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The Face in the Mirror

The Face in the Mirror

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The Face in the Mirror

Comprimento:
413 página
6 horas
Editora:
Lançado em:
May 23, 2014
ISBN:
9781483526935
Formato:
Livro

Descrição

Ousted from the family for most of her life, Margebelle Bullet is accidentally switched with her sibling after a freak accident. She thinks its an advantageous twist of fate until she finds out her sister is the possible target for murder if she doesn't turn over their late father's casino to some very bad con men.
Editora:
Lançado em:
May 23, 2014
ISBN:
9781483526935
Formato:
Livro

Sobre o autor


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The Face in the Mirror - Linda Chehey

9781483526935

ONE

The news article read: "Flamboyant casino owner, Jake Bullet, passed away last night at home of a suspected heart attack. His girlfriend, Deanna Dormand, discovered his body this morning. He had apparently succumbed in his sleep. An autopsy will be performed to confirm the tentative diagnosis.

Jake Bullet will be missed in the gaming and social community of Las Vegas. He was a self-made millionaire who arrived here in the mid-nineteen forties and single-handedly built a fortune from gaming and real estate investment.

His casino, Jake’s Silver Mine, remains the last privately owned gaming resort on the strip. He is survived by his daughter, Marianne Bullet. Her twin sister disappeared mysteriously in the early sixties after she was involved in a kidnapping and has been presumed dead for many years."

The article continued on in detail about the remarkable man whom Belle had loved all her life, but she couldn’t see the words through the tears. She crumpled the newspaper in her trembling hands and wept inconsolably as she sat in her broken down old Pontiac behind the abandoned shopping center she called home. So this was how her life was going to be. She would never get the chance again to reunite with Daddy. She couldn’t even show up at the funeral and sit in the family section. All her efforts had been thwarted to approach him while he lived. And now, there it was in black and white, she was considered dead. That’s why he never tried to find her. She had been written off.

But she wasn’t dead. There was still a glimmer of hope that she could at least prove her existence and claim her share of father’s estate. Even a fraction of it would give her more security than she had now.

She reached into her purse and retrieved a well-worn, dog-eared business card with the name of an attorney she had been referred to some years ago. She’d lost Daddy forever and her relationship with Marianne was probably irreparably destroyed, but maybe Daddy hadn’t given up hope and maybe he had made provisions for her in his will. It was a remote possibility, but one worth pursuing.

Belle got out of the car and went to a pay phone at the gas station on the corner. Her fingers trembled and she wiped away more tears as she dialed the number on the card. She didn’t dream that the quest for her inheritance would turn into such a convoluted and long drawn out experience.

TWO

Two years later, and still homeless, Belle lay in the shadows, sleeping fitfully. Slowly floating up out of the peaceful depths of deep slumber, Belle experienced the sensation she was rumbling down the road in one of Daddy’s antique cars. Those childhood memories with Daddy often invaded her dreams, sometimes giving her peace, and sometimes leaving her depressed and wrung out. But this dream was a happy one. Her skinny little seven-year-old body was bouncing up and down on the seat of the antique Ford T-model Daddy called Pepper. He gave all his cars feminine names and Pepper was perfect for the Ford. She was the color of a ripe green pepper and he was as fond of her as he was of the other lady she was named for, Pepper Sinclair, his grandmother.

Daddy worked long hours during the week, usually returning home late, after the girls had gone to bed and he was usually gone before they got up in the morning. Mother looked after them, making sure they went to school and were properly fed and cared for, but Sunday was Daddy’s day with his two princesses, as he called them sometimes, and he would take them riding in Pepper through the streets of downtown, up and down Fremont. Then they would drive slowly down the Los Angeles Highway, past the El Rancho, the elegant new Desert Inn, and the fabulous Flamingo.

Belle was fascinated with the shining Cadillac cars and Lincolns pulling in and out of the parking lots bringing richly adorned, beautiful people to Las Vegas to vacation in the city of endless sun. She’d raise her hand and wave at all the curious and smiling tourists who waved back. She dreamed of someday being one of those elegant women.

Daddy liked to put on airs and let on like all those glamorous women in fancy clothes and the men in their dandy black suits were greeting him because he was such a big shot in town. At least that’s what he told Margebelle, whom he called Belle, and Marianne, whom he never found a pet name for.

