Part 31 of an original tale that delves into the unexplored realms of the human mind. Hired by her lover to find a raven haired beauty, Benjamin Bering must avoid the local police as well as the agents of a nonexistent government agency who are after him and the woman. There are just two problems. The woman is in a coma and her body has been stolen. (Part 1 can be found HERE.)
Not wishing to encounter another one of Boston's finest, we slipped down the back stairs and out into the crisp air. A cold front had moved in while we'd been in Jimmy's apartment. Not unlike the spores of a dandelion cast into a breeze when gently blown from its stem, flakes of snow were floating aimlessly earthward.
As one we eyed the dumpster. Our tormentor was gone. I wondered if he'd crawled out of there on his own or if he'd been assisted. My guess was that O'Day had pulled him out of the trash. As far as we were concerned, his fate was of no interest.
Susan shivered and huddled close to me. I slipped my arm around her shoulder and said, "We really should start listening to the weather reports."
"You think?" she relied sarcastically.
"Let's go back upstairs and grab some coats from my place," I offered. "Besides, it'll be as good of an excuse as any to visit the old homestead again. "I nudged her with my elbow and joked, "How long has it been since you last visited my closet?"
She vented a mock laugh and replied, "About as long as it's been since you last cleaned the place."
A few steps from the door, I stiffened my arm and held Susan back. I had glanced at the door when we'd entered Jimmy's apartment noting that the yellow police tape was stretched across it. The tape had since been torn away and dropped onto the hallway floor. Someone had been there. There was a chance that someone might have still been inside my apartment. I turned to Susan and held a single finger against my lips.
With my hand on the door knob, I pointed to the floor indicating the point of light escaping from beneath the door. She acknowledged by pulling on my arm and whispering, "Do you think it's a good idea barging in there like this?"
I cast a glance over my shoulder and answered with but one terse word, "No."
When the door burst open the man standing there with his back to me showed no signs of surprise. There was a nervous glance to the corner of the room, but otherwise he remained frozen where he stood. With cautious steps I approached him, mindful of blocking any escape routes to the door.
"Who are you and what are doing in my apartment?" I demanded. I grabbed his shoulder and forced him to face me. I wasn't prepared for the sight that widened my eyes. My face turned ghostly white and I yelped, "Michelle! You?"
Susan stood in shock by the door for a few seconds before she was able to shout, "My God, Michelle! How did you get here?" Tears of anger were visible in her eyes all the while she was raving, "Who's side are you on anyway?"
His features were stoic but once again he glanced to that same corner of the room. I turned my head to follow his line of sight to see what might have been of interest to him. Resting on the keyboard was an object wrapped in newspaper and bound with a rubber band.
"So that's it!" I snapped and poked a finger against his chest. "Planting more evidence to further incriminate me?"
It happened so fast that I didn't know what had hit me. His movements were fluid and lightning quick as he grabbed my finger, bent it, pulled on my arm and bodily flipped me over his back. Flat on my back I strained to look backwards as the man bolted for the door, Susan the only obstacle between him and the hallway.
Extending his arm he shoved her aside sending her against the door. She cried out in pain and slumped to the floor. Inexplicably the man stopped. Leaning forward he grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet. "Sorry Miss," he said addressing her. Then he was gone, dashing headlong through the hallway and down the stairway.
"Wait! Come back here!" Susan bellowed and without thinking gave chase.
I struggled to my feet and called out for her, "No, Susan. It's not safe!"
By the time I reached the stairwell Susan was on her way back up the stairs. "He's gone. He jumped into the front seat of a black limousine and drove off!" she explained.
Although I heard her words they didn't register right away. Inasmuch as I was agitated by her actions, I snapped angrily at her, "Susan! What were you thinking?"
Crestfallen she looked down at her feet and uttered, "I thought you were hurt. It was a gut reaction."
I imagined myself playing handball against a curb stone, so low I felt at that moment. "I'm sorry. It's just that it could have been a trap to separate us, to lure you into the open." With forefinger and thumb under her chin I lifted her face and added, "If anything had happened to you..."
"Aw, how sweet," she cooed before planting a brief kiss upon my lips.
Susan then grew tense and vented, "I can't believe it. Michelle was driving the general's limo! She's working for him?"
"Maybe. Maybe not," I responded.
"What do mean, Ben? What are you ...?" It dawned on her and she offered, "The other Michelle ... the one on the disc?"
