The road is long,
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where,
Who knows where...
Sometimes out of the blue the lyrics to a song will pop into my head. Such was the case as we were disembarking from the commuter train in Franklin. The opening words of the Hollies' He Ain't Heavy seemed appropriate enough given our plight.
The road had been long, and there had indeed been many winding turns. I shook my head, resigning myself to the fact that I had no idea where it would all end. Hell, I wasn't even sure where it had all begun. For reasons I couldn't explain, I was becoming more and more convinced that the proverbial snowball had been rolling down the hill long before it had crossed my path.
Then there was my traveling companion, Susan. Since my arms were full balancing the book atop my police scanner I had asked her to hail us a cab. I watched the wiggle of her hips as she moved a few steps ahead of me in attempt to flag one. What was it about her anyway? I silently cursed and recused myself of merely being a horny divorcee finding himself in the company of an attractive young woman nearly half his age.
Perhaps it was a combination of my comfort level in her company as well as my attraction to her, but I found myself all but ignoring the course of events that had placed us together. Was it by chance that she had shown up at my apartment after it had been ransacked? Was it a coincidence that she had been there when I arrived home?
Fifteen minutes later the cab turned into one of the several culs-de-sac in the wooded area of the town's outer fringes. When the driver shut off the meter Susan reached forward and handed him a twenty dollar bill and said, "Keep the change, sir." Seeing my curious look she shrugged and said, "You paid for the train tickets. It's only right that I should pay for the taxi." She then winked and added, "Besides, it was your change from the fifty for the train tickets."
Rosie's house was the center one of three houses located in the well groomed cul-de-sac. At the front door I knelt down and reached behind a large Rhododendron plant. I showed Susan the stone I had produced before turning it over to reveal a small metal plate. "Voila!" I said as I removed the key hidden behind the plate.
Susan was looking about admiring Rosie's taste in decor while I plugged the scanner into an outlet. She was watching me and asked, "Can your scanner pick up Boston frequencies from here?"
I shook my head and replied, "Not really, but sometimes if the atmospheric conditions are just right it will. I'm more interested in monitoring the police traffic here in Franklin."
"Why?" she implored, a worried look coming over her.
I stood up and faced her and said firmly, "These people have unlimited and far reaching resources, Susan. If they really want to find us, and I believe they do, sooner or later they will. Maybe they are posing as the FBI, I don't know, but who else could've tipped off the police and sent them to my apartment building while we were there ... at the scene of a murder ... in my apartment? I'm speculating of course, but how was it that the police were cordoning off the Globe Building at about the same time we got there?"
She became overcome with fear and moved to the sofa across the room. "Ben, just who are they? What do they want with us? What did they want with Billy?" She began to sob, "Are they going to kill us too?"
I sat down beside her and allowed her to seek comfort in my arms. "Not if I can help it. We do have an advantage, albeit a slight one, in that we know they are coming. Your friend Billy ... my neighbor Jim ... Stu, my boss ... they were caught unawares."
"I don't understand, Ben. Why are they after us?" she asked fighting back her tears. "What's so important about Michael Black and Michelle Gray? It's their research isn't it?"
I nodded in affirmation and said, "They already have their research. Now they are looking to eliminate all extraneous knowledge of that research, no matter how insignificant that knowledge may be."
"But I don't know anything about their work," she said.
"That may be true, Susan," I said, "but they don't know that. Remember, both you and Billy had a hand in delivering me to that meeting with our friend, Mr. Black. They could have very easily seen me getting into that cab that night. They might have observed you dropping me off at Mr. Black's residence also."
She looked into my face, "Who are they?"
"I can't say for certain. I can only guess they are working for some clandestine branch of the government with close ties to an equally nameless military faction."
I stood up and offered my hand for her to follow. "Come, we need to freshen up and get some rest. Tomorrow we go see our Mr. Black. I'm sure he can answer our questions," I said smiling at her in attempt to put her at ease. "There is an answer to one question that I'll have to have, even if I have to squeeze it from him."
"What question is that, Ben?"
"The location of one key player in this drama ... Just where is Ms Gray?"
I led Susan to the back of the house and opened a door. "This is Rosie's bedroom," I said extending my arm for her to enter. "You and Rosie are about the same size. In the closet you should find something to change into. To my right is the bathroom. Towels and face cloths are on the shelf above the toilet." Over my shoulder I said, "I'll clean up and shave after you."
I stepped into the small spare bedroom and sat down on the edge of the single bed. I picked up the TV remote, and once I had finally found the power button I pointed it at the nineteen inch set. I pushed the power button several times but the TV didn't respond. My reflection in the black screen was peering back at me. I glanced at the wall socket and saw that the set was unplugged.
I then remembered that I had to make some phone calls. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the cell phone I'd purchased at South Station. I punched into a number and waited for an answer. On the third ring a woman's voice said, "Hello?"
"Rosie, it's Ben. I'm at your place right now. I have a girl with me ..." I groaned inwardly. I knew I shouldn't have been so forthright.
"What?" she demanded. "Ben, we agreed that my place was not be used as a bachelor's pad."
