|Primary Characters:||Sam, Mitch|
|Spoilers:||just watch the movie, ok?|
|Warning:||violence, adult themes|
|Description:||Sam helps Mitch with his work. One day Mitch goes missing. Hal doesn’t react well to her concern over Mitch. She takes off anyway and finds that once again Charly needs to be resurrected. This time it’s clear that the housewife is definitely dead. It’s time for a change in her life.|
Sam Caine was sitting with Mitch in his car, outside an upscale building. The kind with doormen in fancy uniforms outside. They were on a stakeout. Mitch had made her promise she’d stay in the car, even if something happened. He was still worried about her being recognized, though she felt the risk was slight. It was actually kind of sweet the way he instinctively worried about her. In return, she worried a lot about him. About his drinking, his neighborhood and the work he did.
It would have been easy to bulldoze him into letting her come along all the time, but she felt ashamed to do it. Besides, this case, if they’d got it right, should be straightforward enough. A man who was cheating on his wife. Oldest story in the world. Your average, typical P I job. Even so, there was something about the whole thing that Sam didn’t like.
The guy didn’t seem to be the type to sneak around like that. Of course, you never could tell. What really bugged her was the fact that so far they hadn’t found any indication there was another woman involved. Not that it was another guy. It just seemed to be – odd – that was all.
Mitch didn’t seem to feel there was any cause for concern, but Sam just didn’t know. Maybe her old life had given her a sort of sixth sense – or she might just have the Sight. Not that she believed in any of that nonsense.
Now the guy showed up, hardly looking like someone who’d just been to see his girlfriend on the side. He just looked – businesslike – maybe just a bit furtive too.
“Ok, let’s go.”
“Mitch – did you check up on who owns that apartment?”
“Yeah. Some guy called Wrigley.”
“He’s got a wife. Just the sort of woman any guy would like to have an affair with.”
As he was talking, Sam smoothly changed gears and began to follow the guy’s car, at a discreet distance.
When she was safely away from the curb, she glanced sideways at Mitch.
“Is that so?”
Mitch caught himself and hastily tried to cover what he thought might have been a gaffe.
“Guys like him anyway.”
Sam grinned wickedly and let the matter go.
“Looks like our guy’s just heading back home – or – no, wait. He’s turning off, over there, at the streetlights.”
“Ok, I’m on it. No problem.”
They followed him for a couple of more blocks and found that their suspect was heading back to his office. It still wasn’t all that late, but late enough for someone returning to work, after having left around seven. Now it was about ten to nine.
“This isn’t doing any good. He went there. All we got was confirmation that he visits that place. No incriminating photos. I don’t think we’re going to get much further. You’d better prepare yourself to let that wife of his down.”
“Could be. You’re right. No use sitting around here. He’s not going to return to her place now. I mean that other woman. We might as well call it a night.”
“I don’t like this. Tomorrow I’m going to have to get back to see Hal’s family. We should have been done with this case. Couldn’t you tell the wife the deal’s off? Pay her back some of her money, but just leave it.”
“I don’t like it. It’s just a feeling I have. Besides, we’re not getting anywhere. At all.”
“Yeah, well. Don’t worry about it. You go and visit his folks and I’ll tie up the loose ends here. Then I’ll see you next week or the week after.”
“I know. It’s just that – oh, nothing.”
Sam focused on getting them back to Mitch’s place. She parked the car, wondering for how long it would remain in one piece. The hubcaps, at least, would be gone if Mitch didn’t bring them inside. But he never seemed to worry about that kind of thing and it was his car.
When they got outside, three teenage boys began to amble up to them, as if for no reason at all, but Sam had caught their exchanged glances. They were up to something. The car – or something else. She absently fingered the gun Mitch had reluctantly let her carry. If those three punks decided to try anything –
It seemed Mitch could read her mind. He called out a greeting to the boys and they broke their stride, as if they’d lost the original incentive to come closer.
“Hey, boys. How’s it hanging?”
“Yo, man. Wassup?”
“Hey, lady, What you doing with that ol’ loser? How ’bout hanging with us?”
“How about you guys turning right around and walking out of here? Huh?”
“Hey, baby, why so hostile? Your ol’ man there not keeping ya satisfied?”
Mitch moved in between Sam and the boys, desperately seeking a way to defuse the situation before it blew up in their faces.
“Guys. You leave my associate alone.”
“Associate? So that’s what ya call it?”
“How ’bout associatin’ with us for a change?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed the gun a little harder. If she pulled that on them they’d scatter, but maybe they’d be back later. When she wasn’t around. Or she could probably take at least two of them out with her hands or kick them. Mitch could deal with the remaining one. But they would be sure to carry at least knives and considering the neighborhood, most likely guns too.
Mitch was eyeing her nervously and looked as if he was about to try something stupid and get himself hurt. For her sake. How sweet. How incredibly stupid.
She tried to relax and smiled at the three punks, but the smile held a lot of steel. The question was, would those three catch it?
