When she returned to the party, Leon explained that he hadnt thought it necessary to go into the library after her, considering the fact that hed seen two other people go in as well. Of course, he nudged her with his elbow. I might have been missing out on something. She assured him that he hadnt and let it drop.
The party finally wrapped up and she said good night to the rest of the crew. She and Leon decided they wanted to walk back into town. Vince asked them if they were sure, they were at least a mile and a half out. She said she really needed the air, and Leon agreed wholeheartedly.
She hadnt seen French again. She wondered if they were still on for later. Theyd planned to meet at four to collect the goods from City Hall. There wasnt going to be any sleep tonight.
The walk turned out to be a great idea. She and Leon had fun discussing the evenings events and mishaps. Like earlier when Vince had been distracted in the kitchen and set a bunch of napkins on fire. He said he didnt have a clue how it happened. Fry had asked him if hed left his cigarette on them. Vince claimed that hed quit months ago, but no one who spent more than a minute in his company could help but smell the smoke that followed him everywhere. He denied the spurious charge vehemently, until Fry poked through the ashes and held up the culprit. Fortunately, it hadnt been much of a fire and the smell didnt carry far.
She dropped Leon at his house. When he insisted hed drive her the rest of the way shed told him not to be silly. It was only a short walk.
She should have known that a lot could happen in that time. She hadnt gone two blocks from his house when a dark figure appeared at her side, scaring her half out of her skin.
Why do you keep doing that!? She exclaimed at French.
Creeping out of the darkness like that. Couldnt you make some noise or warn me that its you?
French shrugged. Habit. And if people knew you were coming, you werent doing your job.
The dress was gone. In its place French wore something close fitting and black. The braid was back.
Have you been following me? Fry asked.
No. Just happened along. It wasnt an outright lie. Shed been following Fry and whoever the other guy was, so that wasnt following Fry exactly, so it wasnt a lie, exactly. More like a half truth. She was comfortable with half truths.
Fry didnt buy it, but she wasnt going to push it either. Are we still on?
You up for it?
Sure, if you are. I just need to get home and change, maybe shower.
They walked along in silence. Fry could tell Frenchs mood was still off, there was something missing. She sounded flat.
Get any good intel tonight? Fry asked.
You know, any helpful information?
Where do you get these words?
Dont know, they just come to me. Fry smiled.
Whats that supposed to mean?
Oh, nothing. Just thinking about a scene I walked in on at the party this evening. What were you doing with Nigel?
Trying to get him off me mostly. I thought, I dont know what I thought, but I had an idea that maybe I could find something out from him.
The only thing you were about to find out from him wasnt anything I thought youd be interested in.
Im not! He attacked me!
What were you thinking? Youd get him alone and hed start spilling his guts about a murder? Oh excuse me, I dont know you from a hole in the wall, but did you by any chance kill this lady I used to know?
I didnt say I thought he killed her. Do you?
Id say hes as suspect as any of them, even more so.
Because theyd never do it themselves. Fry?
Remember how we talked a while back about One through Five and you agreed that youd listen to me if I told you to do something. If you were in physical danger?
Sure. And I meant it, I will. Really.
Good, because when I tell you to run, I want you to go hell bent for leather away from here as fast as you can. Dont look back, just run as far and as fast as you can. Get somewhere you know youll be safe.
You mean now?
I mean when I give you the word.
Fry couldnt figure out what French was talking about. Theyd walked for about ten minutes or so and they hadnt seen a soul. There wasnt anyone out on the street. Then she saw them. Four of them up ahead. Heading right in their direction. It was as if theyd oozed out of the shadows.
Fry hesitated, but French kept her stride steady. Dont panic. She said quietly. They probably just want to talk. To herself, she acknowledged that this was highly unlikely. She could make out Jaspers bulky frame anywhere.
But then why...
No questions. Just be ready to run. Got it?
They were closing in. French glanced to her left and saw what shed been hoping for. She gave Fry a little shove and yelled, Now! Run!
Fry took off down the alley. It ran along Jimmys News Stand and Donut Shop. It was bisected by another alley that ran behind two rows of buildings and out onto Pullman Street. She ran like the wind. She was scared witless. She wanted to stay with French, but knew better than to argue. She made like a madwoman three blocks over and two down and reached the destination that had been in her mind the moment shed reluctantly stepped away from the chef. She hadnt wanted to leave her there with the four large men who looked anything but friendly. She pounded on the door shed reached for all she was worth and prayed that he was home.
