|Primary Characters:||Jonathan, Amanda, Marcus|
|Description:||Jonathan has a secret. One day a blackmail tape arrives. Marcus, who also has a secret, helps his new friend. But will they ever be able to help Amanda overcome her fear of intimacy?|
“More pizza anyone?”
Marcus was the only one remotely interested. He gave Jonathan a sideways glance but decided getting up from the sofa was way too much trouble. They were all half asleep anyway.
Not getting a reply, Jonathan put down the carton on the table and slumped down next to his associates – and, he was hoping – his friends.
Amanda tensed up a bit, then relaxed again. Jonathan noted with satisfaction that the odd girl didn’t appear nearly as shy around him or Marcus as she had been at the beginning of their acquaintance.
She merely pushed him off the immediate vicinity of her bosom and continued to lie peacefully on the sofa. This last job had been a real tough one. It had been nearly two weeks since she’d been able to relax and get out of her work clothes.
The slightly shapeless tracksuit she wore didn’t bear any resemblance at all to her normal attire. From a distance you might even get the idea that it was three young men huddled in front of the tv set. That is if you didn’t form the impression that the owner of the lovely long hair was a girl. Which he wasn’t. Up close, that much was very clear.
Amanda had eyes, even if she never let a man close to her. She had checked out Jonathan’s appearance from every angle, without being observed while doing so. If she hadn’t made up her mind long ago –
But she had. The wounds ran too deep for them to ever completely heal. She would never open herself up for that kind of emotional pain. Never. But if – Then Jonathan would be the man for her. Or maybe Marcus. Or why not both of them?
In the past weeks she had felt herself growing closer to her companions in misfortune. Working this intimately together no doubt produced that effect, but there was more to it than that. At times she sensed that both guys hid emotional wounds like her own. Of what kind she didn’t know, and frankly didn’t want to know. Everyone had enough with their own pain, right? No need to go around asking for more.
Her hatred for the man and the organization that was enslaving them all, wasn’t as deep as what she felt for the man who had taken away her childhood, but it was strong enough. One day she would… But it was no use wasting her energy on what couldn’t be. Not now.
She would watch and wait, and when her opportunity came she would strike. Maybe she would take the others with her. But it was really everyone for herself or himself, that was something she had learned very young. With an effort she pushed the thought aside. For now.
Marcus was watching Amanda without really seeing her. For a white girl she was really quite attractive. And he could relate to her pain. More than she might think. But he didn’t trust her. In fact, most of the time he even feared her, just like he had a deeprooted distrust for the elegant Englishman.
What Marcus wouldn’t have given to have a body like that in his far from slim teens – He never quite lost his mixed emotions towards the jewel thief’s accent. It was all he’d dreamed of in his most secret fantasies. The accent, the poise, the long slim legs.
But all that upperclass bs was so, so, so – white. It rubbed him the wrong way every time. But he was beginning to like the Englishman despite himself. Criminal or not, he had proven to be a reliable partner and a good friend.
“Was that a snore? Jonathan?”
“Are you awake? Maybe you should go to bed. I felt your head sag down on my shoulder.”
A few weeks ago, Amanda would have kicked poor Jonathan onto the floor for something like that, unless she chose the equally satisfying method of verbally abusing him. Now she mentioned it to him. Maybe her tone of voice was a bit respectless, but there was a limit to what the guy could expect from her. Great looking though he was.
“Mm. Maybe I should. Anyone else?”
“In your dreams.”
“What? No. I didn’t mean it like that, Amanda. I just think you too look as tired as I’m feeling.”
“Don’t look at me, man. I want to finish watching this movie.”
“Watching? Yeah, right. Have you invented a method of watching through your eyelids now?”
“So maybe I closed my eyes for just a second. Sue me.”
“Break it up. If you’re not going to bed, at least I will. The organization is running us ragged.”
“You won’t get any argument from me. Yes, I’m exhausted. With the two of us gone, you’ll sleep better out here, Marcus.”
“I’m not going to sleep. I told you, I’m watching the movie.”
Amanda pushed Jonathan aside and got up. She almost lost her balance in her hurry to shove past him and found herself caught in Jonathan’s arms for a second. Immediately she tensed up and moved into position to inflict the greatest possible pain. No one could hold her like that. No one. She would –
“Easy. I’m not the enemy. There. You alright?”
For a moment his voice didn’t seem to get through. Then the soothing tone of it began to do its work. She began to feel foolish. He had only been trying to help. She knew that. But old habits die hard.
“Yeah, yeah. But you’d better watch it.”
“You were about to take a fall, I just thought I’d – “
“So? I’ve fallen further than this and never – Goodnight guys. Sleep tight don’t let the – yada, yada, yada.”
Jonathan sighed. For a second he had forgotten how much Amanda hated to be touched. In fact, for just the briefest moment he had allowed himself to savor the feeling of being so close to her. Her hair smelt lovely and her skin – No. That kind of thinking didn’t lead anywhere.
He didn’t really think she was going to reply. Then she turned around and gave him a look he couldn’t read.
“Go to bed, Jonathan. See you in the morning.”
When he had watched her disappear in the direction of the room she was using when she didn’t have time to return to her own place, Jonathan sat down again, oblivious to the fact that he had been about to follow her example. Marcus was watching him warily, but didn’t say anything, so Jonathan didn’t notice.
“I just wish -“
Marcus didn’t want to be dragged into the discussion but the pain of his two companions was too tangible. It was as if he could read their minds. His feelings for Amanda weren’t quite as open. For him to love a white girl would take some getting used to, but deep down he knew he shared Jonathan’s feelings.
“Yeah. Me too. But it’s no use. You just have to let her be. I don’t know how to deal with that kind of pain, and I don’t think you do either.”
“No. But if only I could do something to -“
“Don’t. You’re only letting yourself in for more pain. Don’t go there, man.”
“You’re right. Good night. See you in the morning.”
“You too. Sweet dreams.”
“Hmm. Oh, you too.”
But when Jonathan entered the hallway leading to the guest rooms, he found that Amanda hadn’t moved very far. She appeared deep in thought. Taking great care not to spook her, he tried to clear his throat to say something, anything. But she must have heard him coming and turned and faced him.
“I’m sorry too. If things could have been different – But I just can’t. That doesn’t mean I hate you or Marcus. Actually, I kind of like you. Both of you. I just can’t deal with -“
Jonathan knew what she was trying to say, but didn’t want her to have to do that, so he opened his mouth to change the subject, or do anything to replace the pain in her eyes with something else. Anything would do. Even anger. But she held up her hand to silence him.
“I just can’t handle being touched.”
“That’s alright. I understand. Sorry, I wasn’t thinking. Won’t happen again.”
“Better not. You know I could end up hurting you, without meaning to.”
“I know. That almost happened once, remember?”
And he had his wish. Her mouth curved ever so slightly in what would have to pass as a smile, Amanda style. Brief and sardonic.
“Yeah, I remember. But I stopped myself in time. No broken bones, I think?”
Jonathan’s smile lasted a lot longer, and the look on his face was so sweet Amanda almost smiled again, but it wasn’t as if she had all that many of those smiles in stock. She was just about out and had been for years.
“No. No fractures, just a hell of a bruise all over my chest. But don’t worry about that. I’ll live.”
“I sure hope so.”
She had already turned to go, but she stopped and faced him again.
“I love you.”
This time she didn’t stay. She just turned again and kept on walking until she came to her door, opened it and disappeared inside.
That was that. He’d said it. But like Marcus had told him, what was the use? What he didn’t need was more pain. But since he’d met Amanda that seemed to be inevitable so he might as well grin and bear it. Where was his famous British stiff upper lip?
He’d better go too. Standing around in the hallway didn’t help at all. At least he could get some sleep, and maybe in his dreams he would meet another Amanda. Someone who hadn’t been through what she had. And who was capable of accepting his love.
Next morning, Amanda was up long before the guys. Since they weren’t working for the moment, she decided to take advantage of the free time to do some shopping. When Jonathan woke up he found Marcus in the kitchen finishing his orange juice, looking through the refrigerator. Apparently not finding anything, Marcus sat down at the kitchen table.
“Sorry, man. There’s nothing here. Just some orange juice.”
“Thanks for leaving some for me. That will do fine.”
“So what’s the plan for today?”
“Don’t know. I’ll just get out of here. My place, I guess and a change of clothes. What about you? Good movie?”
Marcus looked a little sheepish. Had he switched channels and decided to take in some skinflick instead? But Jonathan checked himself. Marcus really seemed too innocent for that kind of thing.
“Uh. Actually, I didn’t get to the end of it. I kind of fell asleep.”
“Oh. Well, see you later. Have a nice day.”
