Jackie left Goody's house to go to work alone for the first time in their four years of working together. It was the morning after they'd celebrated reorganization of The Good Life Cookie Company.
"Good luck," Goody shouted as Jackie got into her car.
As she eased out the gate, Jackie noticed a grimy, tan Toyota parked half a block away but didn't pay it much attention. She didn't connect it being there when she and Goody returned from the lawyer's office the day before, either. This morning her mind was focused on the board meeting she was soon to chair, the revised management structure she would present, and her plan to increase revenues by acquiring two local competitors. Both were challenges to her company's dominance of the hemp-based chips and crackers sector. She intended to show decisive leadership from the get-go to reassure the board she could achieve their goal of a public offering—the exit plan by which senior management and board members could cash in their stock options.
"Bobby! That's her, "Martha said, nudging the tattoo-covered brute dozing behind the wheel of the car he'd stolen in Sacramento two days earlier. "Wake up! We don't wanna lose her."
"I see her," he said, shaking away the sleep and watching her car disappear in the side mirror. He made a quick U-turn and sped ahead. A moment later they caught sight of her, and Bobby let off the gas so she wouldn't see she was being followed. "I'll grab her when she stops."
"No," Martha said, "Just follow her. She must be going to work. We'll confront her when she gets out of the car and tell her what the deal is. She's no dummy—she'll know we mean business. She'll do what I say."
What if she don't?" Bobby asked.
"She won't want her drug-dealing past known—or her two years in the state pen. But if she won't cooperate, we'll step it up a notch. Don't worry, I won't let this chance slip away."
Twenty minutes later Jackie turned into her company's parking lot and took an empty spot. Standing in the narrow space between her car and the Ford 150 pickup she'd parked next to, preparing to lock her car, she suddenly heard her name called out. When she turned to see who it was, she saw a stocky, red-headed woman in faded jeans and a grimy sweatshirt. A huge, tattoo-emblazoned man in baggy shorts and a sleeveless grubby tee shirt lurked behind her. They stood at the back bumper of her car and blocked her way past. The tan sedan idled next to them puffing black smoke out its tailpipe.
The woman took a step closer. "Hello, Jackie. I don't expect you know who I am since we've never met. I'm your mother's sister, Martha. We come all the way from LA just to make your acquaintance. With your fame and all, I figured you'd want to share your good fortune with me, being a close family member—your only one, in fact. And I would sure as hell appreciate your generosity."
Jackie was startled by these two people appearing from nowhere, and by the woman's outrageous claim to be her aunt. But having survived on the streets of LA and Portland, she wasn't easily intimidated and quickly recovered. "I've never heard anything about my mother having a sister. You'll have to have more than a wild claim in a parking lot. Do you have any proof?"
Ignoring Jackie's response, Martha continued, "Here's the deal, niece: Tomorrow you're gonna give us one million cash, in twenties, fifties and hundreds. In a suitcase. The kind with wheels. And just in case you're wondering why you'd do something like that, I'll tell you why. Because if you don't, I'll let the whole damn world know about your drug dealing past and your time in prison. I don't think your company, or your old lady girlfriend, would like it if their little princess turned out to be a scheming ex-con and a drug addict. Do you?"
"I don't believe you. Get out of my way or I'll call the police," Jackie said with as much bluster as she could muster, then yanked her phone from her jacket pocket.
Martha rushed forward, grabbed Jackie's phone and threw it to the pavement, then crushed it with the heel of her boot. "Here, call me tomorrow morning with this," she then said, tossing a disposable phone at Jackie. "I'll let you know where to bring the money." Then she turned back to Bobby. "Let's get outta here. Jackie's got to get to work."
In her office after the board meeting, Jackie called Goody. "It's me. I need to talk to you."
"Was there a problem with the board?" Goody asked.
"No. Everyone's okay with the reorganization and my revenue projections. It's something else."
"I'll see you in twenty minutes. I'll tell you then."
Sitting in Goody's spacious living room half an hour later, Jackie described her encounter with Martha and her silent giant. "Do you think she might really be your aunt?" Goody asked.
"Yes. I called the Oregon Children's' Services Department on my way here. They confirmed that my mother had a sister, Martha Grant, residing in California. Evidently, she was judged unsuitable as a guardian because of a criminal record. That's why they put me in foster care." Jackie stood and went to the big window overlooking the valley and stared out at the shimmering lights of the city off to the west. "Her hair is red, like mine," she added on the verge of tears.
"What will you do?" Goody asked gently after a long silence.
"I'm not sure. But I don't like the way she threatened me, and I'm sure not going to give her a million dollars. I'd never be able to come up with that much money in one day anyway. And I wouldn't even if I could. It's blackmail. Maybe I can help her out somehow, but not that way."
"What about her threat to tell the papers about your past?"
Jackie didn't respond for a few moments, seemingly deep in thought. Then she suddenly turned toward Goody, who was still sitting on the sofa. She hesitated a moment, then said, "But there is one thing that . . ." Saying no more, she quickly stepped away from the window and headed for the hall that led to her room. "Give me an hour, then I'll tell you."