For Want of a Memory
by Robert Lubrican
Copyright 2010 Robert Lubrican
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re - sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please go to Bookapy.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Table of Contents
Chapters: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight | Nine
Ten | Eleven | Twelve | Thirteen | Fourteen | Fifteen | Sixteen | Seventeen
Eighteen | Nineteen | Twenty | Twenty-one | Twenty-two | Twenty-three | Twenty-four
Twenty-five | Twenty-six | Twenty-seven | Twenty-eight | Twenty-nine
Thirty | Thirty-one | Thirty-two | Thirty-three | Thirty-four
This is a story about how entirely different kinds of people, from completely disparate backgrounds, can be brought together in a dance of sorts that will have profound effects on all of their lives.
Normally, when we think of “people,” we tend to think of those we are friends with or see at work. Maybe they're in an organization we belong to or are part of our extended families. In any case, we usually think of them as being mostly like us.
We hear about other kinds of people - rich people, very poor people, victims of crime, lottery winners - the list goes on and on. But we don't know any of those people by and large or, if we do, we know lots of them. We tend to gather those around us who we are most like, even if we think of them as being like us.
But sometimes, the paths of very different kinds of people cross. Fate plays a role in that, perhaps. You could call it luck - either good or bad, depending on the circumstances. In any case, when that happens, things get shaken up. Lives get shaken up.
And things change - sometimes drastically.
The first person you must meet is Kris. And it's important that you are told a lot about him, because you need to understand him, to understand the choices he made, which form the core of this story.
When the average person looked at Kris Farmingham, he ... or she, for that matter ... normally didn't look twice. Just like the average person, Kris was ... well ... average.
At forty - seven years of age, he stood five - ten and weighed around one - sixty. His light brown hair was thinning on top and, rather than try to do the comb - over, he just kept it closely cropped all over. It was easier, even if he didn't think it did much for his looks. His facial features were mixed. A smallish nose, with a straight bridge and rounded tip sat above full lips, though the bottom one looked larger than the top. When he smiled with those lips it was a tight smile, usually, as if he didn't want people to see his teeth. That tight smile created dimples in his cheeks which, along with his twinkling chocolate brown eyes, sometimes gave him the appearance of being mischievous.
His tanned skin and, perhaps, the freckles on it (depending on what dermatologist you talked to) were the result of spending time in the Australian sun. That outdoorsy life was also responsible for the washboard stomach that most people didn't know he had. There wasn't an ounce of fat on him, with the possible exception of enough skin to grip at the waist, though he currently had no significant other in his life to grip it. He had a girlfriend, named Lola, but didn't consider her a “significant other” at this point. Living in Australia was also responsible for his accent, even though he hadn't been born there.
His hands and feet were average sized and his voice, while pleasantly deep, wasn't anything special either.
In short, he could blend into a crowd rather easily. This was to become important, though he'd never have thought blending in might be something to crave. As it turned out ... it was, but we'll get to that later.
While no one on the street would take a second look at him, people he passed on that street might very well know who he was if they heard one of the names he used. Kris was an author - a popular author at that.
Kris came to writing almost by accident. The son of a preacher man, he already had fire in his soul when a chance trip to a summer theater camp enabled him to express himself in ways he'd never been able to before. Eventually, his college education was put to use teaching music and theater. He traveled the world, for a variety of reasons, and became something of a proverbial renaissance man.
We are, say the philosophers, the sum of our existence, which is to say that what happens to us ... what we experience in life ... molds us into the people we become. That sounds like a lot of double talk to some, but the fact is that we don't necessarily turn out to be who we want to be. In youth, we have dreams of what life will be like later on. We often view the future as something we can manipulate, if care is taken to cause things to happen. But the fact is, largely, that our past has more effect on our future than our mind does.
Kris' past had had a lot to do with him becoming an author.
His parents divorced, which caused his older sister to seek solace in the arms of a brand of religion far more conservative than the one she was raised in. Apparently that religion was a good hugger, because she hugged it for all she was worth. Some people, including Kris, sometimes, thought of her as a loony religious fanatic.
His mother had a tendency to lie about her age and there were step - siblings, which can work for or against one. He grew up in two families, in California, which was as forgiving of parents who didn't know how to handle money, when they had some, as anyplace can be. He didn't want for much, on a physical plane, even though the family purse was usually empty. Emotionally, though, he was hungry. As a result, football became his center of emotional fulfillment. He memorized the stats of every player that ever held a pigskin in his hands and played the game avidly until an Achilles tendon injury sidelined him. That also killed his dream of being a sports star, which gave way to different dreams that were the result of his discovery of drugs. A good dose of common sense saved him from that.
He suffered the same kinds of slings and arrows most people suffer. His biological father died. His relatives were all odd, in one way or another. He was plain enough, and shy enough, that girls weren't all that interested in him. That is to say that while there was nothing wrong with him, most girls thought, perhaps unconsciously, that they could do better.
And so he dreamed. Dreams filled in the passion and excitement that real life wouldn't supply, and those dreams were what later became the muse that helped him create the books that people would come to love and buy in large enough numbers to support him while he wrote full time.
College, which he'd extended far beyond the average four years, taught him many things that had nothing to do with formal education in pursuit of a degree. He'd had to support himself and he'd knocked about, working at one time or another in a steel mill, a slaughterhouse, and as a hospital orderly. Every young boy's dream to run off and join the circus was realized, and went well until he was caught in bed with one of the female aerialists, which is an offense on the level of a stable boy fucking a princess.
One of the things he learned was that most people were normal, unlike his family members. Moving to Australia after college got him about as far away from his crazy family as it was possible to get.
There is nothing in the world like being in a strange, faraway place to make one want to tell one's story. And a lot of people write down the story, to arrange it in one's mind. Some discover that they're not all that good at that. Others, like Kris, find release in writing that is second only to sexual completion.
And so, once in Australia, Kris became a writer. Others recognized his talent for writing and, quite suddenly, he was a published author.
But New York City still reigns supreme in terms of the publishing world and when his first book took off like a rocket, he decided to move back to the States, where there was the kind of stimulation that might fuel more best sellers.
He hoped there might also be a woman in New York who might bring out the “father in hiding” he thought himself to be. It must be understood, however, that this existential urge on his part was similar to the existential urge many men have to be a hero some day. It would be nice, and he imagined he'd embrace it when the time came, but wasn't actually looking to make it happen.
There was a woman, as it turned out, but she was much more avid about forming a long term relationship than he was. She had already asked for a key to his apartment and offered him one to hers.
The problem was that Kris had only zeroed in on her because of one of his personal kinks. Kris was an ass man. He didn't know why he was an ass man, but he was. And Lola had a luscious bubble butt that had made Kris' mouth water the first time he saw it - encased in a pair of skin tight toreador pants, with no panty line.
Sadly, as it turned out, Lola's ass was about all there was about her that made his mouth water. She was okay as a female. She was neither smart nor stupid. She worked at an ad agency, but had no drive to rise higher than her current position. She had no hobbies and no work experience other than her current job. That she was twenty years younger than him didn't really bother him. She looked older than her twenty - five years and he looked younger than his forty - seven.
But there was just something about Lola that made her seem vapid, once he'd spent a few months with her. When he thought of her in the role of a mother, he thought his children would be bored senseless during their formative years.
The real problem with Lola, however, was that the one dream she did have was to be rich and famous. She made that quite clear when, after she asked “what he did” for the third of fourth time, he casually mentioned that he had written a few things that had been published. He'd made reference to obscure technical journals. She'd immediately waxed poetic about how someday he'd be a rich and famous, well - read author and that they'd live the high life then. When he wrote the books that she had in mind, and people found out how talented an author he was, she said, they'd be invited to all the best parties and treated as VIPs. At one moment, as she'd planned their fantasy popularity, she'd even sketched out a plan for personal security ... for both of them.
He knew that if she became aware that he had published three best sellers, it would only be natural for her to want to brag that she was sleeping with the author of those best sellers.
And the problem with that was that Kris had come to treasure the anonymity that writing books under a pseudonym gave him.
It may seem odd to you, the reader, that an author who, after all, puts his work out in the public eye for all to see, might not want the public to see him. But there are good reasons for an author to want to stay invisible on a personal level.
One of them is that readers, particularly readers of fiction, have a natural tendency toward amateur psychoanalysis. And they always have questions. Why did you write that book? What does it all mean - between the lines? Where did the inspiration for that character come from? Is this book autobiographical? What was your childhood like? Do you really have a sister who is a wacko religious nut? What denomination is she? Readers' appetites for personal details are voracious and unending.
And then there are those readers who have their own story they'd like to tell, but can't, because they can't write. They just naturally dream of seeing their story in print ... written by the author whose books they love to read. And how could that author object? It's a great story!
