Breath of Fresh Air

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Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty One-

The ride in Jeff’s truck is silent an verging on awkward. Jeff is a very cautious driver, but very attentive I notice. My current situation is uncomfortable with my arms cuffed behind my back. I can still remember the times in the back of patrol cars sitting just as I am now. It felt different back then, like I was this tough kid that everyone in the neighborhood or school feared or looked up to. It was something I strove for. Now, I feel the fear boiling in my stomach at the prospect of prison. I was just at the state penitentiary without even a inkling of knowledge where this day was going to lead. I’ll probably end up back in the prison, only this time as inmate.

“So, Ashford,” Jeff suddenly says, turning the knob on the radio. “How did you and my daughter meet?”

I look down, avoiding his gaze. I’m about to tell a man that is taking me to jail how I ruined his daughter’s high school career. “We met in high school during her freshman year. I just recently came to town.”

He chuckles, but there’s a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Guess after you jumped bail, you came back to town.” He shakes his head, and in the rearview mirror, I can see the disgust as plain as day on his face. “What in the world made you think that was a good idea? Not to mention to get my daughter dragging my daughter into whatever you’re involved in.”

I shrug, turning to stare out the window. “I panicked after I was let out. The people that made me do what I got caught for, were after me. It was stupid and crazy, but I wanted to make up for what I did to her in high school. With that prank, I had to make it right, get her to forgive me. In the process, I was outrunning my employers, not the cops. Never the cops.”

“Explain to me the motel situation? Huh? Were you running then?” His brown eyes connect with mine in the mirror. He knows everything which means he’s been tracking me since I left.

“From my employers, yes. Not the cops. I went back to get my truck, they were all over the area. Cops galore, but I wasn’t sure if my employers had any cops on the pay roll in town. Happened before.” That’s pretty much when I knew I had been set up. I recognized the cop that pulled me over down to the fake tooth in his mouth. I’d never forget a face from the club who had been watching me for the past two weeks before the lift.

“You must have had my daughter with you. Cops said that other customers saw you with a female.” He shakes his head, but I can see him tightening his grip on the wheel. “She could have gotten hurt! Or worst, killed!” He slaps the steering wheel, his eyes growing even darker in the mirror.

“You have to believe me, if I ever thought, really thought, she would be in danger because of me, I never would have come back. Every thought you have in your head, I’m thinking right now. It was stupid, reckless to bring into this. Above all, selfish. All I thought about my own life and correcting my wrong to your daughter. I think I’ve loved her since high school, but I was a kid and messed it all up.” The tears pool in my eyes when I think about what I did to her.

Silence over takes the truck for a moment as Jeff makes a turn. I don’t recognize the area, but Jeff knows it like the back of his head. When he turns on the blinker, I notice the small building he pulls into. The window has a sticker of a star badge, similar to the one on his belt loop, with the words BOUNTY HUNTERS in bold black curved letters. He puts the truck in park and cuts the engine. Blowing out a breath, he falls back against the seat.

“Guess it would be safe to assume you’re the one that started that prank that year. The one where you video taped yourself talking with my daughter, flirting with her, pretending you liked her. Only to take that video and broadcast it to the entire school as the senior prank. You and your popular girlfriend just sat back laughed about it.”

It surprises me that he knows so much about the prank. “How do you know that?”

“My wife.” His voice breaks at the end of the words. “She grew worried about Brooke that summer before her suicide. I thought she was just being over protective or paranoid. Her depression had taken over by that point, thought maybe she was turning what she was feeling onto Brooke. Only she wasn’t, I learned later on after her death. I found out from the school after Nancy’s death. Brooke was dealing with grief and the school was worried about the pressure of her studies, her mother’s death, and the prank which had caused kids to target her during the year.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss. The only excuse I have is that I have none. I was a coward, cared more about what people thought of me, my reputation than anything else. Brooke was what I needed, but didn’t know it and I pushed her away. I’ve told Brooke, tried to stop the rest of it, but I’m going to tell you, I’m sorry for the pain I caused your daughter. It’s the biggest I reason I left. Thought it would all stop with my absence, only it got worst and since I’ve been back I tried to fix it.”

