DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Della Street



Two teenage girls getting ready to serve dinner to three hundred of their classmates could hear the door slam all the way into the kitchen. "Jo and Blair are back," Natalie guessed.

Her prediction proved correct a moment later when their roommates charged into the kitchen. Silently, each began her preparations for the dinner shift.

Mrs. Garrett plunged bravely ahead. "So, how was the debate?"

"Oh, superb," Blair drawled.

Jo shot her a warning glance, but, as always, Blair ignored it.

"We made all of the points we had worked out about the dangers of nuclear proliferation–oh, wait–" Blair pretended to consult the stack of papers she had dropped on the counter. "–I don't remember seeing 'Bug off, Creepface' in here."

Green eyes glared at her.

"And my goodness," Blair continued, rifling through the material, "'I don't see 'Eat dirt, Pencil–" she glanced at Tootie's curious face "–neck, either." She turned to her glowering debate partner. "Were you using someone else's outline, Jo?"

"Can it, Warner."

With a flourish, Blair waved an arm toward Jo. "And there you have a re-enactment of our shining triumph today," she said. "Otherwise known as Blair's shining moment of humiliation. Blair's wish for an early death. Blair's–"

"He was askin' for it!" Jo exploded.

Calmly, Blair agreed, "He was rude. But you didn't see me calling him a" – again, Tootie's open face stopped her – "name."

"It wasn't you he was pissin' off," Jo replied.

"Language, Jo," Mrs. Garrett chided.

"You have to learn to ignore boorish behavior," Blair said. Looking pointedly at Jo, she added, "I do it every day."

"I don't wanna hear it, Blair."

Attempting to defuse the situation, Mrs. Garrett offered, "Well, I'm sure things will go better next week."

"No, they won't," Blair said, reaching for her designer gloves in the drawer beside the stove. "We've been suspended."

"Suspended!" Mrs. Garrett cried. "From school?"

"From the debate team."

Tootie was shocked. "That's awful!" she said. "One more win and you guys had the title locked up."

"I know," Blair said. She opened the oven door to check the biscuits. "The 'brains-and-brawn' theme seemed to be working."

An instant later, Jo was looming over her. "I'll show you brawn," she threatened.

Blair wasn't fazed. "Oh, please," she said. "Save it for your next debate." Staring out into space, she whimpered in disbelief. "Kicked out. Blair Warner. For the first time in my life." To Jo, she said, "I should make you write the letter to my parents, but there's no telling what you'd call my father."

"All right, already!" Jo said. "Give it a rest!" She grabbed a napkin tray and backed through the swinging door into the dining room.

Watching her go, Mrs. Garrett said to Blair, "Jo feels badly."

The blonde scraped a burnt patch of dough off the grill. "As she should," she said bluntly. "My mother had already cleared space in the trophy room between Best Hair and Most Likely to Conduct a Hostile Takeover."

Following an unnaturally quiet dinner shift, Mrs. Garrett headed upstairs and knocked on the door across the hall from her own. When no entry was invited, she walked into the room, where its lone occupant refused to look up from her algebra textbook. "I don't wanna hear it," Jo said glumly. "Blair already gave it to me plenty."

"I know," Mrs. Garrett said. "We're having ice cream downstairs. Why don't you come down?"

"Is she there?"


"Then I'm not goin'."

Mrs. Garrett sat on the edge of the plain brown bedspread. Another Jo-Blair conflagration to douse. "They blow up, it blows over," Natalie had once shrugged. True, but it didn't hurt to speed the process along a little. "You can't hide from her forever," she said.

"I'm not hiding," Jo said. Acknowledging the thinness of her denial, she added, "She'll just be sitting there waiting to bring up this debate thing again."

"You think so?"

"I know so," Jo said. "She was really steamed."

"Yes, she was," Mrs. Garrett agreed. "I think she was surprised that you lost your temper like that. She's said some pretty provocative things to you before."

"That's different," Jo said. "Blair doesn't really mean most of her stuff." She thought that over. "Well, yeah, she does. But it's . . . I don't know, it's just different. This guy was raggin' on me. Right in front of Blair."

"So I heard," Mrs. Garrett said. "I gather he was making fun of your accent."

"Tellin' Blair she should hire a translator. Askin' her if she had a Bronx/English Dictionary." Jo grew increasingly agitated. "I know I don't talk like the other girls, but that doesn't mean I'm dumb."

Mrs. Garrett patted Jo's leg affectionately. "Of course it doesn't. Blair knows that." She waited, but there was no response. "I called Mr. Peters," she mentioned.

Jo set down her book and crossed her arms against her chest. "Did you ask him to put Blair back on the team?"

"He offered to."

"Well, good for her," Jo said. "She didn't like bein' paired up with me anyway."

"She turned him down."

The incredulous expression on the girl's face made Edna smile. "She did?"

"Blair said it wasn't fair for you to be suspended when nothing happened to the boy from Bates Academy," Mrs. Garrett said. "She felt he was intentionally baiting you."

"She'd know."

"Yes, she would," Mrs. Garrett agreed. "You two have turned mutual provocation into an art form." She nodded toward the door. "Come on."

Jo trailed after her down the stairs and into the dining room.

"Dip-time!" Blair called out.

"Don't start with me, Blair," Jo warned.

The blonde aimed a spoon at a box of caramel praline in the center of the table, then handed it to Jo. "Dip," she ordered. "It's finally melted."

Oh. Jo accepted the flatware from her and shoved it into the soft mass.

"As I was saying," Blair said to her other roommates, "now that I'm free on Wednesday afternoons, I'll have more time for my painting. And other things." She held up her bowl to receive a lump of ice cream. "Next Wednesday, for example, Jo is taking me to a matinee."

The scoop paused halfway out of the box. "I am?"

Blair said nothing, simply arching an eyebrow.

"Eh, what the hell," Jo caved.

With a puzzled expression, Blair reached for a book beside her elbow. "I'll have to consult my Bronx/English dictionary," she said. "Ah, here it is: 'Why yes, I'd love to take you to a movie, Blair. I'll pick you up at three o'clock.'" Closing the book, she smiled up at Jo. "I'll be ready."

It wasn't the worst experience of her life, Jo grudgingly admitted later. At least it was a guaranteed two hours of Blair not yammering at her. And it wasn't like she had to put up with the ditz that often in the evenings. Not when Blair was in demand every night, like tonight, apparently, judging by the three outfits laid out side by side on her roommate's bed. Third time this week. "At this rate, you're gonna get through every guy in New York before you graduate," Jo had once said. No problem, Blair pronounced–"That's what the other forty-nine states are for."

Ms. Prima Donna had managed to get through the whole day without being especially obnoxious (not including breakfast, of course–Blair was not a morning person). Her relatively good behavior probably deserved something, Jo decided. "Didja have a good time last night, Blair?" she asked politely.

"Tres fun!" Blair beamed. "Which reminds me; I have something for you." She walked over to her purse to draw out six Polaroids, all of Blair and various boys in various stages of merriment, mugging for the camera, and handed them to the brunette.

Jo flipped through them. Like she wanted to see guys drooling all over Blair? Good thing she didn't go to these parties; she'd spend half her time gagging. "Gee, thanks, Blair," she said sarcastically. "Just what I wanted, pictures of you. Like I don't see your face all day long."

"Don't be silly," Blair said. "Take your pick."

Typical Blair, handing out photographs of herself like they were some kind of prize. Whatever. Sometimes it was easier just to humor her. In one of the pictures, Blair seemed genuinely amused by something, not that fake smarmy smile Jo knew all too well. "I'll take this one," Jo said.

"Really?" Blair seemed a bit surprised. "I didn't peg him as your type."


"Ted," Blair said. She pointed at the man who gazed adoringly at her in the photo.

Wait a minute . . . . "You want me to pick a guy?"

"What did you think I was talking about?"

Jo was too embarrassed to admit that she thought Blair was offering pictures of herself, or worse, that Jo had actually taken one. Raising her voice defensively, she said, "I never know what you're talking about."

One of the potential outfits for tonight didn't suit Blair's mood, apparently. It ended up back in the closet, replaced by a red dress with a thin gold belt at the waist. Jo briefly considered telling Blair that she looked really pretty in that dress. Why should she, though? It wasn't like Miss Priss had any confidence in her taste.

Still evaluating her sartorial alternatives, Blair continued the conversation. "One of these can be your date for tomorrow night."


"For a double date."

"Double date?"

"Try to keep up, Jo," Blair said. "You and Ted" – she held up the photo – "can go out with Scott and me tomorrow night."

There were so many things wrong with that sentence that Jo didn't know where to begin. "First of all, why would I want to go out with Ted tomorrow night?" she asked. "And second, why would I want to go out with you and Scott?"

"If you're worried that Ted will say no, don't be," Blair said. "He'll do anything to spend time with me, even indirectly."

Oh, my God; did Blair's ego know no bounds? "A charity date?" Jo asked darkly.

Blair seemed confused. "What are you talking about? Since you had such a good time at the movies–"

"I never said that."

"–I'm giving you a chance to spend a whole evening with me. Doesn't that sound fun?"

Her and Blair, together on a Friday night? "Not particularly," Jo said. "Besides, you could just stay home." Not that Jo felt any particular need for this bonding stuff. If one could bond with plastic.

Brown eyes blinked at her. "I'm not following," Blair said.

"You could stay home and watch TV with me and Nat and Tootie," Jo said. "They're showin' Twelve Angry Men."

After another pause, Blair burst into laughter. "Good one," she said. "You almost had me going there." As she thought about it, she began to laugh harder. "Blair Warner staying home with her roommates on a Friday night," she guffawed.

"I didn't want you to anyway!" Jo snapped.

"Well, fine, then."

"Fine!" She tossed the stupid Polaroids into a drawer.

Two unnecessarily expensive shoes appeared a few feet from the edge of the car, the tips pointing at Jo's head as if in accusation.

"There you are!" Blair's voice informed her. "I've been looking everywhere for you."

"Obviously not everywhere, or you would have found me," Jo pointed out from beneath the '75 Volks.

"What are you doing?"

"Mrs. G's car is hesitating," the amateur mechanic explained. "I'm gonna replace the fuel filter."

"Whatever." Blair was nearly brimming over with her news. "Guess what?"

Jo began tracing the line from the fuel tank with her index finger and thumb. "I thought we weren't speaking to each other," she said.

"Why not?"

Hmm . . . . Jo racked her brain. "Brake fluid on your nightie?"

"No, that was last week," Blair said.

"Tellin' Bert you were goin' out with Bart?"

"Fortunately, I was looking for an excuse to break up with Bert anyway," Blair said. After further deliberation, she decreed, "Well, if we can't remember, whatever you did must not have been all that horrible–"

"Whatever I did?" Jo said. "Maybe it was something you did."

"–so I have decided to reinstate your Blair privileges."

Oh, joy. "What would it take to lose 'em again?"

As always, Blair brushed aside her roommate's lack of panache. "So, guess what?"

"They found Jimmy Hoffa in your makeup case?"

Blair sighed dramatically. "Why do I bother?" she asked the world.

"I've been wondering the same thing." A moment passed, and then Jo relented. With as much interest as she could muster, she maneuvered her body partially out from beneath the car. "Okay, Blair, what's your news?"

"Baryshnikov is coming back to New York! One night only!"

Not the Leaping Lithuanian again. ("Russian, you Neanderthal.") Why Blair got weak in the knees over him was a mystery to Jo. If that guy wasn't light in the loafers, Jo wasn't from the Bronx.

Blair could hardly contain herself. "And you'll never guess the best part!"

"I can't take the suspense."

"It's on my birthday!" Blair cried. Jo watched the blonde flounce around. "Now, who should I take? . . . Bryce has a new car . . . ."

"Yeah?" Finally something interesting. "What is it?"

"Black," Blair replied. "Quinton is eighth generation . . . ."

"Eighth generation what?"

"Money, of course."

Jo usually knew better than to ask, but she couldn't help herself. "What difference does that make?"

"Blue blood," Blair said, as if that explained everything.

With a dirty chuckle, Jo said, "I dunno; there's something to be said about a good ol' red-blooded guy."

As if elucidating to a small child, Blair said, "In Hell's Kitchen, perhaps, but not Park Avenue."

Of the two, Jo knew where she would rather be. "How do you know those guys would even wanna go to this thing?" she said.

"Because, Silly, they'll be with me."

"I ask again." Jo moved back under the carriage and continued her detective work. Why couldn't there be a standard location for fuel filters? There it is. Extending a forearm, she told Blair, "Hand me a box wrench."

"Excuse me?"

To illustrate, Jo twirled her index finger a couple of times. "It's got a little round circle at the end."

"I mean the 'hand me' part," Blair said. "I'm not putting my hand on that disgusting thing."

Jo smirked. "Bet you've said that before."

"Excuse me?"

Nice girls were no fun sometimes. "Look, either hand me the wrench or I'll come out there and get it, and you won't like what I do with it," Jo threatened.

Cringing, Blair retrieved a tissue from her purse and used it to pick something up that looked like it might be the requested object. "Is this it?" she said, dropping a crescent wrench into Jo's palm.

The hand disappeared beneath the car, then promptly reappeared. "Does that look like a circle?"

"It could."

With a growl, Jo wriggled out from beneath the car and dug around in her old toolbox. No box wrench. "Dang it, I coulda sworn there was one in here," she said.

"Well, so much for that," Blair proclaimed. "You'll just have to come upstairs and help me pick out an ensemble for the pas de deux."

Yeah, she'd been holding her breath all day for that dream job. "And I should do this why?"

"I need a man's opinion," Blair said, "and you're the closest thing we've got. I just bought a sexy little strapless at Neiman Marcus. It's me, but too much me could drive a man insane."

"Or anyone."

Blair went on, "I'll try it on, and you let me know if I look too delectable."

"I can already answer that," Jo said. "No."

"I have some other new outfits if need be," Blair said. "Come on."

And, to Jo's dismay, she did.

When Blair's plans hit a roadblock a few days before the big event, everyone heard about it. Blair Warner was not one to suffer in silence.

"No, Nelson, I understand," they all heard her say, eavesdropping on the community phone being a time-honored tradition among the roommates. "Thanks for trying." With one of her melodramatic sighs ("slow leaks," as Jo called them), she wandered into the dining room. "Uncle Nelson couldn't get tickets to Baryshnikov."

"Oh." Jo wasn't sure what to say. "Nelson, huh? Is that your mom's brother?"

"Mother's friend." Figures. That Monica got around almost as much as her daughter.

It really was a shame that Blair couldn't go, Jo mused later that day as she handed Tootie a freshly washed plate.

"That's nice of you to say, Jo," Tootie replied.

"Yeah, now we're stuck with her on her birthday."

Tootie swiped the plate with a towel and laid it on the stack beside the sink. "I'm sure there will be plenty of guys willing to 'console' her," she predicted.

True enough. But what was that ad Jo had been hearing? "Hey, Tootie," she said. "Turn on the radio, will ya . . . ?"

Her mom's back had gone out again, Jo advised her roommates a couple of days later, so she was heading home for the weekend. Tucking Mrs. G's care package into the console, Jo hopped on her bike and, bypassing the Bronx, instead cruised on into Hanson's Elite Auto in Brooklyn, home of the Great Hands-On Giveaway. She'd heard the jingle enough: "Hands on, drive off." Keep your hands on the Hanson, win the car. Or a nice consolation prize . . . .

The loud clang of a bell jolted Jo awake. Crap, she'd almost drifted off again. "Three minutes!" a voice broadcast over the P.A. system.

Clasping her wrists above her head and rotating her shoulders to work out the kinks, Jo padded toward the restroom. Who would have thought standing still could be such hard work? Thirty-one hours – and counting – of pressing two hands against the side of a black 1983 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am had Jo's whole body sore.