Of course, another pitfall is that there are those who want to be around the great man. They perceive themselves as destined to be part of his entourage - perhaps even to become the inspiration for a new character, based on their own intriguing and interesting lives and characteristics. Lola was one of those. She was forever suggesting that his “first big book” should contain her as the main character.
And the fact was that Kris just wanted to write. One cannot write when surrounded by people asking questions and making suggestions and wanting to know when their fascinating life will be represented in print.
He was caught in a situation he didn't want to confront. If Lola had free access to his apartment, it would be difficult to write and she would likely discover that he wrote much more than articles for obscure technical journals. She would find out, eventually, who he really was and he would have to insist that his identity not be revealed to others. That, of course, would cause her untold misery, because her natural urge would be to brag - though she certainly wouldn't have characterized it as bragging - about how she was intimate with the man who had created Living With an Aardvark and The Cereal Killer and Diagnosis - Steatopygia!. That would lead to people wanting to meet him ... and ask all those questions.
He took his privacy so seriously, in fact, that even his publisher did not know his real name. He received checks under his pseudonym, which was connected to his bank account. The bank didn't care a bit that he did business under one name, while the account was technically under another. People did that all the time.
His publisher, whose voracious appetite was for profits rather than personal information, was pushing him for another book. He'd been given a hefty advance and six months to produce that book. With the advance also came the requirement to provide progress reports once a month.
The outline was done. The characters had been roughed out. The plot was generally identified. About a third of the book was already written in what he called 'preliminary paragraphs'. He knew he was ready to write it. The story bulged inside him, demanding to be let loose. His muse was impatient. But the distraction of Lola was preventing him from letting his muse take over.
The answer was to find someplace to go where there would be no Lola ... no publisher ... no distractions.
Surfing the net, he found a vacation house on a lake shore in Connecticut. It was winter, the off season, and the rates were good. He made all the arrangements, using the new pseudonym of Larry Phillips. It was likely that during the six months he would be staying in Pembroke, people would find out what he was doing there. He didn't want anyone in that town to connect Kristoff Farmingham with the book that would be written there. He sent a money order and received a contract in the mail, with a key and directions on how to find the place.
He packed three bags. His landlord almost had a stroke when he paid his rent ahead for the five months he'd be gone. The advance was severely depleted, but that was all right. He'd get the rest when he turned in the manuscript. Then he'd probably start the whole process all over again.
The car was packed. The manuscript, printed off in case something happened to his laptop, was in his briefcase. He agonized over whether to take his cell phone or not, then decided it could be turned off and would be handy for those monthly progress reports.
He started the car.
And this is where the story really begins.
Three men sat around a card table, finalizing plans to commit a heinous crime. They were vicious men, though seeing them on the street, patronizing a hotdog vendor perhaps, one wouldn't recognize that viciousness. They, too, had the capability to blend in with the crowds in New York City.
The crime they had planned was bold. It might turn out very badly for the victims. They didn't really care about that. All they cared about were the rewards that they imagined the crime would provide.
These men that fate would bring together with Kris and others in the unfolding series of events were as different from the others as it was possible to be. Their story had an inauspicious beginning.
Many years earlier, Wanda Higginbotham had found herself pregnant. It had been unplanned, and unwanted, but not unexpected. Wanda was a hooker.
She found that some men would pay more for her services if they didn't have to engage in safe sex and, after all, money was what it was all about. She took her pills religiously, but pills don't always work.
Completely by accident, therefore, she learned that there is a different class of customers who are very interested in ... and willing to pay more for ... sex with a pregnant woman. Such men would take her from behind, with their hands on her pregnant belly, and fantasize that the child within was theirs. They got all the thrill of believing, if just for a few moments, that their seed had taken root, but could then abandon the product of that seed, and avoid the complications of actually getting a woman with child.
It was by chance that she was watching reruns of The Three Stooges while she was in labor. She named her little boy Moe, both because she didn't have much of an imagination and because Moe was the smartest Stooge, in her opinion.
Because the pregnancy thing had been more lucrative than anything else she'd done, she promptly got pregnant again. And then again. Larry and Curly were the results.
Having three boys to take care of was a pain in the ass, and she'd found out that eager but infertile parents would pay a lot of money to get a newborn. She was already stuck with “the three stooges,” but sold the next four babies. It was the best of all possible worlds, as far as Wanda was concerned.
Until she found out how ravaged a body could become as a result of having unprotected sex with strangers and what amounted to a litter of children.
She died when the boys were in their middle teens. They stuck together, living hand to mouth. They dropped out of school and lived by their wits. Sadly, this meant that they were lean and homeless most of the time, because their wits had been inherited from their mother and, in a twist of humorous irony, resembled those of the men they were named after.
But, there was no humor in how they chose to survive.
Eventually, Larry got his hands on a gun, bought cheap, and which he thought was probably stolen. He didn't care, though. Petty theft, muggings, and the infrequent armed robbery had kept them alive from that point on. But they were looking for the score that would put them on easy street.
Their first attempt at kidnapping had gone very badly. They'd stolen a car, and snatched a little girl from in front of a private school. Instead of being cowed and subservient, though, the girl had fought bitterly and cried incessantly. They'd gagged her - too well, as it turned out, because she'd died when her allergies flared up and she'd become unable to breathe through her nose. They had already made the ransom call, though, so they'd simply waited. When Moe called to give the parents directions to the drop off point, he was told they hadn't been able to raise the money and would need more time. He'd been sure he'd heard clicks on the line. He had also been sure that meant the police were tapping the line, so he'd hung up. They'd dumped the body in a dumpster. The media, always eager to report a tragedy, had said that the girl was most likely killed because no ransom had been paid.
Their second attempt hadn't gone any better. A boy had been chosen as their second victim. When they'd called the boy's parents, they'd made two demands. One was money and the other was that the cops not be involved in any way.
“Remember that girl they found in the dumpster?” Moe had asked, trying to make his voice sound sinister. “That was us, and we mean business.”
The parents had agreed. But when Moe had called back to arrange the trade, he'd been sure that he was talking to a different man and, again, sure that the police were involved.
This time, they killed the victim intentionally and left a note with the body that said next time, people had better follow instructions.
The media loved it, as they always love heinous acts of the worst sort. Moe, Larry and Curly loved it too, because now they had a reputation.
They were sure the next caper would make them all rich.
And it was that next attempt that they were planning as they sat around the card table. The victim would be one who could not be ignored - could not be allowed to die - a well known woman whose husband had tons of money. Jean Chantal Custer would provide the millions that would put them on a Caribbean island somewhere, where they would have anything they wanted.
The proposed victim of the crime was well known; the talk of New York, both the city and the state. She was married to Randall Custer, who was currently in his third year as the governor of the great state of New York. His messy divorce, barely six months into his governorship, had caused a scandal. Taking up with a supermodel half his age, then marrying her, had cemented his fame. He was a lackluster governor, but the tabloids loved him and a preponderance of the unwashed, which represented a preponderance of the population, in his opinion, loved him too. He had it all. He had money from his parents and he had Jean Chantal. He was an important man, who people wanted to please. What more could any man want?
Jean, who used her middle name professionally, had made her mark as a swimsuit model. That had led to runway work in which her body had most likely been more important than what she was actually wearing. Few people could afford the clothes she modeled. But everyone could enjoy looking at her, and did. She had even made a lot of panties damp.
Along the way, she'd gone from being a shy, tall, well built girl from New Orleans, who'd graduated high school squarely in the lower third of her class to a woman who could get anything she asked for, simply by asking for it. Men had always pursued her, but the intelligence she did have had led her to believe that the one real gift she had to give a man needed to be parlayed to the right man.
She'd decided that Randall Custer was that man.
They'd met at a party. He had been almost embarrassingly taken with her. When, the third time he took her to dinner, she confessed, through lowered eyelashes, that she was still a virgin, he took the bait hook, line and sinker. If he'd been embarrassing before, he was pathetic now. He promised her the world and she thought he might just be able to deliver it.
The fact that she was obviously telling the truth about her virginity was borne out on their wedding night, on a yacht, on the way to Bermuda, where her screams of pain were heard by the captain and crew. It was a rocky start, but at forty-eight, he didn't regenerate all that quickly, so she'd had time to heal up a bit before the next session. And things since then had been fine. Too much booze and poorly controlled blood pressure had hardened blood vessels that needed to be flexible for things to work well in the erection department, but Viagra got him laid and he was ever so cute when he was horny. A year into the marriage she actually liked her husband; now that another year had passed she was quite sure that real love was in the offing.
And he doted on her. She went shopping at the drop of a hat. After all, one could no longer wear a hat once it had been dropped ... now could one?
