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Death Angel (Chapter Twenty-two)

Seven months later

"ANDIE, ORDER UP!"

Andrea Pearson gave a quick glance over her shoulder at the pass-through to the kitchen, where Glenn was loading the shoulder-high bar with plates piled high with hamburgers and steaming hot french fries, then resumed unloading heavy plates off the tray she carried. Glenn, owner and cook at Glenn's Truck Stop, was shoveling food onto plates as fast as he could. It was Friday night, truckers were headed home, and the place was packed. The work was grueling, but the tips were great and Glenn paid her under the table, which was even better.

"I'll be right back with refills," she said to the three truckers in the booth, then hurried over to get the newly plated orders while the food was still hot. After dispensing them to the proper table, she loaded her tray with the coffeepot and tea pitcher and made the rounds, refilling cups and glasses. All the other waitresses were hustling as fast as she was, swivel-hipping their loaded trays through the tangle of chairs and tables.

"Hey, Andie," a female driver said as she passed by, "tell my fortune for me."

Her name was Cassie, her hair was blond with dark roots, and she wore a lot of makeup, along with tight jeans and high heels. She was very popular with a certain segment of the male drivers; the more settled ones left her alone. Tonight, though, she was with some other female drivers, and they were ignoring the guys for some girl time.

"You don't have one," said Andie, not even slowing down.

The next time she went by, Cassie signaled for her check. The group was laughing and joking, trading stories about their men or their kids or their pets, though Andie was hard put to tell which story was about which group. When she took the check over, Cassie said, "Whaddaya mean, I don't have a fortune? You mean I'm not going to marry some good-looking rich guy and have a life of leisure?"

The other women hooted, because in their world things like that just didn't happen.

"Nope," said Andie in a matter-of-fact tone. "You won't ever be rich. But if you don't start making better decisions, you're going to end up broke and eating cat food to make ends meet."

Silence fell on the little group, because Andie's tone wasn't joking.

"Better decisions?" Cassie asked after a slight hesitation. "Like what?"

"Andie! Order up!"

"Gotta go," she said, hurrying to the bar. Her left arm was aching from toting the heavy trays for the past five hours, and she had three more hours to go. She hadn't had time to grab anything to eat, either, so she wasn't inclined to waste any of her precious minutes trying to give Cassie life lessons. Hell, how much brains did it take not to screw every guy who came down the highway-in Cassie's case, almost literally? Besides, it irritated her that Cassie had asked her to "tell her fortune."

Andie didn't tell fortunes. She didn't have a crystal ball, she couldn't tell where crazy Uncle Harry had buried his coin collection or which horse was going to win at what track. If she could, she'd be playing the ponies herself. Sometimes she got impressions about people, that was all. She might warn somebody to slow down on his run, or tell him to have his cholesterol checked, stuff like that. Working as a waitress meant she saw people doing stupid things that were bound to get them into trouble, and if she warned them and they didn't listen, why was it so surprising to them when, lo and behold, they got into trouble? Cause and effect: do something stupid, and bad things will happen. Big duh.

But in the few months she'd been working at Glenn's, she'd gotten sort of a reputation as a psychic, and nothing she said could dissuade anyone from that idea. The only way she could disprove it, she supposed, was to not tell anyone whatever it was she thought they should know, but she couldn't in good conscience let a driver sit there wolfing down fried food when she was fairly certain he was going to have a heart attack in a couple of weeks.

She'd done some research on the afterlife and near-death experiences, and several times she had come across references that a person who had died and been revived sometimes came back with the gifts of prophecy and vision. The only thing close to a vision that she'd had was when she saw that nurse, Dina, falling on some stairs-and she'd been on painkillers at the time, so that could have had something to do with seeing things. As for prophecy…wasn't that about big things, such as the end of time, or 9/11, or a president getting shot? She hadn't experienced anything like that.

But she had definitely come back with a knack for some small stuff-for everyone except herself. When it came to herself, she didn't have even the smallest inkling of a premonition. She had to flounder along, and it seemed to her that most of the time her choices were all bad, and she had to take the least worst of the lot. She wasn't racking up many points that way.