“You too, man. And – I’m sorry.”
“About Amanda, and – you know.”
“Did you listen to our private conversation?”
“Of course not. But it’s written all over you.”
“Oh, really? Come here.”
“Just come over here. Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you. Or are you afraid this decadent British guy’s about to try and seduce you?”
“Of course not. What are you going to do?”
Marcus’ voice sounded very high pitched for a while. He actually was afraid. Jonathan didn’t know if that was amusing or depressing. But he dragged his partner out to the mirror in the hall. He pushed Marcus forward and stood back.
“Just look. It’s written all over me, eh? What do you call that then?”
The look on Marcus’ face told Jonathan that he had been right in his guess about Marcus’ feelings for Amanda.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
But he didn’t sound too convincing.
“Are you done? I need to get away from you white folks. My mama always said to stay well away from you guys.”
“I didn’t mean to -“
“I know you didn’t. We’re cool. But I’m getting out of here anyway. See you later.”
Jonathan stood watching the stocky form of his associate as he disappeared through the front door. He hadn’t meant to be that direct with Marcus. And why in the world did he want to establish the fact that apart from everything else standing between him and Amanda there was a rival. Someone else who loved her as much as he did. His life had been this complicated before so he should be used to it by now.
They still hadn’t heard anything from their mysterious employers the next morning, and Amanda was still absent. Jonathan intended to stay in his apartment to avoid further complications. Sitting at the breakfast table, he heard the mail make a thump on the hallway floor. He had woken up late, with a slight headache, and even his third cup of coffee hadn’t made him feel more alert.
For a while he was sorely tempted to leave the mail alone. It wasn’t as if he expected anything important. But the thought of his mother and his sisters made Jonathan reconsider. There was the usual collection of junk mail, but what immediately drew his attention was a package wrapped in brown paper.
Bending over to pick it up, Jonathan had a bad feeling. Something about the handwriting seemed vaguely familiar. He ripped open the wrapping and was left standing with a video tape in his hand. A piece of paper floated to the floor. It had some writing on it, and his name was on top of the page.
When he’d finished reading the bad feeling was getting worse. He debated with himself what to do. There was nothing in the world he wanted less than having to watch that tape, but somehow he didn’t think he had any choice. The problem was, he didn’t own a VCR.
In a corner of the room there was a large tv set and in a more prominent position an even larger stereo resided. Jonathan’s collection of classical music was extensive and mixed with 50’s and 60’s music here and there. But entertainment was the last thing on his mind.
Great. He hadn’t intended to return to that house again, until they were called back to duty by their annoying old contact from the organization.
He had a feeling Marcus would be hanging around there anyway. Some of Marcus’ computers and other equipment seemed to have been confiscated early on in their new career, and at the house there was a collection of interesting gadgets that they were supposed to be using for work. But work and fun seemed to be mixed up in Marcus’ mind.
Staring into a flickering screen all day and half the night wasn’t Jonathan’s idea of fun, but who was he to judge his friend?
When he heard the door open and shut, Marcus looked up as if newly awakened. The game he had been playing had kept him focused on a faraway world and it took some time to readjust himself to the real world. Was this his next assignment? Or was it Jonathan returning to torment him with his own feelings for Amanda? Surely it wouldn’t be the girl herself? No, the familiar figure appearing in the doorway was Jonathan alright.
But something was different about his appearance today. Not that the suave Englishman was ever exactly buoyant with cheer, but this time he appeared to be as downcast as Amanda. Trouble. Warily Marcus watched his friend approach. He didn’t really want to ask what was wrong. No doubt he’d find out soon enough anyway.
But Jonathan didn’t say anything at first. He just slumped down in a chair facing partially away from Marcus. Even if he had been looking straight in his direction, Marcus doubted the Englishman would have seen him anyway. Something in his eyes hinted that he was as far away as Middle Earth but nowhere near as fascinating. In the end Marcus was forced to voice the question he hadn’t wanted to know the answer to.
“What’s wrong, man?”
Struck by a sudden alarm, Marcus fixed Jonathan more closely.
“Amanda’s ok, isn’t she?”
“Amanda? Oh, I’m sure she is. Haven’t heard from her.”
Hoping Jonathan would go on talking, Marcus fell silent, and kept looking at his friend encouragingly. But Jonathan had disappeared back into his own dismal world and wasn’t looking at Marcus.
With a sigh, Marcus decided to push on. He’d better find out right away what was eating Jonathan. And it wasn’t as if he had anything better to do. He just pressed save and shut down the game. Middle Earth would keep. It would always be waiting for him.
“Come on, man. What’s the problem? Talk to me. Let Dr Miller work it out for you.”
Jonathan’s eyes held an expression Marcus wasn’t sure he was reading correctly, but one thing was plain. Hiding behind those thick, dark lashes was pain. Marcus knew that look too well from his own mirror. Something was badly wrong and suddenly he knew he wanted to help Jonathan with whatever it was.
It was a long time since he’d had anyone he could call a friend, but it dawned on him that Jonathan was quickly becoming one. And friends helped each other, right? For a moment, Marcus was afraid he was going to have pry the secret out of Jonathan bit by bit, but in the end the Englishman gave up. He threw the tape onto the table resignedly.
“I guess this isn’t some action movie you’ve rented for us?”
“No. No action movie. Do you think -“
“Could I watch it on one of your gadgets here? I’m assuming you have a VCR?”
“Sure. A DVD, a – alright, you don’t need to know all the specs, I guess. This way.”
The room looked like a recording studio, or a tv studio. The control panel covered an entire wall. There were plenty of screens, some turned on, others staring blindly as if accusingly at Jonathan.
Without another word, Marcus popped the tape into the slot for ordinary video tapes. It was all state-of the-art equipment, way beyond anything Marcus himself was able to afford. He had never taken anything from the people whose money he had transferred to where it was better needed. Only enough to get by very modestly.
The computers he used he had saved up for, working as an orderly in a downtown hospital. Sometimes he had delivered newspapers or scrubbed floors. It still hurt to remember how the Organization had taken away most of his stuff, especially the ones he had adapted himself. They had no right –
But his self pity wouldn’t help Jonathan, so he pressed play and turned and left to let his friend have some privacy.
Marcus returned to his computer but the Ring Saga held no appeal for him at the moment. He caught himself wondering what Jonathan was going through. What could be on that tape? But it wasn’t any of his business.
To distract himself, Marcus popped a cd into the drive and began to listen to some soul music but not even that could keep his mind from wondering. It wasn’t long before he heard Jonathan calling him from inside the control room. He was surprised. This wasn’t something he had expected Jonathan to want to share. Whatever it was, it seemed far too private.
“I – Uh – I could use your help with something.”
“Ok. What’s up?”
“Well, I suppose you could call it a blackmail tape.”
Marcus whistled softly. This wasn’t like anything he had expected.
“What are they after? Money?”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? And before this charming Organization found us, I might have had the cash. But no, it isn’t money.”
“Ok. What then?”
“It’s my – uh – father. He’s in jail.”
“Yes, weren’t you listening when our delightful boss, or slavedriver, was listing our respective pasts? My father is doing life in a maximum security facility.”
“How should I know? All it says is he’s in there and he wants out. Now. And he expects me to break him out.”
“Why should you do that? He walked out on your entire family, didn’t he?”
“Precisely. Hence the blackmail. And he doesn’t leave me any choice.”
To Marcus all white people were, well, white. Pale, colorless, whatever. But he had never seen anyone’s face turn that white. For a while he thought Jonathan was about to crumple up and fall. He even reached out a hand to help steady his friend, but drew back in time. Instead he spoke far more gently than was his norm.
“Hey, man. You’d better sit down.”
Jonathan’s hand was clutching the back of a chair so hard that his fingers turned chalk white. It was a while before Marcus’ voice reached him.
“What? Oh, certainly. But what does it matter? I’m doomed. There’s more.”
“Somehow I thought there would be. Go on. Hit me again.”
“He knows about this.”
Jonathan’s hand moved as if to include the entire room. Marcus got his meaning, but it wasn’t as if his friend was paying attention. He went on, unnecessarily.
“This place, the Organization, our work for them.”
“And he threatens to reveal our involvement?”
“Not quite. And it’s not as if I give two hoots about our employers anyway. They can take their chances. I just meant he knows I have the means at my disposal to pull this off. Of course, I would have even before I was drafted.”
“Go on -“
Of course there was worse to come. Marcus was a far more imaginative man than people usually gave him credit for, but he had no idea where this conversation was leading. All he knew was that he had hardly seen anyone this stricken. It was a while before he was taken up on his suggestion.
“I can’t tell you. You’d better watch the tape.”
