Leaning on his father, he half hobbled to the showers. He didn’t feel like himself until he let the hot water pound him for several minutes. When he got out, his father stoically examined the bruises he’d left, cataloging a few of his own.
“Dammit, son. Getting punched by you is like getting kicked by a Kentucky mule.”
“You in the habit of being kicked by a mule, Dad?”
“Once or twice in my time. You should try it. It might knock some sense into you.”
“I get kicked all the time,” Jasper countered, holding his sore ribs. He stopped walking as they approached the door. “Is it over?” He asked his father, voice plaintive.
“I don’t know, son. I hope not, but if it is, she’s not the girl I think she is.”
Together, they walked back to Jasper’s cabin, the twins following in their wake. Jasper desperately wanted to go talk to Hana, but his father refused to let him.
“What you need right now is sleep. Do I need to dope you up, or will you lie down voluntarily?”
Jasper thought about it a moment. “I don’t know. I don’t really want to sleep. I have a lot to sort out.”
“That’s what I thought,” his father said.
Jasper felt the sting of a hypodermic. He couldn’t help being somewhat grateful as his body relaxed and he slid into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“Why didn’t you ever tell me about Jasper?” Hana asked her aunt. “You kept him and this place such a secret.”
“You’ve been here long enough to figure that out, Hana. How could I share this with anyone, even you? I know you’re nothing like your mother, but around her, you’re different. I’m different. God Himself would be careful around Aileen. I didn’t want to keep this from you, but she wouldn’t ever let me bring you here for a visit. The most I could do was tell you things about Jasper and give you updates, just like I did him.”
“Those photos on your piano. You said they were nieces and nephews on Ed’s side of the family. Those were pictures of Jasper and the others, weren’t they?”
“Yes, dear. And it wasn’t a lie. They aren’t nieces and nephews exactly, but they are kin. I think Ed and Janine are second cousins.”
There was a light tapping on the door. Jeanette and Janine were there with a tall, lanky blond man in a sheriff’s uniform. He looked so much like Jeanette, Hana knew they must be brother and sister.
“Jay has something to show Hana,” Jeanette said quietly when Marnie let them in.
The sheriff sat in Marnie’s spot on the couch, taking off his hat and sunglasses. Eyes like Jeanette’s gazed into hers.
“Miss Hana, I hear there’s been some trouble. I’m speaking now as Jasper’s uncle, not an officer of the law. However, in that capacity, I found out a few things you need to know. Milly and Arnold Finch are con artists. They’ve worked everywhere from California through to Louisiana. Between them, there have been twenty-seven arrests, minor convictions. That’s not to say that they aren’t successful, it just means they’ve been working a hell of a long time.
“Arnold Finch is an alias for Arnold Fitzwalter of Durrango. He’s forty-seven years old and he’s been working this same con since he was twenty. He hooked up with Milly, originally Mildred Harper of Phoenix, about sixteen years ago, when they tried to con each other. I guess it was magic, cause they’ve been together ever since.”
“They’ve been pulling stunts like this all over the state,” Janine said. “Sometimes they’re successful, other times not. Jay was able to track down a number of complaints about them. He’s put an official bulletin out to the B&B network about them.”
“Most men aren’t like my son and nephews,” Jeanette added. “I guess they succumb pretty quickly.”
“She’s a pretty tasty piece,” Jay added with a wink. “But the men in this family have more sense. Don’t hold this against Jasper. He’s a fine, honest man. I’m not saying that, just cause he’s my nephew. You won’t find many men better than him.”
“I was just saying the same thing,” Enid smiled. “Thank you, Jay. I think you summed that all up pretty well.”
Hana started crying again, shocking Jay and surprising the women.
“I’ve messed it all up, haven’t I? Now he thinks I believed her. I did believe her! What’s wrong with me?”
She flung herself at Jay. He held her gently, patting her shoulder comfortingly, murmuring softly. It didn’t matter what he said, or the fact he was a stranger. He was strong and male, who didn’t think she was a lunatic. Hana clung to him, weeping uncontrollably. He was finally able to disengage himself, claiming that he had to get back to work.
Enid and Marnie sat with Hana as she sobbed, unsure how to proceed. She believed Jasper now, but was afraid he was angry with her. Rather than trying to explain further, they asked Tyee to give her a sedative so she could sleep.
Marnie took off her shoes and laid a blanket over her. Curled up on the couch, Hana slept. Enid refused to leave her side. From time to time, the other women checked on them, making sure that Enid didn’t need anything.
Milly and Arnold Finch were taken away by the sheriff, who was able to arrest them on outstanding warrants from another county. With luck, they wouldn’t be causing trouble for a very long time.
©2022 Dellani Oakes