Like the two million bucks. For the life of her, she couldn't decide what to do with it. Sending it back to Rafael was out of the question. Yes, she'd stolen it from him, but he'd gotten it by running drugs and then laundering it through all of his penny-ante businesses. Giving it back to him would just make him that much stronger in the drug world.

On the other hand, she couldn't just keep it. It wasn't hers. She'd had to use part of it to live on after she was released from the hospital, because though she'd had a couple of weeks of physical rehab before Dr. Meecham would release her, she hadn't been in any shape to get a job and work. She'd been able to bathe and dress herself, and take short walks, but that was about it. Getting strong enough to actually get a job had taken weeks more of physically pushing herself, ignoring the protests of her chest muscles, which hadn't wanted to do anything.

She'd been driven by the need to escape, and not because of any legal issue. Her ability to lie had come through in a pinch, and she'd sailed through her interview with Detective Arrons. Once she settled on a name-Pearson, in honor of the kind-eyed Mrs. Pearson at the bank in Grissom-the rest of it was easy. For the most part, she told the truth. She bought the car in New Jersey and hadn't bothered to register it there because she'd been leaving that day, moving out here, and figured she'd wait until she got settled and knew what her address would be before applying for a Colorado tag.

Okay, so that wasn't exactly the truth. He could have pressed the issue, because she didn't have a driver's license either; there were a number of factors figuring into his decision to let it drop. First and foremost, the car hadn't been reported stolen anywhere. Two, while still drugged up she'd asked about her laptop, but no laptop had ever been found, which opened up the possibility that her belongings had been pilfered. A man had made the 911 call, but no one had been there when the emergency crews arrived, so the unknown man could easily have taken her things. She had also been in a horrific car accident and her survival was nothing short of a miracle, so the detective wasn't inclined to hassle her. Once she came up with a name for him, and a cursory check didn't turn up any warrants, he considered everything square.

No, what really spooked her was that someone had paid her hospital bill-and Dr. Meecham's bill. And the anesthesiologist's, the radiologist's, and every other ologist involved in her care. When she peppered Dr. Meecham with questions, he'd shrugged. "The payment came in the form of a cashier's check. I don't know who sent it. The envelope was tossed in the trash, so I can't even tell you where it was mailed from."

Andie supposed someone, out of sheer charity, could have been moved by the brief mention of her accident in the newspaper, but the story had never been given the big human-interest treatment, evidently because she'd lived and wasn't an amnesiac. There hadn't been any public fund-raisers, and if anyone had bothered to ask she'd have told them she could pay the bills-using Rafael's money, of course, but that didn't bother her at all. It alarmed her that someone had, out of the blue, anonymously shelled out some big bucks.

She had no idea who that someone could be, but she was afraid he, or she, somehow knew who she really was. Her instinct told her to leave Denver as fast as possible, so that's what she'd done.

She'd bought another secondhand car, headed northeast on the interstate, toward Nebraska, and traded that car in for another as soon as she crossed the state line. Driving long distances had been a challenge, because she tired so easily, but she kept moving steadily eastward until she got to Kansas City. Three interstates came together in the K.C. area, giving her a lot of options if she had to move on. She kind of liked that idea, and somehow she'd ended up getting a job at Glenn's. She also shelled out the cash needed for a new ID, for Andrea Pearson, so she now had a valid driver's license in that name-well, as valid as a license could be if the name on it was fake. Her red 2003 Ford Explorer was duly registered to her, and she had insurance on it and everything.

She rented half of a duplex in a run-down neighborhood and actually lived on what she made at Glenn's. After spending most of her life trying to score all the luxuries she could, she was oddly content with her life, with three smallish rooms in a house with a sagging roof. At least the tenants in the other half of the house weren't on drugs. Just thinking of her time with Rafael made her feel dirty.

