Quickly grabbing the piece of paper from the printer, Josie swiveled in her chair and handed it to the young lady waiting for it. “There you go, Denise,” she encouraged with a smile.
The clearly frazzled single mother shifted her infant son on her hip and rose to receive it. Looking it over quickly, she glanced back up at Josie in expectation.
Sympathetic to the woman’s plight, Josie smiled warmly and began to explain to her where she needed to go next. “Take this form, along with your driver’s license, and head down the second hallway on the left,” she said, pointing behind her. “The room you want is Room 313. It’s the second to the last classroom on the right.” Josie turned back and gave the mother a reassuring look. “I think Arnie is still down there. He should be able to get you all set up.”
Relief flooded the woman’s face. With a few quick words of gratitude, she shifted her child to her other hip and headed off in the direction Josie indicated.
Josie glanced around the school entry foyer, only to find herself alone for the first time all day – the padded chairs standing vacant along the far wall. For a Saturday, it had been a lot busier than she’d expected. Though, being only a couple days removed from the twister strikes, she had to concede that her expectation was just a little bit unrealistic. They were still admitting folks to the emergency shelter there at the school and the applications for FEMA trailers or other housing assistance were, if anything, increasing in number. Fortunately, they weren’t the only location for doing it.
Leaning back in her chair, Josie raised her hands to her face and slowly began to massage her temples. Two days at their currently understaffed levels were taking their toll. Not that she minded volunteering. She actually enjoyed helping and, to a certain extent, could relate to all the displaced people she encountered. Josie was, after all, technically homeless. Not to mention the fact that nearly everything she owned could fit into a few grocery sacks. Which, truth be told, was a significant step up from a few days ago, thanks to a little shopping trip to Wal-Mart, paid for by a “loan” from Rennie.
Josie couldn’t help but smile at that thought. Rennie was so sweet! He was actually going to let her pay him back for something. And now, thanks to Grant’s help, that would be sooner rather than later. It was like the big guy had a magic wand or something. All he needed was a copy of the police report, and then – a few phone calls later – presto! Money problems solved. Well ... not exactly. The new accounts wouldn’t be available until Monday and the new cards and checks wouldn’t come for a few more days after that ... but, still, it was pretty impressive. Now, when those cards arrived, dinner would finally be on her for a change. Yea!
Just the mere thought of food, however, brought a rather noisy protest from her stomach. Josie wearily shifted her eyes to the stack of papers on her desk and groaned. It appeared lunch would have to wait a little longer. “After all,” Josie mused, “no job is complete until the paperwork is done.” She audibly chuckled. It was something her dad used to always say when grabbing more toilet paper out of the hall closet. A second rumbly in her tumbly, however, caused Josie to wonder just what time it was getting to be. Well, that and she began to hum a tune she hadn’t since she was a kid.
With a glance over her shoulder at the industrial looking clock on the wall behind her, Josie unfortunately discovered that lunch time had long since come and gone. The stack of previously filled out forms to her right, however, had still not gone anywhere. So, with a weary exhale, Josie snatched up the offending paperwork and turned to file it in the appropriate plastic totes lining the wall. The faster she’d get done, she reasoned to herself, the sooner she’d get to eat.
Kneeling down and entirely focused on the job at hand, Josie didn’t hear the unmistakable click clack of high heels on commercial grade tile, until they were almost upon her.
“I’ll be with you in a moment,” she said, without looking up.
“Oh, sure, Josie,” the familiar voice said, somewhat dryly, “what’s a few more minutes when we haven’t seen each other in ... what ... eight, nine months?”
Josie’s head immediately jerked in the direction of the voice, her eyes taking in the tall, lithe, well-dressed blonde smiling back at her. “Sarah!” she screamed, as she jumped up and dashed around the desk.
Sarah laughed and quickly dropped the two bags of fast food on the desktop, before their contents became collateral damage from Josie’s impending hug.
After a couple of minutes of typical reunion chit chat and compliments, Sarah reached over, picked up one of the sacks, along with one of the two drinks she’d set down earlier, and handed them to Josie. “Here, Rennie was pretty certain you missed lunch today, so I stopped by and got you a bean burrito. Though, judging from your humming earlier, perhaps you’d prefer a pot of honey instead?”
Josie couldn’t help but giggle. Leave it to Sarah to recognize the silly Winnie the Pooh song she’d been humming. Suddenly, however, it sunk in that the tall blonde referred to Rennie as if she’d spoken with him. “How did you... ? When did... ? You talked to Rennie?”