“Oh, you know, I’m not complaining. My man here keeps me so happy, I’m not really looking for any school boys to take his place. But hey, once you’re grown up, give me a shout and I’ll consider it. Now, you kids will have to excuse us, my man and I have business to take care of. Personal business.”
To her relief, the boys slowed down and she put a hand in Mitch’s lower back and pushed him ahead of her towards the stairs. He took her hint and began to walk up them as fast as he could without seeming to run. She followed him at a slower pace, but without hesitation. If she showed any weakness, those three might take it as an excuse to come after them. She really didn’t like Mitch having to live in a place like this.
In the flickering light from the one lamp, swinging from Mitch’s ceiling, she could see tiny beads of perspiration on Mitch’s forehead.
“Relax. It’s ok. No big deal. Or do you know something about those punks that I don’t?”
“No. I was just – “
“Worried I’d start a minor war.”
“Something like that.”
“Take it easy. Didn’t I handle it with all possible tact and finesse?”
Mitch made an effort to pull himself together. He even grinned at her choice of words.
“Finesse? Yeah. I guess that was a compliment too. So I keep you happy?”
“Do you even need to ask?”
She pulled him closer and kissed him like she liked to kiss her men. After a while, he began to relax a little.
In the morning, she was ready to leave, but she still hesitated. She had a bad feeling about – something.
“I don’t like to leave you here. Those three -“
“Don’t worry about that. They won’t bother me now. It was just – seeing you and -“
Mitch smiled, but there was no humor in it.
“Something like that.”
“Alpha male strutting?”
“You could say that. Off you go now. Do the domestic thing. Say hi to the kitty for me. And the dog too.”
“Ok. Just take care of yourself.”
“I always do.”
She kissed him again, then reluctantly walked outside, followed by Mitch. He’d drop her off at the bus station.
Sam arrived home to an excited little girl, not so much looking forward to the trip to see Hal’s family, but just to see her mother again. Hal’s family were strict. Anal, as Sam liked to put it inside her mind. To Hal she tried to keep up a cheerful front, but she knew his family didn’t like her. Or rather had stopped liking her after – Charly’s return.
She helped Caitlin pack, and looked over Hal’s bags too, but didn’t need to interfere. His neatly folded clothes were all lying without a single crease anywhere.
All day, she kept having odd premonitions that something wasn’t right. About the case or about those three teenagers. She really didn’t want Mitch to be there on his own, forgetting that he’d lived in the neighborhood for as long as she’d known him. Almost ten years. All that time, she must have hidden an attraction for him that only came to the surface when Charly showed up again, uninvited.
While Hal was at work, she kept calling Mitch’s place, but got no reply. That only added to her concerns. He could be out working. Maybe he was asleep. For all she knew, he might be drunk. Somehow, though, she didn’t think any of those explanations were right. Something was wrong.
In the evening, she told Hal she was concerned about her partner in the P I business. She knew Hal didn’t like that, and since her return, as Sam, not Samantha, he also hadn’t liked Mitch either. In fact, it dawned on Sam that Hal had probably never liked Mitch at all. Maybe it wasn’t surprising. A P I didn’t really fit into Hal’s well-ordered life. And a guy like Mitch – it was just strange that she hadn’t seen it before.
She kept trying, until so late, Hal had already gone to sleep, but Mitch never picked up. By morning, she had come to the decision that she couldn’t leave without making sure Mitch was ok. Hal would just have to accept that. She stood in the doorway, facing the kitchen, where Hal was having a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, while Caitlin finished a bowl of cereals.
“Hal. Can I talk to you for a moment?”
He looked up, an irritated look on his face.
“Yes. Anything wrong? You finish that, honey, and go and get your things, ok?”
They went into the bedroom and closed the door behind them. Hal studied her suspiciously.
“What’s the problem?”
“It’s Mitch. He’s not picking up. I’ve been calling all day yesterday and into the night. Something’s wrong. I can feel it.”
“Why? What makes you so sure something’s wrong? In his line of business, he’d have to keep irregular hours. He’ll be out on a stakeout or something. Didn’t you tell me he does a lot of that?”
Yes. She’d told Hal that and that she usually stayed behind to deal with the paperwork and to answer the phone. He didn’t approve of her job, but at least he’d never openly criticized her for it.
“He wouldn’t be out for this long unless something’s wrong. I’m sorry. I need to go back to the city and make sure he’s ok. You go on. Take Caitlin and go ahead. I’ll catch up, as soon as I know he’s ok.”
“Is this really necessary?”
“Yes. I’m -“
“No, you’re not. You’re not sorry at all. That guy – he’s been working as a P I since long before you met him. He can look after himself. Are you sure it’s not – something else?”
“I don’t know. It’s hard for me to even imagine, but – are you and he -“
“Are you asking me if I’m having an affair?”
Sam was so taken aback at the sudden accusation, she instinctively lashed out. With words, fortunately, nothing more violent.
Hal hesitated. He didn’t seem to be prepared to go quite that far. Or – this thought bothered Sam even now – he might be scared to provoke her. Surely he didn’t think she might hurt him?
“All I’m asking is – what are your feelings for him?”
