Chapter 39: Mark and Jamie Westbrook — by Nichole R. Bennett

Jamie was ready to go. Well, she hadn’t packed, but that wouldn’t take long. Mark had taught her to travel light. She needed to get the heck outta Dodge. Or maybe get to Dodge. Wasn’t there a Dodge City in Kansas? Who would look for her there? There couldn’t be more than fifty thousand people there. Probably less. And Kansas? Small town cons were hard to pull off. Communities were too close-knit. She’d have to lay low for awhile. Play it straight. Maybe get a job at Mickey D’s. They had a Mickey D’s there, right? She didn’t think managers of fast food restaurants would run her fingerprints or do any kind of background check. Yep, fast food it was.

Whatever. Mark would never find her there. He would never even think to look somewhere like Dodge City, Kansas. It was a perfect plan.

That is if anyone bothered to look for her. Didn’t she tell Consuela something about Mark and drugs? Yeah, that was probably the line she gave the innkeeper. Jamie scratched her head as she tried to remember exactly what she’d told the older woman. Abuse. Yes, Jamie was pretty sure she’d hinted at abuse. Drugs for sure. Jamie remembered being very clear about that.

Now if she disappeared Mark would be the main suspect, keeping him in Rubicon Ranch long enough for Jamie to get to Kansas and set up a new identity there. Maybe she’d even go back to being herself, whoever that was.

Jamie threw one other pair of jeans into her backpack and then thought better of it. The more things she took with her, the less chance even these backwater hick cops would think something happened to her. No, it had to look like Mark had gotten rid of her. She couldn’t take much of anything except the clothes on her back.

That meant she’d need new clothes. A shopping spree required money. And money was something she didn’t have.

She needed to sort this out. The last thing Jamie wanted or needed was to rush into something and either have the cops or Mark track her down. She paced the floor and rubbed her right thumb against the palm of her left hand until the skin on both were warm from the friction. Mentally, she made a list of the things Mark had taught her as she strode from one end of the room to the other.

Keep your story straight. Turn. Too many details will tell the mark you’re lying. Turn. Flashing around money will turn you into a mark. Turn. Not enough money and the mark won’t take you seriously. Turn. No matter what, don’t get caught.

From the hallway came a soft tap and a scratching noise, causing Jamie to press her ear to the door. If someone was out there, she couldn’t hear anything else. Maybe her imagination was playing tricks on her. This place made her nervous. She never should have attempted a con so complicated.

If only she’d stuck with simple. Simple. That was it. All she had to do was keep it simple and she’d be outta here. Leave the room. Announce to everyone she encountered that she was meeting Mark. Walk to the highway. Hitchhike to Kansas. She could even do a little pickpocketing from whoever she could catch a ride with. Make up some sob story about an abusive boyfriend, and chances are no one would report her, even if Mark or the cops did come looking for her. Simple.

What could go wrong?

Jamie felt the tension leave her as she focused on the plan she now had. It didn’t matter that Mark had left or that he had kept the keys to their rental car. Never again would she have to set foot in Rubicon Ranch. Once Rubicon Ranch had disappeared from whatever rearview mirror she could find, maybe she would even call in some anonymous tip about Mark’s wandering the area the night that little girl was killed. If nothing else, that should keep Mark from following her too closely.

Her mind made up, Jamie walked purposefully to the door and opened it.

Only to come face to face with Deputy Midget.

So much for her simple plan.

 ***

The institutional gray of the walls, combined with the stale air and sweltering heat in the room, only served to aggravate Mark more. He’d been sitting in the interrogation room since his unfortunate meeting with the sheriff. One more thing to blame Jamie for. If she hadn’t insisted on this place, this con, then none of this would have happened.

Everything had been going so well before he let her plan a con. If he ever got out of here he was just going to get in the car and leave. Leave Jamie to find her own way. She wasn’t worth this trouble.

Mark looked up and saw his reflection in the two-way mirror. Obviously, someone was watching him from the other side. Waiting for him to make a mistake. These small-town cops probably didn’t know about the night he’d left Jamie alone in the room. Unfortunately, when they picked him up earlier, the deputy had searched him right away and found the pills.

The pills. The bottle had his prints. Damn it!

Mark took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves. Okay, so they had his prints. Unless they ran them through the national Automated Fingerprint Identification System, he should be fine. If they ran the prints through AFIS, however, multiple states could argue for extradition.

He should have dumped Jamie a long time ago.

At least he hadn’t said anything about anything—yet. Not that anyone had been in here to talk to him.

The door opened and the lieutenant walked in, a file folder stuffed with papers in her hands. “Well, you’ve been a busy guy, haven’t you?”

It was time to cut a deal.

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