The look of confusion on Josie’s face brought another chuckle from Sarah. “Seriously, girl, you need to talk to your new boyfriend a little more.” Pulling up a padded chair, Josie’s childhood friend sat down and casually tossed her cell phone on the desk, next to her drink.
“I’ve had Rennie’s cell number ever since he picked you up,” she explained. “When I told him I was in town, he suggested I stop and get you something to eat ... so here you go.” She grinned as she gestured at the food and drinks on the desk.
“But how come you didn’t tell me you were coming?” Josie asked unhappily.
“Well, Jayc...” Sarah stopped suddenly. “Okay, Josie, I know I suggested the name change back in high school, but it’s still going to take some time for me to adjust. Anyway, where was I?” she asked with a puzzled expression on her face that vanished almost as suddenly as it appeared.
“Oh, yeah! To get back to your question,” she continued, her tone becoming rather sarcastic. “It’s kind of hard to talk to you when you leave your cell phone off.”
“Oh, crap!” Josie muttered as she grabbed her backpack and began to rifle through it. Sure enough, when she found her phone, it was dead. “I forgot to plug it in,” she groaned. The battery was totally drained.
She started to apologize, but Sarah waved it off with a smirk. “No worries, girl, I’m here now,” she said, taking a bite of one of her crunchy tacos. “Now, eat up before your burrito gets cold.”
Josie was genuinely thrilled and excited to have her all time best friend here now but something wasn’t quite right. As she drew the loosely wrapped bean burrito from the plastic sack, she couldn’t help but wonder just why Sarah had made the long run up from Nashville. But rather than just come out and ask, Josie opted for a different tack. “So ... how long are you up here for,” she prodded her friend, “just for the day?”
“Actually,” she replied, after a long sip from her straw, “I was hoping to hang out for a couple days, if that’s okay with you? I didn’t know how long you’d be, so I thought I’d just drive up and say hi,” she remarked with a huge smile. Raising her hand, she waved it energetically. “Hi!”
Even though she had the feeling Sarah wasn’t telling the whole story, Josie couldn’t help but laugh. “So, where are you staying?” she asked as she took another bite of her food.
“Well, I was hoping I could stay with you. You’ve got a spare bed in your hotel room, right? Or have you moved in with Rennie already?”
Josie’s bright blue eyes grew huge as she nearly choked on her burrito.
With a twinkle in her eye, and a loud laugh, Sarah waved off her friend’s sputtering protestations. “Relax, Twinkie, I’m just yanking your chain. I know the guy’s a boy scout.”
The brunette immediately blushed at the snack cake reference, knowing instinctively that she would need to somehow bribe her best friend into not sharing that story with anyone any time soon. But then questions began to swirl in Josie’s mind. Sarah’s level of information was setting off alarm bells. She tried to clear her throat with a swig of her drink. “How do you know that?” she asked after a few false starts.
“You know,” Sarah replied, picking up her smart phone, “it’s just incredible what all you can do with one of these. Did you know you can actually call people and talk to them?” she asked with a straight face.
Josie was too stunned to find that funny, however. “You’ve been talking with him about whether he and I are having... ?”
“Oh heavens, no!” Sarah quickly interrupted. “Give me a little credit, will you?” Her eyes flashed a bit, but her smile took the edge off her words. “But I have been talking with the guy, off and on, ever since he picked you up,” Sarah explained. “Well, both he and his sister, actually.”
“His sister? You mean, Bella?”
“Yeah, and she’s a trip, by the way,” the blonde replied as she reached for the last of her tacos. “I’ve actually known her for a few years now. She works at the same place I do and can talk your ear off with what has to be the hottest Italian accent I’ve ever heard. Real pretty, too, for an older gal. Anyway,” she continued after a couple bites, “Rennie gave me contact numbers for both him and his sister. So, to see if he was legit, I called her and we’ve been talking ever since.”
Struggling for what to say, Josie just watched as her friend took a long sip from her soft drink straw.
“Now, I bet I know him better than you do,” Sarah bragged with a sly grin.
Josie refused to take the bait, however. Instead, she began to get angry, especially as Sarah started to tell her a number of things that she did, in fact, already know. She just didn’t trust herself to say anything. So, instead, so she opted to sit and glare at her incredibly meddlesome best friend.