“WIthout him, Caitlin and I wouldn’t even be here, so naturally I care about him a great deal.”
“Is that all?”
“I haven’t said anything before, because – I know you’ve been through a lot and – I was hoping -“
“That you’d return to normal. Be like you used to be, when we first met.”
“I see. So, in other words, you don’t really like me, the way I am now?”
“I didn’t say that. It’s just that – I’m sorry, Samantha, this isn’t working out. I was hoping – but things aren’t getting any better and – if you go and see that guy now, when my parents are waiting – it’s over. I can’t deal with this anymore. You’re – some kind of killer. Suddenly, you go off to the slums and go to work for some seedy P I. I can’t deal with this. You have to make a choice. Him or me. That kind of lifestyle or – being a wife to me and a mother to Caitlin.”
Sam couldn’t believe it would have to come to this. After the years she’d spent living with Hal, loving him, trusting him, was he suddenly just going to turn his back on her? He couldn’t be serious. This was – unacceptable. He was making her choose between him and Mitch. Fine. If that was the way he wanted it.
“Maybe you’re right. I have been working hard on adapting to life out here, but – since my memory returned – No. It’s not working out. Don’t make this into something about Mitch and me. Isn’t it enough that – we – you and I – have lost that – what we had before? Leave Mitch out of things.”
“Fine. It doesn’t really matter now, does it? You clearly care more about him than about me and my family. Right. I’ll take Caitlin to see my parents anyway. They’ve been looking forward to seeing her. When I get back, I’ll drop her off and move out. You do what you have to do. Stay as long as you need. But do you really think that guy Mitch can support you and Caitlin? He didn’t do a very good job with his wife and kid.”
“That’s a cheap shot. I can take care of myself and Caitlin. Just leave Mitch out of things.”
“Whatever you say. Take the car. Use it for as long as you need it. Go on. You know where everything is. I’ll – will you tell Caitlin or shall i?”
Half an hour later, Sam watched Hal and Caitlin go off in his BMW. She got into the Volvo and drove back to the city.
As she parked the car outside Mitch’s place, she scanned the neighborhood for any anomalies. Anything that might strike her as being out of the ordinary. Any threats. The three punks were nowhere to be seen. Maybe they were dealing drugs somewhere else – or – but she was getting ahead of herself. First things first.
She walked up the stairs to Mitch’s place, then unlocked the door, using the key he’d given her. The place smelled stale, but then it often did when she returned after being away for a while. Mitch didn’t believe in opening the windows. Considering where he lived, that was probably wise.
She didn’t call his name. Silently, squeezing the key as if for reassurance, she advanced, one step at a time. No sounds were coming from the room inside, or the kitchen. She dropped the key into her pocket and pulled out the gun, straining her ears to catch any sound, but she could hear nothing.
Using her foot, she pushed the door open and looked inside. The lights were on, despite the time of day, but they usually were. It was always dim in there. The room wasn’t big enough to hide anyone, at least not a grown man.
As she took in the state of the room, which always was untidy, but not like this, she gasped. There were clear signs of a struggle. The phone was lying on the floor. Papers had been scattered all over the room. Cushions and pillows and blankets had been thrown all over the floor and desk drawers had been overturned and ransacked.
She stepped over the worst of the mess and pushed open the door to the bathroom, all thoughts of caution forgotten. Pulling aside the shower curtain, she braced herself for what she might see, but the stall was empty. She turned and ran into the kitchen. Here the mess wasn’t as bad, but someone had been through this room as well. Knowing there was no way Mitch could fit into the cupboards, she still opened them all up, just in case. Nothing.
Back inside the main room, she began to tidy up, not out of a need to set things back in order, but simply to check that there was nothing that could point her in the direction of whoever was responsible for Mitch’s absence. This type of mindless destruction seemed to hint at those three punks. So did their notable absence. On the other hand – she forced herself to slow down – was there any guarantee that Mitch had been around when they got here?
Was it possible that he was lying low somewhere? Still safe? She didn’t think so. At least she couldn’t allow herself to hope. When she found the blood stains on the sheet and some of the pillows, she knew that there was no reason to hope. On the other hand, the blood stains didn’t hint at any greater blood loss. If that was all, Mitch could still be alive.
It was no use hanging around any longer. She needed to be out there, to track those responsible down and to get Mitch back, alive. If not – but she forced down the thoughts of revenge. Time enough to consider that, if she found out that she’d been too late. In the meantime, she had a job to do.
The first item on her agenda was finding those three boys. Something told her they would have information of some kind for her.
It wasn’t as hard to find them as she’d guessed. Either they weren’t half as good at keeping out of sight as they thought they were, or – they weren’t even involved. She found them, just as she had imagined them, hanging around a street corner. Judging by the traffic passing them by – on foot – they were, not surprisingly, dealing drugs.
She hung back, waiting until the worst of the crowds had dispersed. It was beginning to get dark, and she suspected that the boys were going to head home, bringing the evening’s takings, to have dinner.
