Part 33 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.)
Although I was standing by to help with her with her coat Susan hadn't moved from her seat. She was staring at the small piece of paper on the counter. She had read and reread it several times.
Finally she turned around and implored of me, "I give up. I don't see it. How did you come to the conclusion that Michael is in New Hampshire, specifically Hampton Beach?"
I cleared my throat and glanced at Rosie. "Well, uh ... New Hampshire is north of here and ... uh ... well, I knew that Rosie had a place up there."
She stood up and offered her arms to accept the coat. Glaring at my reflection in the mirrors behind Rosie she persisted, "That's two out of three, which we already knew, but Hampton Beach?"
"Well, ... uh ... I knew that Checkmate Dating Services' offices were in Hampton Beach. You didn't know that?" It was must have been obvious that I was squirming like a cornered rat to evade the issue, and the look on her face confirmed that she saw through my futile attempt to do so.
She crossed her arms over her chest and continued her interrogation, "You would have known that ... how?"
"Alright, I'm not too proud to admit it. My wife and I were getting a divorce. I was angry, confused and ... lonely! We had been separated for about a month. Then one night I saw her with another man ... Brock O'Day." Not wanting to continue with the confession, I began shifting my weight from one leg to the other.
"So you signed up with a dating service?" There was border line pity in her voice, but then she smiled and said, "Ben, it's no big deal."
By the time we had set out from Rosie's diner the snow had picked up considerably. There was every bit of four inches of snow on the ground. During our trek through the accumulating snow much our conversation centered around 'Tsunami Tommy's' poem.
"Remember Michelle's notes with the chess moves?" I asked. "Well, I'm not a chess player, but I do know that white always makes the first move."
"And the one who goes next, or last is black - Michael Black! Michael and Michelle both awakened as someone else," Susan said as she began to grasp the meaning of parts of the cryptic poem. "I get the part about the ring and the castle up north, but I'm confused about that last line."
"I have to admit that initially I was stumped by that one too. Then I thought that perhaps the poem was not a single message, but two," I saw the bewildered look shape the features of her face before I tried to elaborate. "Pair the rhyming lines; the first and third, and then the second and fourth."
I handed her the folded note that been in the small box containing the ring. She read aloud the first and third lines as I had suggested, "She who must go last sits before the king, From a castle north a pawn sends a ring...,"She glanced at me before reading the second and fourth lines, "And awakens someone else or so it seems, And sleeps again to take flight in dreams."
She read them again and said to me, "I don't see it, Ben. I'm coming up with the same conclusions either way."
"Maybe I'm making it more complicated than it should be," I responded as I returned the note to my pocket. "In any event, I'll explain it later on the drive to New Hampshire."
She shrugged and seemed content to accept my suggestion. "There's one thing that's really bothering me, Ben. You haven't mentioned what happened back at your apartment."
I looked at her and grinned, "What, and admit that I crapped my pants?" It was clear to me that she did not think it was a matter to take lightly. "Trust me, that has me troubled also. It would appear that someone has decided that our usefulness has abated somewhat." I slipped my arm around her waist and added, "I was getting used to the freedom we'd had up to that point. Funny, how a bomb in a smoke detector can make one rethink his freedom."
"You don't suppose our visitor had anything to do with the bomb?"
"Michelle's doppelganger? Nah," I averred. "He was on an errand to deliver that package. I'm sure neither he nor the general knew about that bomb."
"Maybe," Susan said uncertainty in her voice. "How can you be so sure? He threw you on the ground like a rag doll, Ben."
"True, but he was highly skilled in martial arts, probably from special forces training. Besides he didn't really hurt me, if anything he took it easy on me. Don't forget what he did after he shoved you down. He helped you up and apologized. That doesn't sound like the actions of a ruthless assassin to me."
"You're right of course," she conceded.
"He does pose a serious problem though," I said grimly. "Just who is he? We know he participated in those experiments and not Michelle. You picked up on that."
"Oh no, I see where you're going with this and I'm not comfortable with it either," Susan said. "You think there's a possibility that he is ... Michael Black? Then who is that up there in that apartment?"
I just shook my head in exasperation when I answered, "I haven't a clue, Susan. I hope I'm way off base on this one. If I'm not, then that leaves another question ... Whose mind is in Michelle's body?"
We were so focused on our discussion that we didn't see the two men approaching us until one of them shouted, "What have we here?"
With a menacing sneer the second one answered, "It looks like a thousand big ones to me!"
I stepped forward to place myself between them and Susan. "Look guys, we're on our way home. We don't want any trouble?"
The first one sprung open a switchblade inches from my chest. "Oh, you don't do you? My blade and me have a different idea, Mr. Bering."
"How do you know my name? Who are you?" I said raising my voice in anger. "What do you want?"
The second thug laughed, "We want the five hundred bucks apiece we're going to get paid for roughing you up, mister newspaperman!" He pulled aside his jacket to reveal the handle of a gun tucked behind his belt. "Now, just how roughed up you get depends on how much of a fight you put up."
The one with the knife slipped behind us and snarled in Susan's ear, "And speaking of rough, I hope you like it rough. 'Cause it's gonna be very rough. Me and my brother are gonna make a sandwich out of you!"
Susan kicked the man in the shin and yelled, "Fuck you, asshole!"
He only winced and growled at her, "That's the spirit, bitch. That's exactly what you're gonna do!"
"Look," I pleaded, "Don't hurt her. I'll double the money you were promised if you let her go."
"Hah!" the one with the gun snapped. "That's what that other dude said to us. You know what good that did? It made us real mad." He pulled the gun from his belt and waved it my direction. "... And when he got us mad, we got even rougher on the stupid son of a bitch."
"Yeah!" said switchblade. "That dude's bitch was one great piece of ass. She wanted it too," he said grabbing Susan's arm. "You wanna know how I knew she wanted it? The bitch was wearing no underwear under that little red dress of hers."
His words hit me like a ton of bricks. These were the same two thugs who had accosted Michael and Michelle. "I supposed you were paid to rough them up too!" I stated.
He approached me and stood with his nose against mine and declared, "Of course. The Wizards of Odds don't work for free. You two must have really pissed somebody off bad. We only got paid five hundred bucks for the other job."
In one swift motion he swung the pistol, striking me in the forehead. I slumped to my knees at his feet. It was a desperate and foolish move, but I lunged forward and wrapped my arms around his legs. My actions caught him off guard and he fell backwards onto the snow covered sidewalk.
"Ben! Look out!" Susan screamed.
I turned just in time as the man with the knife thrust the blade at me. I raised my arm in attempt to deflect his attack. I cried out in pain as the blade dug into my forearm.
We heard the click of metal, the undeniable sound of a gun being cocked. "Let him go, partner. Put that sticker to better use, like cutting the clothes off of the bitch."
I was lying there helpless. I looked up at the barrel of the gun which was pointed at my head. "There ain't no rewards for being a dead hero, newsman. You should have been a live coward instead."
I heard Susan scream and turned to find her. The other man had wrestled her to the ground and was using his knife to cut away the buttons of her blouse. I tried to move but the man's foot had come to rest on my chest.
The sound of the shot reverberated off the surrounding buildings.
(To be continued with part 34 on Sunday, 3/23, with Lament to a Dead Hero.)