“Are you sure?”
Jonathan didn’t look at Marcus, he just gave a barely perceptible nod. So Marcus pressed rewind and prepared himself for the worst. The worst was nowhere near what he saw played out on that tape.
It depicted a spacious room, with a harsh, sharp light focused on a large bed. On the bed there were two people and they were – Marcus couldn’t repress a small shudder. He was disgusted, shocked, outraged, but most of all he felt an overpowering sense of pity towards the man sitting next to him. It was maybe ten years ago.
Jonathan appeared to be in his mid to late teens. His long arms and legs were almost heartbreakingly thin and graceless. The hair was as long as it was today, but his face was thinner. All that reminded Marcus of his friend was the eyes, and the mouth.
The man with him was much older, maybe in his late 40’s or early 50’s. A receding hairline, a sagging midriff, not to mention some very hairy limbs all combined to make the scene played out in front of Marcus’ eyes even more unsavory. Suddenly, he couldn’t take it anymore and he turned the tape off.
“It’s quite enough, isn’t it? Well?”
“Aren’t you going to ask me?”
“Oh, go on, admit it, you’re dying to say: I didn’t know you were -“
“I wasn’t going to say that.”
Marcus’ voice almost cracked so he had to cough a little to clear it.
“Who’s he going to show this tape to, in case you refuse to help him?”
Jonathan didn’t feel capable of formulating a reply so he held out the letter. He wasn’t even looking at Marcus who reluctantly took it and read it. There wasn’t much. Most of it Jonathan had already told him. But the PS at the bottom of the page really made Marcus’ head spin.
This was written by Jonathan’s own dad. His own flesh and blood. But the coldhearted unfeeling tone of it chilled Marcus. He was about to think that white people were some unnatural bastards but checked himself in time. As he well knew, some African Americans could be just as cruel.
It said quite simply: “and Jonno, don’t make me show this to your mother. You know what it would do to her heart, poor woman.” the letter was signed with a name, William Dutton. So Jonathan had his mother’s name, unless he had chosen to reinvent himself when he left his native country to start a new life.
“I see. Then I guess we’d better get going.”
For the first time since Marcus had played the tape, his friend turned and watched him in stunned silence. Jonathan stood up and began to pace the room tensely. His friend’s words had made an impact but they didn’t seem to be able to penetrate into the gloom of Jonathan’s mind.
“If I thought for a moment that he’d do something like that -“
“Show it to your mother?”
“It would kill her. Her heart. Damn him, he knows far too well how fragile she is. If I could have forced myself to stay in England I would have looked after her myself, but -“
“Calm down. Jonathan. Sit down and take a deep breath. You’re not doing any good like this.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
Jonathan snapped at his friend, relieved to have some distraction in his misery. He knew it wasn’t fair, but he prepared himself to vent all his frustrations on this man who so far had only tried to be helpful and supportive, nothing else.
“Have you any idea what it’s like to -“
“If you did, you wouldn’t be standing there, telling me to calm down. You -“
Finally it seemed to dawn on Jonathan what it was Marcus had really said in reply. Even then he couldn’t stop the words that had been playing in his mind over and over again since his friend had found out his secret.
“I’m not gay- This is -“
“I know you’re not. Believe me, I know. Better than you think.”
“You mean -?”
“Did someone -?”
“What? And by the way, I’m not gay either.”
“Of course not. You think I can’t tell? Go on. You were saying…?”
“Would you tell me something first?”
“Alright. What is it you want to know?”
Marcus indicated the now empty screen.
“Uh, yes. What about it?”
“How did he – I mean why did you -? What happened? I mean, I can see what happened, but what made you – uh – do it?”
“I was young, and stupid. What else can I say?”
But he continued in reply to the unspoken prompt.
“He was- I guess you could say he was my mentor. Nevil taught me about art, jewelry, a refined lifestyle far beyond my wildest dreams. He became the father I’d lost some years earlier. And I craved his attention. It made me feel safe again, and loved. But that wasn’t all he taught me. By then I didn’t feel quite as safe anymore, of course. But he told me he loved me. And I believed him. I told you, I was young and stupid.”
“I see. You know, I understand better than you think. This must have been about the same time. Well, maybe a few years earlier. I was 14, I think.”
“I was 16. Who was he? Your stepfather?”
“My stepbrother. He was 17, and everything I ever wished to become. Tall, well built, an athlete. I was -“
The bitter laugh that issued from Marcus’ lips held no amusement.
“I was a little fat, zit-faced guy. No girl would go out with me, and most of the guys at school wouldn’t hang with me either. Perhaps I should tell you how I ended up in my stepdad’s house. My real dad never bothered sticking around for my mom and me. I never met him. When I was 11, mom married this wealthy guy who had moved out of the slums where we lived years ago and made a fortune in electronics. Maybe he even loved my mom in a way. At least he loved the way she looked. I was just something that came along for the ride.
His first wife lived in Palm Springs year round on his big fat alimony. There were two girls, who had gone with her, but my stepdad – Reg – wouldn’t hear of letting Tommy go with her so he stayed. It was kind of like a dream come true. A pool, fancy cars. My mom could dress like a queen. The first couple of years Reg let me have any toys I wanted. My first computer. Ironic, isn’t it? He was the one who gave me the tool for my revenge.
Anyway, Tommy was nice to me in a sort of patronizing way. He wouldn’t hang with me in school, of course, but he treated me decently at home in the evenings. When he wasn’t out with his jock friends, or dating the hottest babes in school. But at this kind of school the girls didn’t put out. Know what I mean?”
“I can imagine. Not that I went to that kind of school myself. Go on.”
“So one night, when I was 14, Tommy suggested we watch a tape together. Something about college girls in the dorm, you know?”
“Absolutely. We had those back in England too. I’ve seen one or two myself. But go on.”
“I think you know where I’m going with this. For a while we did it almost every night. I mean, we didn’t actually do it, but -“
“I think I know what you mean. You should be very grateful it didn’t go further.”
“Oh, I am. Then one night Reg caught us at it. Guess who he blamed?”
“You got that right. I’ve never felt so ashamed in my life. And my mom found out about it. Not that she gave me a hard time about it. It was just the look in her eyes that really hurt me. I had made her that sad. At least I thought so at the time. Now I’m beginning to think that it was the marriage too. Reg didn’t treat her with respect. He never gave her a chance to forget about how she got pregnant without being married, and where she came from and stuff like that. Later it became clear that Tommy was going to college and I wasn’t. But my grades were actually a lot better than his.”
“Yeah. So I decided to pay him back for everything. My first big hacking job was to break into his company and drain all the accounts. I had friends back in the hood who needed that money much better. He was never able to prove it was me. I know he suspected, but no one ever found any evidence to link me to the job.”
“Is your mother still married to him?”
“My mother is dead.”
Marcus’ tone didn’t encourage any more questions on that topic so Jonathan took the hint.
“What about your stepbrother – Tommy?”
“What about him?
-He was the one who took the initiative, right?”
“Didn’t he speak up in your defence? Take the blame even?”
“Tommy? You kidding? He didn’t care about me. After that happened, he even went around telling all his friends about me being a fag. I became the laughing stock of the entire school. After a while Reg sent me to another school, one that wasn’t as expensive. Far away from his neighborhood. But it was a relief. No one had heard about me there.”
“I see. Then I guess you do know what this is about.”
“Yeah. We need to get going.”
“To break your old man out of jail, of course.”
“You mean you’re going to help me?”
“That’s what I said. Come on. We got no time to lose.”
“Wait. We won’t tell Amanda about this, right? I just couldn’t bear it if she found out.”
“She won’t hear about it from me. Jonathan?”
“You won’t tell her about me either?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it. So, do you have any ideas about what to do?”
“Oh, just one or two. On second thought I think we’d better stay here. I’ll hack into the prison’s system and check out some details. Like what your old man was convicted for.”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much difference. I’ll have to get him out of there whatever he’s done.”
Humiliating as it was to have been forced to confide in Marcus, Jonathan realized it was the best thing he could have done. Though it was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to force himself to do, at least the actual jailbreaking presented no difficulties.
After finishing the last preparations, he and Marcus got into the car, but before they were able to slam the doors shut, they were interrupted by a voice calling to them. It was a voice that would tolerate no evasions. Amanda.
“Where are you guys off to in such a hurry? Without me.”
“This isn’t anything to do with work. You don’t have to -“
“Good. I hate this job anyway. It sucks. I need a break. Where are you guys going? Vegas? A fishing trip? No, I guess not. All that gear seems a whole lot like work, after all. Anyone care to inform me about what you’re up to? Jonathan? Marcus? You know I’ll get it out of you anyway, so you might as well fess up.”
