***Parking lot behind the Bigalow and Fee-Nix***

Jo was beginning to doubt the advisability of her decision. She had not thought much of it when Jack first told her that the limo would be parked behind the Bigalow in the staff lot. While she was accustomed to car services picking her up at the front door, she assumed the unusual location was because of this new virus.

But now? It was much darker and less well-lit. But even more concerning, it was virtually empty. A couple dozen vehicles were it. No sign of another human being. Only the black limo parked by a side door reassured her. She did not even have a phone with her, no way of calling for help if anything did go wrong. And who would she call?

She was just paranoid. She had spent too much time listening to Donovan. There was no reason to doubt Jack Tyson’s loyalty to her. She had made his firm more money than half the other partners put together. She was the most well-thought-of partner, the one clients requested by name often. This was all just ridiculous. She would be back in her apartment in a few hours. Back in her office tomorrow morning. And this would all be over. At least for her.

If she felt a bit of guilt that the girl and Donovan remained on the run, well, she assured herself that she could do more for them by going back than by holding up in some dive hotel. Yes, this was the right choice.

A man got out of the driver’s side door. If he looked more like some goon from a cheesy Hollywood movie about the mob, well, perhaps he also worked security. That would make sense, right? But as she approached the car, another even larger man got out of the back, where she should sit. “Sorry, I must have the wrong limo.”

“No, little lady, you have the right car. Just the wrong friends to piss off. Where are the others?” The larger of the men grabbed her man so hard that she knew there would be bruises.

“Others? What others? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Playing dumb never worked. But maybe it would get them talking. Perhaps delay the inevitable and allow her to come up with a plan. Though what plan allowed a one-hundred-five pound woman to escape two men, both of whom weighed more than twice that, she was not certain. Even if Donovan was stupid enough to follow her, and he might be, it was still two against one.

“You know damned good well. So don’t fucking play with me bitch. You’re gonna die no matter what. Personally, I don’t mind having a little fun with you first. But if you talk and tell me what we want to know, maybe I’ll make it quick…for you.”

Her heart pounded faster. No, it wasn’t possible. “Do you know who I am?”

“Yeah, the uppity trailer trash that thought she could threaten the Tysons and get away with it. That ‘nigger’ might have saved your ass in the elevator, but he ain’t around now. Just you and real men. Or maybe you can’t get off with your own kind? That’s what Junior said. That you’re a traitor to your people and deserve to be taught a lesson.”

Jo trembled, both in fear and anger. She hated that word. She always had. It was the worst. She’d like nothing better than string these two up by their dicks, which probably were nowhere near in proportion to the rest of them. Steroids tended to shrink penises and brains.

The rest of the man’s words began to filter through her brain. It was worse than Donovan had imagined. If what this man said was true, then she had been as much a target as Selena. Maybe she should have considered that before now. But honestly, she thought her legal reputation meant something to Jack and the firm. Obviously, she was wrong.

She had always known that her sex and family background meant she was never entirely accepted in the ‘good ole’ boy club.’ But it looked like all those millions, tens, hundreds of millions, that she had earned Tyson, Turner, and Tyson, LLP, was not even enough worth her life.

Yeah, she should have stayed in Sebida and made babies. At least she would be alive. She wouldn’t die without ever really…

The man shook her hard. She had heard the term rattled her teeth, but she never realized that really was such a thing. She discovered the hard way that it was. She thought perhaps he even loosened a couple of fillings. Not that those mattered much if she did not survive this.

The backhand that landed across her cheekbone finished the job as she felt blood pour from the side of her mouth. Was it a busted lip or loose teeth? They probably wouldn’t even be able to identify her body by the time these goons were finished with her. Not that her mama or brother gave a damn about a body. Only the fact that without one, they could not claim her assets for seven years. Assuming there were any to claim once Jack and Junior got through with things.

“I asked you a fucking question, cunt.” His hand came at the other cheek, sending pain slicing through it as well. The problem was she did not remember a question.

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything.” But could she keep that up for much longer? Tears streamed down her cheeks, partly from the pain. This was worse even than…

Maybe that was it. Perhaps the preacher was right. Maybe she was being punished. But dammit, if god was that petty, he would punish her for doing the only thing she fucking could to survive. Well, hell might at least be a bit more just.

The guy drew back his hand, or she thought he did. It was getting harder to see. Were her eyes swelling already? But something stopped him in mid-air. The other man lifted his gun and pointed it. She was almost thankful that it would be over. Before she was forced to endure more pain or told them what they wanted to know. She did not want to betray Donovan.

It took Jo a moment to realize that the man was not pointing the gun at her. But at the doorway of the other building in the alley. “Get over here,” the other man spoke.

She could not focus enough to know who they were talking to until the man was almost on them. She did not recognize him. A man about her age, dressed in a t-shirt and sweat pants. Some poor schmuck who had just gotten caught up in her mess. Guilt swamped her. “I’m sorry.”

The man reached for her with his free hand. He seemed to be carrying some kind of bag in the other. “Not your fault. I’m cursed,” he half-smiled at her.

“Shit, what we do now?” The larger man turned to the driver that was holding a gun on both of them now.

Before he could respond, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he slumped to the ground. Her vision was so blurred now that she had no idea what was happening.

“Shit,” that voice she recognized. At first, she thought maybe she had been wrong. Perhaps she had died and gone to heaven. Of course, if Donovan was there, well, possibly things would be different in heaven. Perhaps she would be… whole.

She felt strong arms wrapped around her and lifting her. She fought hard. As hard as she could considering her size and the fact she could not see much of anything now. “Shhh, sweetheart, stop fighting. It’s just me.”

“Donovan?” That was good, right? Or had those men captured him too? And what about the girl?

“Is she going to be alright?” She did not recognize the voice. It was not either of those men; she could tell that. And the voice had a slight accent to it. “We should get her to a hospital.”

“No hospital,” three voices chimed almost in unison.

“Oh, that kind of trouble? Well, I know this is crazzy, but I’m leaving Vegas. I’m heading to Houston. You’re welcome to grab a lift with me. I’ll let you off wherever you want.”

“That would be great, but I don’t think Jo’s in shape to travel right now. Selena, do you want to go with…”

“Victoria, but it’s Vic when I’m not in drag. But don’t worry. That’s my motor home over there. You can fix her up and let her rest and heal in the back.”

“Yeah, I guess, if you’re sure, that would be great.”

“Of course, I’m not sure. This is the last thing I planned on. Having three hitchhikers along. But looking down the barrel of that gun gives you new perspectives. And more reason to get the hell out of town before these two wake up. If they ever put two and two together, Victoria’s face is on billboards all over town. Come on, let’s get a move on. Vamanos. Rapido.”

Jo knew Spanish, of course. But she was too dazed and frightened still to follow much of the rapid-fire conversation between their new friend and the girl. Her head was spinning. So she laid it against Donovan’s shoulder, and darkness overcame her.

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