In the Beginning (part two)
(as promised, 49 pages, 33k words, Chapter 5 from my first published novel, possible rom-com, possible short film, you decide)
Dawn. Dawn on a beach. Some beach. Somewhere. Nowhere.
I am hurting. I am bleeding. I am alive.
I have no sane reason for my actions. I could tell a judge it was self-defense. Or justified. Or to save others. None of that passes muster for me. Last night, I killed a man. I did not know him. He did not know me. He saw me viciously spring forth, knife in hand, and instinctively, he drew back. He had to die. He wouldn’t go away. Others would come. He followed his orders, I followed my heart. What ensued in his motorboat was our struggle. He grabbed my neck and tried throwing me overboard. I would have survived, until I surfaced for air and he shot me. Instead, I lashed out. I cut this man across his arm. Deeply. The blood on my blade proved it. Hot, sticky blood poured forth. He screamed. I wanted silence. Silence meant life for me. He had to be silent. My back slash across his throat came next. He fell in the boat. He gurgled as the blood spilled into his throat. He kicked. He spasmed. He died. I had my silence. I paid for it with my innocence. I watched this man die at my feet. Part of me died that night also. When I see myself in a mirror, I would not recognize the person staring back at me. I am different, completely different. I see John Knoll looking back at me. I want to puke.
In an insane frenzy, I fired up the motor of his boat and piloted toward the distant Leonina Societas. I sat him upright and placed his rifle in his hands. I kept his radio on. The language I heard made no sense. The tone did. Whoever saw me coming did not understand what I wanted to do. All they did was fire their rifles. Their actions were stupid. My actions were worse. I drew their fire (did they ever run out of ammunition?) and led them on a chase in the night. They took the bait. The Leonina Societas followed. The two other motorboats followed. The CH2O did not. She quietly sailed into the darkness toward a new life, with a new member of their family. I gave them the opportunity they needed, not that they deserved. I would wager everything I own that the McNamaras participated in a drug deal gone bad. Within a week, watching the news, I would win that bet.
I had to get through tonight. Running full throttle, I increased my distance from the Leonina Societas with each passing minute. However, with each passing minute, I lost ground to the two other motorboats. They had one person each, I had two. I headed for shore. Would they follow me into the open marina? Would they fire on me all the way to the beach? In front of witnesses? How would I explain the blood or the dead man in my boat? One of us had to break and break soon. The choppy sea made aiming their rifles at me next to impossible. That didn’t stop these two. The bullets flew past me and into the hull of the motorboat. For protection, I moved his dead body between myself and the incoming rifle fire. I could fire back, but at the cost of them closing the gap between us. I kept going. I zigged. I zagged. These two had to work as hard as I did to follow me. Who had the most fuel? Who could last the longest?
Five minutes later, I heard one of their engines begin to sputter. Out of gasoline. My heart raced. Then my heart sank. My engine sputtered also. Within ten seconds, the last of the motors ran out of gas. I dumped him overboard. I turned hard to port. We all coasted now. We all went silent in the dark. By the last of the moonlight, I checked my compass. The shore was north. How far, I did not know. These two crewmen may not have fuel (maybe they do), but they had radios to call for help. I dropped the rifle and the radio overboard. I slipped overboard and began the long swim to shore. I suffered with each stroke. I wish I had my flippers. I swam and swam. This was a marathon. At first, I dog paddled, then back stroked. If I didn’t swallow sea water, did not get stung by a jellyfish, or eaten by a shark, I would make it. Two out of three isn’t bad. When I woke on the beach, I woke with a few jellyfish stings on my bare feet. I also had a migraine, bruises on my throat and no idea where I was. A fishy story at the lifeguard shack solved everything but the bruises on my throat. Before he could call the police, I asked him not to. I played the part of a battered girlfriend just happy to have been dumped by my abusive boyfriend. He bought it. He also bought me lunch and rode back into town. I thanked him for all he did for me. I let him kiss my hand and feigned romantic interest in him. I even took his phone number. All of this made him happy in a chivalrous way. Kindness repaid with kindness.