Jonathan and Marcus exchanged a look filled with misgivings. What now? They were running out of time as it was. But Amanda wouldn’t settle for any ruses, they knew that just as well. There really was no choice. Since it was his problem, Jonathan knew he couldn’t look to Marcus to explain the situation.
“We’re going to break someone out of jail.”
“Cool. Who is it? Or isn’t that important?”
“No. It isn’t important. But it’s my father, if you have to know.”
“Oh. Let me just run upstairs to collect a little firepower and we can be on our way. I assume you’re on a deadline?”
“Wait, girl. This has all been planned out. We don’t need any weapons. I’ve got it all figured out.”
“Better be safe than sorry. If we don’t need them I won’t use them. Promise. Girl scout honor. You know how it is with umbrellas.”
Jonathan frequently had trouble following Amanda’s train of thought, and this time he was completely lost.
“Bring them and it won’t rain. I’ll be right back. Don’t leave without me. You wouldn’t like to see me pissed off, you know you wouldn’t.”
Five minutes later they were on their way. Amanda was sitting next to Marcus, Jonathan had moved into the back seat. So far Amanda hadn’t asked him why they were doing this, but he knew it wouldn’t be long. And he had no idea how to explain it to her. But he was wrong. For the time being, Amanda was quite happy to concentrate on the job at hand.
The plan went ahead without any interruptions. To his relief, his father wasn’t guilty of anything truly heinous like child molesting, or serial killings. Armed robbery was quite enough, and one of the guards had been severely injured. It had come as a total surprise to him that his father was capable of such a thing, though technically it wasn’t his hand that had fired the shots that had wounded the guard.
It was well into the night when they arrived at the place where his father wanted to be dropped off. No one had had much to say during the operation, and even less in the car afterwards. Jonathan stubbornly refused to face the man who was his father, but had never treated his family the way a father should.
The location was a small log cabin far into the woods. It was a miracle the car didn’t break down, considering the state of that road, or trail that led to the cabin. Tactfully, Amanda and Marcus remained in the car, while Jonathan dumped his father’s few belongings on the ground outside. He turned and was about to get back into the car, when his father halted him with a single word.
“That’s my name. So what?”
“I don’t suppose you’ll believe me if I tell you that I’m sorry it had to come to this. But I would have died in there if you hadn’t helped me get out.”
“You’re right. I don’t believe you. But just out of curiosity, why didn’t you ask me instead?”
“Would you have helped me if I had?”
“I guess we’ll never know now. Leave me alone. I’ve done what you wanted me to do.”
“Don’t call me that. That’s my mother’s name for me, not yours. Just tell me one thing. How did you find out about me and Nevil?”
“He told me.”
“A few months ago. Before the trial. He showed up and talked to me about old times. I don’t suppose you know that we used to know each other. It was a long time ago. He told me about that business and -“
“He’s here? In the US?”
“Yes. I think he’s still here.”
“Tell me where I can find him.”
“Just tell me and I’ll be out of here. You didn’t want me or the girls or my mother back then, so you couldn’t possibly want me now. Leave me alone.”
“Alright. Whatever you say.”
When he got back into the car, Jonathan’s face didn’t encourage any questions about what had been discussed between father and son. It didn’t appear to Amanda and Marcus as if Jonathan was paying attention to anything going on around him, but as they were about to turn onto the main road, Jonathan called out so harshly, Marcus might have lost control over the steering wheel. But instead he stepped on the brakes and pulled over.
“You startled me, man. What is it now?”
“We’re not going back. Not right away.”
“Ok. Where to?”
“Fine. You’re not going to tell us why by any chance?”
“I’ll tell you when we get there.”
There didn’t seem to be much else to say, so Marcus concentrated on his driving. Amanda curled up as well as she could and soon she drifted off to sleep. Marcus could tell by Jonathan’s rigid stance that he wasn’t going to get any sleep, and that suited Marcus fine. He had a long drive ahead of him, and even if Jonathan wasn’t in a talking mood, it felt better to have someone else awake in the car.
On the outskirts of Boston, Jonathan told Marcus where they would be going. The hotel was luxurious, and there was a look in Amanda’s eyes, telling the two men she would have liked to stay there for a few weeks, but she didn’t say anything. The mood wasn’t suited for that kind of conversation. When Jonathan got out of the car he realized to his dismay that his two friends would never let him go on his own. But he couldn’t have them coming along.
“Who are we going to see?”
“We aren’t going to see anyone. I am. This is personal. It won’t be long. Why don’t you have a meal or a drink or something? Go where everybody knows your name, if that place is still around.”
“No way, man. Not until you tell me what’s going on.”
“Yeah. Marcus is right. We’re in this together. So start talking, mister.”
“Didn’t you hear me? This. Is. Personal.”
Jonathan bit down on each word as if he wanted to crush them into dust. He should have known Amanda wasn’t going to be intimidated that way.
“You’re not going anywhere until you tell us what’s up.”
“I have to agree with her. Who are you meeting here, Jonathan?”
“An old friend.”
“That guy Nevil?”
Jonathan’s eyes seemed darker than usual and right now they bored into Marcus. But Marcus stood his ground. At this moment he wasn’t afraid of the Englishman.
“So you know about this whole deal? Talk to me, Marcus.”
“Yes, if you have to know, I’m seeing Nevil. I have some unfinished business with him.”
” In that case there’s no way you’re going in alone. I’m sorry, man, but I’m coming with you.
-Me too. And you guys had better start talking right now, or I’ll get it out of you one way or another.”
“Amanda, this is not the time or the place.”
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
“Amanda, please, I’m asking you, don’t do this. I have to do this alone.”
The pleading in Jonathan’s eyes was getting to her, but she sensed there was something going on that was far more complex than a jailbreak.
“I wouldn’t be your friend if I let you face whatever this is alone.”
“She’s right. I can’t let you go alone.”
“Marcus, I thought you of all people would understand. I need to face him alone.”
“Maybe you do. But I’m not trusting you all by yourself with him. Try to understand that. We’re your friends and we can’t let you do this. Not without us.”
“I guess I don’t have any choice. Come on then. Let’s get this over with.”
By now some of the cold anger that had driven Jonathan this far had simmered down. All he felt was a bitter resolve to see this matter through to the end. It was important that he had closure.
He wasn’t a boy anymore and he could face what he’d done. It wasn’t his fault. The time had come to lay the ghosts of the past to rest. And he knew he couldn’t do that without facing Nevil one last time.
At the reception desk Jonathan stopped and stared at the girl behind the counter. What would he say? He had a feeling they weren’t going to just let him go up and “surprise” Nevil, and he had no intention of letting the man have advance warning. That would give him far too much of an advantage even now.
But standing there, wondering what he would do or say when he saw Nevil again, Jonathan felt the years slide off him. All the desperate effort that had gone into creating the suave jewel thief was gone. What was left was the skinny boy, starved for affection, who felt lost in the world without his parents and his sisters.
But the sound of footsteps behind him made him turn around. He wasn’t completely alone, after all. His friends were there, and for the first time since that tape had arrived, he felt some trace of joy at that thought.
Amanda grabbed Jonathan by the arm and dragged him to a sofa that stood by the wall next to a potted palm tree.
“You want to see this guy Nevil, right? And he’s staying in this hotel?”
“Ok. Consider it done. Wait here for a few minutes and I’ll get you his room number. Hold on. What’s his last name?”
“Right. Marcus, keep him here, while I go to work.”
The girl who had seen Jonathan walk in was busy signing in a middle aged couple from some Asian country. A man, in his late 30’s was arranging some brochures on the counter. Amanda walked up to him, sporting her most winning smile.
“I wonder if you could help me -“
She bit her lower lip in a way she knew men found irresistible. What she was trying to convey was a girl, some years younger than she really was, lost in a new and bewildering city. Someone who needed a strong man to help her out.
“You see, my daddy’s staying here, and I don’t know the room number. But I would so like to surprise him. It’s his birthday, and I came all the way from Omaha to be with him. As a surprise. But I don’t know the room number. His secretary wouldn’t tell me.”
For a moment she wondered if she was laying it on to thickly, but no, the guy was staring into her cleavage like he’d never seen a girl’s bosom before. Good, she’d give him bosom, if he’d help her out. As if a little nervously, she began to toy with the collar of her blouse. Oops. There went the top button, incidently revealing a little more of her breasts.
Amanda knew how to blush on command, so she did, and moved her hands down to her hips instead, as if drying off some slightly damp palms. In reality, her hands were perfectly dry. She let her tongue protrude slightly as she licked her lips, “nervously”.
“Couldn’t you be a darling and tell me?”