Marianne used to scoff at Daddy and remind him, They’re not looking at us. They’re looking at this stupid old car. It’s so embarrassing. Why can’t we drive the Cadillac and look like real people. She’d fold her arms across her chest indignantly, stick out her lower lip in an ugly pout and whine, I feel like a stupid clown in a circus.

Belle didn’t give much thought to what it was Daddy did for a living, but he always seemed to have lots of money to spend and he frequently arrived home with a new car. After their impromptu parade through the city streets, they’d head out of town past the ranches and farms, raising a cloud of dust in their path that wafted across the valley in a wave of thick, choking dust. They’d bump along slowly, putting up with the heat and dust, knowing that soon they’d be enjoying the cool air of Mount Charleston.

They’d stop and picnic and play Hide-and-Seek. In her dreams, Belle tried to push Marianne out of existence. But she just wouldn’t go away.

Marianne was Belle’s identical twin and evil sibling adversary. It seemed they had been fighting each other ever since being forced to share the same womb. They were nearly identical in looks, but that is where the similarity ended.

When they played Hide-and-Seek, Marianne would never try to find Belle. She never called her Belle like Daddy did. That was too affectionate. Marianne would tell Belle to go and hide, and then take that as an opportunity to hog Daddy’s full attention and try to make him forget about Belle. One time, she waited so long to be found, she fell asleep and got sunburned on her face. She could see it all in her dreams again. Daddy was standing over her, shaking her and calling her name, Belle. Are you okay? Come on, Belle, wake up.

The shaking continued and she grunted as her eyelids fluttered and slowly opened until her eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight. Squinting to shade out the offensive glare, her eyes slowly focused and she heaved a disappointed sigh when she realized her mind was playing tricks again and the face looking down at her wasn’t Daddy. The love and security of childhood that she lived over and over in her dreams was long gone as was Daddy, and she opened her eyes to just another miserable day in her lousy life.

The visitor held out coffee in a paper cup and a donut wrapped in a napkin. She looked around and found herself back in the cold shadow of a crumbling, abandoned supermarket building where the dust was thick and the air cold. Morning rush hour traffic whizzed past the old shopping center Belle called home, filling the air with blue clouds of carbon monoxide, adding further to the headache she suffered at the moment. With great effort, she rose up on one elbow and then sat up and pulled the blankets around her stiff shoulders.

Good morning, Joe, she rasped in a tired throaty voice. It was hard to swallow and as she sat up, she went into a fit of coughing and wheezing. She attributed the symptoms to the unusually cold winter this year and the dry, dusty arid Nevada desert, stirred up daily by the gusting winter winds and the fact that she had picked up a chest cold somewhere.

When the coughing subsided, she spoke indignantly, You don’t have to bring me breakfast every morning. I’ve got money. I ain’t destitute you know.

She didn’t mean to sound irritable with Joe. After all, he was about the only friend she had in the whole world right now. Joe was kind to her and didn’t try to chase her away from the premises like so many people did, like the real estate broker that was trying to rent the building out. He kept calling the cops on her. She’d move for a day or two and then she’d be right back until the next time that old bastard came around. She soon learned to recognize his car and beat it on down the street as fast as she could when she saw him coming.

She was tired of being hassled by the cops and they didn’t really have the time or interest to deal with her. They had bigger fish to fry in this town where murder and robbery were common occurrences. When she’d see the cops coming, she’d start scratching her head and her body and muttering loudly, God damn lice! Just can’t get rid of the suckers.

The cops would roll down their windows and she’d sidle up to them and ask, Say, officer, you wouldn’t have a few bucks you could loan me until payday would you, so I can get something to get rid of these critters? These damn head lice are driving me crazy! Then she would shake her head in their direction, up close to the open car window.

The cop would swiftly give her the usual speech, she had heard too many times to count. If you don’t get off these premises, I’m going to have to run you in because you’re trespassing and you can’t stay here. Now get going! Then they’d swiftly speed away like the imaginary lice were hot on their tail, chasing them like greased lightning. They left her alone then, until the next time that blood sucking broker came around. Someday, old Belle was going to be rich and then she was going to buy that uppity asshole’s firm and he’d be cleaning buildings for a living instead of selling them.

Joe, on the other hand, was kind and tolerant. He managed the donut shop on the corner and he seemed to really care about Belle, in an arm’s length sort of way, but still he was the closest thing she had to a friend.

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. But I could come to the shop and pay for my breakfast.