Silently, she trailed behind, until she found the perfect spot to ambush them. Where no one would see what was going on. It never occurred to her that it might be difficult to cover three people at the same time and to intimidate them enough to make them talk. Those three were just kids. Compared to others she’d dealt with, this would be nothing.
She was able to sneak up on them and dispatch first one, and before the others had time to recover, another one. The one who was apparently their leader, she left for last. By now, the gun was in her hand.
He smiled at her, a predator’s grin – one who hadn’t realized he’d run into someone higher on the food chain.
“Hey, baby, wassup? Come to check me out, after all? What’s the matter? Something wrong with your ol’ man?”
Sam lunged at him, kneed him in the groin and twisted his right arm behind his back.
“That’s what I’ve come to find out. What’s wrong with my man.”
“Hey, don’t blame me if he’s having performance trouble. Oh, yeah, baby, I like it rough. Are you gonna let go of me and let me at you too?”
She twisted his arm harder and leaned closer so she could speak quietly into his ear.
“I can see you’re not taking this seriously enough. Am I going to have to make myself even more clear? Suit yourself.”
She forced him down to his knees, then let go of the arm, but pointed the gun straight at his groin, which had to be hurting still, after her knee made contact with it.
“You think you’re such a stud. Hm. When a dog acts like that, you take him to the vet. Maybe I should – fix you? You’ll be less trouble that way.”
She released the safety and kept aiming the gun at the kid’s groin.
He still didn’t believe her. She could tell he saw this encounter as just one long, unusually rough version of foreplay. Time to disillusion him.
“Ok, we can do it the old-fashioned way too.”
So fast, he had no idea of her intention until it was too late, she lashed out with her foot and again made contact with his most sensitive spot. He doubled over, clutching his midriff. She moved aside a bit, in case he was reaching for his gun, but for a while, he didn’t do anything but moan and retch. Maybe this would be enough, but she didn’t let her vigilance slip even for a moment.
“Talk to me. If you tell me what you’ve done to my man, I’ll let you go. Tell me.”
He kept whimpering, like a whipped dog. That couldn’t be a trick, surely? A guy like this would rather die, than show weakness.
“Hey. I’m talking to you. Wisen up or I’ll have to hurt you some more. Would you like that, stud?”
“You’re crazy. Crazy fucking white bitch.”
“This is your last warning. If you don’t tell me what I want to know, I’m really going to hurt you.”
She pushed him face down and stamped on his right hand until she could feel the bones in his fingers break. He began to wail like a five-year-old.
“Shut your face, or I’ll break the other hand too. If you still don’t talk, you’re going to seriously regret it. You’ll be begging me to tell me everything you know. Do you hear me? No, not another word, or this crazy bitch will really get going.”
“We just told him where he lived.”
“I know that, genius, I meant who did you tell?”
“Some guy in a suit. With fancy shoes and a watch and a car, to – Anyway, he was asking about your man and we told him. That’s all. We didn’t do nothing to him.”
“Describe that guy to me. His car, everything. What else did he say?”
“He didn’t say nothing else. Just where did he live. Your man.”
“What about the car? What did that guy look like?”
In snatches, Interspersed by whimpers and curses and sobs, the guy gave her the description. It sounded a lot like their suspect from the other night. She’d known there was something wrong about that case.
“Did he pay you for your information?”
“What? Yeah. He gave us fifty bucks.”
“If anything’s happened to my man because of you, I’m going to come back and take that money from you and I’m going to make you wish you’d never been born.”
She finished off by kicking him in the abdomen so he keeled over again, coughing and retching.
Her next stop was the guy’s office. By now, it was getting so late, she was hoping there wouldn’t be too many people still there.
She made it up to the ninth floor, but the guy wasn’t there and the only ones who were, didn’t know anything other than that he’d taken the day off, for personal reasons. It seemed her cover story held.
Twenty minutes later, she was outside his home. This time, she put a little more thought into her cover story. She thought his wife might be a little more discerning than that guy working late, hoping to get a promotion.
It was lucky Mitch hadn’t let her come to his meeting with the client.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Is mr Hermann in?”
“No, my husband isn’t here. Can I help you?”
“I need to speak to your husband about an urgent matter.”
“Is anything wrong?”
“No, quite the contrary, I should say. It’s about an inheritance.”
“Oh. My husband has gone up to his cabin in the woods for the weekend. With some friends. There’s no phone up there – Can I take a message?”
“I’m afraid I need to speak to your husband in person. Oh, well, I suppose the inheritance can wait. I’ll be back on Monday.”
“Oh. Thank you.”
A cabin in the woods. Hadn’t Mitch said something about that? Possibly not a place a man would take his girlfriend to, or was it? In any case, he’d mentioned it and where it was. Sam got back into the car and after some mental calculations, she decided to set out at once, and stop for gas on the way.
If Mitch wasn’t up there, she’d at least make that guy tell her what he’d done to him. But she was betting that was where he’d taken Mitch. She refused to even consider the possibility that the guy had dropped Mitchs’ body off on the way. He’d have to be there. Anything else, was simply unacceptable.