“You see, miss -“
“Well, miss DeeDee, I’m afraid we’re not allowed to reveal the room numbers of our guests.”
“I – I see. I wouldn’t want to get you in trouble or anything.”
Damn, I’m good, Amanda thought to herself, as she squeezed out a tear from her left eye. And there goes the other one too. Now she let her right hand move up to her head to twirl a lock of her hair. For all the world the most miserable little dumb bimbo.
“Can I just wait here? Maybe my daddy will come down in a while, and I can surprise him here. But I must look a frightful mess. I had hoped he’d let me use his shower and stuff. So I could freshen up a bit, and change into something nicer. I bought a new dress for dad’s birthday and I wanted to wear it – But you don’t want to know all this. Thank you for your help. You’ve been very kind, mr…?”
“You can call me Steve, miss DeeDee.”
“Then you must call me DeeDee.”
“DeeDee. Listen, if you promise you won’t tell anyone, I’ll let you know which room your dad’s staying in. What did you say his name was?”
“Nevil. Nevil Wharton. You’re such a dear. Maybe you could like show me around a little later, after I’ve seen daddy?”
“Maybe. My shift ends at three.”
“Cool. Then it’s a date. Now I must have that shower.”
Amanda’s lower lip pouted a little at the man behind the counter. The creep was practically licking his lips at the thought of her in the shower. She almost wished she could stay and sort him out later. But Jonathan’s problem was more important.
Since her clothes were deliberately revealing, and very tight, there was no way she could carry any weapons on her body. But her handbag contained far more than the makeup Steve must be fantasizing about at that moment. There was a 39 mm automatic and as much ammo she could squeeze into the bag. Amanda believed in coming prepared for anything.
Now she hurried over to the wall where her friends were waiting. Jonathan still looked odd. Pale, tense. She had to find out what was going on. And whoever was responsible had better hope to find himself miles away from her. Or she’d make him very, very sorry he’d ever done whatever it was he’d done to Jonathan.
“That’s it. We’re all set. He’s in room 702. Please tell me it’s ok to take the elevators.”
“What? Oh, yes.”
No one said anything in the elevator on the way up to the seventh floor. Amanda and Marcus exchanged concerned looks, but decided to wait and see how things developed.
Outside the door to room 702, Jonathan paused, considering his options. What would he say? And more importantly, how would he react to seeing Nevil again? Back then it hadn’t taken him long to see through the man’s pretense at affection, and move on.
But now that he was about to see Nevil again, he realized that while he had moved on in the flesh, his mind had never been able to free itself from the trauma of betrayal all those years ago. By concentrating on his work, he was able to suppress the memories from time to time, but they had never really left him.
He became aware of his friends staring at him. This was no time for reflection. If he wanted to meet Nevil face to face one last time and settle the matter between them, he had to do it now or he would lose his nerve.
Bracing himself, Jonathan raised his hand to knock on the door, then let the hand fall down again. Knocking would give Nevil some kind of warning. Naturally, he couldn’t guess who was coming to see him, but Jonathan wanted him totally unaware. So he began to look around for something to use on the lock.
Amanda appeared to be reading his mind. She rummaged through her handbag and brought out a credit card.
“Will this do?”
She mouthed the words silently, but Jonathan got the meaning. Yes, the card would do well enough. He could see from a yard off, that the lock was of a kind that could be picked in less than a minute. At least by a man of his talents. So he inserted Amanda’s plastic card into the lock mechanism and twisted lightly. There was a satisfying click announcing that the door was open.
Again, Jonathan hesitated. Then he felt a steadying hand on his shoulder. Amanda. Despite the situation, the simple gesture helped him find his resolve. Pushing the door open, Jonathan walked into the opulent suite.
Of course, he should have known. Nevil always liked to travel in style. Where was he anyway? Looking around, Jonathan tried to take in all of the suite, the open luggage on the bed, the suit hanging over one of the chairs.
The sound coming from the open bathroom door told him Nevil was taking a shower. Good. That would leave the older man at a slight disadvantage. Jonathan wished he wouldn’t need to use that advantage, but knowing himself as he did, he knew he needed all the edge he could get. Taking a few deep breaths to steady himself, Jonathan waited the minute or two it took for Nevil to emerge from the shower.
Time hadn’t treated the old man well. The receding hairline had now disappeared entirely. Further down, the slight paunch had turned into a thick layer of fat. But the hairy limbs still shocked and disgusted him as they had all those years ago. Nevil bore a striking resemblance to a big, fat spider, somewhat advanced in years, but still poisonous and hungry.
The look of surprise on Nevil’s face did nothing to reassure Jonathan, and anyway it was gone within seconds, to be replaced by a smile meant to be welcoming.
“Why, Jonathan. This was a pleasant surprise, dear boy. Delighted to see you again. It’s been far too long.”
Not nearly long enough for my taste. Now the old man let his gaze travel over Jonathan’s body, after a time moving on to take in the sight of his companions, hanging back near the door, to give Jonathan as much privacy as possible.
“And this would be -?”
Responding to the imperious tone of voice, Jonathan automatically responded, but checked himself before giving too much information. Certainly before giving the man the satisfaction of being referred to as “sir”. He wasn’t a boy anymore, and he wouldn’t let himself be intimidated.
Nevil inclined his head to acknowledge their presence, after which he promptly ignored them.
“Won’t you sit down, Jonathan, my boy?”
“I’m not staying long. What I have to say won’t take up much of your time.”
“Very well. Now will you let me know the reason for this unexpected, but delightful visit?”
“I heard you met my father recently.”
“Ah, yes. It’s always a pleasure to meet a member of your family, my dear Jonathan.”
“And I also heard that you had a present for him.”
“Quite. I do hope you will forgive me, dear boy. As it happened, I was in rather a pitiful situation, and your father was able to lend me some assistance in a small way. So I felt it was only polite to reimburse him for his favour.”
Suddenly, Jonathan had no idea what he wanted to say. Why had he decided to come here? Deep down, he realized he had been hoping for some kind of excuse, some plea for forgiveness. And here Nevil was acting as if nothing was wrong, as if what he had done was nothing out of the ordinary. He had been wrong to come here. If he wanted closure, Nevil couldn’t help him.
The thick wall to wall carpet made Amanda’s approach virtually soundless. Jonathan wasn’t aware of the fact that she had started walking, until she brushed past him. To his shock and astonishment, she was aiming a gun straight at Nevil’s face. He could even hear the sound of Marcus drawing in breath sharply somewhere behind him.
“Why don’t you cut the crap, pops. You sold Jonathan out in some way, didn’t you? And I think I can guess which way. That’s right. Grovel. What would you say if I just pulled the trigger? Like this.”
As in a nightmare, Jonathan heard Amanda releasing the safety catch, and now she was so close to Nevil he could have reached out to touch her, if he had been in any state to make a move.
All color drained from the old man’s face, and suddenly Jonathan realized that Nevil really was old. Not middleaged. Old. And he hadn’t aged well either. The sound of his breathing was ragged as if he was in a state of shock. That was probably the case.
He was fairly sure that no one had ever pulled a gun on Nevil before. And the old man wasn’t enjoying the sensation.
Amanda continued to press her advantage. Now the old man had backed as far from her as his shaky old legs could take him, which was about as far as he could go anyway. A wall put a stop to any hope he might have had of making his escape into the bathroom. Now he was no longer able to hold the bathrobe closed around him, and it flapped open around his aging body.
“Now I want to hear you beg, old man. What’s that? I can’t hear you, and I can assure you there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. Try again. Fast. Or my little friend here will make you.”
“P- P – Please. I will do whatever you want. Is it money you are after? Take what I have. There are some traveller’s cheques in my luggage. They’re yours. On the desk, there’s my Patek Philippe watch. Take that too. Just don’t hurt me.”
“But you hurt Jonathan, didn’t you? Answer me.”
“No. I just -“
“Wrong answer, old man. I’ll count to ten, and if you haven’t wisened up by then -“
“Yes. I hurt him. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Forgive me. Jonathan. I never meant for things to happen the way they did. But you were so young and lovely and trusting. I couldn’t help myself.”
Now Amanda moved with the speed of a predator closing in for the kill. The gun was pointing at the old man’s head, then she appeared to change her mind and let it move a little further down. She was now aiming somewhere in the vicinity of the old man’s chest that was heaving uncontrollably. Finally, Jonathan found his voice.
“No, Amanda. Don’t do it. Not for me. You don’t want his blood on your hands. Please.”
“Sorry, Jonathan, it seems we’re all out of luck today.”
She bent down over Nevil’s shivering body and by now he’d closed his eyes to shut out the sight of the gun bearing down on him.