Joe smiled slightly and nodded his head. Of course you could, Belle. I just enjoy our private visits and this gives me an excuse to sneak out of the shop and have a smoke. You’re aiding and abetting my bad habit, you know. He handed her the coffee and donut and pulled a cigarette from his pocket, lighting it with well-practiced fluid motion. He extended the pack in her direction, but she waved it away.

Thanks, but I’ve got a cold right now and they just don’t taste good when I’m feeling like this.

Belle continued to defend her circumstances as she felt compelled to do for years. I just happened to be temporarily inconvenienced, but it’s not a permanent situation. When I get my inheritance, I’ll be living as well as anyone in those uppity neighborhoods. Maybe I’ll even buy that donut shop and give you a big fat raise. She chuckled and then coughed.

Oh, he chuckled, I’m looking forward to that, Belle. Joe grinned widely.

You know, Joe, you’re the only one who’s ever called me Belle, besides my father. You kind of remind me of him in a lot of ways. He used to bring me donuts when I was a little kid, and he was the kindest man I ever knew. My mother, on the other hand, was a bitch and so busy being a social butterfly, she had little time for me. I mean, she was there, but she wasn’t there. Do you know what I mean? Daddy treated us like princesses. Oh, how I loved that man.

She cast her gaze at the mountain range beyond the city and for an instant, her mind and body felt young again, and she could almost feel the warmth of Daddy’s embrace as she remembered for a brief moment their picnics up there. But then a coughing spasm interrupted her thoughts again and she had to quickly set the coffee down before it spilled all over her.

When Belle regained her composure, she chided Joe. You’re going to make me fat as a Guernsey cow ready to drop a heifer if you keep bringing me these donuts.

Well, you know how it is with donuts. They’re kind of like women. They don’t all turn out round and pretty on the outside, but they’re still delicious inside. So I figure instead of tossing all of the rejects in the trash, I can bring some pleasure to my friend. I thought you’d like the treat. He took another puff on his cigarette and exhaled slowly.

Oh, I do. Belle brightened slightly. She noticed the intent expression on Joe’s face and stopped eating. What! What’re you looking at? Have I got bird crap on my head or something? You’re staring at me!

Now don’t get your tail in a knot, Joe replied firmly. I was just noticing how thin you’re getting. And that cough doesn’t sound healthy. Belle, you need to see a doctor. Do you want me to drive you? I could take you over to the Free Clinic when I get off this afternoon. I promise, I’ll wait for you and bring you back. His brow furrowed with worry as he waited for an answer.

Belle waved the notion aside with her hand as though pushing his very words from the dry, cold, morning air. There ain’t nothing wrong with me a few swigs of this cough syrup won’t cure. She held up a pint bottle of gin and tapped it with her finger. Then she slipped it back under her pillow.

As for the flab I lost, I’ve just been cutting down lately. I got sick and tired of the people around here looking at me like some sort of homeless, fatso, freak, bag lady. They seem to think I’m also deaf. But I hear their snide remarks when they walk by and gawk. I’m as good as any of those snobs and when I get my bank roll, I’ll show them all a thing or two. Yes I will. She grinned mischievously at her friend, knowing he’d be back again tomorrow morning with another handful of warm rejects and some coffee. She didn’t tell him that the past few months, she had been subsisting mainly on his handouts in the morning and fasting the rest of the time. Her source of income was getting stingier and stingier and she was starting to worry about her future prospects.

Whatever you say, Belle. Joe grinned and finished the last of his cigarette, flicking the butt away. It bounced on the blacktop and rolled away in the wind, coming to rest against the concrete curb surrounding a nearby landscape island. The remainder of the butt smoldered for a few minutes and then died.

Somebody needs to get over here and weed them beds, Belle said as she eyed the shrubs that were being choked by tall thorny weeds and dry grass. Nobody takes care of this place since the last tenants moved out. It’s a disgrace.

You’ve been here far too long, Belle. Joe spoke solemnly. You’re becoming proprietary. He chuckled. A lady like you should have a nice place to live. Camping out here the way you do is not only unhealthy, it’s dangerous. You need a home.

Like you’re telling me something I don’t already know, Belle barked at him. I’ve got a home across town. I just have to unseat that wicked bitch and have her put away where she belongs. My attorney’s working on it. Someday it’ll happen. Her mouth pursed in a determined expression and her gaze looked in the direction of the office building where that attorney kept his offices.

