*From Danielle Mari's first sentence.*
Jackson almost left Lucky Lo without reading the fortune cookie. If he had--if he'd just tossed his three dollar tip on the table, waved goodbye to the cute little waitress who never charged him for his drink, and slipped out the bottle-green glass door with its chiming trio of bells without attracting the attention of Madam Lo herself, nothing about his life would've changed. He'd be Jackson Pierce--ex-college football star who still drove the Chevy Nova he'd purchased when he was eighteen, still kicked himself for breaking up with Jenny when anyone could see she was perfect for him, and still played at being a private investigator while waiting for his real life to start.
He'd relived the moment a hundred times in the last hour as he lie curled up inside the trunk of Madam Lo's old white Caddy, every bump and pothole slamming his head into the metal toolbox wedged beside him and his spine into the trio of cinder blocks--he refused to contemplate their intended use--at his back.
He had tossed the tip onto the table, catching the waitress's eye as he did so and giving her a little wink. When she hunched her shoulders, looked toward her left, and scurried toward the kitchen instead of smiling in return, he followed the direction of her furtive glance and found Madam Lo, perched in her red silk embroidered chair on the dais behind the cash stand, staring him down.
"You no read fortune cookie, Mr. Jacks," she snapped, her ruthlessly plucked brows meeting in a V of disapproval over glittering black eyes.
"That's okay. Seen one, seen 'em all," he said and pulled out a ten as he approached her.
"Not okay. Violate tradition." Crossing her arms over her chest, she refused to take his money.
"What?" He placed his check and the ten on the marble counter. If he hadn't already left money on the table, he'd tell the old bat to give the change to his waitress and be out the door.
"Must read fortune cookie after meal. Tradition," she insisted.
He shook his head. "Not in China, it isn't. Fortune cookies are an American invention."
"You from China?" her voice rose, coated with fierce indignation.
"Then you know nothing." She dismissed his argument with a wave of one tiny hand, the glossy red polish on her fingertips resembling perfect drops of blood.
"Look. I already left the table. I don't feel like walking back to get it. I'll just ..." he trailed off as Madam Lo lifted a bowl of fortune cookies from behind the cash register. Sheesh, the woman took her so-called tradition seriously.
"You take one. Open now," she ordered.
Jackson made a production of rolling his eyes. If Lucky Lo's lunch buffet wasn't dirt cheap--and if their Pepper Chicken wasn't the best he'd ever had--he'd tell Madam Lo what she could do with her bowl of fortune cookies and never return. Since he did love their Pepper Chicken, and money was a little hard to come by these days, he reached into the bowl and pulled out a cookie.
"Open," Madam Lo said, anticipation and something like hunger glinting in her eyes.
He popped the plastic seal, slid the cookie out, and snapped it cleanly half.
"Read," she said.
"I'm getting to it." He pulled the crisp white sheet free, checked his "lucky" numbers--not that he had enough spare cash to throw away on the lottery--and flipped it over to read his fortune.
"Today, you die."
"What the--what kind of fortune is this?" He looked up at Madam Lo who smiled, a slow, triumphant stretch of ruby lips over sharp little teeth.
"The best kind. The true kind." She lifted a small aerosol can from behind the counter, aimed at his face, and sprayed.
The next thing he new, he was wearing duct tape around his wrists and ankles, and two men he'd never seen before were dumping him--rather carelessly in his opinion--into the trunk of Madam Lo's Caddy.
He gnawed at the duct tape on his wrists, for all the good it did him. He gnawed at the enormity of his situation as well, with even less results. He'd eaten at Lucky Lo's for four years. He'd never stiffed a waitress, skipped on a check, or made an idiot of himself. Certainly, he'd never done anything to deserve kidnapping.
The car slowed, swung into a wide right turn, and crunched over what sounded like gravel before coasting to a stop. Before Jackson could form a plan that didn't include screaming for help like a little girl, the trunk popped open and Madam Lo, flanked by the same thugs who'd tossed him in the trunk to begin with, faced him.
"What are you doing?" Jackson demanded.
"Giving you your fortune, Mr. Jacks," Madam Lo replied, her face lit with excitement.
"Okay, no. No! It's just a cookie. A wierd one, yes, but still, just a cookie. They make those things by the hundreds in some factory somewhere. The fortunes aren't true." He ordered himself to stop babbling.
She leaned toward him. "Yours is."