She jogged in place for a minute, hoping to summon a reserve of energy from somewhere. Talk about stupid, Polniaczek, she scolded herself. This was your dumb idea. Would Blair do this for you? No. Not that Blair wouldn't do something nice once in a while; she just wouldn't have to do something pathetic like this to pull it off.

The bell rang again to signal the end of break time. Did she really want to keep doing this? Jo scowled at the two-door in the middle of the showroom floor. They were down to four contestants now, a couple of college guys, a high school custodian, and Jo. Personally, she was rooting for the janitor. His folks had just moved upstate, he'd mentioned from around the corner during one of their attempts at conversation to escape the boredom. His wife was expecting. They really needed a car. That was fine with Jo. If she never saw another Trans Am, it would be too soon.

She had come this far, she decided. Reluctantly, she walked back to the vehicle. Another three hours and 57 minutes coming up before the next break, and not a damn thing to do. She couldn't take either hand off the car, so reading was out. So was sleeping. It was too easy for a hand to slip. A couple of guys had lost out that way already.

And thus another long session of contemplating her navel. Well, not her navel so much as her life. Her parents, her school, her future. Mrs. Garrett. Tootie's play. Natalie's latest story. And, of course, the reason she was here: Blair. The most important person in her life for the past four years, as ridiculous as that sounded.

Blair. Half the time, Jo wanted to strangle her. This was one of those times, although in fairness she couldn't blame this feat of stupidity on Blair. She didn't even know about it. No one did except Tootie, and Jo had made it clear to the Rona Barrett of Eastland the unpleasant consequences that would befall her if she spilled the beans before Jo's return. If Jo didn't win, she really didn't want to hear it from everyone (namely Blair) about failing.

Knowing Blair, she probably hadn't even noticed that Jo was gone, except perhaps when she spied an empty chair – horrors! – at the Young Leaders Award ceremony. So what if Jo missed one? It wasn't like she hadn't sat through umpteen of those things where Blair, full-toothed smile pasted on, was handed some trophy or plaque or whatever. Harvest Queen, Arts Festival Queen, Fashion Queen, Queen of the World (in her own mind).

Admittedly, Blair hadn't skipped out any of the times that something went Jo's way. But then, the heiress considered such awards her own by extension, as exemplified by her thrilled pronouncement – "I've done it again!" – when Jo won Best New Student her first year.

Yeah, right. Shoulda just punched her out anyway.

What an ego. Jo didn't know what she was thinking that night when, for reasons known only to God, she had slipped a little "Thanks, Blair" into her acceptance speech, earning her an ecstatic smile and embrace after the speech. Jo hadn't hugged her back, but she had sorta almost wanted to, which annoyed her. That was the thing about Blair: there was no middle ground. You either wanted to kill her or kiss her. Well, not kiss her, kiss her. But she must be a heck of a kisser, the way guys hung all over her.

Wonder what Airbrain's doing now. Something incomprehensible to the human eye, probably. Kinda like a dog whistle.

The girl in question was, in fact, standing in the dining room with two fists pressed against her sides, demanding to know, "Where is Jo?"

"Visiting her mom, remember?" Tootie reminded her.

Outrageous! "How inconsiderate when I need to talk to her!" Blair said. "She was right about John, as unlikely as that sounds. How dare she let me go out with him in the first place!"

"You can talk to us, Blair," Natalie suggested. "That would be better than this." She tossed aside her Teen magazine. Tootie nodded her amen.

"No offense, guys," Blair said, "but this is something I need to yell at Jo about." A flash of brilliance brought her to her feet. "I'll call her!"

"No, don't!" Tootie piped up. "I mean, she might be in the middle of something. Or something."

Blair continued to dial. "Like what, polishing her bowling ball?" she disagreed. "She probably doesn't know what to do with herself without me around."

"Riiiight," Nat said. She picked up her magazine again.

"Mrs. Polniaczek, hi," Blair said into the phone. "This is Blair Warner. Could I speak with Jo?" Her brow furrowed. "I thought she was going down there this weekend. . . . No, I must have misunderstood. She probably just, uh . . . ." She fumbled for a scenario. ". . . went with Mrs. Garrett to the paprika convention."

'Paprika?' Natalie mouthed.

"Oh, no, just some gossip to share. How's your back? . . . Good to hear." After hanging up, Blair whirled around. "Jo is not at her mother's," she announced.

"Sherlock Warner," Natalie said to Tootie.

"And her mother's back has been fine for six months, thanks for asking."

Hesitantly, Tootie began, "Now, Blair–"

Ignoring the other girl, Blair sneered, "Well, isn't this just marvelous."

Tootie tried again. "Now, Blair–"

"Jo skips out on my awards dinner and lies to us," Blair went on. "What a busy girl! If she didn't want to come, why didn't she just say so? It's not like I cared. And where is she, anyway?" No response was required, evidently, as Blair bolted out of her seat and dashed up the stairs, returning a few minutes later with more evidence. "She took the little travel bag I gave her," she reported. She held up a couple of frilly decorative tassels. "Except these. They must have fallen off somehow."

"Somehow," Natalie echoed.

"So, where would she go?" Blair pondered.

Tootie fought against her instincts. Something about Jo's growled, "You blab, you die," that helped bind her tongue.

Blair strode over to the couch and plopped down onto it. "I suppose she's having some grand romance while I'm having a miserable time with John." She thought about it a moment. "Well, not the kind of boy that Jo attracts. Grand romance to them is playing Eye of the Tiger with their armpits while sharing a beer at Taco Bell."

"I'm sure Jo will be back soon," Tootie said.

"Did John dump you, Blair?" Natalie asked.

The look she received could have wilted flowers. "Of course not," Blair said. "I dumped him."

"Then why are you miserable?"

"Because now I'm going to have to find someone else to go to the City with me tomorrow." Blair's mood lifted as suddenly as it had darkened. "Of course, that won't be difficult."

"The City?" Tootie repeated.

"A little birthday Baryshnikov," Blair replied smugly.

Baryshnikov? A sense of dread crept through Tootie. "I thought you couldn't get tickets," she said, afraid to hear the answer.

"The theater called this morning," Blair replied. "Maureen Reagan couldn't go – her loss, my gain. Front row center, so I can see every bulge."

Tootie dropped into the armchair. "Oh, no."

"Don't worry; I'm not leaving until after my party." Blair frowned. "Not that Jo will bother to show up. If she's holed up in some illicit love nest without telling me, I'm going to kill her . . . ."

Just kill me now. Jo would never watch Knight Rider again, or Smokey and the Bandit, or anything else that might have a Trans Am in it. She hoped Pontiac lost its shirt on this piece of shit.

A tired groan emanated from behind the rear bumper, and the last of the college guys (Jerry or Gary, Jo never could make it out) slumped to the ground in defeat.

"Two left," the monitor called out.

Not for long. As best she could without the use of her hands, Jo beckoned over a contest official. "I wanna be sure," she asked over her shoulder. "If I quit now, I get . . . .?"

"Ballet tickets," he said.

"Thanks." She stepped back from the car.

Mrs. Garrett's marigolds almost bit the dust again later when, too tired to be driving, Jo cut it a bit close and almost rolled her bike into the same flower patch she had demolished on her first day at Eastland.

Seated at a table in the dining room munching on a piece of toast, Blair gave her a strange look. "Well, hello, Jo. Glad you made it back for my birthday party," she said. She didn't exactly sound glad. "You look tired. What have you been up to?"

"Speakin' of birthdays . . . ." Indulging in a bit of theatrics, Jo whipped out an envelope from her back pocket and tendered it to the blonde. "Happy birthday, Princess."

Blair studied the gift with a puzzled expression. "Baryshnikov?"

"Yep," Jo said happily. "Row 9, seats 12 and 13. It's on the aisle, in case you gotta go to the bathroom or somethin'."

Confused, Blair asked, "How . . . ?"

"Thirty-seven hours and twenty-two minutes of gettin' to know a 305 four-barrel better than I ever wanted to." Jo was still grinning in spite of her exhaustion.

"It was a radio contest," Tootie explained. "It started Saturday. Jo had to stay awake the whole time to win those."

Blair contemplated the tickets a moment longer, then laid them on the table. Rising from her seat, she walked over and placed a kiss on Jo's cheek. "Thank you," she said. "This is a very thoughtful gift. Amazingly thoughtful, actually."

"Eh, don't go gettin' all mushy," Jo grumbled. "I wasn't doing anything this weekend anyway. If there'd been anything good on the tube, you'd be stuck in Peeksville tonight."

"Of course."

After attending to a few items of business, Blair lowered herself gracefully onto the living room couch, startling Jo out of a snooze. "You're drooling," she said.

Jo mumbled sleepily, "At least I have an excuse."

"Did you make it to class?"

"I think so," Jo said. "A bunch of blah blah blah that didn't make any sense–oh, wait, that was you at breakfast."

"I shouldn't encourage you after a remark like that, but I guess I'm just too forgiving," Blair said. "I'm going to give you the opportunity of a lifetime."

Jo stifled a yawn. "You movin' out?"

"I'm inviting you to go with me to New York to see Baryshnikov."

"Couldn't get a date, huh?"

"No, I couldn't," Blair lied.

Jo seemed surprised at the answer. "What about Flake?" she asked. "He can't seem to peel his eyes off you."

"Blake couldn't make it," Blair said. "Something came up." Namely a telephone call from Blair calling off their date.

"Well, it was kinda short notice," Jo said. "And all the way to the City. There's lots of guys who'd wanna go out with you."

Of course there were. "I know," Blair said. "So, why don't you come with me?"

"To the ballet?" Jo grimaced.

"See how the other half lives."

"I live with the other half."

Blair upped the ante. "We can stop by your mother's house." She could see the wheels turning. Almost there . . . . "I'll let you drive the limo."

Jo's eyes lit up. "Deal!"

"But not in your neighborhood," Blair clarified.

"Why not?" Jo got up from the couch and started toward the stairs. "You'll need a fast driver."

Following Jo up the stairs, Blair chuckled. "Oh, I think Saunders will be more than ready to gun it out of your neighborhood," she said. "He still remembers the time my mother stopped there to pick yours up for the Eastland Board meeting."

They reached the door of their bedroom as the debate picked up steam. "All that whining about one set of hubcaps," Jo said.

"Still, maybe we should ask your mother to meet us in Manhattan," Blair said. At Jo's glare, she amended, "Just kidding! Now, I have a few ideas about what you should wear tonight. I've pretty much ruled out everything in your closet."

"Oh, yeah? Well, you can take your ideas and–" The door closed behind them.

As the final credits of the movie scrolled past in the darkness, Tootie sighed contentedly from the warmth of her bean bag and blanket. "Philadelphia Story is so romantic," she said to Natalie, who was likewise curled up against the recliner. "Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn fight divinely."

Behind them, the front door opened and Blair stormed in, followed closely by her scowling roommate.

"Ah," Natalie said. "And now the sequel." She settled in to enjoy the show.

"Can the attitude, Blair," Jo growled.

With a distinct air of martyrdom, Blair uttered, "Why I ever thought this was a good idea escapes me."

"You said that already."

"It bears repeating."

"We've been goin' to the movies every Wednesday for two years," Jo said. "Get off my back for one glitch."

"'Glitch?'" Blair repeated. "That's a rather liberal interpretation of the word."

To the eavesdroppers' dismay, the older girls continued on into the dining room. With a quick exchange of glances, Natalie and Tootie hopped up and hurried after their friends–only to receive twin glares. "Take a hike," Jo ordered the snoops.

"Spoilsport," Nat groused. She and Tootie returned to their cocoons in the other room.

With underage distractions out of the way, the argument resumed. "Like you can't read?" Jo defended herself as Blair deposited her purse on the nearest table. "You coulda checked out the listing yourself."

"I erroneously assumed you could handle that rudimentary task on your own," Blair said. "When you said, 'So, Blondie, whaddya wanna see tonight,' I should have been more specific: 'Not the one where two women are making out.'"

"They weren't makin' out in the ad," Jo said angrily. "All it said was somethin' about the Olympics. You're the one who said we should stay."

"We paid for the tickets. " Blair suddenly froze in place. "Oh, my God–what if someone saw us there and thinks we're–?" She gasped. "My reputation!"

"Your reputation?" Jo asked. "What about mine? I don't need people thinkin' that about me, either."

"Oh, please," Blair said. "It's hardly the same thing."

Jo's expression darkened. "Meaning?"

"Meaning that no one would think badly of you if you managed to land me," Blair explained. She spied her reflection in the oven surface. "Let's face it; I could turn anyone." She angled her head to admire herself from another view.

"Stomachs, maybe," Jo said. "Listen, don't worry–no one would ever believe you were my type."

Blair scoffed at the assertion. "I'm everyone's type," she replied.

"Not mine."

"Is that so?" Brown eyes narrowed.

Terrific. Now Blair was offended. How did they let these conversations take such stupid turns? "Blair, what are we arguing about?" Jo said. "If I went out with girls – which I don't – and you went out with girls – which you don't – then would I go out with you? I mean, it's like askin' what would you do if you had a million bucks?"

Blair stared blankly at her.

"Okay, bad example," Jo said. "All I'm sayin' is that this is a dumb argument, Blair."

"You're saying that I'm unattractive," Blair replied, "only this time you mean it."

Oh, for hell's sake. "No, I'm not," Jo said. "You're just not my type. I mean, if a girl could be my type."

"I see." Blair's heels clicked on into the kitchen. "And just who would be? If a girl could be your type."

A little PB & J would hit the spot right about now, Jo decided. She followed Blair into the kitchen. "They wouldn't be, so I don't know." She reached into the pantry for the peanut butter jar. Absently, she accepted a butter knife that Blair handed her. Beside her, Blair unscrewed the lid on a jar of grape jam from the refrigerator.

Jo spread peanut butter on two slices of bread, then dropped one onto her paper plate and another onto Blair's. She plunged the knife back into the jar and stirred it before pulling it out and holding it out to the blonde's covetous gaze. Her roommate loved peanut butter. Clasping Jo's wrist lightly, Blair ran her lips along the stainless steel until only a trace of the creamy substance remained. Jo laid the knife in the sink.

As Blair placed one piece of jam bread on each plate, she said, "Amy?"

Happily, Jo rolled the slices together into a PB & J hotdog and brought one end to her lips. "Huh?" she mumbled.

"Is Amy your type?"

Oh, for–"No!" Jo barked. "And I am not talking about this any more." She walked over to the fridge. "Want some milk . . . ?"

The next morning, Blair wandered into the bathroom as Jo was tapping her toothbrush against the sink. "Hey, I got another three minutes," Jo protested. She watched in disbelief as Blair, once again, completely ignored her. "Am I invisible here?" she asked as Blair laid her bath towel on the toilet seat and began untying the drawstring at the neck of her new nightshirt. Why Blair even bothered to wear that thing mystified Jo. In a certain light, you could see everything right through it. Her eyes flickered downward–yeah, everything. She'd noticed that before.


Jo brought her attention back to the toothbrush, which drooped in her hand. "Huh?"

"Is Teresa your type?"

"No!" Jo said. "Will you drop it, already?"

Of course not. Blair Warner never dropped anything. For the next twenty-four hours, Jo contemplated various responses to the blonde's pestering, all of which would end up on the criminal court docket as The People v. Joanna Polniaczek.

Tossing Jo the remote control . . . . "Roberta?"


Handing Jo the sports section . . . . "Ellen?"


Stirring the salad . . . . "Pepper?"

"No," Jo said automatically. Then she thought for a moment. "Pepper?"

"Could you please pass the pepper?"

Ignoring all verbal and nonverbal cues, Blair made her way through most of the girls in their class before Jo made her fatal mistake. Fishing around in the dryer for her workout clothes, she wasn't paying attention when Blair opened the washer lid beside her to drop in a load of tablecloths.