Sarah stopped in mid sentence when she finally glanced over and noticed the cold stare aimed in her direction. “What?”
Josie remained silent as a stone.
“What?” she asked again, her voice pitched a little higher.
“Oh, give me a break!” Sarah exclaimed with a disbelieving smirk on her face, when her stone-faced companion still didn’t respond. All at once, she set her drink down on the desk and leaned forward in her chair.
“Don’t you even give me that look, Josie!” she challenged rather forcefully. “Rennie picked you up hitchhiking ... hitchhiking! ... and then, inside of 24 hours, you went all gaga over him.” She lifted her hands in exasperation. “What was I supposed to do? I mean, come on, girl, after that whole Jimmy fiasco, I had no choice. Let’s face it, usually you’re a bum magnet.”
Hear it comes, Josie thought. She inwardly cringed at the prospect of her friend’s coming litany of “I told you so’s,” even if she did deserve it. Sarah had been right about Jimmy all along.
“So I was worried and made a few phone calls. Deal with it.” Sarah leaned back in her chair, drink in hand with the straw once again approaching her lips. “Come on, admit it, girl. You’d have done the same, if you were me.”
Cracks soon began to appear in Josie’s hardened façade. Sarah was right, again. Slowly the corners of her mouth turned up, as her head nodded in agreement. “Jimmy definitely wasn’t one of my smarter moves,” she admitted finally.
“No, he wasn’t.”
Josie waited, yet again, for an “I told you so” but it still didn’t come. This was odd and it didn’t sit well with her. Sarah had disliked Jimmy from the start and made no bones about it. She was forever telling Josie that he was no good, that he was just using her, and the like. But now that she had the opportunity to rub in how she’d been right about him all along, Sarah uncharacteristically became a woman of few words.
Suddenly a fearful thought, one that had been hiding out in the back of her mind, jumped to the forefront. Her brain was connecting dots and the conclusion she reached filled her with dread.
To test out her theory, she offered Sarah one last target balloon. “I sure was scraping the bottom of the barrel when I hooked up with that loser Jimmy,” she observed, her eyes firmly fixed her friend. “I can’t believe I was such an idiot.”
Sarah, to Josie’s amazement, said nothing. Instead, she simply responded to her words with a nod, while idly doodled with her finger on the desktop, using the water ring from her drink as her ink.
In an instant, Josie knew what was wrong and why she’d driven the nearly five hours from Nashville just to see her. “Sarah, where’s my car?”
There was a long pause, and then Sarah replied without looking up. “New Mexico.”
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” Josie’s voice was almost a whisper.
“Yeah, girl, it is.”
Sarah remembered the first time she saw the car. They were both ten and had been playing in Josie’s front yard when the wrecker pulled up in the driveway to offload it. Josie’s mom, Mary, was not happy. The thing was a piece of junk – all rusted and falling apart – and she was none too pleased that her soft-hearted husband, Nick, had taken it as payment for one of the side jobs he’d done. While the two of them argued, the girls got a closer look. Sarah, like Josie’s mother, was thoroughly unimpressed. Her best friend, however, was in love. She was a motorhead just like her dad and could see beyond the rusted heap in the driveway to what it could become.
Turned out that Nick had initially been thinking of it as a project car for Junior – but it quickly became clear whose car it really was. Josie was out there with her father every chance she got, handing him tools and helping in any way she could, not that that was unusual. She and her dad had always had a special bond. As long as Sarah had known her, Josie could almost always be found out in the driveway helping her dad. It was just that, now, it was her future car they were working on together.
Josie and her dad had just gotten the engine rebuilt when he got sick. And with his death, the work on the car stopped altogether. Money was just too tight. Thankfully her mother never did try to sell it off. Sarah always figured she didn’t because she knew it would break Josie’s heart. So, instead, the stalled project sat in their driveway under a blue car cover for nearly four years.
Everything changed, however, once Josie started singing on the weekends. She split her earnings with her mom, but every dime she kept soon went into that car. It seemed like every time Sarah stopped by, Josie would be out working on it, covered from head to toe with dirt and grease but with a smile on her face. While Sarah had no mechanical inclinations whatsoever, she was clearly sympathetic to what her best friend was doing and the meaning that car had for her. Goodness, that and her guitar were all the girl had left from her dad!