Marcus felt his mouth go dry. He wanted to plead with Amanda not to do it, but somehow he couldn’t get the words out. Now he shut his eyes too, praying that he wouldn’t be witnessing a murder in the next couple of seconds.
Jonathan too, had ceased his begging and closed his eyes. Amanda would do whatever she wanted to do. No one could stop her now. He knew her well enough by now to be able to tell. When exactly had the situation gone out of hand? It must have been when he had decided to face Nevil again.
The sound of the gunshot echoed around the walls of the suite again and again. It sounded muffled in some way. In fact, it was more of a click, but he didn’t have time to dwell on that fact. Now he could hear the sound of some liquid flowing. Blood?
Slowly, reluctantly he opened his eyes and saw the scene unfolding in front of him. Amanda had lowered the gun further and was still pointing at – Had she shot the old man down there? But the smell – That wasn’t blood surely?
Not until then did he take in the complete absence of blood anywhere. No wound could be seen anywhere on the old man’s body. That smell – Urine. The old man was wetting himself in fear.
At this time, Jonathan too, had dared to open his eyes. He looked first at Amanda, who was facing slightly away from him, surveying her handiwork with apparent approval.
“You didn’t -?”
“You guys really need to learn to pay more attention. If you had, you would have seen me removing the bullets. Let’s go. We’re done here. If anyone heard the commotion in one of the other suites we could end up in trouble. Jonathan? Come on. You too, Marcus. Go, go, go.”
But the released tension made Amanda lightheaded and as she was hurrying down the stairs, she lost her footing and fell about half a dozen steps down. A sharp pain in her ankle told her she had twisted it or worse.
But strong arms grabbed her around the waist, something that under normal conditions would have earned whoever it was a free lesson in the martial arts, supporting her. Another helper moved in and held her up, as they quickly descended the stairs and moved through the lobby. Now if they could only find their car fast, they could begin the long trip back to base.
No one tried to stop them. Within minutes they were safely out in the car, and with slightly shaking hands, Marcus turned the ignition key and began to press the accelerator. He had to get Amanda and Jonathan back safely. This was no time for his nerves to play up. For some reason, thinking this helped. Focusing on the drive back, Marcus was able to get the car into gear and negotiate the midday rush hour traffic.
“How did you guess?”
“About Nevil and – And what he did to me.”
“Oh. I know creeps like that, remember? Only it didn’t take me long to figure out that he was staring at you, not me. Then it was all clear to me. Who was he?”
“Someone I trusted. I shouldn’t have, but I did. At least for a while.”
“I see. So was he behind that jailbreak? In what way?”
“Blackmail. He had a video tape of – Nevil gave it to my father. And he threatened to show it to my mother, if I didn’t get him out of prison.”
“Lovely person. Good. He got what he deserved back there.”
“Yes, I suppose he did.”
“I don’t mind telling you, my heart almost stopped when I thought you’d killed him.”
“I almost did. I wanted to.”
“Thanks. Both of you. I’m glad you didn’t kill him, Amanda.”
Amanda shrugged. As far as she was concerned, the matter was over and done with. At least as far as the guys would ever know. For a second the man in there hadn’t been a pathetic old Englishman. He had been the man who had stolen her childhood and turned her into the cool, self-contained woman she was today. And that was something she wasn’t prepared to face even in her own mind.
Marcus glanced over at his two friends. Amanda didn’t look nearly as carefree as she wanted them to believe. But he knew her far too well to question her right now. He turned to Jonathan. His face was still pale and rigid, but Marcus thought he would be ok now. He hoped so. And after sharing the memories of their teens, he had lost his fear of Jonathan.
“Are you ok?”
“I think so. Let’s just go home. I’m so tired I could sleep for a week.”
Amanda stared with concern at Marcus.
“Yes, you guys look about beat. In a while I’ll take over.”
“No way. You’re injured. How does that foot feel anyway?”
“You said it. It’s my foot that’s hurting a bit, not my arms or my hands. And I’ll live. I don’t think it’s broken. As soon as we’re out of the city, you’ll have to move over.”
“Ok. You win.”
“I thought so.”
Very soon after Amanda took over the steering wheel, both guys fell asleep in the back seat. They slept all the way back. Though Amanda couldn’t turn on the radio, out of concern for her two friends, she had no trouble staying awake.
Unlike most shooting incidents, this one had left her too wired to relax for hours. Jonathan too. Was there a single person in the world that had been allowed to grow up in safety? Had Marcus been? That was a question she thought she’d never be able to ask him.
She didn’t wake them up until she had parked the car outside the house. For some reason she didn’t think either one of them would want to be alone right now. Even after the engine had shut down she remained deep in thought staring at her two friends, but not really seeing them. With an effort she collected herself.
“Hey, guys. We’re here. Time to get out. Who votes for takeout tonight? I do.”
“Yes, me too.”
Again, Amanda let the two guys support her until she was safely upstairs. Once inside, Marcus volunteered to call for Chinese takeout. Amanda was lying on the sofa in front of the tv. Jonathan stood uncertainly by the door, debating with himself whether he should show Amanda the tape or not. He had let Marcus see it, so why not Amanda?
A little voice deep inside told him why not. Marcus was a friend. A very good friend. But Amanda – He wanted her to be so much more. Of course, he knew that was out of the question. Anyway, she had helped him today, so surely she deserved to know as much as Marcus did?
“I was thinking, if you’d like to – Remember that tape I mentioned?”
“What about it?”
“If you like, I could let you see it. Marcus saw it and I thought -“
“Oh. I guess you’ll have to take me to Marcus’ playroom then.”
“Alright. Here we go.”
“And watch where you put your hands.”
Ignoring the teasing remark, correctly assuming it was a way of releasing some of the tension, Jonathan eased Amanda down on the chair where Marcus had been sitting when he first played the tape. He put the tape in Amanda’s hands and walked out of the room. If she wanted to see it, he couldn’t bear to be standing next to her.
Amanda put the tape in the slot and pressed rewind. The pain in her ankle was forgotten for the moment. Would she want to see what Jonathan’s father had held over his head as a threat?
His own dad – Maybe having one of your own wasn’t as wonderful as she had imagined it would be. After only a few minutes of consideration, Amanda pressed record, deleting the tape. When the reel had played out, she sat back and let out her indrawn breath.
He must have been standing very close to the door, judging by the speed with which he returned to her side.
“I’m ready to go. Did Marcus get any food for us?”
“It’s on its way.”
“Good. I’m starving. Jonathan?”
“I’m sorry. You could have told me. You know I would have understood.”
“Yes, I knew that. But I didn’t want you to know.”
“I can understand that too. If our dear boss hadn’t given my little secret away, I don’t think I’d ever have told you guys about it.”
“I know. Amanda?”
“I wish -“
“Yes, me too. I really do.”
The next morning they were woken up especially unpleasantly. Their boss was standing over Marcus, who as usual had fallen asleep on the sofa. Waking up with a start, Marcus needed some time to calm down, but their boss didn’t seem to understand that at all.
“Mr Miller, will you go and wake up your companions or shall I?”
Knowing far too well that disobeying a direct order was out of the question, Marcus dragged himself off the sofa. His entire body felt sore. The jailbreak had really tired him out.
“Ok. I’ll get Jonathan. There’s no way I’ll risk going into Amanda’s room. You do it, if you have such a death wish.”
“Very well. If it’s necessary, I will. You have 15 minutes, and counting.”
“I’m going, I’m going.”
Closer to 25 minutes later – if anyone heard any odd sounds from Amanda’s room, did they have anything to do with her boss 10 seconds later emerging from there pressing a hand to his left eye? – the three team mates were sitting in the room where their boss normally briefs them. Despite the black eye, their boss managed to sternly fix Amanda with a disapproving stare.
“May I ask how you acquired that impaired foot, miss Webb?”
“Fell down the stairs. Just being clumsy, I guess.”
“Here, in this house?”
“I don’t see how it matters.”
“It matters if you’ve been up to your old tricks again, if I may use that expression, miss Webb.”
“‘My old tricks”?”
Jonathan and Marcus could see Amanda straining to get on her feet. Having seen the Karate Kid movies, they now feared that she would try that one legged kick to silence their boss. But they needn’t have worried. The pain made her slump down again, though it did nothing to diminish the anger in her eyes.
“I thought I had made myself understood during our first meeting. You will under no circumstances return to your old life of crime, while you’re working for the Organization.”
“What are you complaining about? A life of crime? Moi? I was just being a little clumsy and fell down the stairs. Big deal. Are you going to play principal and yell at your students or are you going to tell us why you woke us up at (I don’t believe this) 4.30 in the morning.”