“Never that easy, son.”

I shake my head, agreeing with his words. Jeff slides out of the truck then, shutting the door behind before opening mine. He grabs my shoulder helping me out of the truck. Leading me to the front door, he unlocks it and pulls me inside. The front inside shows almost like an office room that has been sliced in half. A desk sets on each side of the long room with holding rooms and bathrooms.

“It’s going to take a few hours to get the paperwork set. I wasn’t expecting to find you so soon. Didn’t think you’d actually be stupid enough to come here. First place they’d look for ya.” He lifts an eyebrow as I opens one of the back holding rooms. There’s an old rickety bed against one corner, a sink, toilet and chair. “Hope I don’t need to cuff you to the bed.”

I shake my head as he pulls out a key to unhook the cuffs at my wrists. “I hate to ask, but do you happen to have anything to eat here? I’m kinda starving, didn’t expect to get arrested before the appetizer.” I smirk at him, trying to lighten the mood. It’s nice that even though he’s going to escort me to jail, we can somewhat get along.

“I think I can find something. You forget, I didn’t get anything either. Just sit tight.”

He turns and disappears out the door as I fall on the bed. Staring up at the ceiling, my knees bent, I can’t help but think over everything from the past few days. Brooke no doubts hates me right now. I could have fought back and run from her father, we both could have, but it wouldn’t have worked out in the end. I couldn’t risk losing her like my mother. She’s the only woman in my life now and I’d do anything to protect her.

Anything.

~*~

Thankfully shortly after arriving, Jeff brought in half a box of pizza. He had obviously torn the box and taken the other half. Relaxing on the bed, I try not to think about much else, but the image of my mother’s corpse haunts me. It’s an image I’ll probably never get rid of as long as I live. It surprises me a bit that Jeff doesn’t already know about my mother, but then again maybe it happened while he was home. Most likely because I didn’t call the cops until I was about to leave the house. My voice is recorded on their machines since it took me repeating the address twice before they came. Tears suddenly spill from my eyes as I reach up to wipe them away angrily.

Suddenly the door knob twists and Jeff appears once again. He surprises me this time with a stack of clothes in his hands. “Thought you might want to change out of those clothes. I’ll put them in a bag for you.” He drops a stack of jeans, a white t-shirt, and a hoodie on the bed. “Don’t worry,” he chuckles a bit, “they’ve been washed.”

I kick off my shoes actually happy to have a change of clothes for once. It’s then that I recall that my truck is sitting in the parking lot of the restaurant. “Oh, Jeff?”

He pauses and turns. “My truck, I left it at the restaurant. It has a few things in it.” Like the remaining cash from the ten grand.

“I’ll make sure Casey brings it to the station. They’ll probably take the stuff out. Might give it to someone you choose.” Jeff looks at me as I smile at the idea.

“I’d like Brooke to have it. I know she’ll take care of it.” The idea of a piece of me staying with Brooke makes me happy. More than I’d like to admit honestly. Then again, I’ve told Brooke so many times how much I care about her.

Jeff pauses, staring at me. He’s about to either ask or something when his phone suddenly rings. I glance out the window realizing that it’s gotten pretty late. I know I’ve probably dozed a couple times, yet haven’t stayed asleep because of the uncomfortable bed. Jeff sighs, pulls his phone from his pocket. Obviously the caller surprises him by the look on his face.

“Jeff Baker. Kevin, why in the world are you callin’?” Jeff chuckles a bit as he asks. “It’s nearing two in the morning, didn’t expect this kinda call.”

He goes silent listening to the other person. I look down at the clothes inspecting them when I hear him suck in a breath. He suddenly goes pale and his voice goes low. “When did this happen?! Please tell me Brooke’s okay!”