Why don’t you go see your attorney again today and have it out with him, Joe suggested. It sure seems to me he’s taking his sweet time to get your affairs straightened out. And in the meantime, here you are---what’s it been now---a couple of years that you’ve been going from pillar to post, sleeping on the streets. What kind of a man is he, anyway, to keep stringing you along like this?

I appreciate your concern, Joe. But don’t worry about me. I can take care of myself. She could see the compassion in his face and hear it in his voice as his eyes roamed over her pile of bedding and the old rusted shopping cart loaded down with all her possessions.

She wished she had been blessed with a son to look after her in her declining years. She suddenly felt that black pit in her heart she always felt when she thought of what she once had, but lost in the blink of an eye. She shoved the depressing thoughts away and straightened her shoulders. Feeling a little indignant at what she perceived her friend to be thinking, she sat up straighter on the thick pile of dirty blankets she called home every night and replied, I don’t know. I don’t keep a calendar anymore. He just keeps saying these things take time. Litigation is a long process and contesting a will can be a nightmare. And besides, he’s a very busy man. I ain’t his only client, you know. And furthermore, where else would I find an attorney willing to work on contingency and give me an allowance out of his own pocket. No, I’ve got to stick with him. It’s the only way I can pay back the debts I owe him for all his work. But even as she spoke up in defense of Lester Kellum, nagging doubts were starting to creep into her mind.

Well, I didn’t mean to upset you, Belle. I just wanted to stop by and see how you’re doing and let you know that the weatherman expects some heavy January downpours. You should find someplace inside to spend the next few nights because the temperature is supposed to drop into the forties. We’re in for some wet weather and you’ll never get over that cold if you don’t find shelter. He started to reach for another cigarette, but checked his watch and appeared to change his mind.

Thanks, Joe, but I’ll be fine here. I’ve got a tarp in my cart. You go on back to work now before you get accused of shirking your duties. She waved him away. And thanks for the weather report.

Whatever. Joe shrugged, turned, and sauntered back across the parking lot to his donut shop with a final wave of his hand. Take care, Belle.

Belle stared after Joe as he retreated. He was a big man, about six feet three inches tall and heavy set, like a wrestler. He wore a mustache and crew cut. His hands were big. The only words that came to mind when she cast her eyes on them were ham hocks. He looked like he could best anyone in a street fight, and maybe he had, judging from the scars on his forehead and the evidence of a previously broken nose. He may look menacing, but he had a heart of gold.

She remembered the first time she saw him lumbering across the parking lot in her direction. His formidable size gripped her heart in fear and she started packing up her belongings. She was sure he was going to bodily eject her from the premises like so many other people had tried to do. But he turned out to be just a big softy when he started talking to her and presented her with a bag of donuts and coffee.

Maybe he was right. It did seem like nothing had gone her way since Daddy had disowned her so many years ago, and life had only gotten worse after he died. She’ll never forget the day she learned her father had passed away. But she couldn’t think about that now.

It was still very early. The sun was moving higher above the crest of Sunrise Mountain east of the city. Belle was feeling very tired. The cup of coffee had done little to raise her energy level and she snuggled back under her mound of covers. The air was very cold in the early morning hours of this January day and she heaved in a fit of coughing. She took a swig from her half empty bottle of gin and shuddered as the noxious liquid rolled over her tongue and down her throat. She never really liked the taste of gin, but sometimes she just had to settle for whatever she could lift in a flash from the supermarket. The coughing subsided as she lay down once again and shut her eyes. She felt guilty sometimes, at having to steal the things she needed, but vowed to pay everyone back eventually when she got her inheritance. And that surely wouldn’t be too long now. Marianne couldn’t stonewall her case forever could she?

THREE

Belle’s thoughts turned back to the dream she had been enjoying when Joe so rudely awakened her. The way he was shaking her, he acted like he thought she was dead or something. She wasn’t really sleepy anymore, but she was still tired.

She thought back to the dream and tried to climb back into those warm memories of times that were gone forever. She had been riding with Daddy in his T-model. He was telling her some more of his stories. She never really knew if the tales he spun were fact or fiction, but she loved him so much, she thought his word was the Biblical truth.

Daddy, tell me again about Great-Grandma. Was she really beautiful? Belle always asked this same question to get Daddy started.

Belle, she was more than beautiful. She could sing and dance, ride a horse better than any man, and beat the best gamblers at poker. She had hair as red as a cayenne pepper, something like yours, and a temper to match, something like Marianne’s.