She wished she’d had a rifle. A big hunting knife would have come in handy as well, but she’d have to settle for Mitch’s hand gun. At least she still carried it with her. She kept it locked up, in the car, so Caitlin wouldn’t get her hands on it, and she kept some ammo at hand too. But even if she hadn’t had it, she would have forced the truth out of that guy.
She stopped and asked for directions on the way. This time, she decided to use a different cover. The man who opened the door to her seemed to have no trouble believing her. Of course, she had taken her jacket off and unbuttoned the blouse so far down she was afraid something would fall out.
“Excuse me. Can you tell me where I can find a mr Hermann’s place? He called and booked me for a show, but – me and directions. I’m afraid I’m lost. Could you just point me in the right direction?”
“Sure thing, hon. It’s just up there, to the left. About half a mile up that road. You can’t miss it. It’s just that one cabin. I’m the closest neighbor. Hey, on your way back, you wouldn’t want to – drop by and – show me your stuff? How much is it?”
At the mention of her ‘stuff’ he even pointed with a stubby finger right at her cleavage. It was lucky for him that she was on a mission. She would have loved to show him stuff he’d never dreamed about, unless he’d been in Vietnam.
“Are you sure you can afford me, hon? Ok. I’ll see how late it gets. Expect me when you see me, ok?”
“Oh. Do you have a card or something?”
“Not here. It’s back in the car. I’ll see if I can fit you in later. Thanks for the directions.”
She drove until she was out of sight of that drooling idiot and parked the car, after turning it around so she could leave in a hurry, if she had to, then walked the rest of the distance.
The windows in the cabin were all lit up, but only one car was outside. Either the friends the wife had mentioned had been riding with him or he’d just lied to her. She’d find out.
Inching up to the window, she tried her best not to make any noise at all. Out here, it was hard not to. Even a tiny, dry twig might snap under her weight and cause enough noise to sound like an explosion. But she made it up to the window and sneaked a look inside. That was the kitchen. She tiptoed around to see the other end of the cabin. It wasn’t large enough to have more than one room.
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw what was going on inside. Mitch was sitting tied to a chair, his head hanging down, as if – There was blood on his shirt and that guy, who had brought him there, was standing over him, unarmed, as far as she could see, but raising his hand in the air as if he was going to hit him.
There was no sign of anyone else in there. Unless there was someone in the bathroom – there couldn’t be more than one enemy to take out. Now all she needed was to get in without attracting his attention. A place like this was sure to have guns. Hunting rifles. If he had any warning of her arrival, he might use one of them on Mitch.
She hesitated. If she walked up to the door and knocked, using her earlier cover, in reverse, would he buy it? She didn’t think so. This guy had abducted a P I and was now trying to beat some kind of information out of him. Unless he was even more stupid than his neighbor, he’d never fall for her ruse. She needed some other way in. Breaking a window would be even worse. Unless –
She circled around the back, and found a back door. It didn’t look as solid as the front door. If she broke it down, which should be easy enough, he might not have time to get a gun. Or – she could pick the lock and try to get inside without attracting his attention. That would be better, but she had nothing to work with. Surely he wouldn’t be stupid enough not to lock his kitchen entrance, when he was up to something like this? There was only one way to find out.
She made her way back to the kitchen and placed her hand on the door handle, pressing down slightly. The door seemed to give. She pushed a little and it slid open. To her relief, the hinges were well oiled and made no noise. Unbelievable.
She tiptoed noiselessly through the kitchen, then pressed her eye to the crack in the doorway. The guy was still hitting Mitch, but Mitch was just making subdued moaning noises, as if he was more or less unconcious. Sam’s pulse began to pound in her ears. Her hands were itching to use that old neck-breaking grip, but she forced herself to hold back. If she managed to knock that creep unconscious, it would be enough.
She looked around the kitchen and found a can of stew in one of the open cupboards. Weighing it in her hand, she considered its impact. If she used this, she’d need to get very close. Close enough to use a blow to the side of the neck, which was guaranteed to make him black out in seconds. She wouldn’t need anything else. If she could find something bigger, with a little more reach, she wouldn’t need to get quite as close.
A chair would be too bulky. What else could there be? Her eyes fell on an unopened bottle of Scotch. She picked it up and weighed it carefully. This was better. In any case, she didn’t have any more time to waste.
This door was well oiled as well, but now she’d be that much closer to her target. She’d only get one try. If he noticed her approach, she wouldn’t be able to play nice. If she had to, she’d take him out, but she didn’t want to. Not if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.
At the last moment, she changed her mind about the bottle. Too much could go wrong. By the time the guy heard her, she was already close enough to strike. Her hand made contact with his neck and he dropped without making a sound.
Taking time to make sure he was completely out, she ran to Mitch. She pressed her fingers to the side of his neck, and to her relief, his pulse was good. Grabbing his chin, she tilted his face up and took a good look. His head was hanging so loosely, she knew he was unconscious and the whites of the eyes were showing too.