Immediately I’m alert. Did something happen to Brooke? Jeff connects with my eyes before listening back to the conversation. “Hold on, Kevin. I need to put you on speaker.” Jeff pulls the phone from his ear, holding it out for me to hear as well. “Say what happened again, Kevin.”

The phone crackles with static before a deep voice comes on. “At around bit after midnight, we received a call that a neighbor heard shots at Casey Whitney’s house.” I looked over at Jeff, who’s eyes probably reflect my own. ”When we arrived, we found Casey leaning against a wall in the house, he couldn’t get up because he was shot twice, once in the shoulder, and once in the leg. Don’t think he was the main target, but they were substantial wounds.”

My fingers tighten as he finishes.

“What about Brooke, Kevin? She was staying with him tonight. I picked up someone, a jumper, didn’t think she should stay alone.” Jeff’s voice takes on a nervous tilt as he speaks.

“We had no idea that Brooke was here at first. Then we found a note, addressed to an Ashford Rocks." The blood drains from my face. I thought she would be safe if I turned myself over to the police. Guess the street value of those drugs are more than I thought. Then again it must be something else than just about this. I’m starting to think it’s a loyalty issue. I thought I could leave without provocation, but they’ve shown time and again that’s not the case.

“Brooke isn’t here, Jeffery. There seems to be a struggle. After we found the note, the ambulance managed to wake Case, he told me to call you, tell you some Mexicans took Brooke. He tried to stop it. Think he’s going to be blaming himself for this one.” I can feel Jeff’s gaze on the side of my face. When I look at him he’s staring straight at me.

“Thanks for letting me know, Kevin. I’ll be there soon.” Jeff hangs up the phone, looking at me. “Okay, Ashford, start talking.”

I sigh, looking down at my hands as the fear and tears settle over my eye lids. “They’re after me.” When I look back at him, the tears blur his image. “I got involved with the Mexican cartel in the past year. I was just a body guard, never did much else. Just saved my boss’s life, he kinda owed me. When I wanted out, guess the big guy, Alonzo, didn’t want to lose me from his organization. They had me take a bag of drugs, but I got caught for a minor traffic violation. They are the reason I skipped bail in the first place.”

Jeff’s breath stills. “Alonzo Saldivar?” His voice is barely above a whisper. All I can manage is a nod to his question, his assumption.

“God damn, Ashford!” Jeff turns away from me, his hand cupping his face. “You just had to get my daughter involved.” He sighs, shaking his head, but I know he’s more nervous and scared than he wants to admit. “Guess that explains the motel. He must have brought in his paid guns.”

I nod, pushing up to my feet. “His main gun, a guy named Jesus. I don’t know his last name. A guy like him maintains his reputation by keeping a bit a mystery.” I shake my head, staring down at my feet, hands on my hips. When Jeff takes a deep breath, I look at him. He doesn’t want to admit that he’s scared, because I’m scared too. “Look, Jeff, I’m sorry. The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt Brooke, put her in harm’s way. It seems like all I’ve done since I’ve gotten to town his hurt Brooke so much. I love your daughter, I told you that in the truck I would give anything for you. I’m prepared to give them my life in exchange for her.”

Jeff lifts his hand, pressing it to my shoulder. “I wouldn’t ask, but she’s my little girl.” Tears well in Jeff’s eyes. I see the trace of hurt still in his brown eyes over his wife. They might have had the best relationship before her death, but he still loves her to this day. “She’s all I’ve got left.”

“I promise you, Jeff, I will make sure she gets home safe.”

Jeff squeezes my shoulder, before pulling away, wiping his face. “I need to get you to the scene at Casey’s house. It’s going to be a mad house, but I think I can get the note for you.” He looks at me, pauses at the door, “Just bring back my little girl.”

I nod, grabbing the clothes, and quickly changing after he leaves the room. While he’s gone I close my eyes, saying a silent to prayer to any god that will listen.

Please let Brooke be safe, let me bring her home.

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