Belle had heard the stories so many times she had them memorized, but she still loved to hear Daddy’s version. No matter how many times he talked about Pepper, it always seemed new.

Pepper Sinclair, she called herself, he would begin. At least that’s the name she used when she emigrated from Ireland. Nobody really knows if that was her name and she never claimed to have any living kin. It’s possible they all died in a Diphtheria outbreak or a famine. Anyway, just a child of fifteen she was when she sailed into New York Harbor in 1875. She claimed she worked her way across on the ship, washing dishes and swabbing decks. But some of the more skeptical members of the family say she used other means to earn her passage. She was just too pretty to be scrubbing decks.

Belle thought about the portrait painting of Pepper Sinclair hanging over the mantle at home and grinned. Somehow, she just couldn’t see her as a scrub woman. Daddy and Mama battled regularly over the painting hanging in such a prominent place in their home. She wanted him to take it to town and hang it where it belonged above the bar in his sinful establishment. What could she have been talking about? Hang it where it belonged? It belonged where it was and Belle would run into the living room every day, first thing as soon as she jumped out of bed, just to make sure Great-Grandma was still up there over the mantle. Go on Daddy, Belle would prod, so she came over on the Mayflower.

He always chuckled at that. It wasn’t the Mayflower. That was much earlier. She claimed she sailed on some bilge-water freighter that had somehow avoided being sunk while running blockades during the Civil War.

What was the Civil War again, Daddy? Wide eyed seven-year-old Belle looked up at the man she adored.

That was the war the southern states fought to try and keep their black slaves after President Lincoln abolished slavery. But they lost.

So then Great-Grandma Sinclair came from Ireland. When did she marry Great-Grandfather Jake?

That was much later. First she worked for a while in New York doing anything she could to support herself. She lived with a family for a while doing housework and taking care of their children just for room and board. One night she was playing their piano and singing some Irish songs to herself when a guest heard her. She had a lilting voice that could mesmerize and hypnotize the listener. At least that’s what Grandpa Jake said. Anyway this guy had friends who were actors and singers and he introduced her to them. She joined a vaudeville show that was preparing to travel the country.

Is that when she met Great-Grandpa? Belle would ask.

Not yet, Belle, she was still only seventeen years old. That’s just ten years older than you are now, but she passed for much older. A barman took a liking to Pepper and courted her. But Pepper’s fiery temper was too much for the man and he sent her packing.

Packing what? Belle questioned.

He fired her and kicked her out of her room at the hotel. So she bought a horse and buggy and lit out for Dallas. She went to work at the Queen of Hearts Saloon, singing and dancing. And when she wasn’t on stage breaking the hearts of all those cowboys, she was cleaning them out of their bankrolls at the poker table. Those guys just couldn’t concentrate when Pepper was dealing the cards.

Belle thought about the infamous and much contested painting again, smiling at the image of the fiery red ringlets cascading down over her bare shoulders, with a stray wisp falling tantalizingly across the buxom breast, barely covered by the vivid green French silk gown so tightly fitted that breathing must have been difficult, if not impossible. And if Belle stared long enough at the green eyes peeping out from under thick lashes, she could swear they blinked.

As a child, Belle spent hours daydreaming about being Pepper Sinclair. She would sneak into Mother’s bedroom and dip into her makeup, plastering it on her face in a childish effort to emulate the beautiful woman in the portrait. She’d brush her own thick red locks and try to twist and pin them in curls and pompadours. Then she’d drape herself in Mama’s jewelry and put on her high heels. She’d be engrossed in performing in front of the mirror, belting out Don’t sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me, anyone else but me... when that nasty Marianne would burst into the room and laugh mockingly at her.

That brat would yell, I’m going to tell Mommy you’ve been getting into her stuff. You look like a slut! You look like a tart! Then she would retreat and run down the hall screaming, Mother! Margebelle is into your stuff again.

Belle shifted in her cocoon of blankets. She didn’t want to remember one of the many spats with Marianne. She pushed her thoughts back to the woman she idolized and wanted to be and to the father she adored.

So is that how come you always called her the Queen of Hearts, Belle repeatedly asked, because she could play poker? Can I learn to play poker?

No, Daddy always replied, I call her the Queen of Hearts because every man that crossed her path fell madly in love with her. She collected hearts like some people collect souvenirs. That’s what your Grandpa Jake always said.