She ran back to the kitchen and found a knife to cut through the rope eating into his wrists and ankles. By the time she was finished, she dragged him off the chair and put him on the couch. She ran her fingers across his head, feeling for any lumps. There was a big one, but nothing else. No broken skin up there. She rolled back his eyelids and checked his color. It was good. Apparently, the guy who had taken him hadn’t bothered to hurt him badly. He must have been eager to get an answer out of his captive.
She gently pressed his ribs, and thought she felt at least one give a little. The right arm hung at an odd angle. He must have tried to defend himself. Again, she was filled with anger towards the bastard who had kidnapped her lover. She gazed at him, from behind slitted eyes, but when the urge came over her to get back at him, she resisted it. It was time to get Mitch out of here.
There was no phone, so she’d need to get him to a doctor anyway. She tried her best to move him without jolting him about too much. No way was she going to drag him all the way down to her car. The creep who had abducted him wouldn’t object to her borrowing his fancy SUV.
She lay Mitch in the backseat and drove as slowly and as steadily as she could back to where she’d left her own car. Leaving the SUV with the ignition on, she gently transferred Mitch to the other car, then began to retrace her route.
On the way back, Mitch began to come to. At first, all he could do was moan, but as they got closer to the city, he was getting more coherent.
“How are you doing back there?”
“Yeah, what did you expect?”
“Not this. I thought this time, I was a goner.”
“So, no complaints about how long it took me to get here?”
“No. I still don’t know how you managed it, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“I’ll tell you later. Now you tell me what that guy was after.”
“Yeah. You were right. He wasn’t cheating on his wife. He was selling designs from his company to a rival company. That Wrigley guy’s.”
“Oh. So that was it. Why was he beating you like that?”
“I guess he wanted the photos.”
“You were able to get photos?”
“Ouch. Yeah. They met in a park, downtown and I got some shots of him handing over documents. Very careless of him. Apparently, he shouldn’t even be seen with one of the competitors at this stage in the – ow -”
Sam glanced worriedly in the rearview mirror. Was Mitch more badly hurt than she’d suspected?
“What’s the matter?”
“This arm. I think it’s broken.”
“Yeah. I noticed. I’ll try to drive more slowly. Just hold on the best you can.”
“I’m taking you straight to a hospital, then I guess we’ll have to call the police.”
“I should have done that sooner, but I just didn’t think that guy had it in him.”
“You’d be surprised what people will do for – how much money do you think he was hoping to make?”
“No idea, but no, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s why it was so stupid of me to wait. I thought I had ’till morning. Serves me right for making such a stupid mistake.”
Something in his voice told Sam he was worried again. What was it now?
“You didn’t -”
“You didn’t kill him?”
“I – thought about it. But I didn’t. It was just – seeing you like that. For a second, I didn’t even know -. If he’d -”
“But he didn’t. You know it takes more than this to finish me off.”
“I can’t take this any more, Mitch. You can’t risk your life again. I won’t let you. We’ll find something else to do, ok?”
“Like what? There isn’t a whole lot more I can do.”
“We’ll think of something.”
“Yeah, well, I won’t be working for a while now, anyway.”
“You got that right. Ok, here we are.”
“You’re crazy. My insurance won’t cover this. Take me over to -”
“Mine will. No. Don’t argue with me.”
Mitch looked as if he was resigning himself to his fate. If she wasn’t mistaken, he was in quite a bit of pain and he probably didn’t feel up to arguing right now. Especially not with someone who could kill with her bare hands. That wasn’t a very cheerful thought, but she wasn’t going to take him anywhere else. He needed care right now.
She called the police from a payphone in the waiting area, while she kept a concerned eye on Mitch. Even at this place, it took almost an hour before someone came to deal with his injuries. By then, the police had been informed and told how to get those photos. At the moment, that was all they could do.
“What? Me out there? Listen, Sam, that just won’t -”
“You’ll need someone to look after you and I have to take care of Caitlin and Mira. Please. Hal won’t be around. He -”
“We – broke up. It wasn’t working any longer. And his visit to his parents was just the final straw.”
“You mean you not going.”
“Something like that.”
“Sam? Did he find out about -”
“He suspected. I told him it didn’t have anything to do with you. It was inevitable. He fell in love with Samantha and she’s gone. She’s not coming back. I’m all that’s left of her, and I’m not quite what he’s looking for in a woman.”
“Don’t be. It would have happened sooner or later. Now we’re going to my place. Yours is a mess. That guy turned it upside down.”
“Did you know that it was those three punks who told him where to find you?”
“Sam – are they -”
“Mitch, stop it. You’re never going to let me forget what I’m – capable of – are you? They were all alive when I left them. Don’t know how long they’ll stay that way, considering how they make a living, but that’s not my fault.”
“I can’t imagine they volunteered any information.”
“No, they didn’t. I -”
“That’s what I was talking about. It’s not them I worry about it. It’s you. I don’t like this. You torturing people.”
“It saved your hide.”
“I know. Thanks. I just don’t want you to have to do things like that.”
“Me neither. I just didn’t have much of a choice.”