“Very well. You have no time to lose. There’s a very puzzling case that has been baffling law enforcement agencies all over the country for the past six months.”
Everyone’s eyes now turned to the painting on the wall that had the ability to turn into a giant monitor. Images were displayed, depicting police mug shots, media coverage of a few high profile cases.
The Organization had uncovered a few lower profile cases, all seemingly connected. It had been dubbed the Bonnie and Clyde cases by some romantically inclined but badly informed reporter early on in the case history. A number of people had committed crimes in decidedly clumsy ways.
Thefts primarily, with a few extremely inept robberies, and some cases of fraud and embezzlement. Lately, the perpetrators had turned to murder. Or possibly man-slaughter. Either way, neither one of these criminals seemed to be very expert.
What each of these cases had in common was the fact that they appeared to have been committed by someone for the love of another person. Also, the perpetrator, when caught and brought to justice for his and more rarely, her crimes, they appeared completely unconcerned. Even after being sent to jail for anything between 2 and 25 years, they were seemingly content to live on the memories of their lovers.
In every case, the person described as the one who inspired the crime in the first place, appeared to be totally innocent and until the criminal in question was caught, equally unaware of the unusual behavior of their partners.
Amanda looked condescendingly at the evidence presented to them. Such amateurish methods were highly alien to her, and the notion of committing crimes for a lover was in her opinion bordering on insanity.
“These people obviously weren’t playing with a full deck. So what? Why is the Organization interested in these cases anyway?”
“The Organization’s job is to -“
Their boss was interrupted in his custom recital of the Organization’s goals by Marcus.
“Yeah, yeah. You sound like a broken CD.”
Echoing his friend’s sentiments, Jonathan joined in.
“You know, an advertising firm might get you some good help with your slogan.”
“Are you all quite done now?”
“No. “The Bonnie and Clyde cases”? That’s lame.”
“Why? I think it’s sort of romantic, actually.”
Jonathan was staring wistfully at Amanda’s far from sentimental features.
“Romantic? Yikes. Don’t you know that -“
“Yeah, I kind of agree with Jonathan. Not about committing crimes, but you know, two people who love each other working together, totally dedicated -“
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You guys are such suckers. First of all, any guy who wanted to play that puppy dog routine with me, would get the dog treatment. Second – who says Bonnie and Clyde loved each other?”
Jonathan was staring puzzledly at Amanda.
“But aren’t they known as the Romeo and Juliet of the world of crime?”
“Maybe. But Romeo was more into Mercutio than Juliet anyway, right?”
Before Jonathan began an outraged defence of his country’s great poet, their boss made frantic efforts to regain the initiative. Marcus turned to Amanda, with a vague idea that she was teasing him and Jonathan, but if so, how in the world would she know about his secret? Surely Jonathan wouldn’t have told her?
“Are you saying that Clyde was gay? Or did you mean Bonnie was?”
“Yeah, right. Sure Clyde was gay. I thought everyone knew that. Bonnie – now, she was cool. Tough, smart, successful.”
“Miss Webb, if you’re quite done with your no doubt very interesting lecture on crime history, could I continue? May I remind you that time is of the essence?”
“Sure. When do you ever come to us with a case that doesn’t have a deadline?”
“Hold on a sec. Clyde was gay?”
“Are you sure about this, Amanda?”
“Positive. It was more like “Clyde and his faghag” kind of deal.”
“Now I’m disappointed. When I was a child I used to watch that movie starring Faye Dunaway and -“
“Me too. Why did you have to disillusion me, Amanda?”
“Sorry. I thought you guys knew.”
“Miss Webb? Are you quite done yet?”
“The Organization has managed to trace a man that appears to be the connection between all these cases. He is a chemist who specializes in mind enhancing drugs, pheromones and such things. We believe he is using these people as guinea pigs to test out his drugs.”
“Mm. Enterprising of him.”
“Human guinea pigs?”
Marcus was deeply shocked.
“I don’t think it’s fair to use real guinea pigs either.”
“Good for you, Jonathan. When I was younger I always wanted a guinea pig. They’re so sweet.”
“Oh, forget I said that. I’m still the same cold-hearted bitch you all know and love.”
“Your assignment will be to- “
“Does anyone think this sounds so much like Mission Impossible? “Your mission, should you choose to accept it – ” Bla, bla, bla. As if we ever get a choice.”
“I kind of like the idea of you saying “let’s be careful out there”, when you send us out on one of these mad capers.”
“You were a Hill Street Blues fan, Jonathan? I never would have guessed. Personally I was a big fan of Miami Vice. What shows did you prefer, Amanda?”
“The Shopping Channel.”
“If I may hold your attention for just a minute more, I will be gone from this house, and you may begin your mission, if you choose to refer to it that way. Miss Webb, since you are unfortunately disabled for the duration of this case, you shall not be required to come along. And I might add, that if you run into any other mishaps, I shall be forced to look elsewhere for a person with your talents. As you know, I would then be turning over the evidence against you to the police. So I suggest you get past this clumsy phase fast, or you might have to practice your martial arts skills in prison.”
“Gentlemen. You will find all the necessary data in the computer. Find that chemist, find his formulas and shut him down. Good luck, and if you like, be careful out there. As you know we do not provide any backup, in case you run into any unexpected complications.”
Their boss left the room, quite unperturbed by the poisonous stares following him.
“That guy is seriously pissing me off. Can you believe he was actually in my bedroom, waking me up. What’s wrong with knocking on the door?”
“Far be it from me to side with our boss, Amanda, but I heard the man was knocking on it for about 3 minutes without any replies from you. So I guess he had no choice but to enter.”
“Brave man. I noticed he was sporting a rather obvious black eye that he didn’t have when he woke me up a few minutes earlier.”
Amanda smiled rather smugly.
“Oh, that. I guess I got lucky. One of my shoes hit him square in the eye.”
“All by itself? Clever shoe. What is it really? A guided missile?”
“Of course he’s clever. He takes after his mommy. So are you guys going to get out of here or what?”
“So you can get back to watching the Shopping Channel?”
“Why not? There’s no Karate Channel that I know of.”
“Eurosport? In case you haven’t noticed, Jonathan, this is the good old USA. I don’t think we can get any of that Eurostuff here.”
“Yes we can. We get everything. By satellite. You’ll find it on channel 33.”
“Thanks. I really wanted to know that, Marcus. Good luck, guys. And please be careful out there.”
Jonathan was touched. This was a new and more affectionate Amanda suddenly. Could it be his declaration of love for her was having its effect on her? He could tell that Marcus seemed to echo his sentiments, but not for long. Amanda went on, crushing both guys’ dreams.
“I mean, now that I’m not going to be there to save your lovely hides.”
“So much for caring, I guess.”
Amanda gave him one of her unreadable looks and Jonathan thought maybe she was hiding her true feelings under this mask of feigned indifference. But he couldn’t be sure. She was such a bewildering creature even at the best of times. That was one of the things he loved about her.
“I guess it’s just you and me, buddy.”
“I guess so. You be careful too, Amanda.”
“Yeah, yeah. Are you still here? I can’t hear the tv with you two bonding right over my head.”
A hurt look on Marcus’ face heralded a new outburst and Jonathan felt it was time to get going. He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and nodded towards the door. They would find that info on the computer and plan their operation accordingly. The sooner they finished the job, the sooner they would be back with Amanda. Acknowledging the wisdom of Jonathan’s suggestion, Marcus followed him out of the room.
They flew out to the west coast later that day. The lab was located in Pasadena, and by setting up new identities for them as post graduate students, Marcus was able to get them in without too much trouble. Finding the drugs they were looking for wasn’t quite as easy however.
It took all of Jonathan’s considerable charm to get them even close. While he was flattering the scientist, Marcus cracked the code to the room that held the vials. Since their job was to close the lab down, Marcus began short-circuiting the advanced electronic devices that were required to mix the drug. Jonathan managed to join him while he was thinking of ways to dispose of the vials containing the finished drug.
“You get the formula, I’ll destroy these vials, alright?”
“Just don’t break the glass, man. You don’t want to get that stuff all over you.”
The thought of that kept Jonathan on his toes for the hours it took to safely dispose of the vials. By that time, Marcus had managed not only to transfer the formula to a zip drive, but also to delete the chemist’s entire systems. But they were running out of time. Around 11 p m, every night, the lab was closed up.
Only the head of the research team was allowed to spend the night in the facility. After 11, armed guards patrolled the premises and alarms were activated all over the place. Though Marcus might have found ways to circumvent the security, they both agreed that it would be far better to finish the job and get out.
What Jonathan had failed to notice was that one of the vials was on one of the counters, in a small metal rack. As they left, one of them must have accidentally brushed by the rack that was standing rather perilously close to the edge of the counter. The glass didn’t break, so there wasn’t enough sound to alert them.