"Rosie!" I snapped back at her. "It's not like that. She's in trouble ... Both of us are in trouble. I cannot give you any details. It's not safe."
The line was silent for a moment or two before she finally spoke, "I'll bet. Ben, does this have something to do with that story you were working on?"
"Huh?" I replied weakly. "What made you ask that?"
"A couple of strange men, probably Feds judging by their expensive looking suits, were here asking about you. They said you'd had a disagreement with your boss over a story you were writing." She paused and I could hear her breathing, "Ben, you didn't really beat up Stu ... Did you?"
"Rosie, you know me better than that." I let out a relieved sigh, "Stu ... Is he okay?"
"It was just on the news. His condition is guarded. And Ben, the news report said that the police consider you a person of interest."
"Damn!" I exclaimed. "Those suits are making a point loud and clear for my benefit." I was drumming the fingers of my free hand on my knee, a nervous habit of mine that never seemed to accomplish anything but to remind me that I was in a tight spot. "Rosie, I'd better hang up. I don't know for sure, but your phone might be tapped. I'll be in touch."
"Wait a minute, Ben," she shouted. "Where are you, which place? My house or my summer place up in Hampton Beach?"
"Rosie, you know I'd never bring a girl to your house," I replied. God bless Rosie, I thought. She was on the ball. If the call was being monitored her quick thinking might have sent them sixty miles north in the wrong direction. If they were to take the bait, then the diversion of their resources just might buy us time to slip back into Boston. "Besides, it's more romantic up here in front of the fireplace."
"Ben, spare me the details," she said with obvious sarcasm in her voice. "Ben! Ben, are you close to the television? You'd better check out channel 7 right now." I rushed to the set and plugged it in and waited for the picture to appear. "One more thing, Ben," she said, "If you mess up those sheets, you'd damn well better change the bed! I'll talk to you later. Goodbye."
I stared at the phone with a sneer. "If we mess up the sheets? Ha! Rosie you are quite the comedian," I said aloud.
"Are we going to be messing up the sheets?" Susan's voice startled me and I began to turn beet red. She was standing in the doorway, towels wrapped about her head and body.
"No. That was Rosie ... Of course not! She was making a joke," I stammered. My tongue was failing to operate as it should. "I have no intentions ..." I turned my eyes to the television screen. "Besides this isn't the time or place..." I shook my head and thought, 'Shit. Why did I say that?'
She giggled and said, "Hmmm, that sounded like a promise to me."
I raised my hand in a scolding manner, "Susan ..."
She turned and said, "I think I'll go get dressed."
Relieved I declared, "Thank you!"
I banished all of the innuendos into the back of my brain and tried to concentrate on a press conference being held by the State's Attorney General. She was standing at dais facing twenty or so reporters of both the print and broadcast media.
"Before I take your questions, let me first recap the details of our investigation at this point in time. Mr. Benjamin Bering, a well known investigative reporter for the Globe, is only a person of interest with whom we want to question in regards to the assault against the paper's Editor-In-Chief, Mr. Stu Jankowski. There is a possible connection, let me repeat, a possible connection to the homicide victim found in the apartment of Mr. Bering. The identity of that victim is being withheld at this time pending notification of family. There is a buzz among some of the reporters gathered here that a baseball bat found in Mr. Jankowski's office was the same instrument that was used on the homicide victim in Mr. Bering's apartment. At this time I cannot deny or confirm that. Said baseball bat is in the hands of forensics as we speak. Okay, I take some questions now. Please, one of you at a time."I turned off the television and stared at the fading images. My baseball bat? My tormentors were being very thorough. I had been holding that bat, smacking it in my hand. My fingerprints, fresh fingerprints were all over it. In the short time it had taken us to flee my apartment and get to the Globe Building, they had used it on Stu in his office? The sons of bitches had all but convicted me.
I cocked my head and listened. From the other bedroom I could hear Susan. She was humming and the tune was all too familiar. I slipped into the hallway and listened to her through the closed door.
I threw open the door and barged into the bedroom. She was naked with her back to me. "What are you doing?" she screeched.
I turned abruptly until my back was facing her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to ... see you ... nude. Honest ..."
My eyes happened to train upon a wall mirror. I swallowed and tried, but failed to turn my eyes from the mirror. She had turned and was moving in my direction. There was no attempt on her part to cover any parts of her exposed charms. Her arms remained by her side. She stopped and bent down for one the towels on the floor. She stood up and clutched the towel against her body. "Ben, did you change your mind about messing up those sheets?" she asked.
"No, of course not!" I asserted. "It was just ... I heard you ... That thing you were humming ..." I moved for the doorway and as I pulled the door shut I cleared my throat in nervous embarrassment, "What was that song?"
Had it been that long? Had it been so long since I'd been with a woman that I didn't know how to act in the company of one, especially a naked one? She must have been thinking that I was a certified pervert. Who could blame her?
I heard the door open behind me. "Ben, if it's that important ... it was an old song, from the sixties I believe." She began to hum again and then started to sing, "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother...."
I froze. My face must have turned ghost-white.
(To be continued on Monday 12/29, Will the Real Mr. Black Please Stand Up