Marianne, who had been listening from the back seat, always piped up with a vindictive voice and cut into Belle’s pleasure with Mommy says she should have been called the Queen of Tarts.

Oh, shut up, Belle would yell as she turned around and stuck her tongue out at her sister. You don’t know. You never met her. I did and she was nice.

The argument never varied, Marianne yelled back, Grandma said the woman was a slut just like them nasty women downtown that Mother calls the red light district. That’s what Grandma says too.

Now, that will be enough of that talk, Maid Marianne. That’s no kind of language for you to be using, Daddy chided her as he threw Marianne a stern look over his shoulder.

I don’t care what anybody says about her, Belle indignantly defended Pepper every time, I think she was beautiful and exciting and when I grow up, I’m going to be just like her.

One particularly heated time when Marianne screamed back, I’m sure you will. You spend enough time practicing. You’re a slut too; a big fat slut! The tirade was abruptly interrupted with the sound of a resounding slap and Belle drew back in horror as she witnessed Daddy’s hand swing forward over the seat and back to the wheel. His motion had been fluid and swift as he swung back and smashed the back of his hand across Marianne’s cheek, and Belle hadn’t seen it happen until it was all over and Marianne didn’t even have time to duck.

A totally chagrined little girl covered her face with her pudgy fingers and sobbed loudly. It was the only time Belle ever saw him hit her sister. She looked at his face and he was staring straight ahead, his face red with anger, his hands gripping the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white. The shock of the incident left a lasting impression on Belle and she vowed she would never do anything to draw his anger in her direction. They never spoke of the incident again, but after that, Marianne kept her opinions to herself about Pepper Sinclair and Belle whenever Daddy was around.

Unfortunately for Belle, her resolution to never disappoint Daddy and draw his wrath didn’t work out as she had planned and she had spent many futile years trying to figure out where things went wrong. She puzzled over her predicament as drowsiness set in.

FOUR

Belle hadn’t intended to sleep anymore, but the next time she opened her eyes, the sun had moved across the sky and was on the other side of the building now. She guessed the time to be about one-thirty or two. My God, where had the day gone? She needed to get going and see Lester today. She was running out of money and feeling lousy. She needed a few dollars to buy some cold medication.

She threw aside her covers, shivering at the sudden exposure to the cold air, and forced herself painfully to her feet. As was her daily ritual, Belle rolled up the blankets and the tarp underneath and stuffed everything into her cart. She pushed the rusting vehicle around to the rear of the building where she had managed to accumulate enough pieces of old lumber to prop up a small privacy wall in a back corner where she could wash up and take care of personal matters. She painstakingly turned on the outside water spigot with a pair of pliers until it ran in a weak stream of brackish liquid. She wiped her face with the cool water, combed her faded red hair, and applied some red lipstick without a mirror. Having done all that, she reached into the black trash bag hanging from her cart and withdrew her soiled and worn sheared beaver coat. Well past its prime and too long and billowy to be considered stylish anymore, it was the one possession from better times that she managed to hang onto.

She took the handle of her cart and directed it eastward down Sahara Avenue toward her regular visit with Mr. Kellum who represented her only possibility to regain a respectable life.

She felt very weak and she walked slower than usual today. The temperature gauge on the bank building read fifty degrees. She longed for the kind of winter Las Vegas had the year before, when January and February were a comfortable seventy-five and eighty degrees during the day. The beaver coat was keeping her warm for the most part, but the weight of it just made her more tired and she leaned heavily on the cart for support. A cold breeze was gusting and she had to swipe frequently at her face to push her hair away. What she wouldn’t give for a hot bath and a decent haircut, but that was out of the question due to her meager circumstances at the moment. She shivered, even though her forehead was very hot, indicating she was probably running a fever. If Lester wasn’t in again today, she might have to resort to lifting a bottle of aspirin from the drug store. She couldn’t go on like this for another night with no medicine. Stealing aspirin was probably the least sinful of the things she’d been forced to pilfer in order to survive on the streets. She shoved the thoughts away for the moment.

One more block to go...just one more long block. She stumbled and nearly fell on the next curbing, but the weight of her heavily loaded cart kept it from tipping over backwards when she put her full weight on it. Her legs felt so weak now. She should stop to rest, but no, it was getting late. The sun was dipping lower in the western sky. Lester never kept office hours past four o’clock and she needed to see him today. She was going to really read him the riot act about dragging his feet on her case. After all, he would be well paid in the end. She’d see to

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