Where was that other tube sock? Had it fallen out of the laundry basket upstairs? "Uh, no," Jo finally remembered to say.

Accustomed to instant denials, Blair read too much into the delay. "Oh, my goodness," she said. "Maria?"

What was she going on about?

"Maria is your type?"

"I never said that," Jo said. Although as girls went . . . .

Blair gawked at her. "I don't believe it," she said. "You'd rather go out with Maria than with me?"

"Isn't there a statute of limitations on arguments, Blair?" Jo said, irritated. "I've had enough of this one."

The next morning, Blair felt a sudden inclination to get up at six o'clock for the first time in her life. She was reclining comfortably on the coach in robe and slippers when Jo's jogging partner rapped on the door. "Hello, Maria," she said coolly.

"Hi, Blair," the redhead said. "You coming with us today?"

"Oh, I wouldn't dream of it," Blair replied. Her gaze flickered appraisingly across the other girl.

Jo's voice was suddenly in her ear. "Don't even think about it," she whispered. She couldn't take any more of this. A sacrifice was called for. "Be out in a sec, 'kay?"

Maria took the hint and stepped outside, leaving the two roommates alone.

"OK, Blair, I admit it," Jo said.

"Admit what?"

"I was just goofing with you."

Sensing an important concession, Blair straightened up on the couch.

"You're . . . ." Swallow it, Polniaczek, in the name of peace. "If I were looking for a girl to go out with, I might consider someone who sorta looks like you."

Smugly, Blair brought the cup to her lips. "I knew it," she said. "You are human, after all. Arguably."

"We're just talking looks here, not personality," Jo clarified. She left her roommate contentedly burrowing her toes into her warm blanket.

Joanna Polniaczek obviously had something to say.

"I don't like that look," Blair said to her other roommates at the table.

From behind her back, Jo produced a sheet of paper. "And you're not gonna like this," she said.

Blair closed her eyes. "No . . . ," she moaned.

"Oh, yes, Miss 96." Jo poked at a large 97 scribbled across the top in red ink.

"Uh oh," Tootie said. "Looks like Jo won the Psych-test bet."

"I should have quit while I was ahead," Blair said.

"You mean that five hours of mall hell you put me through last week?" Jo said. With one hand on the table and another on the back of Blair's chair, the blonde was effectively trapped.

Blair slipped into conciliatory mode. "Now, Jo . . . ."

Leaning down, Jo invaded the blonde's space even further. "An hour at the jewelry store," she said. "Another hour at Harrison's. A lifetime at the Blouse Emporium. And a hernia from carryin' all your junk into the house."

"Hardly a hernia," Blair protested weakly.

"Only because I broke it up into three trips," Jo said. "Well, now it's your turn, Princess – you, me, Tri-State Motorcycle Rally next weekend."

Thinking fast, Blair stuttered, "Oh, dear, I'm afraid I already have plans for next weekend."

"With Artie?" Jo asked.

"Arthur," Blair corrected. "Maybe."

"Forget it, Barbie, you knew the terms," Jo said. "If you won, I was gonna suffer a fate worse than death at Bloomingdale's."

"Oh, Jo, I would never have held you to that," Blair said.

"Yeah, right."

Tootie looked up from her ill-advised attempt at cross stitching. "Have you guys ever thought about making a bet that doesn't involve torturing each other by spending time together?" she asked.

The older girls stared at her. "Then it wouldn't be torture," Jo said. She looked to Blair, who shrugged her agreement.

When Saturday afternoon rolled around, for one of the few times in her life, Blair Warner found herself with little to contribute to the conversation. Fortunately, the constant roar of motorcycle engines made conversation difficult anyway, unless one defined 'conversation' as the booming of indelicacies at the decibel levels of a pneumatic drill. A transcript of this particular get-together would have to contain many euphemistic symbols to protect the delicate of ear, Blair had concluded.

She killed a few minutes watching Jo interact with a group of grease monkeys a dozen yards away. Or would that be a tribe? One of them was Jo's uncle's brother-in-law's cousin, or some such nonsense, apparently a sufficiently close connection in the Polniaczek family tree to warrant a warm greeting between two people who hadn't seen each other in years.

High on Blair's priority list was getting this Mickey alone for a few minutes. He was near enough to Jo's age to have spent time around her, but old enough to remember embarrassing 'kiddie Jo' stories. No one could resist the Warner charm. If he had any juicy tales, Blair would soon have them. That seemed a fitting revenge for Jo dragging her to this . . . this . . . . thing.

Blair's own little grease monkey was in her element. One minute she was laughing at some undecipherable humor (much of which Blair did not want to decipher); the next, she was debating whether a three-eighths doodad could be adapted to a quarter-inch doohickey, or something like that.

Jo was smiling again. That smile. So mesmerizing. That's why it was such a shame that Jo rarely accepted Blair's offers to set her up on dates. And when she did, they were always double dates, and invariably one-shots. "I'm too busy," Jo always said. Or, "he's too boring." Or, "we've got nothing in common." Granted, that was usually true, but look at the two of them. They had nothing in common, yet they spent most of their time together and managed to find plenty of things to talk about. Or argue about. Same diff.

Someone was calling Jo. Blair couldn't hear what was said, but whatever it was, the guy apparently wanted Jo to go somewhere with him. Blair eyed him. Was he a romantic interest? Not judging by the body language. Jo's body language, anyway.

The brunette turned and mimed a question at Blair, who waved her consent. Five minutes, Jo signaled with her hand.

Alone at last! From her handy oversized purse, Blair pulled out the latest issue of Vogue and began leafing through it. She hadn't dared while Jo might catch her.

Her respite was interrupted, however, by someone dropping onto the bench beside her chair. Jo's uncle-brother-cousin (once removed, but who was counting) Mickey. "Well, hello," Blair greeted him. Opportunity knocketh. "So, you knew Jo when she was a little girl . . . ?" Yes, he did, as it turned out. ". . . Aw, wrecked her little tricycle and went boom, did she?" Blair laughed. She could just picture furious little Jo, lower lip trembling, tromping into the apartment. "I wondered where that scar on her knee came from."

"So," he said, "how long you and Jo been together?"

"We've been roommates for four and a half years," she replied. Four looooong years, she didn't add. These people might not realize that she was joking. Sort of.

"Roommates, huh?" he said.

"Yeah," Jo's stern voice intruded. "Roommates. You want a soda, Blair?"

Oh, yes. "I'd love one," she replied.

"Me, too." Jo gestured toward the far corner of the building. "There's a machine over there. Go get us some."

Blair frowned. "I'm sorry; did you confuse me with your personal servant?"

"I ain't confused," Jo replied. "You got another" – she looked at her watch – "two and a half hours on your sentence."

As the heiress flounced off on her errand, Jo grinned. No one could stomp off with dignity like Blair Warner. Not wanting to blow her opportunity, Jo leaned in to plead with her relative, "Listen, Mick, I know what you guys are thinkin', but it ain't like that with Blair. We're just friends."

"Too bad," Mickey said. "That's some nice–"

"Don't," Jo warned. "Blair's classy. She's not . . . you know. Hey–off the chair!" she yelled at a guy about to take Blair's space. Not after Jo had spent fifteen minutes scrounging up a chair with relatively little grease on it for Mrs. Onassis. Once the interloper moved on, she said, "So, anyway, if you get a chance, tell your orangutan friends to lay off, okay?"

"Eh, I don't know half these guys," he said. "Don't worry about 'em."

"And don't go sayin' anything to Pop, either," she added. "I ain't got a girlfriend."

Blair returned in due course, smiling sweetly as she bent over to pop the lid on the soda can, which promptly sprayed fizz all over her roommate's face. Jo shot to her feet.

"I am so sorry," Blair cooed. "It must have come down the chute too fast."

"Yeah, right!"

"I guess I'm just not well suited for personal servitude," Blair said. Straightening the back of her skirt, she resumed her designated seat.

During the next lull of engines, Jo glanced at her as the guys debated the advantages of synthetic oil on an air-cooled engine.

"Fucking A!" one of Mick's pals opined loudly.

"Fucking A and Z!" another agreed.

That was enough of that. "Hey!" Jo said, jerking her head toward her companion. "Ix-nay on the ucking-fay, okay?"

"Sorry, Babe," one of the potty mouths said to Blair. "Figured you were getting plenty of that with Jo." Except for Mickey, the other men chuckled.

"Oh, no, Jo swears relatively infrequently," Blair said. "Although Scrabble takes on a whole new dimension when she plays."

The others laughed as Jo eyed them warily.

The roar of a Yamaha behind them provided a welcome change of subject. "Hey, Polniaczek, check this out," the rider said. He held up an oil-covered index finger.

"Fork seal?"

"Yep," he said. "You up for it?"

"I might be able to help out with that," Jo said with a grin.

"I'm sure she could," Blair said proudly. "Jo's very good with her hands." More chortles from the group confused her. "No, really, she is," she insisted.

"I'll bet," one replied.

With one hand on the bike's fender, Jo said, "Let's get this baby up on the lift. Got an Allen wrench?"

Unexpectedly, Blair jumped to her feet. "Wait, Jo–I have just the thing!" she said.

"You've got an Allen wrench?" Jo eyed the blonde's massive purse. "You got dinner in there, too?"

Blair grinned excitedly. "Don't move," she said. "I have something for you."

Like where would I go?

"'Wait here, Jo,'" one of the guys mimicked when the blonde was out of range. "She's got somethin' for ya."

"Knock it off," Jo ordered. Blair would have a coronary if she knew what the guys were thinking about the two of them.

Whatever Blair was bringing in, it was way too heavy for Princess Warner. Jo hurried over and took it from her hands. "What the hell is this?" she grunted.

"Your birthday present!" Blair replied. "I just picked it up this morning. Now, it's two weeks early so we'll have to put it back in the closet when we get home, and you'll have to remember that I gave it to you."

"You'll remember Blair givin' it to you, won't you, Jo?" the main loudmouth cracked. "I would."


The wrapping was kinda nice, Jo noticed. Maybe she could re-use it the next time she gave someone a present. Carefully, she peeled off two corners of tape, until she saw all the guys watching her. Her pride at stake, she grabbed a chunk of paper and tore it off, revealing a smooth gray box with a raised JP on the lower right hand corner.

Blair was nearly bursting with anticipation. "Open it!" she urged.

"It's a toolbox," Jo said. Although calling this thing a 'toolbox' was like calling the Nutcracker a 'dance.' Inside was – holy cow – a shiny, brand new 95-piece tool set. Jo brought a wrench up to inspect it. What the–? She reached for another tool to confirm what she was seeing. The handle of each piece glittered with an ornate J.

"There I was, driving by the hardware store in my convertible, when I had another one of my brilliant ideas," Blair said. She ran her fingers up the shaft of a hammer. "And they said I was crazy."

Jo squinted to examine the studs in the curve of each J. "Are these real?" Diamonds?

"Of course," Blair said, insulted at the suggestion that they might not be. "Didn't Henri do a spectacular job? And the silver is from my own mine."

Silver? Jo hated to ask, but she had to know. "How much did these cost, Blair?"

"A fortune," Blair beamed.

If Jo lived to be a hundred, this would still cost more than every gift she ever got Blair – and her mom, and Tootie, and Nat, and Mrs. G – combined. "I can't accept this," Jo said. "It's too much."

"Don't be silly." Blair tried to examine her reflection in a pair of pliers. "It's not like I had to hold the phone to my ear for thirty-seven hours or anything. You can give me a tune up some time."

These wouldn't last half an hour on Blair's Porsche, or any other car. They might be suited for a tea service, but not undercarriage work. Not to mention that Jo would be laughed out of the auto mechanic's guild, if there was such a thing. Jo remembered her mother's advice: Remember, it's the thought that counts – especially with Blair. "Thanks," she said. "They're real nice."

Blair smiled gleefully at her.

"What the fuck?" One of the pains in the ass was holding up a flare nut wrench. His expression would be similar to that of most other guys, Jo suspected.

"It's a gift," Jo said meaningfully.

"For a puss–"

"From a friend."

He tossed the wrench back into the box with a disdainful, "PW."

Jo placed the tool back into its rightful location.

"PW?" Blair asked.

"It's a bike," Jo quickly said.

"Oh." Blair laid the pliers back in the box. "Have you ever had one?"

"Nah." Jo sent the others a silent warning to keep their traps shut. "You want something to eat?"

That perked Blair up. "Oh, yes!" She frowned. "Wait–you don't mean here, do you?"

"They've got a concession stand."

"Concession stand?" Blair whimpered. "Is it a franchise?"

Jo tugged her to her feet. "Yeah, the Russian Tea Room. Come on." She'd had enough of all the insinuations. Maybe they'd duck out of here a little early, if Blair groveled enough.

Never again. Never again would Jo make the mistake of thinking that going out with Blair and one of her suck-faces might be better than sitting home by herself on a Saturday night.

The frat rat behind the wheel glanced over at Jo, and she chuckled uncomfortably. The sounds of smooching directly behind her were getting louder. Geez, they had to come up for air sometime. Jo didn't know if anything more than kissing was going on; she couldn't see the amorous couple in the mirror.

Why was Wing Man still looking at her? Don't even think about it, buddy.

"Come on, Blair!" Jo finally yelled into the back seat. "You gonna work on that paper or not?"

The blonde disentangled herself from her date. Patting her hair back into place, she said, "Sorry, Reese. Duty calls."

Jo quickly exited Fratboy's Mercedes, hoping another extended goodbye scene wasn't in the cards. As partial compensation for the ten-minute gagfest she had just endured, Jo decided it was her turn to take the Cabriolet for a spin. She dared Blair to object.

Her roommate and her roommate's date had expended all their energy, apparently, and a single chaste kiss was all that Jo had to sit through, fortunately. With a smile and a wave, the blonde walked around to the passenger side of the Porsche and got in. "What took you so long?" Blair erupted the moment she closed the door.

"Excuse me?" Jo turned the key.

"I thought I'd have to marry him before you finally got us out of there," Blair said.

"Me? You were the one sucking all the oxygen out of the car," Jo pointed out.

"What did you expect me to do?" Blair asked. "I couldn't let him think I wanted to go home early."

"He understood," Jo said. "It's not your fault you've got that paper due."

Blair smirked. "Paper? The only paper I'll be working on this weekend is the Dow Jones section of the Times."

"You lied?"

"Well, not entirely," Blair equivocated.

"You said we had to cut short the date because your English Lit professor's sister got hit by an ice cream truck and the psycho sub is making you rewrite Charge of the Light Brigade as an e e cumming by Monday," Jo said. "How much of that was true?"

"The part about cutting short the date," Blair said. "I only agreed to go out with Reese because his mother chairs the historic landmark committee that my mother just joined. I thought I had it all worked out–a movie, an unexpected class assignment, a roommate who would harp on me to leave as soon as the date was over. But no, you practically force me to have sex with him."

How was she supposed to know that? "Why didn't you tell me?" Jo asked.

"It never occurred to me that you would be patient and considerate."

"I thought you were gettin' off back there," she said truthfully. "I don't need you pissed off at me for days."

"That's nice, but ewww," Blair said. "We may do a lot of things together, Jo, but I don't think having sex should be one of them."


Blair smacked Jo's knee. "Let's take a pizza home!"

"Sounds good to me–"

"And then we can watch 'The Best of Blair'!"

"–or not." As God was her witness, Jo would not end this already bizarre evening watching home movies of Blair Warner that her mother had sent up.

"Steven Spielberg directed the compilation."

Good grief. "Well, he's used to subjects from outer space," Jo replied.

"And Neil did the soundtrack. Oh, there's Angelo's!"