There were only two burrs under her saddle, as her husband would have put it. He styled himself a Western man, hinting that General George Custer was in his bloodline, though never actually claiming it. Alluding mysteriously to being related to the famous man was one thing. Actually admitting to have inherited genes from a complete idiot was another.
The first burr under her saddle was her inability to do anything privately anymore. Her husband took great glee in telling the world where she was going and what she'd be doing. That was because he wanted the world to know that his young and beautiful wife was more than just a young and beautiful woman. In her role as the governor's wife, she went here and there, doing this and that. Shopping was always included, but only after she took care of business. He also took great pride in the fact that she drove herself everywhere. No wasting of taxpayer dollars could be alluded to, because she always took her own sports car. The paparazzi, always knowing where she'd be, were a constant pain in the butt. And, wherever there was a bevy of cameras, there were curious onlookers too - and they sometimes wanted some time with her as well.
The second was that Randall was pathetically eager for his wife to do something else she'd never done with any other man - have babies. She shuddered at the mere thought of having to live with a distended, disfiguring, ugly belly. It would ruin her career.
On this particular day, Chantal was going to visit a daycare center on Long Island, where other women's babies could be cuddled and kissed. She liked to stress childcare in the state. Everybody needed it. It was good press. And then, of course, shopping on 5th Avenue.
It had, as usual, been announced in the pages of the society section of all the papers.
The Higginbotham boys knew where Chantal would be because they'd read the paper, which they stole every day from one of a number of hotel lobbies. Curly had established a route for this purpose, so that he didn't become too well known in any one hotel. They knew what time she would be at the childcare center and, roughly, where she'd go shopping later.
They'd decided to take her as she left the childcare center, since there would likely be fewer cops around then. There would be photographers, but they were pansies, so who cared. Besides, part of the plan was intended to keep all those heads down and the cameras from getting the kind of pictures that would be a problem.
The crowd of photographers actually helped them, since it gave Curly, who was posing as one, a reason to be close to where she'd walk. Those photographers were currently lounging around, hoping that something would happen. What did happen not only exceeded their expectations ... it exceeded their wildest dreams.
Moe was driving the van. It had been stolen only hours before - chosen because it was plain white. It belonged to a company that was not open on Saturdays and wouldn't miss it until Monday. Twelve cans of Krylon paint, purchased with money taken under the pretense of acquiring it for a teenage tagger - whom Larry had then told he was an undercover cop and pretended to chase for half a block - had made the upper half blue, just in case - including parts of the windshield where Larry hadn't applied the taped on newspapers quite correctly. Magnetic signs had been applied to the sides and back, indicating that it belonged to a fictitious delivery company and giving them an excuse for double parking on the street.
Curly had a camera draped around his neck, but had no idea how to use it. It had been taken from a tourist, who they'd lured into an alley to buy a Rolex watch for fifty dollars. The camera allowed him to loiter near the entrance to the center, blending in with the other photographers.
Larry was standing by a lamp post, reading a paper - apparently engrossed in the sports pages - looking simply like he was waiting to see what all the fuss was about.
The plan was simple, since Moe was a firm believer in the KISS system of planning. Not only was it easier to keep things simple, but he was convinced that his brothers were stupid and incapable of following a complicated plan.
Curly was to give Moe, who was currently double parked a hundred feet down the street, the high sign when he saw the woman coming out. When Curly signaled him, he'd drive forward, get out of the van and open the double side doors, position himself within the open side of the van, and begin shooting repeatedly at nothing in particular. All the paparazzi would hit the dirt, while Curly and Larry manhandled the governor's wife to the street and into the van. Larry had an ether-soaked rag in a plastic bag, to knock her out with, and Curly would grab her legs. Moe would keep shooting, occasionally, to keep heads down and the path to the van clear.
The getaway route had been carefully planned. It didn't matter if the van was involved in a few bumps, since it would be abandoned within five minutes. Getting the unconscious woman to their hideout was the crowning part of the plan. They'd rented a hearse, complete with a coffin, telling the owner it was for a practical joke. You could rent anything in New York City. It was parked in the garage of another business that wasn't open on Saturdays, which they'd broken into that morning. They could make the transfer of the woman to the coffin in the garage where no one would see them. The hearse would get them off the island and they could then work their way out of town, where an abandoned warehouse would become their hideout and Chantal's temporary prison. When the money was electronically deposited into an anonymous off-shore account, her husband would be told where he could find her. He'd find her naked and well fucked, of course, but then who wouldn't expect that?
Kris was already thinking about the book as he negotiated the Saturday morning traffic. He'd dropped off a copy of the half completed manuscript at his publisher's office, but hadn't told them he was leaving town to finish it. He'd locked up his apartment in Brookdale and was working his way toward I-95.
His plan was to go north, taking I-287 to I-684. Continuing north from there would get him to Interstate 84, which would take him east into Connecticut. Highway 37 would take him north to Pembroke, on the shores of Lake Nassequa, where the vacation house was located. He'd never been out of the city in this direction, but he had the route written down and wasn't worried about it. The rental agreement was in the inside pocket of his sports coat and the key to the house was in his right pants pocket. His mail would be forwarded, so he wouldn't miss any bills.
Moe saw Curly give the sign and threw the van into gear. He lurched forward to where he thought the van needed to be and then came to a stop. Throwing open the driver's door, he put his left leg out, pulling the gun out from under his right thigh.
Chantal put on her most sincere smile and pulled her fur coat tightly around her. It was cold. She had on sunglasses, to moderate the flashes from the cameras, and was wearing the six inch stiletto heels she favored because of the way they forced her to walk, just in case there was any video being shot. She stepped confidently from the childcare center, being escorted out by the beaming owner, to face the press.
Lola's phone had been busy since he'd gotten on the road, and Kris was trying to call her for the third time, to let her know he was leaving town. His eyes were on the buttons of the phone when the door of the van he was about to drive past was thrown open and half a body appeared. He didn't even know he'd hit the man until he heard the grinding tear of metal on metal and looked up, astonished, to see the door being pushed forward by the right front fender of his car. He heard a scream and saw, just for a split second, the agonized face of a man between his car and the van. He was completely past the van before he reacted and his foot went to the brake.
Moe knew instantly he was fucked. He felt his left leg break as it was crushed between the front of the car and the van door. He watched the door slam forward and felt his leg being pulled in the same direction. His body spun, being rolled by the side of the car and, for a split second, he stared into the eyes of the driver. He knew instinctively that his leg was crushed, but still tried to stand on it as the car swept past him. He fell to the ground, knowing that the plan was fucked too. The pistol was still gripped in his hand. In a rage, he pointed the gun at the car that had ruined everything, and pulled the trigger repeatedly.
Larry and Curly were on either side of Chantal, in the act of actually reaching toward her, when there was the grinding tear of metal and the squealing sound that is instantly recognizable as an automobile accident. Their quarry, who had noticed Larry pulling a rag from a plastic bag, looked toward the van, just like everyone else did. The car that had obviously hit the van lurched to a stop, three or four car lengths past it.
Gunshots rang out. Larry and Curly were galvanized into action. The side doors of the van weren't open, but they knew what to do while Moe was shooting. Larry's hand reached toward the broad's face.
Chantal knew instantly that something was wrong and that she was part of it. She saw a man's hand coming toward her face and whirled to pull her knee up, connecting solidly with Larry's balls. He gave a strangled “Ooof” and wilted like a cheap suit. Feeling other hands on her right arm, she whirled again, planting her foot in preparation for driving her knee up again.
Curly had seen what she did to Larry, though, and turned his hips sideways to block her knee. That put his left foot out, flat on the ground, and Chantal, seeing that her primary target wasn't available, elected to go to target number two. Her knee rose past where it might have and, with a gasping shout, she drove her heel down.
Her aim was true and the tip of a six inch stiletto heel contacted the top of the cheap deck shoe Curly was wearing. He felt the tip hit the top of his foot and heard the tip hit the pavement ... under his shoe.
He looked down in horror as the woman lurched away, leaving her shoe imbedded in his foot.
“Son of a bitch!” he squealed.
Kris had just twisted around in his seat, to look through his back window, when the window exploded. Glass chips flew everywhere and he felt like somebody had hit him in the head with a baseball bat. The force of the blow turned him back around and he flopped forward, bouncing his forehead off the steering wheel. His brain told him he'd just heard a gunshot and he opened his eyes to see blood spattered all over the dashboard.
Instinct made his foot change from the brake to the accelerator and his tires squealed as the car shot forward. His vision was blurry. He lifted a hand to his head. It came away wet with shiny crimson staining it.
