Baby Maker(8)

By: Jenny Jax

Before either of us had a chance to speak again, there came a little patter of footsteps from the stairs. Both of us turned, and grinned as we saw Ella making her way towards us.

“Hey, honey,” Jazz greeted her, and she hurried over to him to give him a hug. She buried her face in his stomach and squeezed tight.

“I missed you, Baddy,” she mumbled into him, and he hugged her back.

“I missed you too,” he affirmed, glancing up at me and raising his eyebrows playfully. He scooped her up into his arms and planted her down on the table so she was at the same height as the rest of us.

“How was your night?” he asked, but before she could answer, the doorbell rang.

“You want me to get it?” I suggested, and he nodded.

“If you wouldn’t mind?”

I went to open the door, and found myself face-to-face with Amanda. She cocked a brow at me, obviously amused by my apparent domesticity.

“Don’t say anything,” I warned her, wagging a playful finger at her. She held her hands up and made her way into the house.

“You must be Jazz.” She marched over to him, holding out her hand.

He got to his feet and took it. “Yeah, that’s me. Feel free to go ahead with the inspection. If there’s anything you need me to do, just let me know.”

“Thank you.” She glanced down at her clipboard. “I’ll just go ahead and get started, then?”

Jazz spread his hands wide. “Anything you need.”

It was an hour-long inspection, the kind that takes place just so the inspector can get a feel for what kind of life these people might be leading. When you brought out someone like Amanda, you could be sure that you were going to get the whole story—she’d been doing this long enough to know what was a put-on and what was reality. I could never read her face, but I was pretty sure it was going well. After the hour had passed, Amanda took Jazz aside and asked if she could speak to him alone for a few minutes. He nodded, and hustled Ella off to watch TV while we spoke.

“Well, first off, I don’t see anything wrong with the household you’re raising your daughter in,” she affirmed, and I could see Jazz visibly relax. “But there are some questions which need to be answered.”

“Like?” Jazz prompted, obviously wanting this to be done so he could go back to spending time with his daughter.

“I think we have to ask why we keep getting these welfare calls about you and your daughter,” she continued seriously, meeting his gaze and holding it steadily. “Because we’ve sent agents out here multiple times, and found nothing. Do you know why people might be phoning in these calls on you? Any enemies who might want to unsettle you? Any neighbors with an axe to grind?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s the neighbors,” he sighed, running a hand over his head. “I don’t know how they found out, but…”

He hesitated for a long moment before he continued, and I found myself leaning forward, keen to hear what would come out of his mouth next. Was this to do with the criminal charges?

“They know that I’m involved with the Desert Marauders,” he finally breathed out. The name didn’t mean anything to me, but Amanda’s eyebrows vanished beneath her bangs as the words came out of his mouth.

“The motorcycle gang?” she clarified, and he nodded.

“How would they know that? And how does it affect them?”

“I think they think it’s means I’m bad news,” he went on. “Even though we’re not involved with anything…illegal. Or particularly dangerous.”

“And you think this is why they’re calling in these checks on your daughter?” Amanda made a note of something on her clipboard, and Jazz nodded again.

“I think so.”

“Do you think that had something to do with Ella getting hurt?” I blurted out before I could stop myself. I needed an explanation for that before I could trust this guy.

“I’m looking into it best I can.” Jazz glanced up at me. “I found footprints in the kitchen after she climbed out of the window. Man-size, not mine. I think whoever it was must have had something to do with it.”

“Really?” I leaned in. I wanted to believe him, but there was that little skeptical part of my brain that just wouldn’t let me without something more concrete to hang this all on. He fumbled in his pocket for his phone, tapped on the screen, and pulled up some pictures. He held his cell out to me, and I took it.

The picture showed his kitchen floor, the one beneath our very feet at that moment, with two large, smudged footprints bang in the center.