If she did watch that dumb thing, there would be plenty of Polniaczek commentary as they went along, that was guaranteed. And they'd have to come up with something else to say they did on Saturday night if anyone asked. They got drunk, maybe, and mooned the dean, or mugged an old lady, something less embarrassing. And Blair was sure as hell paying for the pizza.


If the whisper hadn't awakened her, the tugging on her shoulder would have. "Whaddya want?" Jo grumbled. The one upside of a weekend alone with the last roommate up each morning would be sleeping in an extra couple of hours, she had assumed.

"Did you hear that?"

"All I hear is you yappin'," Jo said.


She did – to nothing. "That's the last time we go to a hacker flick," Jo decided. She should have said no when Suckface suggested it. Blair didn't handle mayhem well. Jo had learned that lesson early on when, after two hours of Blair screaming in her ear along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Jo had nearly screamed her own head off when she rolled over in the middle of the night to encounter another body.

"Blair, there's nothing down there."

"Well, maybe I'll just go check it out by myself." Blair tapped her foot, waiting for a response.

Oh, no, you don't. "Nice try," Jo said. "I ain't movin'." She rolled onto her side, turning her back on her flighty roommate.

"All right, then," Blair said, "I'm going to make some cocoa."

"I wouldn't mind some of that."

Disdainfully, Blair replied, "Don't hold your breath."

She wouldn't. Jo half-listened as Blair rustled around, putting on her robe and slippers, then opened the bedroom door and closed it behind her. As minutes went by, Jo's annoyance grew. Now she couldn't get back to sleep. Thanks, Blair. Might as well have some damn cocoa after all.

Foregoing slippers, Jo padded down the hall in her bare feet. "Leave the stuff out," she called down.

There was no reply. Oh, great. Was Blair pissed? As often as she prayed for the heiress to shut up, Jo hated it when Blair gave her the silent treatment, mostly because then it wasn't on Jo's terms.

"Here I come, see?" Jo yelled as she neared the bottom of the stairs.

Blair wasn't in the kitchen, which didn't mean anything. Not in the dining room either. No big deal. "Blair?" Jo ran to the living room and flipped on the light–and saw a man in a ski mask near the door, a lifeless figure draped across his shoulder. "Blair!" she screamed. She reached for the phone immediately to her right, but the cord dangled uselessly where it had been torn from the wall. Shit!

Instinctively, Jo threw herself at the intruder's legs, taking him to his knees. Dumping Blair onto the ground, he seized a clump of brown hair in one fist and punched Jo in the face with the other, then shoved her backward into a table that went flying. Jo snatched a vase from the telephone stand and flung it at his head, but he ducked at the last second and it sailed past him to shatter harmlessly against the wall. Flailing around for anything else to use as a weapon, Jo grabbed a lamp that had fallen to the floor and swung the base as hard as she could.

"Ow!" He grabbed his head in pain.

She swung again, gratified to feel another solid connection.

"Ow, you bitch!" the man bellowed. He wrapped a large hand around her ankle and jerked on it. Jo fought to keep her balance, but the only object within her grasp was not what she needed. Roget's Thesaurus and the Peeksville phone book tumbled down on top of her along with an entire shelf of books as she landed on the carpet. Jo could see the bastard starting to pick Blair up again, and she launched herself onto his shoulders, digging her fingers into his throat. He suddenly stopped resisting. "About fucking time," he said.

Before Jo could wonder what he meant, something hard slammed against the side of her head.

Edna Garrett smiled as her Volkswagen passed through the Eastland gates. She really did love it here. With half an ear, she listened to Tootie and Natalie chatter on about their weekend in Buffalo with Tootie's aunt and uncle. When the car rounded the last corner before the house, the banter stopped.

"What's going on?" Tootie asked fearfully.

Two police cars and an ambulance were parked in front of the house, along with a couple of other unmarked vehicles with government plates. Across the street, a throng of curious students stared at the entrance, as if waiting for something.

Edna hurried from the car, pushing past the crowd control officer with an urgent, "This is my house! What's happened?"

Inside, she halted at the sight. Broken glass littered the floor. Books were strewn everywhere. The desk lamp Natalie and Tootie bought her last year at the flea market lay in a dozen pieces. Standing amid the debris was an agitated Jo Polniaczek, with a split lip and swollen eye, swatting at the medical technician who held a bloody cloth against her head.

"Why are you just standing here?" Jo was shouting at one of the detectives. "Why aren't you out looking for her?"

Oh my God–Blair! Edna placed a hand against the door frame for support.

"We have an APB out on them, Miss Polniaczek," the detective replied. "What was she wearing?"

"I already told them that!" Jo pointed toward an officer in the doorway.

"We have your report to the police," he replied calmly. "I'd like to hear it from you."

"A pink nightie," Jo said. "I mean a peignoir."

"What's a peignoir?"

"I'm not sure," Jo said. She just remembered Blair correcting her once. "But it's down to about here" – she pressed the side of a hand against her thigh – "and it's got, like, a dark ruffle around the bottom."

The detective made a note on his pad. "See through?" he asked casually.

Jo shot him a look. "What's that supposed to mean?" she said. Edna could see that she was on the edge.

"I'm just looking for a complete description," the man explained.

Jo ignored the question. "She was wearing a robe," she said.

"What did it look like?"

"She's got like a hundred," Jo said. "It woulda matched."


"You know," Jo said impatiently, "looked good with the pink. She wouldn't go downstairs in something that clashed."

Edna smiled slightly.

"Why would she care?"

Jo stared at the man. "Because it's Blair," she replied.

"Who was she wanting to look good for?"

Raising a hand, Jo gestured for help to a female officer standing nearby, but she did not look up from her pad. "For herself," Jo said. "Why are you wasting time on this?"

"I just wondered if there was any particular incentive for Ms. Warner to dress up," the detective persisted.

"Like what?"

"Like a man in the house." His expression remained impassive. "House mother away visiting her son, no adult supervision . . . ."

"We are adults, you–"

Sensing an imminent explosion from across the room, Edna reached Jo in time to prevent her from saying something they would all regret. "He's just doing his job, Jo," she said gently.

"Badly," Jo retorted. "There was no 'man in the house.'"

Edna stroked her hair. "I know."

Turning back to the object of her anger, Jo said more calmly, "There was just me and her."

"Why was she downstairs at three in the morning?"

To Mrs. Garrett's surprise, Jo hesitated. Finally, she replied, "She was making some cocoa."


"Yeah!" Jo exploded. "Some fucking cocoa, all right?" She jumped to her feet and began pacing in front of the couch. "Some goddamn cocoa," she said to herself.

Edna could count on one hand the number of times that Jo had let loose those particular four-letter words in her presence, but this was a horrible situation. "Jo . . ." she said, but the distressed girl cut her off.

"Save it," she said. "Why aren't you out looking for her?" she lashed out at all of the law enforcement personnel in the room. "Tell you what, you find a blonde in a robe running around out there, I'm guessin' it'll be Blair."

"You have no idea who these men were," the official said.

"I already said that!" Jo snapped. "Are you taking notes?"

"Jo . . . ," Edna said soothingly.

Attempting to rein in her temper, Jo reiterated the facts she apparently had told them before: "I didn't recognize the first guy's voice. I never even knew the second guy was there. I don't know them or why they took her."

Bluntly, the detective asked, "Any reason to think that rape might be a motivation?"

The color drained from Jo's face, and she dropped back down on the couch. "Oh, God," she moaned.

Evidently that possibility had not occurred to her. It had to Edna. Among other things.

"Blair's the prettiest girl in school," Jo said. "She goes out with lots of guys, but she doesn't . . . ." She buried her face in her hands. "You're just standing here with your pencil up your ass while they could be–"

"Detective," Edna interjected.

"Agent," he corrected her. "Slobek."

"Agent Slobek, could you give us a minute?" Edna asked. "Let Jo gather her thoughts." To draw attention away from the frazzled girl, she asked, "Have you spoken with Blair's parents?"

"Mr. Warner's private plane was re-routed an hour ago," Slobek said. "We're attempting to locate her mother."

"She's in Monaco," Tootie volunteered numbly. "Monica in Monaco," she had quipped when Blair mentioned the older woman's plans.

Natalie nodded. "Call a travel agent and ask for the most expensive hotel," she suggested.

The ringing of the telephone jolted Edna. Such a normal event in such an abnormal situation.

"You ready?" Slobek called out, and it was then that Edna noticed a technician fiddling with wires spliced out of the phone jack.

At the tech's signal, the female agent pressed a button, and her voice was transmitted throughout the room via speaker phone. "Hello?"

"May I speak with Edna Garrett?" a male voice requested.

The dietician began to rise, but the woman waved her off. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Garrett is not available right now. May I take a message?"

"Yes, this is Ewing Taggert from the New York Post," the voice said. "We'd like to speak with her about the Blair Warner kidnaping."

"I'll give you a quote, you fucking leach!" Jo shouted.

The detective grabbed the handset and pressed the speaker button. "There will be no comment from Mrs. Garrett or Miss Warner's roommates at this time," she said. "Any official comment will come from Agent Ronald Slobek or the Communications Department at Warner Industries. . . . No comment . . . No comment. . . . Agent Carla Smithson. You're welcome." She hung up the phone.

"That's how you handle media inquiries," Slobek instructed the other women. "Two words: No comment."

"Of course," Edna agreed. "How did they find out so quickly?"

"Someone in the Peeksville P.D. getting their fifteen minutes of fame," Natalie speculated.

Only minutes behind were the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, and the Washington Post. Edna nearly groaned when the phone rang again. Fleetingly, she thought, Maybe they should let Jo answer. That would abbreviate the conversation.

"Put the girl on." The voice was muffled, as if the caller were speaking through a cloth.

The agents exchanged glances. Slobek shook his head, and Smithson replied, "She's not here."

"Bullshit. Put her on."

"Bureau policy is to avoid disruption of normal routine," the agent lied smoothly. "She's in class."

"I'll call back in half an hour. You have her there, or Blondie loses a finger."

Edna gasped as the line went dead.

Slobek fired off a question to Jo. "Why do they want to talk to you?"

Jo seemed as perplexed as the rest of them. "I don't know," she uttered.

"Did you recognize the voice?"

"No." Jo said. "I don't know him, okay? I don't know why he wants to talk to me."

The next time the phone rang, the lead agent pressed the button. "Agent Slobek," he said.

"Put the girl on."

"The Bureau is prepared to–"

"Put her on, or I hang up."

Nervously, Jo spoke at the box. "Hello?"

After some indistinct noises, she heard a familiar, "Jo?"


Edna clasped hands with the girls sitting to each side of her.

Through the speaker, Blair asked, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Jo replied. "Are you okay?"

Blair did not answer the question. Instead, she said, "If you're really all right, tell me truthfully what you were wearing the first time we met."

Mrs. Garrett remembered it well. A rebellious sixteen year old from the Bronx, blithely parking her motorcycle in a bed of marigolds and charging into their lives–especially Blair's, in what would affectionately become known on campus as the Clash of the Titans.

"Last year's jeans," Jo choked. "Ya snob."


Suddenly, Jo picked up the receiver and pressed the square button to cut off the speaker. "Did they hurt you, Blair?" She closed her eyes. "Blair, I am so– wait, lemme talk to her! Wait!" A moment later, she cradled the receiver.

"What the hell was that?" Slobek said. Shouting wasn't the best way to reach Jo, Edna could have told him. As her little rebel had once admitted, when she was pushed, she didn't ask why; she just pushed back.

"I wanted her to have some privacy," Jo explained.

"Unless you want to get her killed, you do what you're told," Slobek said. "What did they say?"

"Blair said they haven't hurt her." She turned to her friends with some sense of relief. "I think she meant it."

Slobek followed up with, "What else?"

"You're supposed to tell Warner they'll call with their demands," Jo said. "That was it."

"It took a long time just to say that."

When she had a chance, Edna decided, she would definitely offer a few suggestions to Agent Slobek about his approach. That he and Jo had a personality conflict was painfully clear.

"One of 'em said, 'Okay, you've talked to her, you gonna cooperate now?'"

"Why were they asking you to cooperate?"

"Not me, her!"

The agent slipped his pen into a slot on his notepad. "Is that all, or are you holding back again?"

"I wasn't holding back!" Jo blew up. "I didn't think that's what you meant."

"You didn't think," Slobek said. "And that's why getting Blair Warner back is my job, not yours."

"Then do it!"

Slobek's job encompassed a wide range of b.s., Jo concluded later. Hidden at the top of the stairs, she listened to the agent request permission to search the house.

"Of course," Mrs. G replied. "What are you looking for?"

Vaguely, Slobek replied, "You never know." We don't know, Jo translated. "The Polniaczek girl shares a room with Blair?"

"All four of the girls share," Mrs. Garrett replied.

"Why? Miss Warner can afford her own place," Slobek said. "Why would she bunk with three other girls?"

The older woman chuckled fondly. "Well, originally it was to pay off damage to the school van," she said.

"Stolen by Polniaczek."

"They were just kids!" Mrs. Garrett said. "Then they got a little carried away repainting their bedroom, and they had to work that off–"


"There was a lot of damage," Mrs. G said. "The flooring, the floorboards, not to mention my best blouse."

Jo couldn't help but grin at the memory of Blair's expression when she sat down in that pan of brown paint. Try as she might, Jo hadn't been able to keep a straight face as she apologized. The rest was history.

"Why didn't Warner just pay it?"

"Perhaps she didn't want to tell her parents."

"She wouldn't need to," Slobek said. "She has her own money."

"She does get an allowance," Mrs. G acknowledged.

"Ten grand a month."

Holy shit.

"And she makes twice that on her own investments," he continued. "She could have knocked out the repairs and still cleared the shelves at Bergdorf's without a second thought."

There was a long pause, and then Mrs. Garrett said, "It was Blair's choice. Those girls are like family. You saw how upset Jo is."

"Yes," Slobek said. "Surprising, considering that she and Warner hate each other's guts."

Jo recognized Mrs. Garrett's 'appalled' voice. "Where in the world did you get that idea?" she asked.

"From Amy, Margo, Diane, Kelly, Petra, Cindy, June–"

"Yes, well–"

"–Ilene, Karen, Helen, Theresa, Roberta, and the man who delivered your bread this morning."

"Well, that may be the impression they give," Mrs. Garrett said, "but those girls really do care about each other."

"We've heard numerous reports of conflict between the two," he said, "including disagreements about money."

"Of Jo refusing money," Mrs. G clarified. "Jo won't take money from Blair or anyone else."

"There's a difference between twenty bucks here or there and a hundred grand," Slobek said.

"A hundred thousand dollars?"

A hundred thousand dollars?

"That's what Polniaczek gets if something happens to Blair Warner."

Mrs. G sounded shocked. "Jo is in Blair's will?"

"The Joanna Marie Polniaczek Trust," Slobek confirmed. "Payable on the condition that she graduates from college."

That Blair, always trying to run my life. If Blair was there right now, she would tell her off. Jo wiped a tear from her cheek.

"Does that tell you how Blair feels about Jo?"

Slobek dismissed the question. "Miss Warner donates to a lot of charitable causes," he said.


"Look, I have nothing against Polniaczek," the agent said. "Do I think she would do something like this on her own? No. Could she be used by someone else? I can't rule it out. Most kidnappers have access to inside information. Schedules, habits, photos, layouts. Polniaczek has a criminal record–"

"As a juvenile."

"Several relatives also have records," Slobek went on. "What I see here is too many coincidences: These men make their move the one night that Polniaczek and Warner are alone."

"Couldn't they have been watching the house?" she asked.

"They knew which cameras to cut."

"They're in plain sight."

Way to go, Mrs. G, sticking up for her like that.

"Warner just happens to be downstairs alone at 3 in the morning, and Polniaczek just happens to wait hours to report it."

"My God, she was still unconscious when her jogging partner found her," Mrs. Garrett said angrily. "You saw Jo's face–do you think she did that to herself?"