I nodded grimly, "I'd say that would be a safe bet." I extended my elbow and suggested, "Why don't we go back in and see what's in the package?"
Clinging to my arm she followed me over to my desk to retrieve the package the man had placed on the keyboard of my personal computer. It was small I noted, about the size of the early cell phones. I turned it over in my hand. Held in place by an elastic band was a folded piece of paper. After removing it I handed it to Susan and nodded for her to read it aloud.
Her eyebrows arched in bewilderment as she read what was typed upon it, "Use this only when needed. You will know when."
By the time she had enunciated the words again, I had removed the wrapping about the object letting the shredded paper drop onto the floor. "It looks like a remote of some kind," I said. "But for what?" I ran my finger just above but without touching two buttons, one red the other black, on the face of it. The only other discernible feature was the tiny raised dimple of a red LED light above the buttons.
Susan turned the note over and said to me, "That's all the note says, Ben." She then stooped over and began picking up the shredded pieces of paper in which the object had been wrapped. "Maybe there's some clue on this newspaper page," she suggested.
"Good idea," I responded, my thoughts elsewhere as I looked about the mess that been my home. Sooner or later I would have do something about the apartment. Trashed as it had been, the place was a fire hazard. I shook my head when I glanced up at the smoke detector on the wall. It had been over six months when the battery had died and in all that time I still hadn't replaced it. The indicator light was blinking...
I grabbed Susan's arm and all but drug her to the closet. I grabbed two coats from the rack and tossed one to her. She was trying to protest, but when she saw that 'don't ask - haul ass!' look in my eyes, she nodded and - we hauled ass.
We had just turned the corner on the stairs landing when the force of the blast rocked the entire building. Lying on the floor of the main entrance I could see the remnants of a cloud of smoke and dust settling on the carpeted stairs we had traversed only moments before. I looked around and found Susan leaning against the bank of the residents' mailboxes.
She nodded to signal to me that she was unhurt, even as I struggled to get to my feet. I took a deep breath. It was a big mistake. I began to cough, almost choking as I took in a lungful of the dust still suspended the air about us. Staggering to where Susan stood I motioned to the door.
"We have to get ... away ... from here," I managed to voice between fits of coughing.
Susan pushed on the door and we were greeted by a gust of the crisp air from the street. When she stepped outside I caught glimpse of my mailbox among the others lining the foyer wall. From its warped position and its crumpled edges next to the lock, I knew the flimsy aluminum door had recently been pried open. I fumbled for the contents of the box and then stumbled out into a winter wonderland of snow coated sidewalks and streets.
A few minutes later and two blocks away from the building, we stopped when we heard the first of the approaching sirens. Smoke was billowing from the second story window of what had been my apartment. The sidewalk and street outside of the building were a scene of chaos as many of the escaping residents were gathering there.
I held aloft the items I'd salvaged from the mailbox. There were three envelopes, probably bills, and a small package. I stuffed them into my coat pocket at the same moment another spell of coughing came over me. On my hand which had shielded my spewed breath and the sleeve which I had rubbed across my chin, were blotches of smeared fresh blood. I squeezed my lips together. I didn't want Susan to see the blood, and I especially didn't want to have to explain it.
Susan had said nothing since we'd fled the scene. When I did look in her direction she smiled weakly but returned to a trance of deep thought. She must have been wondering how she'd gotten tangled up in all that been happening as of late. I was with her on those thoughts. Perhaps like me, she too must have been wondering how it would all end.
I stopped beside a parking meter and patting it I said, "Hello, old friend. You're looking well." I glanced at a newspaper box to my right and spoke again, "And how are you?"
Susan was staring at me, no doubt thinking I'd lost my mind. "Are you alright, Ben?"
"Yeah," I replied. "Susan, meet a couple of buddies of mine. You might say we've been knocking around together for quite some time."
She frowned and shook her head. "You know, sometimes you're just plain weird."
I extended my elbow and grinned, "Thank you."
She slipped her hand onto my arm and placed her head against my shoulder. "So, where are we off to?" She glared before raising her other hand to my cheek and added as an after thought, "And Ben Bering, don't you dare say we're off to see the Wizard."
I laughed and pointed across the street, "We're off to see Rosie."
(To be continued in part 32 on Monday, 3/16/09, with Tsunami Tommy.)