“I've been shot!” he gasped. He heard more shots and peered forward, suddenly aware that the windshield had a hole in it, with a web of tiny cracks spreading away from it.
He drove instinctively ... away from danger ... and his eyes picked out a sign that his brain said meant he should turn. He didn't think - he just took the onramp. He was on I - 95 before his mind began to clear.
He had hit someone. He knew he'd hit someone. He'd heard the scream and seen the twisting body as his car crashed by it. Someone had shot at him - shot him! He'd already left the scene of the crime. He thought about turning around and going back, but he was on the interstate. Even if he did turn around, he wasn't sure now where it had all happened.
He didn't know what to do. He felt as though someone was pressing a red hot poker to his temple. He was bleeding.
He put his hand up to staunch the flow of blood and kept going.
Detective Jim Harper surveyed the scene. The governor's wife was no longer there, of course. She'd gotten in her car and left the uproar behind. There were plenty of witnesses, though. In fact, the place was crawling with them.
He had talked to ten of them already and his partner had probably talked to at least that many more. Paramedics were standing by and another ambulance had been called for. After impaling Curly Higginbotham's left foot with her right shoe, Mrs. Custer had taken off her left one and methodically beaten Larry bloody with it. She had the help of several photographers, while the rest of them either took pictures of the melee or joined in “detaining” Curly, who was also the worse for the wear from being enthusiastically “detained.” Moe wasn't going anywhere. He might actually die if Jim didn't let the ambulance take him away soon. The compound fracture of his left leg had left a pool of blood on the pavement that was about three feet in diameter. His excuse for not releasing Moe was that he didn't have a free escort to send along to guard him.
He looked around and sighed. This was going to take hours to straighten out, and they were hours that had to be spent, since Mrs. Custer was involved. It was plain, based on the ether-soaked rag, and the statements of a dozen witnesses, that the three had been trying to abduct the Governor’s wife. Then there was the accident. Dozens of witnesses also confirmed that a passing car had disrupted the kidnapping attempt. The problem was that nobody had gotten a license plate, and their descriptions of the car would have filled a small sized used car lot. There would be plenty of paint transfer to ID the suspect vehicle, when it was found, but he couldn't send out an APB based on what they had so far. At least he knew the car was silver, since it had left silver paint all over the door of the van.
Moe had been found unconscious by first responders, still lying in the street beside the van, a cheap .45 caliber pistol in his hand. It had been fired a number of times, but they wouldn't know how many bullets they had to search for until the crime scene techs got there and processed the weapon. That model held eight rounds and almost everybody said they'd heard at least five shots, though nobody could say who he'd been shooting at.
Harper had four patrolmen guarding the scene, which covered an area from the middle of the street to the entire front yard of the childcare center.
He sighed. At least they had the perps, but it was going to be a long day.
Kris peered through the windshield. He had the wipers on now, because it was snowing hard. They made a funny sound as they went past the bullet hole in the windshield. The heater was going full blast, but not making much of a dent in the cold rushing through the missing back window. He'd realized a while back that the radio had stopped working for some reason, but he had much bigger problems than that.
He had made it through Mill Valley, and it wasn't far now to Pembroke. His head wound had finally stopped bleeding, but the whole left side of his jacket and shirt had soaked up an alarming amount of blood. His vision still came and went, which was why it had taken him hours to get as far as he had. Three times he'd had to pull over and sit, until he could see to go on. He'd put his cell phone back in his briefcase because the urge to use it to call for help was almost overpowering. He knew he couldn't do that, though. He had to get to his rental first, where he could get cleaned up and rest. Then maybe he could figure out what to do after that.
He was so tired. Another twenty miles and he could get into the house, clean up, and then decide what to do. The road turned suddenly and he felt the front wheels break loose for a second or two on the slippery surface. He had to pay better attention. Only one headlight was working and it reflected mostly blowing snow.
He knew he was in trouble. There couldn't be any way out of that. But at least he could rest a while, before making a call and turning himself in. He'd have time to call his publisher and get a recommendation for an attorney too.
Other than pulling over because his vision was blurred, he hadn't stopped. He'd watched the gas gauge constantly for the first half hour, worrying that a bullet had hit the tank, but there had been no unreasonable drop by the needle.
The wipers were caking up with frozen slush. He thought about stopping and knocking the stuff off, so they'd clear the windshield better. He was afraid that if he got out and moved around, though, that he'd find something else wrong with him. He'd been hunched over the wheel, his hands frozen to it for so long, that he wasn't sure if the pains he was feeling were associated with that ... or with other bullet wounds.
Five more miles, now. Then he could rest and get warm.
Lou Anne Rowan hustled from the babysitter's front door to her car, which was still running. It was a miserable night, but she knew her boss would bitch and moan if she didn't show up for work. It was unlikely there would be much work to do, but he wouldn't care about that.
She felt lucky that she'd met Roslynn. She had to drive four miles out into the country to get Ambrose there, but Roslynn was willing to watch him from eleven-thirty at night until two the next afternoon, while Lou Anne worked the graveyard shift at “The Early Girl Eatery,” a 24 hour diner on highway six, and then got some sleep. Working nights let Lou Anne spend her afternoons and evenings with her five year old, who was the light of her life and made all the horse shit worth putting up with. Besides, when he was at Roslynn's, he had kids his own age to play with during the mornings.
While others met in this story thus far were all unremarkable in appearance, Lou Anne broke the mold. In fact, she'd broken it when she was thirteen and had been ever-so-noticeable ever since. The truth was that she would stand out in any crowd the average man … or woman … might wish to assemble.
Standing five feet nine inches in her bare feet, she had the body of a well developed fifteen year old. Pale skin, with a rosy hue, made her look like she'd just stepped in from the cold. A broken nose from her youth had healed slightly crooked, but no one really noticed that because her lips, while small, were lush in a way that drew attention to them. Her voice might have had something to do with that, because her voice sounded like she might be pushing thirteen.
Lou Anne was no child, however. At twenty-four she had been a lover half a dozen times, a mother once, and a thoroughly remarkable looking woman the entire time.
With the onset of puberty, Lou Anne had decided she wanted to look different from the other girls. She'd accomplished that by the simple expedient of shaving the sides of her head, leaving a wide mohawk, of sorts, except that the hair that was left wasn't stiffened or cut short. Pick a color of the rainbow and she had dyed what was left of her hair that color. She had also made it some colors that are not in the rainbow, like electric pink. Occasionally, she even left it the almost black that she'd been born with. That hair was left to flop down over one side of her face. It was long enough that it went to her jaw, sometimes, but was usually cut short enough to leave both ears clear. Startlingly intense eyes peered through that hair, when it fell across her face.
Doc Martin's, a leather vest, and a certified, genuine Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket made her look like a rebellious and dangerous girl. In reality, though, she was a sweet young woman. She didn't go in for the dark makeup that would have suggested she had goth tendencies. She just enjoyed looking like she'd just as soon kill you as argue. It made getting through high school much less tense. Of course, most high school bullies tend to shy away from what they believe to be Satan-worshiping lesbians, for fear of having a hex put on them. Tattoos had been added, as sort of a garnish, when she was fifteen. She'd actually had her parents' consent for that, which gives you some idea of the freedom she'd enjoyed as she grew up. She disdained piercings, except in the ears and her navel.
Lou Anne had also disdained college, and had taken a job as a waitress in a small town she found herself in one day. That didn't mean she was uneducated. Far from it. She'd always been curious about things, and loved learning just for the sake of learning. She was, in fact, probably better educated than the average college sophomore, though not in any specific educational track. She didn't think college was a bad idea ... she just hadn't gone to one.
Some of that was because, out of the abandonment of joyfully exploring sex, came an unplanned little bundle of trouble, that had turned into a bundle of joy. With a little boy to support, she didn't feel like she'd gotten a raw deal. She'd just needed a job and taken the one that was offered, though her future boss did look askance at her, initially.
She was popular at The Early Girl for a lot of reasons. She was a good waitress, for one thing. Her memory for details was astonishing. She knew her regular customers and what they liked, or might like. Those customers liked her for that, but one of the main reasons they returned again and again, was that the diner, situated on a well traveled highway, also got a lot of one-time customers. It was watching Lou Anne deal with those customers that was sometimes entertaining.
Lou Anne didn't take any crap from anybody, but she wasn't obvious about it. If a trucker pinched her butt, she just smiled in that flirty way she had, and then accidentally spilled hot coffee in his lap. Whole plates of food had ended up on shirt fronts too, or in laps, if the offending customer didn't drink coffee.
Regulars liked to make bets on who she would flirt with, and who she wouldn't ... what she would take, and what she wouldn't ... who she would smile at, and who would receive her wrath. To Hank, the owner, she was a pain in the butt more often than not, but the regulars made sure he knew that wherever she went, they'd go too, so he had to put up with her. Besides, sometimes she even flirted with him ... just a little ... if he was being nice to her.