"It's convenient."

The Woman of Infinite Patience (or so she said) had finally run out of it. "Well, this is ridiculous," Mrs. Garrett declared. "Jo had nothing to do with this. You can search anywhere you want, but you're wasting your time."

Yeah, he was. Reclining atop her bedspread, Jo watched him toss aside a pair of expensive shoes that she had once threatened to glue together, and dig around in Nat's trunk, and run his hands through Tootie's t-shirts, until he finally stood expectantly at the foot of Jo's bed.

We're on the same side. Mrs. Garrett had been telling Jo that every time the young woman wanted to answer one of his insinuations with a right hook, and the look she gave Jo now conveyed the message again.

She hopped up. "Be my guest," she said.

We're on the same side. But that didn't change the fact that every minute he wasted peering under Jo's mattress or shoving his hands into her dresser or–"Hey, what are you doing?" In Slobek's hand were half a dozen Polaroids, fanned out as if he were playing poker with them. Those stupid pictures. Jo had forgotten about them. "Those are mine!"

Without responding, Slobek slipped them into a plastic baggie.

"Do you really need those, Agent?" Mrs. Garrett asked on Jo's behalf. "You have more recent photographs of Blair."

For some annoying reason, Slobek always seemed to answer Mrs. G's questions, but this time he didn't. So she had some old pictures of Blair. Big deal. "Blair gave me those," Jo said. "She thought I might like one of the guys." Slobek ignored her. Okay, that was it. Jo couldn't take this any more. Grabbing her coat, she flung out, "You've got your head up your ass so far you wouldn't see Blair if she was doin' jumping jacks right in front of you!"

On the outskirts of Peeksville, if any part of this town could be deemed "outskirts," Jo slipped into a booth at the hamburger joint that Blair had dubbed "the Grease Pit" the first time Jo dragged her there. In view of that assessment, Jo had been a little surprised when Ms. Snooty expressed a willingness to return after one of Jo's field hockey games, and a few other games after that. ("Your mud goes so nicely with the motif.")

No menu was needed. "Chocolate shake," Jo ordered. That would be quick. She just had to get out of the house for a while.

"Trying your friend's flavor?" the waitress asked. Her name tag said Debbie. "You want to wait for her?"

"She won't be coming."

The waitress eyed her. "Boyfriend do that?" she asked, indicating Jo's face.

Jo shook her head. "Got mugged," she said. At the woman's cynical expression, Jo smiled ruefully. "Honest. Any guy who tried this with me wouldn't be a guy any more."

The waitress moved off to another table just as a stranger slipped into the other side of the booth.

"That seat's taken," Jo snapped.

"Happy birthday."

Another damn reporter. "Bug off, Creep."

Reaching into his jacket, the man tendered an ID card to her. "David Chapman," he introduced himself. "Director of Security, Warner Industries."

The card was identical to the one that Blair had made Jo carry around for her the few times they visited Warner headquarters (clipping it to her blouse posing an unacceptable risk of wrinkles, and hanging it around her neck too gauche). Except, of course, that Blair's ID photo had been taken by a professional studio.

The unsmiling man seated across from her looked like the unsmiling man in the ID: light brown hair graying at the temples, brown eyes like Blair's but not as dark as her "pools of chestnut," as Blair liked to say (or her "couple of Milk Duds," as Jo suggested). Even in the tiny photo, a "don't mess with me" attitude came through clearly. "Ex-cop?" she guessed.

"Something like that."


"Something like that."

Handing back the ID, Jo said, "Okay, go ahead and ask: Did I do this to Blair?"

He slid the card back into his wallet. "No need," he replied. "I know you didn't."

"Oh, yeah? How come Slobek can't figure that out?"

Chapman shrugged. "He doesn't know you."

"You don't know me, either."

"Joanna Marie Polniaczek, daughter of Charlie and Rose Polniaczek. Former member of the Young Diablos street gang. Two suspensions, three arrests, one for vandalism, one for theft, one for–"

"How do you know all that?" Jo said. "Juvie's supposed to be private."

From the booth, Chapman signaled to the waitress, accurately communicating an order for black coffee with a single hand motion. Efficient guy. "Privacy is relative," he said.

"Relative to money, you mean."

He shrugged again. He lost no sleep over the concept, evidently.

"How'd you pull that off?" she asked. "Slowpoke's still workin' on a court order."

"I already had them."

It took a moment for his meaning to sink in. "Warner had me investigated?" Jo asked. "When?"

"When Blair's letters starting devoting three pages to this new girl for every page about boys and clothes," Chapman said. Forestalling her anger, he added, "You go from 'that ghastly new girl' to his daughter's best friend. You don't think he's going to have you checked out?"

Jo felt a vague need to stick up for Blair. "Well, see, your research was crappy," she said. "Blair and I aren't best friends."

"Could have fooled me," Chapman said. "She spends approximately seventy percent of her free time with you."

"We're roommates," Jo said. "It comes with the territory. You've been spying on us?"

"'Observing,'" he preferred. "Once in a while. Just keeping an eye on the big picture. Last month at the mall, for example. The ballet last year."

Oh, man–the ballet. "I fell asleep," Jo admitted.

"I know," Chapman said. "Do you know what Blair did?"

Jo shook her head.

"She pillowed your head on her shoulder pad and sat completely still for the entire last act."

Geez. Jo couldn't believe she hadn't heard about that for the next millennium. "Listen, did Blair read that report?" she asked. She cringed at some of the stuff she must have seen in there.

For some reason, the question made Chapman laugh. "No," he said. "She did run across the folder in Mr. Warner's den. Next thing we know, she's barging into his office waving the damn thing in both our faces. She knows everything she needs to know about Jo Polniaczek, thank you, and the rest is none of our business."

Yeah, Blair could peel paint with that tongue of hers when she was truly angry. Jo glanced at her watch. "Was there anything in particular you wanted?" she asked.

He gave her an odd look. "Not at the moment."

"Well, nice meeting you," she said automatically. "I've gotta get back." So that Mrs. G could bring out that lousy angel food cake she made this morning and they could all sit around a table with an empty chair and choke it down. There would be no singing, and no opening of presents, they had agreed. That was Blair's favorite part. It could wait.



So many things she could have said, instead of sending Blair down there alone. Jo hadn't told anyone the truth about that. She knew what they would all think. "If Blair is hurt, it's your fault." "If Blair doesn't come back, it's your fault."


She looked up at Professor Michaels through tear-filled eyes.

"Why don't you go home and get some rest?" he said kindly.

All eyes were on her. They wouldn't be so sympathetic if they knew what she'd done. Jo picked up her books and padded down the dirt path to where her bike was parked.

Not surprisingly, Slobek wasn't bothering to let her or anyone else in the house know what was going on. She wondered what it would be like not to trust anyone. Jo had considered herself cynical until she met him. The fact that Slobek still thought she knew who was behind all this was infuriating.

Chapman wasn't much more helpful. The feds were "having a dialogue" with the kidnappers, he said on one of his visits to the house. No other details were forthcoming. For all Jo knew, it could be four hours or four days before she saw Blair again.

Too much daylight remained before she could slip between the sheets and stare over at Blair's empty bed. As she cut across the yard to the house, she spied a German luxury car that hadn't been moved since Saturday. Inspiration struck, and a bucket of soapy water, a garden hose, and a box of rags soon had every square inch of the 911 glistening, radials included. "Lookin' good on the outside," Jo praised it. "How ya doin' on the inside?"

She could have that thing purring like a kitten. Blair had let her work on it a couple of times, even telling someone on the phone once, "No, that's okay. I'll have my mechanic here look at it." Jo hadn't been bothered by the label. For Blair, possessiveness was the sincerest form of flattery.

Happy with her self-appointed task, Jo headed for the living room closet. When Natalie and Tootie walked in with their schoolbooks a short while later, she was too distracted to register their greetings. "Where is it?" she muttered.

Taking a bite of her apple, Natalie asked, "Where's what?"

"The toolbox," Jo replied. She tossed more junk out onto the floor. "Where's the damn toolbox?"

"The one on your dresser?"

Not that shitty one. "The one Blair gave me for my birthday," Jo said. "It was right here in a paper sack. What did you do with it?"

"We didn't do anything with it," Tootie said defensively. "How were we even supposed to know what it was?"

That was a good question.

A very good question.

Ordinarily, the girls ate their dinner when everyone else cleared out, but that evening Jo skipped it. Strapping on her helmet, she checked the contents of her wallet. Enough to get her to the Bronx and back (barely), but not enough to stop at a drive through. She grabbed a couple of cookies for the road.

Thanks to her mother's address book, Jo had no trouble finding the apartment complex. She walked through the unsecured entrance and checked out the mailboxes. Oplotznech, M, 307. Third floor, not bad. There was no elevator in this dump.

Her pace slowed as she approached the third-floor landing. Should she have called Slobek? Yeah, right, the guy who already thought she was in on it. Jo hesitated. Maybe she could try Slobek's assistant; she seemed to have half a brain. Don't chicken out now, Polniaczek. As Jo reached up to knock, a hand reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Hey!" she exclaimed.

"Quiet," Chapman cautioned her.

Sheesh, give her a heart attack, why didn't he? Jo placed her other hand across her chest. "What are you doing here?" she whispered.

"What are you doing here?"

Forget that. Jo had played that "answer a question with a question" crap with Blair before, and it usually meant the blonde was hiding something. She summoned as much bravado as she could and declared, "I'm not saying until you say."

"I followed you."

Was he telling the truth? Wouldn't she have noticed? "I'm just visiting," Jo fudged.

There was no friendliness in his expression as the security official moved back his jacket, revealing a gun tucked into his belt. "Try again."

Jo tried to back away, but his grip tightened. "Ow." That would leave marks tomorrow.

"I'm not screwing around," he said.

"Let me go," she said through gritted teeth. To her relief, he did. Jo's brain tried to process her alternatives. Did she have any? "Blair gave me a toolbox," she finally said. "95 pieces. Silver, with little diamond studs on 'em."

His eyes widened.

"Yeah," she chuckled. "That's Blair for you: expensive but impractical."

Chapman waited for her to connect the dots.

"It was on the floor of the closet," Jo explained. "You couldn't tell what it was if you didn't know."

"And it's missing." At her nod, he asked, "Why here?"

"My cousin Mickey lives here," Jo said.

"He knew about it?"

"He was at the motorcycle rally when Blair gave it to me."

Chapman asked skeptically, "Blair went to a motorcycle rally?"

"On a bet," Jo said. One more thing she was to blame for.

"You think your cousin is involved?"

Mickey wouldn't have done this – no way, her heart said – but he knew some of the other guys who were there, Jo explained. "Shawn." The dickhead. "And Wally, I think. That's all I know."

"You may be right," Chapman agreed. Instead of knocking on the door, though, he tugged her away from it. "But I think we'll let it go."

Jo tried to look at him over her shoulder as he nearly shoved her down the stairs. "You think I should tell Slobek?" she asked.


Something wasn't right here. "I gotta get back," Jo said as Chapman dragged her around the side of the building. "Look, I don't know anything," she babbled. "I just want Blair back, okay? I don't know anything, and I'm not gonna make trouble for anyone. I just want her back."

"Then what?"

What did he mean? "Then we live happily ever after," Jo said sarcastically.

"You want that to happen, you do what I say."

This time, a hard tug dislodged his grip. "What do you want from me?" she shouted at him.

"You'll figure it out," Chapman said. "In the meantime, keep your mouth shut." He drew five dollars from his wallet and shoved it into the pocket of her jeans. "Gas money." He turned his back on her and walked away.

She threw the bill into the gutter.

Something was up. If Jo couldn't tell from the intensity of Chapman's gaze or the worry on Mrs. Garrett's face, she certainly could from Slobek's sour expression. "What?" she asked. Please let Blair be all right.

As usual, Slobek cut to the chase. "We have a demand."

She already knew that.

"There's a new component," he went on. "They want you to deliver the money."

"Me?" Was he kidding?

"You," he confirmed. "Any reason you can think of for that?"

Jo was so tired of the man and his allegations. "No," she said.

"How do they know about you?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe a lamp across the face makes an impression," she replied.

"Which is why this seems risky," Mrs. Garrett said.

"Extremely," Slobek agreed. "Not to mention a violation of agency protocol."

It sounded as if he had already made up his mind. "Why are you here then?" Jo asked.

Slobek shot a glance at Chapman. "The Warners seem to feel otherwise," he said. "And we need their cooperation."

"The instructions were unambiguous," Chapman said. "The Warners do not want to jeopardize their daughter's safety by refusing. They feel you can adequately protect both girls."

"But it doesn't make any sense!" Mrs. Garrett protested. "She's just a baby!"

Jo let the characterization slide. Right now she wasn't feeling very grown up. She just wanted to curl up in Mrs. G's lap and sleep until this was all over.

"Actually, it does," Chapman said. "The girl's not a threat to them. Blair will cooperate if she knows she's there. And Polniaczek will do what she's told because she knows it's in Blair's best interests."

He was sending her a message, Jo realized belatedly.

Angrily, Mrs. Garrett snapped at Slobek, "It's too dangerous! This is supposed to be your job!"

Slobek jerked a thumb at Chapman. "Talk to him."

"Family members are utilized for deliveries all the time," Chapman said.

"Not kids," Slobek said.

"She's not a child," Chapman countered.

The argument between the two men heated up as if its object were not sitting three feet away from them. "You want to end up with two dead girls?" Slobek said. Realizing what he had said, he apologized, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Garrett. As distasteful as it is, we have to consider the possibility that, by the time of the delivery, Blair may already be–"

"Don't say that!" Jo yelled. She knew that's what they were thinking. She'd heard them ask several times for proof that Blair was still alive. They wanted a picture of her with a current newspaper, but that request had been refused, and they had to settle for a few syllables over the phone. Paranoia had begun to creep in. How did they even know it was Blair? They hadn't heard her voice first thing in the morning and the last thing at night for more than four years. But would the asshole let Jo talk to her? No. Nor did he bring Nat or Tootie over from the dorm, where they had been assigned emergency housing.

While Jo was deep in her thoughts, Chapman spoke up. "Up to you, Polniaczek."

She looked up to see everyone awaiting her response. "When's it supposed to be?" she stalled.

"In six hours," Chapman answered.

Mrs. Garrett took her hand in hers. "You don't have to decide now," she said. "Does she?"

"Soon," Slobek replied. "If she says no, we'll need to get Carla here a wig. And a face lift."

Smithson frowned at him.

Jo was not surprised that Chapman stayed behind when the others left. "Is he right?" she asked. "How do I know. . . ?" She couldn't say it.

Chapman flicked his wrist to see the watch face he wore against his pulse. "Come with me," he instructed.

There wasn't much point in asking why, Jo had learned, so she remained silent while Chapman drove his immaculate gray sedan to the Peeksville Mall. It was a little difficult to keep up with his long stride, but Jo figured out pretty quickly where they were headed. In the hall outside the public restrooms was a row of public payphones. Jo had used them more than once to call for reinforcements when she fell for one of Blair's "I just need to run in for thirty seconds" scams. Chapman stopped next to the one at the far end, and checked his watch again.

After a few minutes, the phone rang. "Chapman," he answered. He listened briefly, then uttered five words that made Jo's head spin around. "Put Blair on the phone." Frowning, he dropped his tone. "Put her on, or we don't do business."

He held out the phone to Jo, who reached for it eagerly. "Blair?" she said, but she heard nothing. "Blair? Are you there?"


Holy hell! "Blair, are you OK?"

"Jo, stay away. Don't–ow!"

She clutched at the receiver. "Blair?"

The voice she wanted to hear was replaced by one she didn't. The same muffled voice Jo had first heard five days earlier ordered her, "Give me Chapman."

