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Chapter Nineteen

I went back to the Magnolia Room and sat in a rickety folding chair in the rear. I’m not ashamed to admit I bawled my eyes out. I got a few stares, but I figured I was at a wake, it felt like an appropriate place to cry. An elderly woman brought me a box of tissues and patted my back.

“There, there child. It's the way of life, from ashes to ashes and dust to dust. It was Sloan’s time to go.”

It was Sloan’s time to go.

Was it my time to go? I didn't have a flash drive to give to Daniel Crocker. I had no idea what was supposed to be on the flash drive. Maybe I should go to the police.

Let me get this straight, Ms. Gardner. Your mother and a bartender were killed all because of a flash drive a customer who showed up at the DMV asked for. And what is supposed to be on this flash drive?”

The police were out.

I was out of my league here. I had no idea what to do or who to turn to. And then I did. Joe. He’d offered to help me before. Maybe he could help me now.

I pulled my cell phone out of my purse and saw I had missed five calls and one message from Joe.

Rose, please call me back. Please. I have to talk to you.

I moved to the lobby and dialed Joe’s number. He picked up on the first ring.

“Oh, thank God. Where are you?”

“I’m at Sloan’s visitation.”

“You’re what?” His voice was cold. “You told me you hardly knew him.”

“I told you we had a dealing. I still hardly knew him.”

“Then what are you doing there?”

Getting accosted. “I don’t know Joe. It seemed like the right thing to do.” To my irritation, my tears started flowing again.

“Rose, are you alright?” His voice softened.

It made me cry even harder. “No.”

“Stay there. Let me come get you.”

I wanted to protest, to insist I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, but I had been as brave as I could for the moment. I started to sob again.

“I’m coming. Don’t leave. Just wait for me there.” His words were rushed, like he was already running out the door.

I found a chair in the lobby and wept in fear as I faced the inevitability of my death. Sunday had seemed so far away, but it was right around the corner. Would it hurt when I was shot in the head? I’d been so worried about leaving life, I hadn’t given much thought to the dying part. I cried even harder, slumped over in the chair, my face on my knees making the hem of my dress wet with tears and snot.

I felt hands around my arms, pulling me up and I couldn’t stop the shriek. I jerked away, wild and desperate. Daniel Crocker had changed his mind and came back to get me.

“Shh, it’s okay,” Joe said, pulling me up. “You’re okay.”

I collapsed into his chest, sobbing.

“Come on, let me take you home.”

He led me out the front door. He put his arm around my back, supporting me. I got in the front seat of his car and barely remembered the drive home, just his hand pulling my head to his shoulder, his hand on mine.

When we parked in the driveway, he took my purse and dug out my keys then got out and opened the door. I’d gotten out of the car at that point, stumbling in the dark and the gravel. He came over and picked me up with little effort, carrying me through the door. He kicked it closed behind him and placed me on my bed.