The first second Kris knew something was wrong was when the world lurched and he was thrown to one side. He had nodded off, and there was no shoulder or ditch to drive on. There was only a drop off, beyond which were thirty feet of precipitous downhill terrain, at the bottom of which was a river.
The car rolled twice, traversing those thirty feet. Not being strapped in, Kris flopped around in the interior, amidst every loose item in the car, which filled the air with projectiles. The driver's side window exploded in a hail of glass chips, which were added to the storm of things hitting his body. Rolling one last time, the car came to rest upside down on the frozen surface of the river.
Barely conscious, Kris tried to gather his wits. His head wound had reopened, and he could feel blood running into his eyes and down his face. A horrible knocking noise came from the engine, which suddenly died. He smelled gasoline, and terror produced a surge of adrenaline. He wiggled through the broken window in a silence that was almost shocking after the noise of the car rolling down the hill. He became aware of creaks and cracking noises as his hands scrabbled on the ice.
His legs had just cleared the window when a crack like a rifle shot filled the silence. The car lurched and Kris scrambled away from it as it began sinking through the ice. Water rushed up onto the ice he was scrambling across and soaked his pants and side. He reached for a branch and pulled himself onto the snow - covered shore.
The only light was from the headlight, which suddenly went out, leaving him in darkness. He knew the car had rolled downward. It was freezing. He was tempted to just sit down and let it all be over, but something drove him to start climbing. The adrenaline helped, for the first twenty feet, and then he had to stop and rest, gasping.
Even though it was too dark to see, he wiped the blood from his left eye. He knew that if he didn't get to level ground soon, he'd give up.
He started dragging his body upward again.
Lou Anne drove carefully. There were four or five inches of snow on the highway - nobody had come out to clear it yet - and it was still snowing hard enough be called a blizzard. She knew the winding road well, but the blowing snow made it hard to get her bearings as to where, exactly, she was. She slowed some more, but tried to keep the car above thirty, just to keep her forward momentum going. There was a rise up ahead somewhere, and she would need that momentum to get up it.
There it was.
She gunned the engine carefully. Thank goodness she had studded tires on the car. She was only going twenty when she hit the top of the slope, but she relaxed then, because she knew the worst was over. She prepared to negotiate the next curve, which she knew was there, even though her headlights made it appear that the road just stopped.
Halfway into that curve, she blinked. There was something in the road. Her foot flashed toward the brake pedal, and she slid fifteen feet. She was right on top of whatever it was. Her brain told her it was a body, but that was impossible. There was no car, and nobody in his right mind would be out walking on a night like this.
She didn't know whether to get out of the car or not. What if it was a setup, to jack her car? The part of Connecticut she lived in was safe. That was part of why she'd decided to live there. But car jackings were on the news every day!
She fumbled under the seat, feeling for the thing Jessica had given her - a telescoping rod, with a knob on the end. Lou Anne had laughed when Jessica, her best friend, had patiently shown her how to use it as a whipping tool of defense. But Jessica had insisted she keep it in the car.
“Someday one of those truckers is going to try to get revenge for getting a lapful of Hank's cooking!” Jessica had said. “Just you watch. And while you probably deserve it, I don't want you getting beaten up by one of them. You keep that in your car, do you understand me?”
Now Lou Anne backed up, until her headlights shone on the lump in the road. It was definitely a body. She clutched the rod and got out, carefully. Her feet slipped on the snow and she had to hold onto the door to stabilize herself.
“Are you okay?” she yelled.
The lump didn't move.
She noticed that snow was beginning to cover the man. He'd been lying there for at least a few minutes.
“I’ve got a gun!” she shouted into the darkness. “I know how to use it!”
The lump didn't move.
She edged forward. She snapped the rod downward and heard the swishing thunk as it extended.
“Hey!” she said, standing three feet from the man on the ground.
For the first time she saw the red-stained snowflakes around the man's head. Her eyes took in the wet look of his sports coat, which was torn in several places. He wasn't even wearing a parka.
“Hey mister,” she tried again.
She edged closer and poked him with the end of the rod.
She looked around. Where had he come from? Had someone thrown him out of a car as it drove along? She couldn't tell if the tracks in the snow around her were fresh or not.
“Shit!” she barked. “You better not be dead!”
She went closer. She'd never seen a dead body and didn't want to now. This was already giving her the willies. She tried to remember what fist aid she knew and reached out to touch the man's cheek.
It was cold, but not the cold of death. There was a hint of warmth in the skin.
The lump groaned, and she fell on her butt trying to skid backwards.
“Shit!” she yelled.
The lump rolled and landed on its back. The hands didn't come up to brush the snow away, and Lou Anne suddenly knew this man was in real trouble.
It galvanized her and she scrambled up, going to the man and getting to her knees to lean over him.
“Hey,” she said, her voice softer. “It's okay. I'll help you, okay?”
The man gurgled, and one hand came feebly up to his face.
“Ow,” he croaked.
She almost laughed. This guy was in terrible shape. She could see him bleeding all over his face, now that it was in the lights. He looked like he'd been beaten half to death. And all he had to say was, “Ow.”
“You have to get up,” she said. “I can't lift you, and you'll freeze to death if you stay on the ground. I have a car. I'll take you to the hospital. You have to get up. Do you hear me?”
She tugged at his sleeve.
Afterwards, when she was asked about it - and she was asked about it a lot over the years - she would not be able to explain how she'd gotten the man into the passenger seat of her car. Even as she put the car in gear, she couldn't believe she had pulled it off.
The rest was crystal clear in her mind, though. His head flopped back on the headrest. He groaned a few times as she got the car moving. She'd left her door open, when she'd gotten out to investigate, and it was cold inside. The heater had already been on full blast, though, and the car began to warm quickly.
That was when he slumped over, his head hitting her right arm.
“Sit up!” she yelped, but he was beyond hearing her now. “You'd better not die in my car, you son of a bitch!” she growled.
It was the longest four miles she'd ever driven, and she'd never been happier in her life to see the lights of the Emergency Room ... not even when she'd been in labor with Ambrose.
She ran into the ER yelling her head off, and people went to remove him from her car. Then came the questions. Who was he? Who had done this to him? Where did she find him? What was his name? What was her name?
“I have to go to work!” she shouted, finally. “I don't know who he is. I found him in the middle of the road and I brought him here. That's all I know!”
They tried to get her to stay, warning her that they were going to call the police.
“Fine! Call them! I work at The Early Girl. That's where I'll be!”
Then she'd run to her car. She'd left her door open again, and they had left the other one open too, after they got him out. It was freezing inside again. As she got in, she saw the stains that, in the daylight, she knew would be red. The crapping guy had bled all over her car.
The only reason she didn't hit twenty cars on her way to work was because no one else was on the roads in town at that time of night.
Mitch Connel put his uniform cap on the visitor's chair and looked down at the man in the bed. His face was bandaged in more places than it was not. It was impossible to tell whether that face matched the one on the driver's license that had come out of the wallet in the pants the guy had been wearing. That driver's license said the man was one Kristoff S. Farmingham, who lived in New York City. The problem was that a rental agreement - wet and bloody, but still legible - along with the key in his pocket, said his name was Larry Phillips, and that he was renting one of Rudy Chastain's vacation cottages. Mitch knew Rudy, of course. He knew everybody in town. There were only five men on the force in Pembroke, which served a population of some twenty-five hundred residents. Rudy worked as a fishing guide during the summer, and had seven or eight vacation cottages scattered around that he rented out.
Doctor Massouf fussed with tubes that were attached to the man.
“And you say Lulu brought him in?” Mitch asked. He hated talking to people who couldn't speak English. Dr. Massouf was Pakistani, and he was a good physician, but he couldn't speak English worth a damn.
“Eet vas hur, yes I am telling you. Se said se fund heem on zom hifay. You must be talking to hur, I tink.”
“When are you going to learn English, Doc?” groaned Mitch.
“Zer is nothing being wrong wit my spich, offitzer,” said the doctor. “You haff itten ferry much too many donuts, and zay haff plooged oop your eeers, I am tinking.”
“So will he live?”
“Yes, I am tinking so,” said the doctor. “He vas loosing much blud ven he came here. He vas shooted, I am tinking.”
“Shooted?” Mitch frowned.
“You know,” said the doctor, making a gun with his thumb and finger. “Bang bang.” The doctor then pointed to a thick bandage on the left side of the man's head. “Zee boolet just touch heem little beet here.”
“What makes you think he was shot?” asked Mitch.
