedy Ann doll. “Here’s a new fresh chewie and your ball. Your treat is by the water bowl. Your food is in your dish. You guard this truck with your life. We’ll be back in a little while. I know you understand everything I’m saying, Murph. This is important. Don’t bark.”
The big dog licked her hand before he stretched out on the single mattress.
“Did you guys lock the cars? Of course you did. Just let me lock up here and we can be on our way. Why the hell did it have to rain? We’re going to be leaving tire marks all over the damn place,” Kathryn muttered as she straddled the ’67 Electra Glide. She pressed the button and the machine came to life. She felt Yoko settle herself behind her just as Alexis’s ’93 Softail’s engine turned over. She waited a moment for the sound of the FXSTB Night Train to come alive.
The night was pitch black as Kathryn led the group out to the main road. She looked both ways before she peeled out onto the macadam, Alexis and Julia behind her. She could feel Yoko’s death grip around her waist. Hysteria bubbled up to her throat.
We must look like something out of a scary Halloween movie,
she thought as she crawled along the highway.
The minute she saw the blaze of neon lighting ahead she felt all the tenseness leave her body. She swerved into the parking lot of the Lone Pine Retreat, tooled around to the back and cut the engine. The others parked next to her.
“The temperature’s dropping,” Julia said.
“Is that important?” Alexis asked anxiously.
“No. I was just making conversation.”
“Listen up, we wear these ponchos till we get inside. We hang them up and then we
strut,
ladies, to the bar. Strut. We do not sashay, we do not slink, we do not walk, we strut. No fancy drinks. Hard liquor. Scotch. That’s what biker chicks drink. I read that in one of Charles’s magazines. We are on the prowl, so look obvious. We’re easy but make them work for it. You ready?”
Three ponchos bobbed up and down as the quartet ran for the main entrance.
It was like a million other bars, steamy, smoky and sleazy. It was just one big room with tables positioned around the bar. They were greeted with whistles, hoots and explicit suggestions. They waved and smiled as they swung their legs over the bar stools.
“What’s your pleasure, ladies?” the bartender leered.
“Scotch on the rocks. A double,” Kathryn said.
“I’ll have the same,” Alexis said.
“Make that three,” Julia said.
“Four,” Yoko squeaked.
Kathryn had to stand up to fish in her jeans’ pocket for money. She half-turned so that the group at the long table could get a better view of her right breast and the tattoo. She slapped a fifty dollar bill down on the bar.
Julia reached for her drink and downed it in two swallows. She thumped the glass down on the bar and swivelled around, her long legs stretched out in front of her. She looked pointedly at the men sitting at the table. “That’s some impressive machinery out front. We’re on our way to the Harley-Davidson show. Would any of you be interested in buying an FXSTB Night Train? Sugar here is selling her ’93 Softail, too.”
“I might be interested in the Night Train,” Charles said, getting up from the table and walking over to the bar. “Is it outside?”
“Sure is, honey. Be glad to show it to you after we get something to eat. We’ve been riding all day.”
“Why don’t you ladies join us. I placed our order but I don’t see a problem adding four more steaks. Hey guys, swing four more chairs over here.”
“Well sure, we’d love to join you. We got nothing better to do and we want to wait out the rain. Y’all staying around here or what?”
“We’re camping in the Alabama Hills,” Charles said.
“You guys on a run?” Alexis asked.
“Yeah,” someone shouted from the far end of the table.
“We did it for victims of violent crimes,” someone else shouted. “You
ladies
want to kick in some bucks?”
“Sure,” they said in unison as each one of them handed over a hundred dollar bill.
The men sat up a little straighter when Charles scooped up the money and thanked them.
“So, where are y’all from?” Kathryn drawled.
“L.A.” someone said. “How about you?”
“Oregon,” Yoko said.
“So what do y’all do, do y’all work or do you just . . . ride around?” Kathryn asked as she maneuvered herself to the far end of the table to get as far away from Wagstaff as she could.
“Both,” Dr. Clark Wagstaff said. Julia sat down next to him. “So what do you do?” she purred. “Claudia Abbott,” she said, holding out her hand.
“Clark Wagstaff.” He pumped her hand for a full thirty seconds. “I’m an oral surgeon. How about you?” Wagstaff asked as he eyed the tattoo on top of her left breast.
“I paint murals inside churches,” Julia said. “The bikes are just a weekend hobby.”
“What about your friends? By the way, I might be interested in the Night Train. I’d like to take a look at it later.”
“Well sure, that’s okay by me. Goes to the highest bidder. Candy down there at the end of the table makes muffins. Best muffins in the state of Oregon. Stella, over there, has her own bike shop in Portland. Makes money hand over fist. Mei Ling is a massage therapist. When she walks on your back you’d swear you died and went to heaven. She knows
exactly
how to please a man. So, what’s good to eat in this dump? This is a dump, you know. Excuse me, I want to talk to that gentleman over there about my Night Train.”
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