Whether she was truly the first to find her voice again, or if Old Hillpaw simply let her speak, Jenny became the one to break the silence. “It… exploded?” she asked, sounding more bewildered than anything else.
The waitress shook her head. “But… but why?”
“The explosives,” Hillpaw answered the question for her, before the man in black could do so. “That must have been their plan all along, why they had to take the detour up to Minnesota in the first place. Remember, he bought all those explosives? He used them on the Organization’s headquarters.”
Jenny nodded, but she still looked mostly lost. “And Danni was still alive? I feel so lost.”
“Well, of course I’m alive!”
The new voice made both of Jasper’s listeners spin around, their heads jerking in unison like marionettes. A new woman stood at the entrance to the bar, the midday sun streaming in from behind her and illuminating her in a halo of light. No details were clear – except for her hair, which glowed in a corona of bright orange red around her head.
For a moment, the newcomer stood in the entrance, and both Jenny and Hillpaw could see the light glinting off her smile. Then, moving with confidence despite a slight limp, she advanced into the bar, heading for their table.
Of course, as she settled into the last open seat at the table, there was no mistaking her identity. Danni looked older, no longer a completely carefree teenager, but even the slightly darkened burn scar that curled up one side of her neck couldn’t ruin her smile. She eyed the waitress and the old man with curiosity as she lightly patted Jasper’s shoulder.
“So,” she asked, “these are your captive audience, listening to all your autobiographical ramblings?”
Jasper smiled back at her, and his audience saw a new emotion on the man in black’s face: clear, shining love. “They do keep on coming back, as if they want to hear more,” he pointed out, his frown ineffectual below his crinkled eyes.
“It’s all a ruse, my dear.” Danni leaned in, totally unfazed by the audience, to plant a long, passionate kiss on Jasper’s lips. “Did they figure out the little twist in your story, yet?”
She glanced over at the listeners, still smiling. “What I’m sure Jasper neglected to tell you, downplaying his heroic role, is how he dug through the rubble of that cabin in North Dakota, finding where I’d been thrown by the blast,” she explained. “And as I proved, I’m just too tough and full of life to be killed!”
Danni grinned, and Jenny couldn’t help but smile back at her. Jasper, however, still looked sober for a moment.
“It was a close thing,” he pointed out. “For a while, I wasn’t sure which way you would end up going.”
Danni shook her head, as though dismissing this, but the observers didn’t miss how she reached over and laid one hand on top of his, squeezing gently. “As I recovered, we knew that we’d never be free of this until the Organization was well and truly gone,” she went on. “And we didn’t have the time or ammunition to gun down everyone in that tower – so we chose to simply remove the tower.”
“The first few days in Philadelphia, I spent most of my time crawling through the sewers, planting the explosives,” Jasper added. “We timed everything to go off at nine, but there were a million things that could go wrong.”
“And yet, despite you somehow getting yourself shot, we made it work,” Danni finished. “And since then, the Organization has largely collapsed.”
Jenny was smiling, glad to hear that the story had a happy ending, but Old Hillpaw still wore a slight frown. “But isn’t it still possibly dangerous to tell us?” he asked, his eyes on Jasper.
For a moment, the smile disappeared from the man in black’s face, and he nodded. “There’s still a bit of danger, yes,” he acknowledged. “But no one knows about our involvement in the Organization’s disappearance – and after its collapse, most of the politicians were quick to distance themselves from it and disavow it.”
“And just to be sure, we chose to settle out here, practically on the frontier,” Danni added. “In a small town like this? Easy to hear about any newcomer who might skulk around.”
Both of the audience members nodded to this. Sure enough, the arrival of anyone new generally spread through the little town like wildfire.
“So,” asked Jenny at length, “what are you going to do, now that you’ve typed up the story?”
Jasper glanced down at the stack of pages. “I think I’m going to send it off to New York, one of the big publishing houses,” he said reflectively. “Anonymously, of course. But I think it’s a story that ought to be told, nonetheless.”
“And I’m sure they’ll love it,” Danni added, standing up and wrapping her arms around the man in black from behind. Even standing, it was easy to miss that she even had a limp at all, and her smile still lit up her face. She leaned down, kissing Jasper on the cheek, holding on to him as though he was her rock, her anchor.
It was a strange combination, to be sure. The assassin, and the woman he’d been sent to kill. And yet, looking at the pair, both Jenny and Hillpaw had to admit, in the privacy of their own minds, that the two seemed to fit together perfectly.
And all in all, it was a good story, they both agreed. A story, they felt, that ought to be told.
The man in black, the Priest, and the girl with hair of fire, the bank robber, the outlaw.
A good match.
The end! Finally! Wow, that story went on quite a bit longer than expected. I think I’ll need to recover with some short stuff before undertaking another epic of such size.