But she still had the two million, or most of it, sitting in the bank. She thought about writing one big check to a charity or something, just to get rid of it, but she couldn't seem to just do it. What if that was the wrong thing? She wasn't sure how donating to a charity could be wrong, but what if that wasn't what she was meant to do with the money? What if there was some other cause she was supposed to give it to, if she could figure out what that cause was? The American Cancer Society, maybe. Or St. Jude's Hospital. There were a lot of great organizations that could use the money, but she couldn't work her way past this weird paralysis in decision-making.

She didn't know what was wrong with her, unless it was a reaction to the trauma. Dr. Meecham had given her some literature on it, and evidently people who had heart surgery often went through some emotional upheaval afterward. Because her case was so extreme, she should probably expect some difficulties in dealing with stuff. She could get through the day, she could handle the physical demands of her job, she could buy groceries and pay her bills, but other than that she wanted to spend her time curled up on her secondhand couch, wrapped in a blanket to keep her warm during the grueling midwestern winter, reading a book from the library. Deciding which books to check out was the toughest decision she could handle.

When her shift at Glenn's was over and she trudged out into the snow, she wished she could make the decision to move farther south, but hell, winter would be over soon.

Spring might be close, but snow was still falling. The night sky was a thick, dark gray that said more snow was coming. She pulled her thick wool scarf up to cover her head and wrapped the ends around her neck to keep out the icy wind. Lowering her head into the wind, she trudged through the snow toward her red Explorer.

"Hey, Andie."

Turning her head, she recognized Cassie as the woman climbed out of the cab of her Peterbilt. The big diesel engine was running, because a diesel was a bitch to start in cold weather. No matter how much fuel cost, having to pay for a jump-start and then factoring in the time lost meant that the rigs were never cut off during a run.

Inwardly Andie groaned. She didn't want to get into a discussion about Cassie's fortune, or lack of it, but other than walking off it didn't look as if she had any other choice. She actually kind of liked Cassie, so she stopped and waited for her.

Cassie slipped a little bit on the ice, then reached Andie's side. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car," she said. "Where is it?"

"Over there," said Andie, indicating the gravel lot off to the side, where the employee's vehicles wouldn't get in the way of the big rigs coming in or going out of the truck stop.

"I saw some guy watching you through the windows," Cassie said, pitching her voice low so only Andie could hear her.

Andie skidded to a stop as her heartbeat kicked into a gallop. "A guy? What guy?"

"Just keep walking," said Cassie calmly. "I don't see him now, but I thought I'd make sure you got to your car okay."

Words failed her, that someone she barely knew would go out of her way to make sure Andie was safe. "I'll drive you back to your truck," she managed to say. "That way you won't be in any danger either."

Cassie smiled down at her. She was a tall woman, lean and rangy, and even though she'd exchanged her high heels for boots she was still a good five or six inches taller than Andie. "We women have to watch each other's asses, toots, and I don't mean that like I'm hitting on you either."

Andie snorted. She had watched Cassie in action often enough to know that the trucker didn't swing that way. Immediately her attention switched back to the man Cassie had said was watching her. "What did he look like-that guy? Are you sure he was watching me?"

"Absolutely, positively. He watched you for a good five minutes, going back and forth. As for how he looked, hmm." Cassie thought about it. "Tall and in good shape, but he was wearing a thick coat with the hood up, so that's about all I can tell you. Even with the coat, though, you could tell he wasn't a porker or anything."

Most truckers weren't what you'd call "in good shape," but enough of them came through the truck stop that a guy who took care of himself wasn't all that unusual. In the four months she'd worked there, Andie had probably seen a couple of hundred who matched that vague description. But none of them would have stood out in the snow watching her; each and every one of them would have come inside, ordered a cup of coffee, tried to talk to her there if he was interested.

A chill that had nothing to do with the weather ran down her back. The uneasy feeling that had chased her from Denver told her someone was on her trail. But who, and why? She had died. Short of actually staying dead and being buried, wasn't that enough to shake him off her tail?

What if it wasn't him, though? Who else could it be?

Someone knew who she was and where she was.

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