The doctor just stared at him. “I am being from Pah-kees-tahn. I am, when I was there, seeing many, many shootings veecteems.”
“Just there?” asked Mitch, pointing at the head.
“Only der, yes,” said Massouf. “And many glass cuttings too, I am sure.” He reached into a pocket of his lab coat and pulled something out. He offered it to the policeman. It appeared to be a piece of automotive glass, stained with blood. “I take thees froom hees skin.” Again, he pointed at the left side of the man's face. He waved his hand over the rest of the body. “Many contusions and lacerations and so on, but no more shootings.”
Mitch picked up one of the unconscious man's hands, and looked at it. There was mud under the fingernails, which was odd, because the hands were soft. There was the suggestion they had been callused in the past, but the thick skin was being replaced with new skin that did no manual labor.
“How long will he be out?” asked the policeman.
“I am not being in a position dat I can tell you deese answer,” said the doctor, shaking his head. “He is being healing while slipping until hees eyes are ready to be opening, yes?”
A nurse stuck her head in the door.
“You got a phone call, Mitch,” she said.
“Thanks, Jessica,” said Mitch. “Hey, were you here when this guy came in?”
“Yeah, but I wasn't in on the team that cleaned him up.”
“Was it really Lulu who brought him in?”
Dr. Massouf snorted.
“That's what they said,” said Jessica. “Can't mistake her for anybody else.”
“It just seems odd,” said Mitch.
“Why?” asked Jessica. “She's about the oddest person I know.”
“She's your best friend!” laughed Mitch.
“I know that,” said the nurse. “That's why I know how completely believable it could be that she'd happen upon some almost-dead guy and haul him in here. Why don't you just go ask her about it?”
“I will,” said Mitch, a little defensively. “I just have lots to do, that's all.” He moved toward the door. “Doc says he was shot. Is that right?”
“You're asking me?” Jessica's face was impassive. “He's the doctor. If he says the guy was shot, then he was shot. Why are you harassing me? I just came to tell you to come to the phone!”
“I'm not harassing you,” said Mitch. “I'm doing an investigation and questioning witnesses.”
“Well I didn't see nuthin' and I don't know nuthin', so you can just go interview somebody else. And quit looking at my boobs, too!”
Doctor Massouf snorted again.
“I'm not looking at your boobs,” said Mitch, sounding injured.
“You always look at my boobs, Mitch. One of these days I'm gonna tell Carla about it, too!” she said, referring to Mitch's girlfriend.
“Okay, okay,” said Mitch, holding his hands up. “You don't have to get all upset. I'm just a trained observer, that's all. I can't help it if I observe. It's instinct.”
“I know what your instincts are, you heartbreaker,” said the young woman. “Are you going to answer the phone, or should I just tell them you're too busy investigating my boobs?”
While Officer Connel was being notified about the almost-dead man who had been in some kind of trouble, and had responded to the little ninety bed hospital that served Pembroke, Lou Anne - known to most of the town as Lulu, a name she wasn't enthralled with, but was stuck with anyway, raised another uproar when she got to work.
“What in the nine hells happened to you?” asked Hank, when she stomped in through the front door of the diner.
“I almost ran over somebody,” she moaned. “He was lying in the road, half dead. I just dropped him off at the hospital.”
“It looks like you just gutted a deer,” said Hank.
Lou Anne looked down at her coat, which was smeared red with blood. There were twigs, and mud and water mixed in with it. It looked like she'd been rolling around on the ground.
“You can't come to work looking like that,” objected Hank. There were three customers in The Early Girl and all of them were looking at Lou Anne with interest.
“Are you telling me you want me to take the night off?” asked Lou Anne, a dangerous tone in her voice. “I couldn't just leave him there to die.”
She took her coat off. Her uniform, under the coat was fine. Her knees were white from the cold, and wet from the snow, but a towel would fix that.
“See? I'm okay. It's just the coat that got dirty.”
She looked dismally at the coat, holding it up to examine it. She was pretty sure it was ruined. It was a good one too, with down filling.
“Damn!” she moaned.
“Look on the bright side,” said Hank, grinning. “ Maybe you finally found yourself a man.”
About an hour later, Mitch walked into the diner. He stopped to brush off the snow that had almost covered him on the way from the car to the building.
“Coming down hard,” he said.
“I didn't do anything wrong,” said Lou Anne, automatically.
“I never said you did,” said Mitch. “You got any coffee that's hot and won't spill?”
“Ha - ha,” said Lou Anne. “I just found him lying in the middle of the road, over on Hopkins Lane. That's all I know.”
“Who said I was here to talk about him?” asked Mitch. “Maybe I'm just hungry.”
“You want something to eat?” yelled Hank.
“No, I've got too much to do. Lou Anne has managed to find herself a real puzzle.”
“He's not mine!” said Lou Anne. “What was I supposed to do, just leave him there?”
“No, of course not,” said Mitch. “You did the right thing. You probably saved his life. I just need to ask you some questions, that's all.”
“She's on the clock,” grumped Hank.
Mitch looked around. There was one customer, a trucker, and he was dozing in a booth. Mitch didn't blame him. It wasn't a fit night out for man nor dog.
“Official business,” he said, trying to make it sound ominous.
“At least order something,” complained Hank.
“Okay, French fries with creamed gravy,” said Mitch. “You want something, too, Lulu?”
“I don't eat lunch until four,” said Lou Anne.
“Your call,” said Mitch. “This won't take long.”
He knew she wouldn't have much information, but he needed to try to nail down exactly where she had found the man. The glass indicated there had been a car crash of some kind. The alleged bullet wound complicated things, but if he could find the car, he could probably find more evidence, and it might tell him enough to know what he was dealing with. Things like this just didn't happen in Pembroke. It was a nice, quiet little town, and he liked it that way.
She wasn't a lot of help. She knew she'd gone up the hill, and she knew it was just past a bend in the road. The problem was that there were a dozen bends in that road, where it paralleled the river. He asked her about tracks, even though, at the rate the snow had been falling, they wouldn't be there anymore. He was quite sure he wouldn't be able to find the car by tracks. The best she could do was to say she was pretty sure that it had been at the first curve after topping the hill.
It was two in the morning, and there was a blizzard out there. There wasn't much he could do anyway, so he sat and chatted when he ran out of questions. Hank brought the French fries, and sat down with them.
“I saw your dark-skinned friend,” said Mitch, around a mouthful of fries. “She's on the warpath again.”
“What about this time?” asked Lou Anne.
“She says I keep looking at her chest,” said Mitch.
“Well, you do,” said Lou Anne. “You look at mine all the time, too.”
Mitch's eyes went straight to her breasts. It was the first time he'd looked at them since he got there.
“See!” said Lou Anne.
“You just called my attention to them,” said Mitch. “I'm a man, after all.” He grinned. “And both of you have a nice set.”
“You're a pig,” snorted Lou Anne. “I'm going to tell Carla.”
“That's what Jess said too,” said Mitch, unconcerned. He'd been in an on again/off again romance with Carla for five years. She wanted to get married and have a family, but Mitch didn't think he could support a family on his salary, and it was his firm belief that his wife, if he ever had one, would not work.
“We should,” groused Lou Anne. “You flirt with us all the time.”
“You flirt back,” pointed out the policeman.
“Only sometimes,” said Lou Anne, as if that settled things.
“When are you going to make some man happy?” asked Mitch.
“When I find a man who deserves to be happy,” she snapped. “I have to find somebody for Jess first.”
“Good luck,” said Mitch. “She's the only black woman in fifty miles, more than likely.”
“She's a sweet, sensitive woman!” insisted Lou Anne. “She can't help it if she's black. It shouldn't matter anyway!”
“Just like your haircut shouldn't matter,” said Mitch, looking at the bare side of her scalp that was exposed.
“Don't go there,” said Hank. “You'll get her all riled up.”
“Are we done here?” asked Lou Anne, her voice tight. “I have salt shakers to fill.”
“Don't go away mad,” said Mitch, grinning. “I like your hair just fine.”
The change that came over Lou Anne was startling. She smiled, a lazy, friendly kind of smile - the kind of smile that made a man's groin tighten up. This would have been the point in time that small wagers would have been made, had there been any regulars there.
“Aren't you just the sweetest man,” she cooed. “I'll be sure to tell Carla you like my hair.” She got up. “You want some coffee with that?”
“No ma’am!” said Mitch. “I need to get going. That fella was in a car before you found him, and I need to find it.” He turned to Hank. “Thanks for the fries. Put them on my tab?”
“Two-forty-seven,” said Hank dryly. “Tax included.”
Mitch got out his wallet and fished out three ones.
“Keep the change,” he said. “As a tip for Lulu.”