The half of the conversation that Jo could hear revealed nothing. "Yeah, I've got it . . . She will . . . Leave that to me."

When he hung up, Jo lashed out at him, "You're in on this?" She shook her head in disgust, mostly at herself. "I can't believe I listened to you."

"Nothing has changed, Jo," Chapman said. "You need to do this for Blair."

"Tell me you're not in on this."

"I'm not in on it."

"Liar." Jo headed out of the mall and away from Chapman's car. She would find another way home.

She had been sitting, motionless, on the couch for an hour when Mrs. G found her. "Jo?"

Jo couldn't help herself. "I don't know what to do," she blurted.

"I think you should listen to Agent Slobek, Jo," Mrs. Garrett said. "I know you want to help Blair, but it's just too dangerous."

Delivering the ransom. Ironically, that wasn't Jo's biggest concern right now.

The woman beside her had always been perceptive. "That is what we're talking about, isn't it?" she said hesitantly.

For most of her adult life, Jo had depended on one person when she needed advice. Real advice, not Blair's "Why don't you just buy the building?" crap. Now, facing the hardest decision of her life, she was on her own.

"Jo, is there something you're not telling me?"

Helplessly, Jo said, "It's gone too far."

"What has?"

Chapman's warnings rang out in her head. "Everything," she said. The silence grew until even the ticking of the wall clock sounded loud in Jo's ears.

"Jo, I'm going to ask you something, and then I never will again," Mrs. Garrett said. "Do you know where Blair is?"

She shook her head.

"Do you know who has her?"

Lie, lie, lie. Jo twined her fingers together. "How would I know that?"

The crease in Mrs. Garrett's forehead told Jo it wasn't the answer she expected. "I don't understand your behavior, Jo," she said. "If I thought you were lying, it would break my heart."

Jo swallowed.

"And Blair's. She trusts you with her life. Is she wrong?"

"I hope not." Jo rose and walked away from the woman who had been the girls' primary caregiver for four wonderful years. "Whatever happens," she said, "I never wanted Blair hurt." She didn't look back.

A million dollars didn't weigh all that much, she mused when some accounting geek from the bank finished counting it and held out a receipt for Jo and an unfamiliar agent to sign. She glanced at the paper. "Donation, Peeksville Police and Fire Fund," it read. What was this, a tax write off?

Avoiding Mrs. Garrett's scrutiny, she walked outside to the Porsche and carefully placed the case on the back seat. Slobek wasn't there to witness her compliance with his instructions. He and Smithson and about two dozen other agents were positioned every mile or so between Eastland and the wooded area north of Peeksville where the drop was supposed to take place. Chapman was with his boss at the Mark VII Hotel. Jo had spoken briefly to him, and the Warners, and, in a bout of self-pity, to Nat and Tootie, who knew what was going on, and her own parents, who didn't.

Drawing the shoulder belt across her torso, Jo put the car in reverse, backed out of the parking space, and headed north. As expected, about a mile down the road, she spied Smithson pretending to put on makeup in a parked car. Just over the next hill, Jo knew, the Porsche would be out of view for approximately eight blocks.

Come on, come on . . . . At last, the car phone rang. "Yeah?" Jo answered. She nodded at the directions. Clear enough. "Can I talk to Blair?" Request denied.

Jo dropped the receiver onto the passenger seat as instructed. Decelerating as she crested the hill, she slammed on the brakes for a sharp right, then floored it. She had a few minutes at most to put some distance between herself and a string of anxious government officials. A blazing red Porsche wasn't the least conspicuous getaway car, but this mission required a phone that her bike didn't have.

At the intersection with Alpine, Jo swung right again and began traveling south. A flick of the finger reset the odometer, which she watched almost hypnotically as the blocks rolled past. Five miles. Six. Nine point four. A left, another right, and then she was supposed to see a gray split-level at the end of a block with an open garage door.

She drove the Porsche into the garage and left it running. To her left was a screen door that led into the house. Straight ahead was a partially ajar exterior door through which Jo could see daylight and a strip of lawn. Nice neighborhood.

Jo shut off the car, but kept her fingers on the key. She would have to commit soon. Chapman, you bastard.

She saw no movement through the screen.

You son of a bitch bastard.

Glancing at the screen door every few seconds, Jo climbed out of the car and opened the back door to retrieve the briefcase. Was she supposed to go in? They hadn't really said, but she supposed that was self-evident. She wished they would just bring Blair out here. Jo could hand them the case, say sayonara, and get the hell out of here. But that wasn't how it had been drawn up.

Cautiously, she opened the screen door and peered inside. "Hello?" she called out. She took a couple of steps into the kitchen.

Three men instantly appeared from various vantage points, having satisfied themselves that she was alone. Stupidly, horribly alone. "Hiya, Jo."

Shawn. "I thought so," she said. She didn't know the other two men, but from the bandage plastered over the middle one's forehead, Jo suspected they had met informally five nights ago in the living room of her home.

"And now you know."

Yes, she did, because none of the three were bothering to wear masks. Jo was afraid of what that meant. She went ahead with her script. "Let me see Blair." When they didn't immediately reply, she added, "There's an ink device in this. You gotta have the code or it ruins your money. If Blair's okay, you get clean money, and we get lost."

"Give us the code," Shawn said.

"I don't have it," she said. "I gotta call the bank after I see Blair. They're waiting."

This particular wrinkle didn't seem to faze them. "Downstairs," the third man directed her.

Jo flipped the switch at the top of the stairs, but there was no bulb. Natural sunlight through two rectangular windows guided her into the unfinished basement. Oh, God. On a thin blanket in the corner lay her best friend, clad in the same nightclothes as when they took her. One wrist was handcuffed to a pipe a few feet above the ground.

Blair seemed distressed to see her. Before Jo could go over to her, Shawn wrapped his fingers around her arm. "You've seen her," he said. "Time to make a call." He propelled her back toward the stairs.

Should she make a run for it? Would any neighbors be home? Could she drive off in the Porsche and call the cops from the car? Surrounded as she was, it wouldn't be easy, but she had no choice. Jo's gut told her they weren't going to let either one of them go.

He shoved her up the last step and toward the phone in the living room. "Call the–"

The instruction was cut short by the muzzle of a silencer pressed against his cheek. Clutching the briefcase to her chest, Jo backed away from the scene: Three men, dressed identically in blue ski masks and gloves, brown hiking boots, and black shirt and black jeans, pointing guns directly at Blair's captors.

"Where's our shipment?" one of the strangers asked.

"Whoa, Buddy," Shawn said, raising his hands. "What are you talking about?"

"Wrong answer." He pulled the trigger.

Jo clapped a hand across her mouth to stifle a scream.

"Where's the shipment?" the man asked again.

The other two exchanged panicked glances. "What shipment?" the man Jo had clocked last week asked. His head jerked back as a bullet penetrated his skull.

Forcing herself out of her stupor, Jo began inching toward the basement door. Maybe it had a lock on the other side. Maybe there was another way out.

The last of Blair's kidnappers was on his knees now, blubbering for his life. "Don't kill me," he begged. "I swear to God, I don't know what you're talking about. But maybe I can help–just tell me what you want, I'll get it."

A moment later, he lay dead on the floor.

The silencer swung around to Jo. "Where is it?"

"I don't know," she said. "I'm not with them. But there's a million bucks in this briefcase. You can have it. The code's 82D14." She set the briefcase on the ground and then made a dash for the basement door, slamming it behind her. Shit–no lock! Clambering down the stairs, she ran over and knelt beside Blair. "We've gotta get out of here!" she said. She yanked at the handcuffs. "Where's the key?"

A frantic search did not produce one. Probably kept it upstairs. There was nothing here except a small pile of junk they apparently had dumped in the basement along with Blair–and a door leading into the back yard. Jo ransacked the pile, hoping irrationally for a slitting saw or something else that would cut through metal. She held up the hedge clippers they had probably used to cut the camera lines at the house.

From behind her, she heard the basement door open.

She threw all her weight onto the handle, but it didn't dent the chain. Clippers wouldn't cut through metal, Jo knew in her heart, at least not these cheap ones. But they would cut through flesh . . . . She positioned the blade next to Blair's wrist.

"Drop it."

Jo spun around to see the silencer aimed at her head. "Please don't," she pleaded. "You don't have to. You've got the money. We don't know anything."

He shifted his gaze from Jo to Blair, taking in the blanket, her disheveled appearance, and the handcuffs, then wordlessly turned and started back up the stairs.

"What's happening?" Blair asked.

"I think someone just found another way to make a million dollars," Jo said. A little nest egg for a corrupt security official and his ex-Special Forces buddies. What would Chapman do when he found out they hadn't finished the job?

Blair murmured into her neck, "You shouldn't have come. They want to kill you–Tillman thinks you blinded him." Suddenly, she pulled away from Jo. "Don't touch me!" she said. "Don't touch me–I'm filthy!"

"I don't care," Jo said.

"I mean it. They wouldn't let me–"

"I don't care," Jo interrupted. She laid a palm against Blair's cheek. "Remember that time your pasta almost killed me?" Stumbling toward the bathroom, Jo hadn't quite made it, and the blonde's flowery bedspread paid the price. Blair had half-carried her the rest of the way, caressing her back through a sweat-soaked t-shirt as Jo was sick again into the toilet and, the other girls reported, cleaning up the mess herself while they awaited confirmation of food poisoning.

She didn't get the usual indignant denial – "That had nothing to do with my lasagne!" – but Blair did not pull away again when Jo took her in her arms. Their problems weren't over, Jo knew. She just wanted a minute with her friend. She eyed the metal cuff from which Blair's hand dangled uncomfortably. "Where's the key to this?" she asked.

"I don't know," Blair said. "They never unlocked it."

"I'm gonna go look for it."

"No!" Blair clutched desperately at her arm.

"It's okay," Jo said. "I think they're gone." She hadn't heard any movement for several minutes.

"No! Don't go up there!"

"It's okay," Jo said. "I promise."

Jo crept up the stairs, opened the basement door, and peered around the corner. No one was there. She tiptoed across the linoleum and peeked into the living room. They were gone.

The bodies weren't. Maybe they didn't have the key on them. Maybe it was lying around in plain sight somewhere. Jo decided to try that first. Again no key, but – what the hell? – there, on the kitchen counter, lay the unopened briefcase. Jo stared at it, then walked over and input the combination. A million dollars, untouched.

She would have to think about that later. Reluctantly, she knelt beside each of the bodies and dug into their pockets. No key, but she did find something else tucked into the back of Shawn's belt. Was this what they had been planning to shoot them with? Shoot Jo, anyway. A single shot would be dismissed as a backfire. Blair could just be left there to die.

Jo carried the gun back downstairs. "I hope this works," she said, mostly to herself. "Close your eyes, Blair." Covering the blonde's body with her own, Jo pressed the muzzle of the gun against the metal chain and turned her head. She pulled the trigger, relieved when Blair's hand dropped to the ground.

"Let's go." She helped Blair to her feet.

"Wait," Blair said. "I'm dizzy."

Jo reached out to steady her. "Have you had anything to eat?"

Blair shook her head. "Just some water."

Grabbing the thin blanket that had served as an uncomfortable bed for five days, Jo guided her friend toward the car, but Blair refused to lie down in the back seat. The passenger seat, she insisted, near Jo.

"Okay, but you gotta stay down," Jo said. The image of that briefcase popped into her head again. "I gotta get something." She ran back inside the house and lifted it off the counter and then, on impulse, headed downstairs to retrieve the gun, too.

Backing out of the garage, she said, "I'll call your folks," but the car was not in the same condition as when she had pulled in, Jo discovered: the phone had been ripped completely out. "Okay, that won't work," she rambled. "We'll call them from the police station."

"No," Blair said. "Not there."

Uhh . . . . "The house?"

"No! I don't want anyone to see me like this."


"No! No one!"

Jo glanced over at her friend.

Blair jabbed at the side window. "There! Stop there!"

Not this shit hole. The Ritz – a misnomer of astronomical proportions, Blair had once opined. Jo couldn't deny that, but it had been the only place a sixteen-year-old girl and her sailor boyfriend could afford when eloping one night a million years ago. Maybe Blair didn't recognize it.

"Get the same room," Blair said.

So she recognized it. Did she crave some small sense of familiarity after a week of being alone and terrified? Jo couldn't deny her that. She pulled into the parking lot and pilfered a handful of twenties from the briefcase. Warner wouldn't mind. Either way, it was for his daughter.

"Listen, you got somewhere out of the way I can park the car?" she asked the clerk.

The sleaze behind the counter leered at her. "Makes it a little more exciting, doesn't it?"

Jo shoved a twenty at him. "Just answer the question."

"Out back, next to the dumpster," he said. "Enough light for you to see what you're doing, but no one else. I speak from experience."

She cringed at the image that conjured up. "Glad to hear it."

Inside the room, Blair headed immediately for the bathroom and began taking off her clothes. Jo peered into the tub for a quick inspection. No creepy crawlies. "Bath or shower?" she asked.

"Bath," Blair replied. Jo flipped up the stop and started the water. Reaching a hand into the stream, Blair ordered, "Hotter."

There was a little bar of soap, Jo observed, but no shampoo or conditioner in a dive like this, let alone any of the face stuff that Blair used. "Get in," she said. "I'll get some shampoo and stuff."

Blair seemed distressed at the prospect of being left alone, but Jo calmed her down. "The 7-11's just right across the street," she said. "Five minutes max, and then I'll wash your hair for you."

Blair sank back into the water.

Hygiene products were dispensed with in record time, although that they didn't have any Oil of Ole. Jo hoped Blair would be okay with the cheap stuff she bought instead. What would Blair want to eat? Jo snatched up some bread and cheese and crackers and chips and peanuts and cereal and milk, and a soda from the pop machine outside the motel lobby.

As promised, when she returned, she squirted Prell into her palms and worked it carefully into wet locks. While Blair brushed the tangles out, Jo dumped out the rest of her purchases and stuffed Blair's robe, nightgown, and panties into the bag. Then she stripped off the denim shirt covering her own tank top and offered it to Blair. It didn't quite reach the top of her thighs, but Blair didn't seem to mind.

Except for a little upset stomach, Blair managed to keep down the cereal. Maybe Mrs. Garrett could bring them one of her ham sandwiches. And while she was at it . . . . "Want me to have Mrs. G bring you some clothes?" Jo asked.


"Want me to go get you some clothes?"


That didn't leave many options.

"I don't want to do anything!" Blair said. "I just want to stay here with you." She placed her hands over her ears. "I just want to stay here."

"Okay, Blair," Jo said soothingly. "It's okay. We'll just stay here." She unzipped her jeans and took off her socks. "Scoot your rich butt over."

At eleven o'clock, Jo was careful not to disturb the woman cradled on her shoulder while she aimed the remote control at the television. There was nothing about Blair on the news. Nothing about three dead guys in a house on Elkton Street. What were they waiting for? Didn't they know? She thought about that for a moment. Of course they didn't. Who was going to tell them? Shit–she was going to get an ass chewing tomorrow, from Mrs. G and everybody else.

The next morning, Jo popped the trunk of Blair's car and tossed the dirty clothes in beside the briefcase. The wad of twenties she grabbed was a little uncomfortable to sit on, but she would soon exchange it for some jeans and a shirt for Blair to wear when she ran the gauntlet of photographers and reporters that lurked outside the house every day.

Blair's instructions – "Anything is fine" – hadn't been very helpful. Or normal. "I saw a yellow jumpsuit at Ben Franklin's," Jo had quipped. The blonde thought she looked awful in yellow. "Anything," Blair said. "Just hurry back."

Jo laced up her tennis shoes. "When I get back, we'll go see your folks and Mrs. G," she said. "Lock the door behind me, okay?"

The last comment was a mistake, she realized when Blair gripped her arm. "Why? Do you think they're still out there?"

