Context from previous chapter:
Jessie ran to her car in a frenzy, barely able to comprehend what had just happened. Her trembling hands abruptly shifted the car into reverse, its tires screeching across the barren parking lot. She could barely manage to breathe and her pulse boiled within her veins. The phone from Kevin started ringing and she trembled as she slammed her foot against the gas pedal. She wanted to throw the phone out the window but she knew it wouldn’t stop them from finding her and she needed a way to find Justin. The adrenaline seared through and she couldn’t control the tears that seemed to scream as the phone rang again. This time she answered.
She couldn’t believe all this had unfolded within only a matter of days and hopelessness began to consume her.
Two days earlier:
As she stepped forward, crunching a piece of garbage beneath her sneakers, Jessie swore she felt someone lingering. She cast a glance behind her and found nothing but a barren street lined with a few empty, rusted cars.
She looked around her Los Angeles neighborhood and remembered the musty smell she’d noticed when she and her mother had pulled in on her first day there two months prior. She had imagined this neighborhood 40 years ago, with children giggling as they ran barefoot through the streets that were now littered with broken fences and tattered screen doors.
She heard footsteps behind her, and Jessie clutched her library books, wondering if she might need to use them against somebody. She finally gathered up enough courage to peer over her shoulder, and felt an arm swiftly reach around her neck from behind. As she tried to swing her books to smack the person behind her, a foot kicked them out of her hand. Jessie gasped and took a deep breath to scream, until she felt a sharp blade against her neck.
“Shut up!” someone whispered harshly in her ear. She could feel his hot breath against her neck. “If you scream, I swear I’ll kill ya.”
Jessie gulped and closed her eyes, breathing heavily. “What do you want from me?” she pleaded in tears.
“Shut up! Shut up!” He snarled into her ear. “You’ll do as I say.”
She nodded, her eyes wide. With his hand still over her mouth, he urged her forward down a narrow alley between two houses as the dimly flickering streetlight shone down upon the two of them.
There was a sudden downpour of rain as though even the clouds were against her.
He took her behind a strip of garbage cans and turned her around to face him. His baleful blue eyes peered down at her behind loose strands of his blonde disheveled hair. The rings around his scarred and reddened fingers dug into her shoulder as he held her against the side of a house. He reached into the pocket of his black leather jacket, causing its buckles to clink.
“Oh no!.. please no…” she begged as her core trembled, realizing he was going to pull out a gun. This was the end; it was all over.
Her eyes focused raptly on his hand as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes instead.
Jessie’s lips quivered as she sighed, drawing a newfound breath. She was still convinced she was going to die after he got what he wanted, whatever that was.
“So where’s Justin?” he asked rather casually, blowing smoke into her face.
She coughed and waved the smoke away with her hand. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You tell me where he is and I’ll make this simple and let ya go right now.”
“But I don’t know who…” she stammered.
He grabbed her by the shoulders and thrust her against a garbage can. “When I ask ya a question, ya answer me, got it?” spit spewed from his mouth as he yelled. Jessie sobbed and trembled in his arms.
“I don’t know! I don’t…” Jessie whimpered.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know!” He shoved her again and put his forehead to hers.
“Your brother, Justin! The one you call JJ!”
Jessie froze and her vulnerable eyes locked onto his. “How… how did you know that?”
“Where’s your brother, and what’s he done with my $50,000?” He inhaled another breath from his cigarette.
“My brother’s dead.” She whispered, looking down.
“Stop trying to cover for him!” he slapped her.
“I’m not! He died three months ago.” She swallowed a lump in her throat as she stared at the library in the distance, hoping someone there would see her.
“Ok, you wanna do it the hard way?” He stretched out his arms to grab hold of her.
She shook her head and started to scream for help. He slammed her back against the dumpster, with one hand over her mouth, and a knife in the other, against her neck.
“Shut up! Shut up!” he whispered impatiently as she whimpered in tears.
“I’ll give you a week to either find Justin or get me my dough.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. “Look, you keep this phone with you at all times so I can keep contact. If I see you try to pull any smart moves, I swear I’ll kill you and anyone ya talk to.”
She couldn’t believe he was about to let her go after she’d seen him.
He looked around to ensure nobody was watching. “Look, I happen to know you’re 20 years old and you just moved here from Colorado with your momma, who works 10:00-6:30 at a nice little diner down the street, and I’ve got a buddy outside your house right now, so I don’t want you getting any ideas.”
“Who are you?” She shuddered.
He shoved the old flip phone into her hands and stood up. “You find me Justin and I’ll leave ya be, but if you keep coverin’ for him, I’ll kill ya both. No cops, and don’t you tell nobody.” Jessie nodded and he ran off, leaving her there on the ground. Her tears mixed with the rain as she lay there and cried alone in the dark.