“I'll be sure to tell Carla what a big tipper you are, too,” said Lou Anne sweetly. “Y'all come back real soon, now, you hear?”
It was three in the morning and Detective Sergeant Jim Harper needed to take a leak again. All that coffee he'd been drinking - along with being in his late forties - was taking its toll, but it had to be done to stay awake. Reports would be expected to be ready for distribution in the morning. The fucking mayor was sticking his nose into it, as if the entire law enforcement hierarchy wasn't bad enough. Lonny Hildebrand, the Captain of Detectives, had already pissed himself earlier in the evening when Harper had had the balls to call up the governor's mansion and ask Mrs. Custer to come in for an interview.
“We don't call the fucking governor's wife in for an interview!” Hildebrand had choked. “You get your ass over to Albany and talk to her! And you'd better fucking salute the fucking flag pole in front of the fucking mansion when you get there!”
“Gosh,” said Harper, trying to look mournful. “I'd be happy to do that, Captain, except that she said she'd be happy to come see us. She'll be here at ten, tomorrow morning.”
“You actually fucking talked to Mrs. Custer her fucking self?” Hildebrand looked like he was going to have a stroke. He deflated, slumping into a nearby chair. “Ohhhhh,” he moaned. “Fuck me to tears ... I'm getting too old for this shit.”
Harper decided not to point out that the captain was ten years younger than he was, and had gotten the appointment to his position only because his father had friends on the force. If the idiot quit, there would be a kegger thrown by the detectives who'd suffered under him.
“Take it easy,” said Jim in a soothing voice. “I've been doing this a while. I know how not to ruffle her feathers. It will be fine. Why don't you go on home and relax? I'll have the report on your desk when you get here in the morning, with copies for the chief and the mayor. I'll give you two extra copies for whoever else decides this is their business too. We've got the perps. The rest of this is just a formality.”
Captain Hildebrand looked hopeful.
“Okay,” he said. “But please don't screw this up, Jimmy. You got anything on the good Samaritan yet?”
“Just some paint scrapings,” sighed Harper. “The lab should be able to give us a make and model tomorrow sometime. Then we can start looking for it. As best we can tell, that's who Moe was shooting at, and if there are bullet holes in it, it should be a piece of cake to find. We already have a bulletin out to the body shops.”
Mitch Connel stood on the edge of the road, peering down the incline, where his flashlight simply reflected light off of falling snowflakes, rather than illuminating the terrain. Just enough light got past the falling snow that he could see bent and torn underbrush. This had to be the place, but he couldn't see far enough to spot the car.
He'd have to come back in the morning.
If the roads were passable.
He got back in the department's 4WD and slipped and slid back to town. The office was warm, and the snow in his hair started melting immediately. He sat down at the desk and flipped open the manila folder that had only a single piece of paper in it. All he had were two names and the possibility of a bullet wound.
On impulse he pulled open a desk drawer and pulled out a black hardback law enforcement directory for the state of New York. He'd already found the address on the driver's license on Google maps. Now he had to figure out which precinct might cover that part of Long Island. Half an hour later, feeling helpless, he dialed a number.
“Nine one one, what is your emergency, please?” came a bored voice.
“I didn't dial 911, said Mitch, I called the Nassau County PD.”
“What is your emergency, please?” asked the voice.
“I don't have an emergency. I need to talk to missing persons.”
“Reporting a missing person is not an emergency, sir,” said the voice. “Please clear the line and call the administrative number in the morning.”
There was a click in Mitch's ear.
Mitch checked the book and then looked at the number on the display of the phone for “Last Dialed”. They were the same. There weren't any nines or ones in the number at all. He dialed it again.
“Nine one one, what is your emergency, please?” came a different voice.
“This is the Pembroke, Connecticut Police Department,” said Mitch, as officially as he could. “I dialed the number for the detective division that's in the L.E.O. directory and got you instead. Transfer me to the detective division, please.”
“This is nine one one,” said the woman.
“Look,” said Mitch patiently. “I've got a Long Island resident in the hospital, whose been shot and might die. I need to talk to a detective down there, okay? Is attempted murder enough of an emergency for you?”
“I can't dispatch anybody to Connecticut,” said the woman, sounding upset.
“I don't want you to dispatch anybody to Connecticut,” said Mitch, his voice rising. “I just want to talk to a detective, okay?!”
“You don't have to yell, sir,” came the woman's voice. “I don't have to take that. I'm in the union. You should call the administrative number. This is nine one one.”
“I did call the administrative number!” yelled Mitch. “I dialed 516-555-7000 and I got you idiots twice!”
“Hold please,” said the woman.
He stewed for five minutes, until a man came on the phone.
“Detective ... ?” said the man.
“Officer Mitch Connel,” said Mitch, his voice tight. “Pembroke, Connecticut Police Department, badge number twenty-six.”
“It seems as though someone threw the wrong switch,” said the man. “The admin number was routed to the emergency operations center, instead of the answering service. The number you dialed is the right number, but there's nobody there in the middle of the night.”
“Surely you guys have a detective on duty, or on call or something!” said Mitch.
“I'll transfer you. Please don't yell at my people again, Detective Connel. They work hard, under harrowing conditions, and don't deserve verbal abuse, particularly from someone in law enforcement.”
“I'll try to remember that,” said Mitch. “Could you connect me, please?”
“Sure,” said the man, his voice bright. “No problem.”
It didn't get any better.
“Detective division,” said a gruff voice.
“Yeah,” sighed Mitch. “This is Mitch Connel, up in Pembroke, Connecticut. I've got a mystery up here who came from your neck of the woods. A passerby found him in the middle of the road, unconscious. He may have been shot and his driver's license says he lives at an address on Chester Street. I need to know if you have any missing persons reports on the guy ... wants and warrants ... that kind of stuff.”
“We don't do missing persons,” said the voice on the phone. “We have a separate division that does that.”
“Oh,” said Mitch. “Can you transfer me to them?”
“They don't work nights,” said the man. “You can call them back in the morning.”
“Oh,” said Mitch again. “Well, okay, I guess, can you give me that number?”
There was silence on the line. Then a dial tone confirmed that the man had hung up on him.
Jessica Dauphine looked at her patient. He was in bad shape. She lifted the gown, in preparation for giving him a sponge bath. His care in the ER had involved cleaning him up only in those areas where they needed to put in stitches or treat a wound in some other way. Now that he was in her care, she had determined to finish the job.
She wasn't shocked at what she saw when she could see his body. She'd seen it all before. There were contusions everywhere, making him look like some odd creature with a unique style of camouflage, though where the mixture of blue, black, purple and tanned skin would blend in was a mystery.
She was glad he was unconscious as she started swabbing his skin with the sponge. He'd be wincing and complaining if he were awake. His battered body would have been crying out at her touch. This was better, because she could use broad firm strokes and clean him well, without worrying about causing him discomfort.
He was in very good shape for a man his age. He looked much closer to someone in his late twenties, than the forty-seven that his driver's license said he was. She knew Mitch was curious as to whether the driver's license went with the man, and she wondered too if he was really Kristoff Farmingham, or some other man who had Kristoff's identification for some reason. She liked a mystery, and her mind wandered as she cleaned his skin.
Was he some underworld denizen, who had been left to die for some transgression against his organization? Maybe he was an undercover cop, who had been found out and “killed” in a way that would make it look like an accident. Her mind was filled with images from books she had read. Indiana Jones came to mind for some reason. She smiled as she thought of this man with a fedora and a coiled whip at his waist.
Her reverie was broken when she got to his groin. She'd been told, in nursing school, that she'd get used to seeing intimate parts of her patients … that it would become routine and boring. That had never happened. Each man she got to see like this was unique in some way or another. Her own vivid imagination made each foray into exploring another human being's body something new and exciting. Even the old men she looked at conjured up visions of what they might have been like when they were younger ... stronger ... more virile.
She looked at Kristoff's penis, lying limply on his testicles. It was neither huge, nor tiny. Based on her limited experience with men, he looked quite normal. The skin on his penis was darker than the rest of him - a dusky brown, with purple undertones, and an overcast of gray that she knew was the result of his loss of blood. As his body made new blood, that gray would fade and the purple would probably become more prominent.
She retracted his foreskin, telling herself that there might be smegma under it - a fertile breeding ground for bacteria that would cause itching and eventually pain if it were left to fester. His glans was clean, though. She looked over her shoulder, to make sure no one was watching her take a little too long to clean his genitals. She was always curious about a man's equipment. She didn't have all that much experience with penises. That wasn't from lack of trying. She was just the wrong woman in the wrong place right now.