“Damn. Yeah, and it was my fault, I know. This was the last time, though, wasn’t it?”
“If you stop working as a P I.”
He had a look of pain on his face, and Sam immediately felt guilty for arguing with him. Tiring him out.
“Yeah. Ok. I’m going with you. You know I can’t say no to you.”
“Just so you know, I’d never hurt you. Never.”
“I know that.”
“I know that, I just – sometimes I have a hard time believing it.”
“Can we buy you new stuff on the way, because I don’t think those three boys will be too happy to see us.”
“That was what I was thinking. I don’t really have anything I need.”
“Good. Then we’ll get going. Are you comfortable?”
“Sure. Don’t worry about me.”
When they arrived at her house, Hal and Caitlin were already back. The look on Hal’s face told her exactly how he felt about Mitch being with her. She was surprised to find that she didn’t care. After making Mitch comfortable in the guest room, she watched Hal pack, without saying anything. What was there to say?
“I’ll be back for the rest. If you want, you can pack it up and put it in the garage. Otherwise I’ll just pack it myself. If you want to move your – friend – into the bedroom -”
“Hal – don’t make this any worse than it has to be. I – thanks for looking after Caitlin and Mira. You’ve been great.”
“No problem. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
She watched him drive off, feeling not devastated as she’d expected, but relieved. It was over. She didn’t have to pretend anymore. Sam had never been enough for Hal, and now she could finally stop trying to be Samantha.
She tried to make Mitch sit on the porch or in the garden, to catch some sun. To her surprise, he seemed reluctant to do so. Again, he appeared to be uneasy about something.
For a while, she assumed it was just the awkwardness of the situation – he’d come to her home, only to see her boyfriend drive away – possibly because of his involvement with the guy’s girlfriend. It soon dawned on her that she’d been wrong.
Again, she began to suspect he was uneasy around her, and that made her feel even more sad. It was clear that Mitch still believed her capable of harming him.
Eventually, he picked up on her mood and became concerned.
“Hey. I’m sorry about your boyfriend. About Hal.”
“No. That’s ok. Don’t worry about it. It was probably for the best.”
“Then what’s bothering you?”
“Me? What’s bothering you?”
She could tell Mitch knew what she was referring to, because she caught a look in his eyes. When he didn’t reply, she decided to go on. He might as well hear what was on her mind.
“What’s bothering me is you. Why are you acting like this? You still think I might hurt you, don’t you?”
“No. Sam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to – It’s just – this whole situation is bothering me. I keep expecting some local vigilantes to show up and ask what a black man’s doing in your house.”
“Vigilantes, huh? And you’re afraid I might do something to hurt them?”
She might as well try to joke about it. There really wasn’t any other way to deal with it.
“Something like that. I know I could be overreacting, but do you think your neighbors are cool with something like this?”
“First of all, as far as they know, you’re my business associate. Anything else, is between you and me. Secondly – if they have a problem with it, it’s their funeral.”
She broke off when she realized what she’d said. Why couldn’t they have an ordinary conversation without her past cropping up all the time? Was their relationship only based on sex? She didn’t like to think so. Mitch was the only one she could – or thought she could – talk to.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Ok. I don’t know. But this is ridiculous. There are other bi-racial couples around here.”
“Out here? In the boondocks?”
She couldn’t help laughing at that.
“I don’t know, ok. Why should it bother anyone? If anyone’s had any kind of reaction, I think it’s more because you’re so obviously a city guy, than anything else. But I don’t want to make light of your concerns. What do I know? I’ve never really had a normal life until the Samantha thing. All I know is that it never bothered me. I had black students in my classes.”
“What about Hal? Do you think his reaction to – me – and everything else – is to do with that or is it just – Charly?”
“I’m almost one hundred percent sure it isn’t racial. Mainly, it’s me. He’s scared of me. Like some other guys I could mention.”
At that, Mitch looked a little sheepish, but he didn’t interrupt, so she continued.
“At the time, while you were trying to help me find out who I was, I never suspected he didn’t like you. Now I know he probably didn’t, but I’m almost completely sure it was your – appearance. He didn’t approve of your – Damn. These aren’t my words. They’re his and hate to even repeat them.”
Mitch smiled mildly and didn’t look offended.
“I know, babe. It’s ok.”
“He thought you were seedy and didn’t have much confidence in your abilities. It was just because I was so eager to find out about my past, otherwise, I know he would have preferred me to just pretend my life began on that beach. It was as if even then, he feared what I might have been.”
“Could be. Anyway, don’t worry about that. He’s not the first to have had that reaction. My ex has told me a thousand times how she’d like me to get a grip. To begin to worry a little about the way I look. Dress up. One of the reasons I -”
He broke off, clearly embarrassed.
For a moment, it appeared as if he wasn’t even going to tell her, but in the end, he seemed to brace himself and went on.
“One of the reasons being with you is so – fantastic – is that you never look at that. You never tell me I look scruffy. I appreciate that.”
“Hey, it’s what’s underneath the clothes that matter.”
“I know you mean that.”
“Didn’t I tell those three punks that my man keeps me happy?”