Without knowing it, they inhaled a small dosage of the drug, but at first the effects was hardly noticeable. Both guys were surprised to catch themselves thinking rather sentimentally about each other. Jonathan was touched by the way Marcus had come to his aid the other day, and Marcus had a warm feeling of affection towards his new friend Jonathan for not laughing at his pathetic tale of teenage foolishness. On the plane back, they had rather silly smiles on their faces, but they weren’t paying attention.
It was very late when they arrived back at the house, and rather than risk waking Amanda up, they immediately went to bed. Earlier in their acquaintance such consideration towards the woman in their team had been motivated on the one hand by common courtesy, instilled in both men at an early age, and on the other by a natural sense of self preservation. Hadn’t they seen first hand how Amanda reacted to being woken up unexpectedly?
Jonathan could still remember the pain in his ribs on the one occasion when Amanda had set her skills in the martial arts to work on him. Now, however, they were far more concerned with Amanda for her own sake. And thinking sentimental thoughts, as much about Amanda as about each other, the men disappeared into their respective rooms.
They woke up late, with a slight headache. Amanda was nowhere to be seen, and it later emerged that she had managed to return to her own apartment, and from there taken a cab to her doctor. Many hours before the guys woke up, she was equipped with a crutch that helped her limp about the city, as long as she travelled by cab. That was her preferred mode of transport anyway, if she couldn’t get her hands on a limousine.
Though the Organization hardly paid her enough to shop at the K-mart, she managed to buy one or two trinkets in some of the more fashionable stores. In the early evening, loneliness drove her to seek out the company of her two friends. She wouldn’t have admitted it, but Jonathan’s three little words were beginning to have an effect on her. What if Marcus too felt that way? It would hardly be fair to the guys, but at that point Amanda wasn’t thinking very logically.
She found her friends in the sofa in front of the tv, appearing more than usual in sync. They smiled happily at her, but soon they were back to discussing topics with little or no interest to Amanda. Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of some Italian takeout, which they shared. Despite having a feeling of being shut out, Amanda felt the evening had been rather nice.
But when the guys declared their intention of watching a very dull guy movie, she reluctantly decided to go to bed. Two hours later, she still hadn’t fallen asleep, and knowing that the movie had to be over by then, she decided to check if the guys were still up.
She had a vague idea of challenging them to a game of poker, knowing that they wouldn’t stand a chance against her expertise in the game. With a bit of luck she might be able to get them to agree to play strip poker. As it happened, neither one of them had any idea of how accomplished she was.
But when she entered the room, all thoughts of card games vanished from her mind. The guys were too wrapped up in each other, to even notice her approach. What was this? Jonathan’s idea of a joke? He declares his love for her and then – this? Amanda’s first impulse was to break up the scene in front of her, but for some reason she remained standing in the background, too caught up in it to even move.
The guys were sitting very close together. She could see how their hands were entwined in a very sweet way. Or it would have been sweet in two firstgraders. This was two grown men. And that wasn’t all. Marcus’ nose was buried in Jonathan’s luscious hair in exactly the way Amanda would have liked to bury hers. At least that was one of the things that tended to happen in more and more of her dreams lately.
Jonathan let his lips brush Marcus’s cheekbones, trailing down the side of his face to the chin. Marcus pulled himself out of Jonathan’s hair and began to explore his friend’s face instead. Amanda could see his pink tongue leaving a wet trail on Jonathan’s skin. Without even knowing she had started moving, she slowly began to walk towards the scene captivating her.
Even now, the two guys were oblivious to her presence. All they had eyes for were each other. Now they seemed to have had enough of playing, and their hungry mouths connected. The new exploration was intense and very, very inspiring to Amanda. She was maybe three steps away from them, when she caught sight of Jonathan’s tongue playfully wrestling with his friend’s. A moan escaped Marcus and he began nibbling Jonathan’s lips.
By now, Amanda’s chest was heaving as if she’d been running, and the slight pain in her ankle didn’t bother her at all. The sound of her breathing finally alerted the guys to her presence and they broke apart as if they’d been burned. They sprang from the sofa and while Marcus held back, too mortified to even try and plead with Amanda, Jonathan moved closer, holding out one hand as if in supplication.
“Amanda – I don’t know what got into us – I’m sorry.”
Marcus could hardly meet her eyes. The shame he felt at that moment would have had him running out of her life forever within seconds. But he never had time to come to that decision. His flight and Jonathan’s begging were cut short by a few short words from Amanda.
“Don’t stop. Go on.”
Her voice sounded husky and if they had had time to consider it, very sexy. This was far from the controlled woman they knew so well by now. And they could both tell what effect their confused behavior had had on her. The color of her cheeks alone betrayed her excitement, and her quick breathing told the rest of the story.
Jonathan couldn’t help dwelling on the way her breasts heaved under the very flimsy negligee she was wearing. Whatever had driven him into Marcus’ arms had done nothing to diminish his feelings for Amanda, and he was willing to bet that Marcus felt the same way.
What had possessed them? How had they ended up in this situation? The shock of being caught like this by the woman they both loved had driven the last of the effects of the drug out of their systems. But here Amanda was, telling them to go on. How could they refuse her anything she asked them?
“Are you serious?”
“Just do it. Now.”
The note of command in her voice might normally have stung both guys, but tonight it only excited them more. Jonathan stole a look at his friend, who thoughtfully returned his look. But Amanda left them no room for hesitation. Marcus closed the distance between them in two short steps, and reached for Jonathan again. It felt awkward at first, but knowing that this time they did what they were doing solely for Amanda’s benefit helped. Soon they were caught up in the moment.
They could hear rather than see Amanda approaching. Again their lips locked together, again their bodies pressed close. If it hadn’t been for Amanda’s presence, Jonathan wondered how they would have proceeded. There was no way Marcus could turn him on enough to finish this. But now, her presence excited them so much, that even the rasp of stubble didn’t deter them in any way.
Now Amanda was so close they could feel her hot breath on their skin. Would she actually be touching them? Could she in one night overcome her fear of physical intimacy, all because they had ended up on the sofa together? If so, any awkwardness it might cause their friendship would be worth it.
They didn’t have long to wonder about it. Amanda’s fingers lightly brushed their hair, the skin on their faces. By now apparently, it was no longer necessary to go on kissing. They remained standing, waiting for her cue. Both sensed intuitively that the initiative had to be hers. One false move and she would be running away from them, maybe forever.
Her face was so close by now that they felt her smooth cheeks touching their faces. She was still breathing shallowly, and seemed to be totally focused on them. Her strong, small hands grabbed first Jonathan’s then Marcus’ face and tilted them up towards hers. Jonathan hardly dared breathe.
Would he finally know the touch of her lips? So many times he had dreamt about this moment. Would it finally come true? There. She closed the distance between them, and though it was nearly impossible, he forced himself to remain passive, to let her take from him anything she needed. He wanted to hold her, kiss her back, and never let her go. But he waited. The lips brushed his, then withdrew, to descend on Marcus instead.
Letting her mouth continue the exploration, Amanda gave herself up to this new sensation. How could it feel this way to be close to a man? Or in this case two men? Even men that she knew and trusted this deeply. She felt as if a new world had opened up to her. Pleasure, not pain lay behind the last door. And she couldn’t wait to go through it.
The situation was entirely new to her partners too, but they soon learned to relax and give themselves over to her guidance. Her touch caused a reaction they couldn’t quite suppress but it only seemed to excite her more. Tentatively, Jonathan reached out a hand and very gently began to touch her in turn. It was a gamble. If he had moved too soon, all might be ruined, but he couldn’t control himself anymore. He had to feel her skin under his hands.
But this was a new Amanda, and to their astonishment, she impatiently removed her negligee and silky nightie. Encouraged by this, Marcus moved closer and very lightly began to touch her shoulder and neck. Jonathan nuzzled closer to her breasts and began to explore them. This was no dream, it was really happening.
For a fraction of a second he could feel Amanda’s body tensing up and he wondered if he had ruined everything with his impatience. But the moment passed, and now she pulled them both closer and turned herself over to the pleasuring. It was amazing. She had never expected to feel this way, but despite that she had allowed herself to dream, and on this night her dream was coming true. All of it. For the first time since she was 8, Amanda felt truly happy and fulfilled.
I love you too, Jonathan, and you too, Marcus, she wanted to say, but the words wouldn’t cross her lips. Maybe one day she would be able to say those words out loud. Right now, she was content to lie here, safe in the shelter of the embrace of the two men she loved. That was the last conscious thought she had a for what felt like an eternity.