Jessica had accepted the first offer she'd gotten from the placement office of the school's nursing program, worried that she might not be able to find a job at all. She now knew that was silly. Nurses were in short supply, and a good nurse could get a job almost anywhere she wanted to. But the first year had flown by, and she'd made a few friends, and it was hard to think about leaving, even if it might get her someplace where she could find a man.
The problem was that the residents of Pembroke ... Nassequa county, for that matter ... were typically white, and had been for generations, while Jessica Dauphine was not.
She wasn't the blue-black of Nigerian ancestry. Rather, her bloodline appeared to have come from a mixture of races. Her fertile imagination had supplied that scenario as well. She imagined a slave-holder, who looked a little like Rhett Butler, on some plantation, looking over a new shipment of slaves one day. His eye would have fallen on her great great grandmother, who was, no doubt, a tall, thin, well muscled woman from the Massai, used to walking or running long distances. She would have had the high, conical breasts that Jessica had, with thick, black nipples that reflected light, making them look shiny.
Her maternal ancestor would have been much darker than Jessica's cocoa colored skin and, while Jessica had a mixture of Negroid and Caucasian facial features, her great great grandmother would have had a flatter nose and thicker lips. Still, at over six feet in height, she would have stood out from the others. Even after being captured and stuffed in the hold of a slave ship, she would have been proud ... obstinate.
Her owner would have been smitten by her, unable to resist taking her to his bed. She would have been a virgin, of course, more woman than any tribal man could have tamed. Only her status as a slave would have let the despicable ... but handsome ... white man claim her body. Their coupling would have been violent as she resisted, initially, until his softer side would convince her that he had fallen in love with her. She would have borne him several children, who would have been his favorites.
Jessica jerked. She'd been daydreaming again. She knew it was a stupid dream. It hadn't been like that at all. But somewhere along the line, some white man had taken a black woman and gotten her with child. Jessica's features proved that.
She realized that she was holding something completely different in her hand than she had been a few moments ago. She stared at the erection she had created, unconsciously on both of their parts, and let go of it, jerking her hand back and looking around guiltily. When she saw no one was watching, she darted a glance at his face. The one eye that wasn't covered by bandages was still closed, so she relaxed.
She finished her job, moving down the man's legs. Her eyes went back several times to that now impressive manhood. It was wilting, for lack of attention. She sighed.
At six feet, one and three quarters inches, she was taller than most in town. She was in excellent condition, because she ran and did calisthenics religiously. Her firm, proud breasts rode high on her chest and were separated by a hand span of space that made it all but impossible for her to display cleavage, even when she tried to. She had the same thick purple-black nipples as her imagined ancestor and the rich brown skin tones that proclaimed her to be “black.” Her Caucasoid ancestry had given her straight hair, though, both on her head and her mons, where the hair lay flat and smooth, short enough, naturally, that it did nothing to hide the thick lips that were her labia majora, which hid smaller lips inside that were the same color as her nipples.
Many people in town looked at her and thought of Tyra Banks, though their features were completely different to an educated observer.
She was a beautiful woman, by anyone's standards. But her skin was a little too dark. It wasn't overt discrimination, really. There weren't any diehard racists in town. She had been welcomed and still felt welcome. But she was just different enough that men shied away from her, drifting toward the more familiar.
At least in terms of serious relationships, anyway. Men flirted with her, and their eyes consumed her like ice cream on a summer day, trying to lick it all up before it melted. She flirted back, sometimes, but it didn't lead to anything serious.
She knew why no man in town pursued her seriously, but there was nothing she could do about it. At twenty-five, though, she was in no particular hurry. Her biological clock wasn't screaming at her. Still, in a fit of pique, one day, she had purchased a sex toy to help her try to manage the normal urges she faced. Her pique had driven her to choose a thick, coal black dildo, obviously supposed to be an exaggerated representation of a black man's penis. If the white men in town wouldn't pursue the prize, then they would lose out, both literally and figuratively.
She'd only shown it to one other person. Lulu, her best friend, had goggled at the huge thing, when she'd looked at it, and then laughed out loud.
“You'll kill yourself with that thing!” Lulu had laughed.
“I like it just fine!” said a slightly miffed Jessica. She'd had a fantasy that Lulu would fall in love with the long, amazingly realistic looking thing, and ask to borrow it.
“Well, don't use it too much,” said Lulu, seriously. “Because if you do, and you ever do meet a man, he won't be able to compete in any way ... shape ... or form!” She'd ended laughing hysterically, waving the twelve inch long rubber penis around like it was a floppy sword of some kind.
Jessica's patient groaned suddenly and she jumped again. She'd been daydreaming again! She moved to the man's head, watching his closed eye carefully. If he was awakening, she'd need to call the doctor in as soon as possible.
Hurriedly she took time to pull the hospital gown over the man's nakedness and the blanket up over him.
Jessica stood back while the resident on duty looked the man over. His eye had opened, looking glazed, but had then closed again and stayed closed. He didn’t seem to be trying to speak. The resident fussed with tubes and looked at the readouts of the monitors. Obviously he didn't have anything in mind to actually do, and was just going through motions. Jessica was constantly amazed at how much art was involved in medicine, which most people thought of as a science. Doctors had only touched the surface, as far as really understanding what went on in a human body. More than half the time, they had no idea what was actually wrong with someone, especially in circumstances like this.
“Keep an eye on him,” said the young man. “Call me if he wakes up again.” He left without another word, probably going back to the room with the cot in it, where the residents who had the night shift spent as much time as possible, trying to sleep.
“Sure thing,” said Jessica, trying to suppress the impatience in her voice. What did he think she was going to do ... take a nap - like him?
She stepped closer to the bed.
“Hi,” she said, leaning over him so his eye could see her without him having to move his head. “How are you feeling?”
It was a silly question. She knew that. But it was a way to get the patient talking. He mumbled something and licked his lips.
She checked the chart. Nothing about restricting liquids. She told him she'd be right back and went to get a cup. She put mostly ice in it, and just a little water, and got a straw that would bend at the top. Taking it back, she tilted the cup carefully and put the straw between his lips. His tongue pushed it out and, as if it were a tool of exploration, moved the end of the straw to one side and then back again. His head lifted fractionally and she put the straw back between his lips.
He gave a tiny suck, and dropped his head back to the pillow. She could see him swishing the water around in his mouth before swallowing. His lips opened again and she gave him the straw once more. Three tiny sips later, he spoke.
“We were hoping you could tell us that,” she said softly. “You were in some kind of accident. You're in the hospital now.”
His eye moved around her upper body, and she imagined him thinking, “Well duh ... you're a nurse!” She felt her face get hot.
“You lost a lot of blood,” she said, for lack of anything else to say. “You're kind of banged up.” She didn't mention the suspected gunshot wound on his temple. She couldn't have said why she didn't mention it, but she left that part out intentionally.
“What's your name?” she asked.
He thought about that for a while.
When he'd first awakened, he knew he was waking up, and he knew he was someplace “different than usual.” He could tell that something had happened to him, because he could feel pain in various parts of his body. He'd centered on that, initially. Now he went beyond his body.
What was his name?
He realized that his mind was curiously empty. It was a little like knowing you'd gone shopping recently, but opening the pantry door and finding empty shelves. Where was all the stuff that was supposed to be on them?
He felt mildly frustrated. She had asked such an easy question, and he couldn't answer it. He looked at her. She looked odd ... flat somehow, two dimensional instead of three dimensional. He realized only one of his eyes was working. He brought his hand up and felt a lump with a cloth feel to it covering the eye he couldn't see out of. Bandages. He was in a hospital and he was bandaged up.
“Can you hear me?” asked the nurse.
“I don't know,” he said.
“You don't know if you can hear me?”
“I don't know my name.”
“You wait right there,” she said. “I'll go get the doctor.”
He smiled in his mind, but not with his lips. Where did she think he was going to go? She sounded cute and he wished he could see her better. He did an inventory of his body, sliding his hands around and moving his legs and toes. Everything seemed to work okay. There was a generalized ache all over his body, and a few sharper pains where his fingers probed. His face hurt, under the bandages, but the covered eye felt all right. He wondered why they'd covered it, if it was okay. He wondered what had happened to him. His curiously empty mind was fascinating, and he began to look around the bare shelves, to see what memories were still there.
Visions of a computer screen, with words appearing on it - letter by letter - were clear in his mind. He couldn't see the fingers on the keyboard, but he knew they were his. He couldn't see the words clearly enough to see what they said, but he knew they were words. His mind continued to watch the blurred words appear. Then there was a carriage return and larger letters formed: Chapter Two.
“I'm a writer,” he said softly.
There was the rustle of clothing, as a man came into the room, followed by the nurse.
“How are you feeling?” asked the man. He was dressed in a white coat over baggy shirt and pants that were blue. Scrubs. This was the doctor.