"They ain't comin' back, Blair," Jo said. Unless it was as cockroaches or something. "This just ain't a very good neighborhood, that's all. It's okay."

A large trash bin outside the Ben Franklin gave Jo an idea, and she returned to the car to take the bag out of the trunk. Blair wouldn't want these again. As she pulled back the lid, she was suddenly shoved face down onto the can. "Hey–"

"Stay down." Slobek. He pried the bag from her fingers and looked inside. "Where is she?"

"She's safe," Jo said. "I got her out."


"At the–wait, what are you gonna do?"

"Money's in the car," a male voice behind them called out. "And a gun."

"I knew it," Slobek said. "Where's your partner?"

"There's no partner," Jo said. "They're all dead. Blair's okay. She's just a little freaked out." And would be freaking out a lot worse if Jo didn't get back right away. "I'll take you to her," she offered. "But I've got to go in first. She's gonna be scared."

"All right."

From the front passenger seat (having refused the back when she noticed a lack of door handles on the inside), Jo gave directions one block at a time to keep the feds from racing off without her. She could imagine how ridiculous this looked, three dark sedans crawling down a busy street at ten miles per hour. She shifted her body a bit to ease the pain shooting up her arms from the handcuffs.

Eventually, the convoy pulled into the Ritz parking lot, and officers poured out of their cars. With some difficulty, Jo turned the handle and tumbled backward out of the car. "Hey," she yelled over to Slobek. "You said I could go in first."

"And you said you were taking the money to the drop off," he replied.

Two officers emerged from the manager's office and pointed up at the room. Three more started up the steps with guns drawn.

"Wait!" Jo implored them, but to her horror, they converged on the landing outside the door and, on a signal from one of the agents, kicked it in.

Blair's terrified screams spurred Jo into a sprint, but she only made it part way up the stairs before she was tackled from behind. She rolled over onto her back and kicked out at the man holding her down, only to have two more land on her. Furiously, they dragged Jo back to the car and shoved her into the back seat. The driver's door opened, and Smithson sat down behind the wheel. "Not smart," she remarked.

The feds led a dazed Blair out of the room, wrapped in a sheet. "Geez, give her somethin' to wear!" Jo yelled through the windshield. "You should be helping her," she chastised the woman in the driver's seat. "How do you think she felt with those guys seein' her half naked?"

The agent didn't reply. Together, they watched Blair make her way down the stairs, nearly as pale as the sheet wrapped around her shoulders.

"She's scared to death," Jo said.

Smithson was still ignoring her, Jo thought, but a moment later the agent sighed. "Don't get me fired," she said. She stepped out of the car and opened the back door. With Smithson close behind, Jo ran over to her friend.

"Jo!" The sheet fell to the pavement as Blair threw her arms around Jo's neck. Smithson picked it back up and draped it across her shoulders.

"I'm sorry, Blair." Jo wished she could return the embrace. "They thought I was in on it. I tried to tell 'em." Over her shoulder, she called out, "Can you take these off now, asshole?"

"You assaulted a police officer," Slobek replied.

Smithson drew a key from her own belt and reached around to unlock Jo's cuffs.

Grateful to her, Jo said, "Don't get yourself fired." She held Blair for a long moment, and then helped the agent walk her to the car. Smithson shook her head as Jo started to get in with her. Damn. "Blair, I'll have to meet up with you later," Jo said.

"No, stay here!" Blair begged her.

"I gotta clear some stuff up with the cops," Jo said. A lot of stuff. "Your folks'll be there, and Mrs. G." She looked to Smithson, who nodded that she would make the calls. "I'll be there as soon as I can, okay?"

Which was not soon at all, as it turned out. Sitting still drove Jo nuts, so every few minutes she popped up and began pacing, which then drove her nuts. Each time the door opened, Jo swung around, but so far it had just been jail personnel or someone for one of the other holding cells. Eventually, though, she saw one of the faces she had been expecting.

"What the hell is going on, Chapman?" she said.

"Blair's safe and you're safe," he replied. "That's all that matters."

"Was this all about saving Warner money?" Jo asked. "Was it cheaper just to knock 'em off?"

He stepped forward and leaned down until his forehead nearly touched hers. "For once, Jo, think before you speak," he said quietly. "Everything will be fine if you just stick to what you saw."

Like a good little puppet. "What did I see?" she challenged him.

"You saw Blair Warner's kidnappers stumble into a drug deal gone bad," Chapman said. "Bad things happen to bad people."

Bad things happened to good people, too. "You think they're gonna buy that lame story?" she asked angrily.

As if she had not spoken, Chapman continued, "You had Blair, you had the money, you ran." He placed his hands on her shoulders. "And anyone who ever thinks about hurting Blair Warner will remember what happened to the last people who tried it." He squeezed Jo's arms, forcing her to look at him. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Jo pressed a hand against her temple. Her head ached. "Shawn was my cousin's friend," she said. "What if Slobek thinks Mick and I–"

"What Slobek thinks and what he can prove are two different things," Chapman interrupted. "An hour from now, the sixth wealthiest man in America will hold a press conference. He will announce that his daughter has been returned safely. He will express his undying gratitude toward the young woman who saved his daughter's life. He will express dismay that the woman has been wrongfully incarcerated due to a misunderstanding that he expects to be rectified immediately. An hour and a half from now, Agent Ron Slobek will receive a call from the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation instructing him to release Joanna Polniaczek with a statement of appreciation for her assistance."

Money screamed, as Blair once said. "Was Warner in on this?"

"Mr. Warner had confidence in my ability to handle the situation."

Was that a yes or a no?

Chapman stepped back when the door opened, and they both looked over to see Mrs. Garrett observing them.

"How's Blair?" Jo asked her.

"She's being checked out at the hospital," Mrs. Garrett replied, "where you should have taken her."

She deserved that. "She didn't want to go anywhere," Jo said. "She was upset."

"She was in shock," the other woman said. "She wasn't thinking clearly."

"I guess I wasn't, either," Jo admitted. She just couldn't say no. "Will you tell her I'll come see her as soon as I can? Don't let her come down here; she shouldn't be in a place like this."

Mrs. Garrett nodded. "Although it wouldn't be the first time," she said fondly. "Jo Polniaczek's first day at Eastland. Blair once said that was the day her whole world changed."

"She probably didn't mean that in a good way."

"No," Mrs. Garrett chuckled, "but it was."

Chapman had made himself scarce, Jo noticed. Good. She didn't want to deal with him right now. "I kicked a cop," she confessed.

"I know," Mrs. Garrett said. "I saw it."

"Saw it?"

"Channel 24 has a scanner, apparently," Mrs. Garrett said. "They pulled in right behind you. I think it's the biggest scoop they've ever had."

"The only scoop they've ever had," Jo said. "Their biggest story before this was getting Mrs. Henderson's cat down from that tree."

Mrs. Garrett smiled at the memory. "I remember that," she said. "You let Blair watch it again even though you wanted to watch Carson."

"Eh, it was easier than listening to her whine."

"What happened, Jo?" Mrs. Garrett asked. "We thought the worst when you disappeared."

"They changed the drop while I was on my way down there," Jo said. Phone records for Blair's car phone would confirm that. "I had to go."

"Who killed those men?"

Jo walked over to the bars so that she wouldn't have to face her mentor. "Drug dealers, I guess," she shrugged. "I took Blair out the back. I guess they didn't see us."

From the silence, Jo wondered if Mrs. Garrett was putting the pieces together. "Is that so?" she finally said.

Jo squeezed the bars. "They were gonna let her die," she said. "Now they're dead and she's alive." For once, Mrs. Garrett's disapproval wouldn't weigh on her. The guard's arrival at the cell brought the visit to an end, but as the other woman started down the hall, Jo had to ask. "Hey–are we okay?"

"I have some thinking to do," Mrs. Garrett replied. "But we'll always be okay."

After writing out her story and telling it over and over to a dubious Slobek – until he was called out for an urgent phone call, right on schedule – Jo raced into the house and took the stairs two at a time. Flinging open the door to the bedroom, she paused. Blair wasn't there. Jo looked around. Neither was her bedding, or her New Yorker poster, or her clothes, or her mink coats . . . .

Mrs. Garrett appeared in the doorway. "Jo–"

"She wasn't at the hospital," Jo said. "Where is she? Where's her stuff?"

Sadly, Mrs. Garrett said, "Jo, Blair's parents felt it best to take her out of school for a while."

Take her out of school? "What about finals?"

"She'll be allowed to take make-up exams."

"They can't just pull her out of school!" Jo said. She lowered herself onto Blair's bed. "She can't just leave without saying goodbye!" The weight of the past five days finally overwhelmed her. "She can't just leave," she sobbed.

Mrs. Garrett sat beside Jo and cradled her in her arms. "I know," she soothed her. "I know."

A dozen phone calls over the next few days finally tracked down where Blair was supposedly staying, but so far no Blair herself. Jo picked up the phone again. "Warner residence."

"Yeah, is Blair there?"

The response was familiar. "Miss Warner is not at home."

She never was. Was she even staying there, or was that more b.s.? Maybe she was going out a lot. That would mean she was doing well. Jo just wanted to hear it for herself. An idea occurred to her. "Hey," she said, "does David Chapman happen to be there?"

The security official came on the line a moment later. "Chapman."

"I wanna talk to Blair."

"Miss Polniaczek."

"Mr. Chapman," Jo mocked his formality. "I'm trying to get hold of Blair. She's been runnin' around a lot, huh?"

"Running around?"

"Every time I call, they say she's out."

There was a slight pause, and then the security official replied, "Right."

Something in his tone alerted her. "Is she there?"


"Then why can't I talk to her? Doesn't she wanna talk to me?" Did Blair blame her for everything?

"No," David replied. "They're just following Mr. Warner's orders."

Hurt, Jo said, "What did I do to him?"

"It's not you," he said. "They just want to give Blair time to recover. The media have been all over us. One reporter identified herself as Edna Garrett. Another one showed up as a therapist's assistant."

Therapy? "Is Blair in therapy?"

He didn't answer.

"Look, you owe me," Jo said. He couldn't deny that. "I want to talk to her."

"Hold on."

A moment later, Blair's hopeful voice came on the line. "Hello?"


"Jo! I was hoping you'd call. I know you've been busy with finals and all . . . ."

"I've been calling!" Jo said. "Brunhilda keeps telling me you're out paintin' the town."

Blair sighed, but didn't say anything.

"Listen . . . ." Her ex-roommate didn't respond to the vague statement, so Jo tried again. "Are you okay?"

There was still no reply. Jo was about to ask again when Blair suddenly said, "Can you come down?"

"Now?" That was fine with Jo.

"When's your last final?"

Next Thursday, Sociology. Blair should have known that. Hers would have been the same day. "Is that too late?" Jo asked anxiously. Maybe she could drive down Saturday. She was in pretty good shape for her history exam on Monday. Who cared about history, anyway?

"Come down after that," Blair said. "Stay the weekend."

The tests blended into each other until Jo tossed her completed Soc exam into a wire basket and took off for home. Mrs. G and Tootie were in the bedroom when she blazed in.

"Hey, Jo," Mrs. Garrett greeted her. "Ready for your trip?"

"Almost," Jo said. Fishing around in her dresser, she unfolded her old Ignorant Slut t-shirt for a quick inspection, then stuffed it into her bag.

"Blair hates that shirt," Tootie reminded her.

Jo grinned. "Yeah."

Natalie entered with the mail, holding out a card to her. "For you, Jo," she said.

She didn't need to say who it was from. The maroon BW on beige was practically as familiar to Jo as her own handwriting, having seen the damn cards a million times on her bed ("Jo, don't forget to pick me up at the library. I'm wearing my peach two-piece, so please do not wear that lavender monstrosity"), or the fridge ("Jo, please pick up some Pont l'Eveque on your grocery run. I believe they carry it at Armand's about forty miles east of here"), or next to the telephone ("Jo, some creature named Ralphie called. He grunted something that resembled a phone number, but I seriously doubt he can manage a telephone unassisted. Why don't you call Brent instead? Here's his number").

The envelope was postmarked two days earlier in Manhattan. Jo tore it open with her index finger.

Jo dropped onto her bed.

"What's wrong?" Tootie asked.

Anger replaced shock. Jo crumpled the note and tossed it into the fluted trash container that was one of the only remaining signs that Blair Warner had ever lived here. "Nothing," she said.

Jo hefted a tub of dirty dishes off the table and started for the back room while Alberta moved aside the curtain to peak out the window. "Slummer!" she called out. "Remember, we split the tips, Kid." Not that all slummers were great tippers, but enough were to warrant the alarm.

Two men in suits and sunglasses strolled in and scanned the interior of the restaurant. Jo hoped this wasn't another "family reunion." They paid well, but the goons stationed outside tended to scare off other customers.

Apparently satisfied that neither waitress nor the elderly couple in the far corner would open up on them with a machine gun, one of the scouts opened the door and beckoned to someone. A moment later, a woman in a knee-length fur coat strode in. Staring directly at Jo, she removed her sunglasses and stood near the doorway uncertainly.

Jo had already recognized her. "Blair!" she exclaimed. She raced to the door and, with a huge grin, threw her arms around her long-absent roommate, happily twirling her around. Blair returned the embrace. Seeing the blonde again drove home how much Jo had missed her. "Can we switch breaks?" she pleaded with her co-worker. "I haven't seen her forever."

Alice checked out the high-class customer. "Friend of yours?" she asked skeptically.

"My best friend," Jo replied. She glanced at Blair. "I mean . . . ."

Blair took her hand. "That's right," she confirmed.

Fingers intertwined, the two walked to a booth along the window. Jo had wiped off the table herself a few minutes earlier, but she looked it over again to make sure she hadn't missed anything.

"I hope this isn't a problem," Blair apologized. "They said this was your slow time."

"Nah, it's perfect," Jo said. Concerned that her friend might want to order something, she admitted, "The food here isn't much, though."

She waited for Blair to lob that softball out of the park, but instead the blonde merely shook her head politely and replied, "I ate earlier, thanks."

No cracks about the menu? This place provided ample fodder. Jo waved a hand at her ugly pink and white waitress outfit. "Back in uniform," she quipped. "Eastland all over again."

"It looks comfortable," Blair said politely.

"It looks like Pepto Bismol," Jo retorted. There was so much to say. She started with, "How have you been?"

Blair shrugged. That wasn't like her. She should have said, "Perfect!" and meant it. Then Jo would roll her eyes, and Blair would crinkle her nose, and things would be back to normal.

"You get in some good shoppin' in Paris?" Jo asked.

The subject seemed to make Blair uncomfortable. "I didn't get out much," she said.

"So, when are you headin' back to Peeksville?" When Blair averted her gaze, a vague fear began to set in. "You are coming back, aren't you?"

Instead of a direct answer, Blair said, "After the . . . incident . . . , my father finally took an interest in me. Ironic, isn't it?"

That wasn't entirely fair, Jo wanted to say. Maybe David Warner hadn't been the most attentive father. Maybe he kept FTD in business with all his "sorry I couldn't make it" bouquets. But he loved Blair deeply, anyone could see that when they were together. And Jo had additional evidence of her own.

"He and Mother are getting along famously," Blair added bitingly. "In fact, they've agreed it would be best if I didn't return to Langley after all the news coverage. They've enrolled me at American University in Rome."

"Rome, Italy?" It might as well be the moon. She could never afford to visit. She wondered how much phone calls to Italy would cost.

"Listen, Jo . . . ." Blair squeezed her hand. "I was thinking about a trip."

Fighting down the lump in her throat, Jo nodded supportively.

"To the Bahamas," Blair went on. "Or Tahiti. Some place warm for a couple of weeks."