By the time their senior year of high school rolled around, Josie had one sweet ride. The outcome of all her hard work, sweat, and more than a few tears, was that Josie was the proud owner of a pristine 1969 Ford Mustang with a Winter Blue exterior, a Medium Blue Deluxe interior, and a white convertible top. As often as the girl talked about it, Sarah still had the car’s description down pat. Truthfully, all Sarah cared about at the time were the looks she and Josie got when they went cruising.
But that all changed when one Sergeant Richard Hernandez of the New Mexico State Police called her apartment that morning asking for Josie. She’d given Sarah’s address and phone number, along with her own cell phone number, in the contact information on the stolen car report she’d filed with the police in Champaign. Fortunately, the state trooper called Sarah’s number first. And as he explained why he needed to speak with her friend, Sarah knew immediately what she had to do. Now, seeing Josie’s expression across the desk, she knew she’d made the right choice.
“Hey, I really appreciate this, Tony.” Movement to his left caught Rennie’s attention as he was wrapping up his cell phone call. Glancing up, he waved a waiting Grant into the empty teachers’ lounge. “Just give my sister a call when you get into town,” he continued. “Perfect ... Alright, talk to you later man ... Bye.”
Rennie flipped the phone closed with a contented sigh.
Grant had walked over to the coffee machine on the counter and began to fill two cups. “So, you get it all arranged?” he asked without turning.
“Yeah,” Rennie replied. “A friend of mine hooked me up with an outfit out of Santa Fe. They’re going to pick up what’s left of the car on Monday with a flatbed, and have it in Nashville sometime Wednesday.”
“Wow. So the State Patrol has already processed it? That’s quick,” Grant observed as he handed over a steaming cup of hot coffee over to his friend. “What about the insurance adjuster?”
Rennie took a sip as Grant sat across the table from him. “They’re going to wait until it’s in Nashville,” he answered, setting the Styrofoam cup in front of him. “The accident report and pictures, however, are enough for them to get started right now.”
“So, how much is the transport going to run?” Grant leaned forward on the table as he asked. “If you don’t mind my asking?”
“About a grand,” he replied.
“Hey, that’s pretty good,” Grant said approvingly, after a careful sip of his coffee.
After a long pause, Rennie spoke. “What about you?” he wondered aloud, with a nod of his head toward the tall, black man. “What all were you able find out?”
He watched as the man across from him shifted into what could best be described as “lawyer mode.” In his life up to this point, Rennie felt he had spent far more than his fair share of time in the presence of those of the legal profession, both personally and professionally. “And that’s not going to end anytime soon,” he mused to himself as the impending divorce crept back into his consciousness.
Still, observing Grant over the past few days, Rennie was glad to now count him as a friend and could only imagine what it would be like to have him as opposing counsel. The man was very sharp and missed little.
“Well,” Grant finally began, “for starters, we caught a fortunate break. It turns out that Jimmy Boy crashed far enough west of Albuquerque that it puts him in the 13th Judicial District.” He paused for what Rennie could only imagine was dramatic effect. “One of Anisha’s former law clerks is the District Attorney there now,” he explained with a grin.
“Ah,” came the understanding nod. “So, I take it you were able to get a hold of him?”
“Her, actually, and yes, I did – though Heather was none too happy with me for interrupting her spa day,” he said with a laugh.
“And... ?” Rennie was forced to add after another one of Grant’s dramatic pauses.
“And ... it seems one James Mason Monroe has a very serious gambling problem,” came the quick reply.
“A gambling problem?” Rennie asked, his brow furled in confusion. “I’m not sure I get the connection.”
Grant just smiled and kept on with the story as it had been obviously relayed to him. “Jimmy somehow managed to hide his gambling addiction, all the while waiting for his band to land a major record deal.”
Leaning forward, the tall lawyer grew more intense and his expressions animated. “Unfortunately for him, the record deal wasn’t coming fast enough and, on top of that, he’d taken huge losses on a couple ‘sure fire’ bets he’d made recently. The bookies began to lean on him, demanding immediate cash to cover the losses. Jimmy panicked.”
Rennie watched as Grant paused for a sip of coffee. His dark eyes twinkled over the Styrofoam lip, an obvious tell that this was, yet again, another dramatic pause. Rennie just shook his head and smiled.
“In his panic, Jimmy went after all the money he could get his hands on—and not just Josie’s either. Somehow, he managed to gain access to some of the other band members’ bank accounts, as well. All that – combined with the band’s money he’d been holding – still wasn’t enough, however. So he stole Josie’s car and took off for Las Vegas.”