French hadnt done too badly. Not if you considered the odds. Big, ugly guy number one was lying in the gutter not moving, but big ugly guy number two had backed her into a tight spot where the medium sized nasty guy had gotten a good punch in and winded her. Thats when Jasper had made his move. He stepped in and slammed her a good one with something heavy, probably a black jack, right in the head.
That had been five minutes ago. Five very long minutes. It wasnt so much the pain she minded. Having your brains scrambled was never a pleasant experience. It was the sad verbiage trying to pass for dialogue that went along with it that was really bothering her. Jasper wasnt as funny or bright as he liked to think he was. Big guy number two and medium sized guy were holding her by the arms and letting Jasper get his jollies by knocking her guts around and messing up her face. She wished hed deal a killing blow or at least knock her out because there was no way shed cooperate with him and she was beyond tired of listening to his bullshit.
Jasper was a professional. He had a fair idea of what she could take. He also knew that hell would freeze over before the bitch would give in. He was getting out a little frustration on her to make up for past insults and slights. He knew she wouldnt tell him anything. He should have made more of an effort to keep her friend on hand. Then she might have cooperated.
He drew back the jack once more to wipe the bloody smile, and possibly some of the bone structure off of Frenchs face when he felt something cold and hard press into the side of his head.
Drop it asshole. And none of you move or pretty boy here gets wasted.
Jasper looked out of the corner of his eye to see a large hairy guy in his boxers holding a gun to his temple. You dont want this kind of trouble friend. I suggest you move on.
I suggest you shut the fuc..., the big man glanced at Fry. Shut up. And back off if you dont want me to waste your useless scum-sucking ass. He winced. It wasnt easy to do the tough guy thing with Violet standing right there.
Theyve all got guns. Frenchs voice was thick, but audible.
Hand em over. Violet, grab em. The burly man directed.
Fry wanted nothing more than to run to French. There was blood all over her face, and she was kneeling between the two guys who were holding their hands in the air. Fry stepped forward and relieved the men of the guns that were in their shoulder holsters.
Jaspers got one in his sock. Dont miss it. French said.
Fry removed the gun in question. A small, dangerous looking weapon.
Now back off, nice and slow. If I see you so much as crane your neck between here and the end of that block, youre dead. Now start walking.
Big mistake buddy. Youd all better find yourselves nice holes to hide in, like for the rest of your lives.
Jasper signalled his guys and they started off. No one paid any attention to the guy in the gutter.
Fry was on the ground next to where French had fallen. She smoothed back her hair and looked over her wounds. She couldnt move French on her own. Come on Ronnie, help me.
Sure Violet. Step aside. Ronnie bent down and hefted French in his arm. Big girl. She your girlfriend?
Fry shook her head, No, shes a friend. My boss.
Oh. We better get her some help. Umm, Violet?
Youre not going to tell your Mom about the gun are you? I mean, shed get real pissed if she knew I had it. Its the only thing my Dad left me and I dont use it or anything... not anymore.
No Ronnie, I wont tell her. Thanks a lot for helping us.
Oh sure. No problem.
Ronnie knew better than to ask too many questions. The years hed been a drug runner up and down the east coast, hed learned a few things. One of them was when to keep your mouth shut. Something hed learned since hed gotten out of prison and left that life behind was that there were a lot of things on this earth more worthwhile than money and drugs. He had two people to thank for that. Priscilla and Howard Spark. So when Violet showed up at his door half crazy with fright, there wasnt a person on this earth that could have deterred him from helping her. He owed the Sparks a lot. So did a lot of other ex-cons whod gotten their first shot at a legit job working in their restaurant.
You showed up there because itd keep your parole officer off your back for five minutes while you worked your connections to get you back in the game. But the Sparks were smarter than that. Before you knew it they were in every aspect of your life and before you knew what else, you were licking stamps at the tables out front, organizing text book buys for inmates and ex-cons or you were being marshalled into the local community center to help out troubled teens. They made you feel needed, damn them. Whatever your history, they found a way to put it to use. He owed the Sparks big time.
The first thing that became clear to French was the smell of stale beer and... could that be three day old pizza? Her head hurt like hell and the only thing that made sense to her addled brain was that shed gotten plastered and gone on a binge. She wondered how much shed had to drink. But that couldnt be right because she remembered telling Fry to run. Fry!
She tried to sit up and realized what a mistake that was.
Hey, its okay. Im right here. Were at my friend Ronnies house. Do you remember what happened?
Yeah. I didnt move left.
You got hit pretty bad, do you remember it?
Yeah, I didnt move left. The medium sized guy got in a zinger and Jasper clocked me good. I dont think Ill be forgetting it any time soon.
