Oggie Phelps lay dead on the bedroom floor, the color of a brown tree frog, with his eyes popped open. Flo had to climb over him to get out from under the bed. “No way around him,” she said to herself. “Got to go over.” And she slid past his green eyeshade.
The hall was empty and still no sign of Wheatie or Tucker when Flo opened the bedroom door. As she reached the top of the stairs, a hand from behind clamped over her mouth. Another hand came over her shoulder, holding a very large hunting knife.
A man’s raspy voice whispered in her ear. “If you want to stay alive, don’t even breathe hard or I’ll open you up like a sardine can.”
* * *
When Wheatie finished telling Tucker the story of the kidnapped girls, she slumped back in the car seat, exhausted. Tucker turned the Packard around on the narrow road.
“Where you goin’?” Wheatie suddenly shouted.
“Back to the White Palace and Flo,” he answered.
“No,” she screeched, “I ain’t goin’ back there! Let me outa here!”
As he drove away, Tucker glanced in the rear-view mirror and laughed out loud. Wheatie was sitting in the middle of the road on the dead alligator, holding an umbrella over her head.
* * *
“What do you want?” Mayor Bucknell, cursed. “Can’t you see I’m busy.”
May closed the door to his office behind her. “I can see a lot of things,” she snapped, pointing at him the same revolver that had killed Oggie Phelps. “I can see you’re planning to skip out on me. Leave me holding the bag with nothin’.”
“You’re crazy,” he shouted, pushing his chair away from the desk.
“Captain Mac told me you were gonna leave on the boat tonight with the girls. Collect the money for ’em in Houston and keep on goin’. I tried killin’ you once, but that damn blonde got in the way. This time you ain’t gonna be so lucky.”
Mayor Bucknell stood up slowly.
“Too bad.” May smiled, lowering the revolver a notch.
“No, May,” Mayor Bucknell screamed, “not in the... Please!” as she pulled the trigger.
“You ugly bitch,” he groaned from his hands and knees, before she pulled the trigger again.
* * *
Flo heard the two gunshots, and so did her captor. She knew this was her chance, and in the instant it took him to look away, she acted. Mustering all her strength, she shoved him sideways and kept pushing until they both hit an unlocked door at the end of the hallway. The door flew open and suddenly there was nothing under Flo’s feet but air.
They were falling, but Flo could see nothing in the blackness. The man’s arm was still around her neck and she kept waiting for the stab of his knife.
* * *
Tucker parked the Packard in a grove of live oaks, hidden from the White Palace. It had stopped raining, but the air was heavy and hot. Lightning strikes still lit the black sky as he crept toward the house. Lights were on in some of the windows, but all of the patrons were gone and it seemed strangely deserted to him.
The two gunshots startled Tucker, and he hugged the side of the house, peering into one of the windows, hoping to see Flo. What he saw sent chills down his back. Mayor Bucknell was on the floor, covered in blood, with the door to his office standing open.
Tucker’s stomach rolled. “Oh, Lawd, what’s happened to Flo?” he moaned. He was about to climb through the open window when, in the moonlight, he glimpsed in a woman running from the back of the house.
Tucker kept her in view until she entered a stand of trees at the end of the garden. A set of wooden steps began where he lost sight of her. They formed a long pier that led down toward the river in the darkness.
A gun jabbed into Tucker’s ribs made him freeze. He recognized May’s voice behind him. “Don’t be stupid,” she said. “Keep on walkin’.”
“Where’s Flo?” he replied, refusing to move until he got an answer.
“She’s waitin’ for you at the end of the pier,” May laughed, “along with a river full of sharks.”
Copyright © 2012 by Ron Van Sweringen