"I think you should," Jo encouraged her. "Get some sun. Europe ain't helped your tan any." As soon as she said the words, she regretted them. What if Blair thought she meant it? Since when would Blair Warner think she looked anything but beautiful? That was how much Blair's demeanor was throwing her off.

"Well . . . ." Blair seemed unsure of her next words. "I'd rather not go alone."

A feeling of melancholy washed through Jo as she realized what her friend was asking. She shook her head. "I can't," she said.

"I'll pay for everything," Blair quickly assured her. "You'll be back in plenty of time for fall semester."

Please don't do this. "You know I can't."

"You can," Blair pleaded. "Just this once."

"I've got to work," Jo said. "Ma got laid off on one of her jobs. My scholarship only covers tuition."

How many times had they had this conversation? Even when the alternative was leaving school, or missing out on Christmas with her mother, the mantra had always been the same: Jo would not accept money from Blair Warner.

The silence between them stretched out until Jo couldn't stand it any longer. "Listen, if you're gonna be in town for a while, how about we get together this weekend?" she said. "I get off at six on Saturday." An indiscreet ding of the service bell let Jo know that her break was over. Reluctantly, she rose and helped Blair on with her coat. "You still got Ma's number?"

"I think so," Blair replied. They parted with another long hug, something Jo would never have considered four years ago. Four months ago, even. Their relationship had changed literally overnight.

Near the end of Jo's shift, another man entered the store wearing a dark suit and sunglasses. "Chapman," Jo greeted him, pleasantly surprised to see him. "What brings you to Chez Crap?"

"I came to ask you to think of someone other than yourself for once."

She took a step toward him. "You wanna say that again?"

"Don't you give a damn about Blair?"

How dare he question that! "You know I do!"

"Then put aside your stupid pride for once."

"If you're talking about that trip," Jo said, "Blair knows I can't take money from her. I won't."

"She knows," he said. "She's not the one saying you're a selfish bitch. I'm saying it. Did you know this was the first time she's been out of the house since she got back from Europe?"

Blair not going out every night? "How long has she been back?"

"Two weeks," Chapman replied. "She wants some semblance of a normal life again. I had to talk her into a vacation. We're talking about Blair Warner here."

Having to talk Blair into a vacation? "What's wrong with her?" Jo asked soberly.

"You know what's wrong with her," he replied.

"The . . . thing?"

"The abduction," he said. "You can't say it either. Her parents are schizophrenic. They want to pretend it never happened, but they're scared to death it'll happen again. You know how Blair spent most of her summer? In her suite, with bodyguards posted outside the door. The lodge was too open. The shops were too exposed. Blair thought maybe she could go somewhere with you and remember what it was like to have fun."

It was hard to imagine what he was describing.

Chapman went on, "You saw her today. Did that seem like Blair Warner to you?"

No, it didn't. "Look, even if she paid for the trip, I still can't afford it," Jo said. "I've gotta help Ma these last three weeks. She needs the money."

Chapman reached into his pocket and produced a check made out to Rose Polniaczek for – Jo did the math in her head – exactly three weeks' salary, with tips. "You know how much I make?" she asked. Damn sneak.

"When it comes to Blair, I know everything," he said.

"You forgot to take out taxes," Jo pointed out.

"Sue me." Chapman tapped the check against the table. "Consider it a loan if you have to. But you should really consider it a gift – to Blair."

That night, Jo gave the Kawasaki a couple of extra revs as she rolled to a stop outside the main entrance of the Warner mansion. A curtain moved in an upstairs window, and a pretty face peeked out at her. "Come on, Warner," Jo yelled up at her. "Shake a leg!"

Blair was out the front door in a flash, trailed less enthusiastically by distressed servants. "I haven't packed," Blair protested, but Jo could tell she desperately wanted to go.

"So go shopping when we get there," Jo said. "Get on; I ain't got all night."

A brilliant smile lit up Blair's face, and she climbed on the bike, wrapping her arms around Jo's waist. She reached out to receive her purse from Chapman.

"See you later, Blair," he said.

She wagged a finger at him. "No, you won't," she said. "Not for three weeks."

He laughed. "Your father might have me on trash duty when you get back, but I'll leave you alone." He nodded politely to Jo. "Polniaczek."


The bike roared down the driveway.

It was hard to run and laugh and dig the hotel room key out of her purse all at once, but Blair was giving it her best shot. Looking back over her shoulder, she squeaked when the door to the stairwell burst open and Jo charged down the hall after her.

"You're dead, Warner!" Jo yelled.

Scrambling to turn the key, Blair stepped into the room, but her plan to lock Jo out was foiled when the other woman squeezed through before she could get the door shut.

"Now, Jo," Blair said, trying to reason with her friend, "why do people go to the beach? To get wet."

"When they swim," Jo said. "Not when they're takin' a nap in the sun a hundred yards away from the water."

"Would you believe it was an accident?"

"Would you?"

Blair seized on the opening. "Well, of course I would, if you said so," she said. "You might be carrying a cup of water–"

"A bucket."

"–and you might trip and fall, and I would say, 'That's all right, Jo. It was just an accident.'"

"Yeah, right." Jo's expression suddenly changed.

"What?" Blair asked suspiciously.

"I just had another one of my brilliant ideas," Jo said.

"Oh, no."

"That's the same feeling I get when I hear that," Jo said. "But you know, you're right. We came to Cozumel to get wet. So . . . ."

Blair backed away, but Jo was too quick. Grabbing the blonde around her waist, Jo tossed her onto the bed and shook her wet hair in Blair's face.

"Ohh, that is gross," Blair said.

"It's just water," Jo said. "It is just water, isn't it?" She brought a strand around to take a sniff.

Blair took advantage of her opportunity and grabbed Jo by the shoulders, flipping her over so that Jo was now looking up at her. "Ha!" she said triumphantly.

"'Ha' what?" Jo said. "I can get out of this."

"You wouldn't say that if I were Todd."


"Gray swim trunks? Star of David necklace?"

"I know who Todd is," Jo said. "Why do you think I want him on top of me?"

"Oh, I don't know, how about the three hours you spent with him this morning?"

"Gimme a break," Jo said. "He only hung out 'cause you and Mark were having your little thing."

"Mark?" Blair repeated.

"Camo trunks? Brags about not havin' a tan line?"

Adopting Jo's earlier response, Blair said, "I know who Mark is. Why do you think we're having a thing?"

"You spent the whole afternoon with him yesterday," Jo said.

"I spent the whole afternoon with you," Blair corrected her. "You were with Todd. That stuck me with Mark."

"I wasn't with Todd," Jo said. "You were with Mark."

Both women rolled their eyes. "Does this mean we could have ditched them yesterday?" Blair asked.

"That would have saved me from watchin' Mark untie that thing with his eyes," Jo said. She indicated with her chin the loose knot that was (barely) keeping Blair's tropical shirt G-rated.

"Or Todd staring at your rear end when you put your sandals on."

Jo shook her head. "Guys," she said.

"Yeah." Blair continued to stare down at her.

A quip rose on Jo's lips – "What now, Stud?" – but instead she found herself returning the gaze. Her heart raced. Suddenly she was very aware of Blair's closeness, of the narrow strip of cloth that covered her friend's breasts, of the tanned skin of her stomach, of the form-hugging skirt slit all the way up Blair's thigh. She could imagine how turned on Mark would be right now if Blair were on her hands and knees on top of him.

Neither woman said anything, but Blair's expression grew serious as she looked into Jo's eyes. Whatever Blair was thinking was all right with her. "Go ahead," Jo urged her.

Blair slowly leaned down until their lips met, then drew back and waited. The ball was in Jo's court now. She clasped Blair's neck and drew their mouths together for a long, passionate kiss, moaning her excitement into Blair's throat.

When they finally broke apart, Blair asked, "What are we doing, Jo?"

"You had sex ed," Jo said. "Figure it out."

"But we never talked about . . . ."

Two women? Two best friends? "Consider this an extension course," Jo said. "We're hot for each other, Blair."

"How could that be after all these years?"

"It's because of all these years," Jo said. She decided to take a chance. "I friggin' love you, Blair. This is what people in love do."

Blair did not reply. Instead, she lowered herself onto Jo for another round of seamless kisses. Jo's hands wandered down to the small of her back, awaiting permission to go further. Apart from her rapid breathing and the press of lips together, Blair made no sound. Hmm . . . . Jo moved her face to the side, breaking the kiss.

"What?" Blair panted.

"Are you enjoying this?" Jo asked.

"Why would you ask that? Aren't you?"

"Hell, yeah," Jo said. "But you're not . . . ."

Blair leaned back and straddled Jo's stomach, resting her palms on her thighs. "Not what?"

"Listen, I sat there while you and Reese went at it for three hours–"

Blair rolled her eyes.

"–and, you know, you made a lot of noise."

"Of course I did," Blair said. "I was faking it." She knelt above Jo and whispered, "I've never felt this way in my life, Jo. I want to do more."

Permission granted. Brown eyes watched as Jo untied the knot between Blair's breasts, allowing the cloth to fall to either side. "Oh, yeah," Jo said. Nice. She cupped the soft globes in her hands.

"Yesss," Blair encouraged her.

Jo flipped Blair over and climbed on top of her, kissing down her throat to her breasts, watching intense emotions cross Blair's face. Eventually, Jo let her hand wander to the knot at the top of Blair's skirt. Raising herself again to gaze into warm brown eyes, she moved her palm across the knot uncertainly. Blair made the decision for them, reaching down to untie it with a single hard tug. With a shift of her body, Jo eased a hand between Blair's thighs. Oh, man . . . .

"I love you," Blair gasped. "I love you . . . ."

Jo ran her tongue across her lips, relishing the memory of the most fantastic night of her life. For a woman notoriously averse to manual labor, Blair had been more than willing to break a sweat last night. Aggression and a lack of inhibition, characteristics of Blair's that annoyed Jo when she was sixteen, were greatly appreciated now. Oh, yeah. A fleet of free Harleys could not have lured Jo out of that bed.

Her hand moved across her thigh, and her stomach. A veritable protective coating of Blair Warner. She rolled over to look at the woman asleep beside her. Blair had a little Polniaczek on her, too. Heh–she'd had a little Polniaczek in her much of the night. Cuddling up against a warm back, Jo pressed her lips against Blair's bare shoulder. "Princess," she whispered before letting herself drift off again.

They slept through breakfast and made love through lunch. Blair was reacquainting herself with the brunette's body when Jo groaned, "I love you."

"You're going to love me more in a minute," Blair said seductively. With a final nip at sensitive flesh, she began another journey, one kiss at a time.

Jo's squirming grew more agitated. "I couldn't," she gasped.

Just as Blair approached an enticing spot below her navel, Jo reached down to still her motions. "Did you hear somethin'?"

There it was again–a knock on the door. What the hell? Jo uttered a stream of non-euphemisms as she maneuvered out from beneath Blair.

"Ignore it," Blair said. She ran a palm up Jo's thigh.

It was tempting, but not practical. With a final glance at what she was giving up and a stern warning – "Don't move" – Jo tossed on a hotel robe. Screw manners, she decided while knotting the belt. "Whaddya want?" she yelled at the door.

"Room service, Ma'am," a young male voice replied. "Compliments of management."

Jo turned back around, and was disappointed to see that Blair had covered herself with a sheet. "See?" she said. "That's what we get for ploppin' down in one of your fancy dives. Management doesn't bug you at the places I stay."

Blair smiled sweetly. "Between muggings, anyway."



Jo padded over to the door and peered through the eyehole. It was that bellhop who had tried to 'help' with their bags when they checked in. Help himself to a tip, more like it. Like Jo couldn't handle a couple of suitcases.

When she yanked open the door, he held out a bowl of chocolate mints. "That's it?" she groused. "We already got a bunch of those off our pillows."

The kid looked uncomfortable. "Well, actually . . . ," he said. A figure emerged from around the corner, and Jo's face clouded. She stepped into the hall to confront David Chapman. "What are you doing here?"

"Is everything all right?"

"What do you mean?" Then, remembering the bigger issue, she repeated her original question. "What are you doing here?"

"You've been making the rounds pretty steadily," he said. "Beach, shops, hiking. But you haven't been out of your room since yesterday afternoon."

"You've been spying on us?" she said. "You promised!"

"I promised Blair I would leave you alone," he said. "I did. You didn't even know I was here."

"It's called spying."

"It's called taking precautions," he said. "You didn't think–"

"No, you didn't think!" she said. "You're smotherin' Blair! You and her damn folks are doin' more harm than–"


Oh, hell. Jo spun around, hoping to reassure her lover with a quick, "It's nothing," but Blair was already in the doorway. A sex-flushed Blair, with no makeup, mussed hair, wearing a robe that matched Jo's and hung open just enough to suggest that she had nothing on underneath it.

Even the former spook could not hide his surprise. Thought you knew everything, Chapman? Jo thought a bit smugly.

"David?" Blair said, confused by his presence.

Jo's smirk widened a bit. Now he was going to get it. There was nothing like a Warner tirade to tear off a few layers of skin, slowly and excruciatingly. Not all that slowly, actually.

She waited, but only silence followed, and Jo realized that Blair wasn't angry, she was hurt. Damn it. Jo would have to kick Chapman's ass herself.

"I trusted you," Blair said quietly.

He didn't reply. Had Blair known his weak spot, or had she just lucked on to it?

"I have been happier this past week than I have in my entire life," Blair continued. She curled a hand around Jo's arm. "We're happy. Please don't ruin this for us."

As Chapman's expression softened, Jo realized, Wow, he's human. And he truly cared for his boss's daughter.

"Go home, David. Tell my parents I love them, but I need to live my own life," Blair said. "Otherwise, I'll never get out of that basement." She wasn't done. "And tell them I'll going back to Langley with Jo at the end of the month."

For the second time in as many minutes, David Chapman was caught off guard. Whatever protest had initially entered his brain, he held back, offering instead only a, "Yes, ma'am."

"Don't you 'ma'am' me," she said affectionately. "We were friends long before . . . it . . . happened. I need you to be my friend again."

Amazing. Blair knew just what to say to get her way. But then, she always had. Otherwise, Jo would have strangled her their first day together at Eastland. And the second. And the third . . . .

She returned her attention to Chapman, who was nodding his agreement. "I'm glad you're happy," he told Blair. "I didn't know . . . ." He sounded dismayed at this major gap in his intelligence. "I thought maybe you'd had an argument."

"We did," Blair said. "We call those 'foreplay.'"

Might as well give the guy a break, Jo decided. "Actually, we didn't know either, til yesterday," she said. "Spending all of our time arguing, it escaped me that Blair's kinda cute."

Blair rested her head against Jo's shoulder. "Oh, I think we still have plenty of arguing to do," she said.

And how much more fun it would be now . . . . "I got no doubt of that," Jo agreed.

"She's made some progress since I began mentoring her," Blair said to David, "but she has sixteen years of pre-Blair to overcome before learning to walk upright."

"And Princess Di has sixteen years of gettin' her hands dirty."

"Under my tutelage, Jo will eventually be able to tell an Armani from a Versace at a hundred paces," Blair said.

"And she'll be changin' the oil on her 911."

"I can already do that," Blair declared. "Five minutes."

"You're kidding."

"One minute to get out the Yellow Pages and find the phone number." Blair counted it out on her fingers. "One minute to give the mechanic my address. One minute to answer the door and hand her my keys. One minute to pay when it's done."

That was only four, Jo noted.

"And one minute for her to ask me out," Blair added. She smiled coyly. "I have a thing for mechanics."

Jo wrapped her arms around Blair's waist. "Well, if the mechanic liked your thing, maybe you wouldn't have to pay," she said.

"Maybe we should test out that theory."

Jo turned to tell Chapman goodbye, but they were alone in the hall. "Looks like we're on our own," she said. "Wanna go do that thing with the shower massager?"

"I thought you'd never ask . . . ."

The End

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