Fry couldnt express her relief in words, so she began to cry. It was all she could do to keep calm for this long. When theyd gotten Frenchs face cleaned and looked at her torso she couldnt believe the bruising. It was awful. She must have been in such pain.
Oh come on, do I look that bad? She could feel that the left side of her face was kind of swollen and she had a few cuts as well. What really hurt like a son of a bitch was her side. The bastard had better not have busted a rib. She was already going to kill him. If one of her ribs was busted, shed hang him in her walk in and flay him alive. It had a certain morbid appeal. When she chuckled involuntarily she groaned from the pain.
What is it? What hurts?
Ronnies getting dressed. Were going to take you to a doctor.
French groaned again. No doctors, I hate doctors.
We have to. You could have a concussion, or worse.
Look at my eyes. French told her.
Fry did. They were beautiful. She was lost in the blue depths when Frenchs eyes rolled upwards. Fry backed up a bit. Even through the swelling and bruising she could tell French was giving her a look. I meant look at my pupils. Are they the same size? Cmon Fry, get a grip.
Fry blushed. Sorry. The more time she was spending around French, the harder it was not to act on her feelings. She checked her pupils and was mildly surprised to see they were the same size. It didnt mean she didnt have a concussion definitely, but it was a good sign. She should have known French had a thick skull.
French insisted she didnt need a doctor, but she couldnt fight off both Fry and her hairy cohort, Ronnie. He was a huge man with a large beard and hairy forearms to match. He helped French into the truck and they all went over to Doctor Phillips house where he poked and prodded and generally made a nuisance of himself. That was Frenchs opinion.
Fry was pleased. The doctor said French was very lucky to have gotten away with just the cuts and bruising. As far as he could see she didnt have a concussion. He gave her some anti-inflammatories and told her hed call her the next day.
Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. How much is that dollop of wisdom going to cost me? They had left the office and Ronnie was driving them to Frenchs house.
He said hed call you and it wont cost you anything.
Hes Bobbys father. My mothers younger brother.
I should have known.
He kept poking me where it hurt. I told him to stop, and he kept at it.
When French got out of the truck on her own steam, both Ronnie and Fry gave each other a surprised look. Fry followed her out to help her up the couple of stairs to her porch.
Where do you think youre going? French wanted to know.
Im going to help you.
Its daybreak, why dont you go home and get some shut eye. If Im not mistaken, youre on later today. Ill see you then.
You must be joking.
After this evening, Im not in a funny mood. Ill see you later Fry. Beat it. French was aching in places she didnt like to admit to owning. She didnt feel like being pestered to death by Fry. She just wanted to be left alone. It occurred to her that all of the problems shed had that night had involved other people. Take away the people and the problems should go with them.
I want to help get you settled. Then Ill leave you alone. Promise. Please, let me help a little.
French grunted, then turned and walked slowly toward the steps. The neighbors cat was there, as always. Fry started talking to it, but French knew better. Cats werent interested in people. They were smarter than that.
Fry supported her as she limped into the house and by the time she had aided French onto the couch in her living room the ailing chef was glad of the help. French sank into the cushions and didnt move. Moving had become a bad idea. She was seriously considering never moving again. Oh yeah, maybe once, to kill Jasper. But that was it.
Do you want me to get you a blanket?
How about some water?
French wanted to say no again, but knew shed need water and didnt want to have to get it herself. In the kitchen. Glasses are to the left of the sink.
Fry took that as her permission and set off to get the water. Frenchs house wasnt big, but it was spacious and airy inside. The older structure had been extensively remodeled. It had a nice mix of modern and aged to it. The decor in the living room was interesting, but not to Frys taste. The kitchen on the other hand was perfection. Who wouldnt want to cook in there? Not that it could have gotten much use with French at the restaurant all of the time. Still, it had a comfortable feeling to it, despite its immaculate marble surfaces and super-organized setup. Fry located the glasses and poured the water.
She returned and set it on a table where French could reach it from the couch.
Id be glad to stay for a while,in case you need something else...
Ill be fine. Thanks. I want to get some rest. Alone.
Alright, but you can call me if you need anything.
Can I ask you a question? Then I promise to leave you alone.
Shoot. Like she had any choice. Fry had her in a vulnerable position with her guts and brains scrambled and not being able to move. And as Fry had probably saved her worthless life that night, she should probably answer the damn question. Maybe it would make them even.
Well, I was wondering. Why do you have cutlery all over your walls?
It took French a second to figure out what Fry meant. She cracked open an eye and looked at one of the walls in question. There was a display of knives, sure. But mainly it was a collection of swords and pikes and other bladed weapons. She closed the eye. Because, Im a chef.
Continued in chapter 31.