Again, Mitch looked embarrassed, but she could tell he was pleased too.
“Hal didn’t. Not for a long time. He could make Samantha happy, but not me.”
“I’m glad you – feel that way about him. I mean – that I can make you happy and he can’t. But, babe, maybe it wouldn’t be safe for you to have me here.”
“If that’s so, then maybe it’s time for us to go. There has to be somewhere we’ll all fit in. I’m going crazy with boredom anyway, and there has to be some other place where there’s more action.”
“Yeah, but – what about – you know – if someone recognizes you?”
“I know. We’ll have to keep an eye on that, but I’m ready to go. Besides, it’s Hal’s house. Not mine. He told me I could stay for as long as I like, but he’ll be glad to see me go.”
“And me too, I’m betting.”
“Probably. So, I’m going to pack up and leave. I want you to come with me. With us. Will you do that? Please. It’s not an order. I’m not going to -”
“Stop that. Don’t beat yourself up. I’m sorry to be so skittish, but – well, after seeing you in action, I worry that you’ll do something like that again. To someone else. For your sake, not mine. I love you. I don’t want you to feel bad about yourself, but I also don’t want you to have to do what you did, back then.”
“Come here. Don’t worry about the bandages. I’ve been through worse.”
To Sam’s relief, Mitch pulled her into a bearhug. He held her until he felt the tension leave her, and even then he didn’t let go. Instead, he began to kiss her like she wanted to be kissed. They would probably have gone further if Caitlin hadn’t called her from her room. Guiltily, Mitch let go of her.
“It’s time for lunch. Ok, never mind going outside. Watch some tv or whatever you want to do. I’ll just -”
“I’m not an invalid. Let me help. My ex would be taking out an ad if she saw me now, but hey – can’t a man change?”
“No, Mitch, that’s not a good idea. Rest. Make sure those injuries are healed first, before you -”
“I said, I’m not an invalid. You’re just scared I’m going to mess up your kitchen – or – cook better than you do.”
“No, I’m not. Ok. Let’s cook some lunch.”
Sam was carrying the last of her things out to the new car she’d bought. Their new car. Mitch had sold his own car and pitched in. Caitlin was still in her room, picking up the rest of her toys, and Mira’s. Mitch had helped her carry crates and boxes and was now sitting in the front seat next to the driver’s seat, waiting.
“Caitlin, baby. What’s taking you so long?”
No reply. Suddenly, Sam felt chilled. She closed the trunk of the car and ran back inside.
Caitlin was lying on the floor, apparently trying to get something from underneath her bed.
“You’ll get dusty, sweetie. What are you looking for?”
“Just Mira’s favorite ball.”
The dog was sitting on the floor, wagging her tail hopefully.
“Let me see.”
Sam pulled out the bed and found the red ball, covered with quite a lot of dust. She picked it up, with some distaste and carried into the bathroom to rinse it off. Caitlin stood with her hand on the dog’s neck, smiling.
“How do you feel about leaving, darling?”
“It’s ok. I don’t mind. I didn’t have any friends here. Maybe in the new place, I will.”
“Good. How do you – feel about Hal leaving and – Mitch moving in?”
“That’s ok too. I liked Hal, but – I know he wasn’t my daddy or anything. And that guy you said was my dad, the one who tried to kill us – he wasn’t very nice. So, anyway, you and Mitch – it’s better. He’s nice. I know he likes you more than Hal did. He doesn’t like you being so tough. But he doesn’t understand. Sometimes you have to be tough to defend yourself from the bad guys. Right, mommy?”
“Yes, but hopefully now, we’ll never run into any bad guys again. I’m really sorry about that guy. He may have been your dad, but – he was one of the worst bad guys. I shouldn’t have – I mean – I didn’t know he was your father until I began to remember and I -”
“It’s ok, mommy. He was quite handsome, though, wasn’t he? Was that why you and he were dating?”
Sam couldn’t help smiling at Caitlin’s unintended euphemism.
“Sort of. Never mind. We’ll try not to think about him.”
“Ok. I like Mitch a lot. I hope you and he will be very happy.”
“Thank you, sweetie. Actually, he has a son. Todd. Maybe one day you and he could meet.”
“Maybe. Ok, I’m ready to go now.”
“Good. Let’s go then. I promise we’ll find a great place to live. Somewhere you’ll be able to make friends and hopefully we’ll be able to stay there forever.”
Caitlin and Mira bounced ahead of her out to the car. Mitch opened the door to them and Sam shut it behind them. She got into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. Looking back, in the rearview mirror, she wasn’t really sorry to go. Hal had done his best, but it just wasn’t enough. So had she, and there was no reason to feel guilty.
No matter what had happened in the past, she was lucky to have come out of it and she had the best little girl in the world, despite her doubtful parentage. She had Mitch, who was the best guy in the world.
Everything would be fine. There was no reason she’d ever see Charly sneer back at her out of the mirror. That part of her life was over. As she drove away, she felt as if a huge weight had lifted from her shoulders. Finally, she was free.