Later that night, I recovered my belongings from storage and left town on a midnight bus. I hope the McNamaras find a different line of work. I hope to find a similar outcome for myself.
For only the second time in my life, and the first since my mother died, I was hurting; from within and without. None of the usual pleasures helped. I went to the libraries. I read about all I could. I did not eat much. It showed. For a young woman of nearly 18 years, I looked anorexic. I looked depressed. I felt miserable. I drank too much coffee. I didn’t take care of myself. Others saw it also. I had a few women leave me small cards with phone numbers for assistance. I moved frequently to avoid suspicion. The months of September and October found me in Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, and Jacksonville. I tried hot air ballooning, riding fan boats, and spelunking. Nothing worked. I went so far as to try religion. Different churches in different cities led to the same result. I hurt and would hurt for a long time. Whatever my solution would be, I would have to find it myself. I checked into a motel to think. One day led to one week. All I learned was that only time could heal my inner pain, but eating smart and exercising went far in healing my physical pain. With that one decision, I no longer saw John Knoll in the mirror. I saw myself for what I truly was; eager to get back on track and looking pathetic until I did.
I had the money to get better and I spent what I needed to do so. Literally walking, I backpacked from Jacksonville toward South Florida to watch the lift-off of Space Shuttle Columbia in November. This was inspiring. Straining upward, watching the contrails, I got goose-bumps. I never got goose-bumps before. I met people from everywhere who enjoyed life and these one-of-a-kind treasures ready for all to experience. My favorites were the Harris Sisters; Gloria and Wilma. Not that they were beautiful or rich. I found the Harris Sisters interesting because they found life interesting. I spent a day with them seeing my future self as them. They planned, early on, to be the adventuristic people that other people read about. They told me of their mountain climbing in Africa, running with the bulls in Spain, and whale watching off the coast of Antarctica. They searched New York for great adventure and Chicago for great food. They rode cable cars to China Town and biked the Pacific Coast Highway. If they could, they would go to the Moon, thus the Space Shuttle interest. I begged them for another day of their sage advice. They said if I would pay for the next two tanks of gasoline, I could ride as far as their car would go. No contracts, no guarantees. They asked a few questions and I told them a few lies. They were heading west and so was I. I wanted to be home for Christmas. Gloria and Wilma provided a means to that end. Albeit, via internal combustion, Horace Greely had it right.
Two tanks of gas went further than I expected. The three of us agreed to extend our agreement on a day-to-day basis. They did not let me drive, for insurance purposes, but they did let me learn. Gloria taught me poker. Wilma taught me to eat and dress better. I took to both curricula like a fish to water. My jeans and sweatshirts changed to casual dresses and light makeup. Tennis shoes gave way to sandals and low heels. I even started carrying a purse. Gloria made sure I did not carry any baggage. At least, not to the poker table.
We spent two weeks meandering from South Florida to Dallas. There was a reason for this. The Harris Sisters had invitations to a no-limit poker tournament. They wanted to attend. Unfortunately, they would not go home winners. Everyone knew them. The Harris Sisters were professional players and would not get great odds to win from side bets. But, if they had a protégé, this protégé could use one of the invitations to enter the tournament. The Harris Sisters did not have a plan for me to win the poker tournament. They had a plan to bet on me to finish in the top eight players. Traditionally, the odds of a young, unknown doing so usually floated near 70 to 1. A simple $1000 bet on myself, could net $70000 in winnings. This was a number I felt comfortable with. I was all in.
Every mile in the car, we played poker. Every mile in the car, I learned something new. The first day, I learned the mechanics and what beats what. The rest of the drive, I learned poker faces, tells, and how to bet, how to win, and most importantly, how to lose. My fake driver’s license said I was 18. In the last hotel near Dallas, Wilma made a license for me showing my age as 22. It also showed my picture. I looked beautiful and innocent. I liked what I saw. My two week education displayed my faults with my table play. Gloria told me not to worry; even visible faults can be turned to an advantage. I became my fake ID and played my part. Working with the Harris Sisters allowed me to finally know where I stood in a plan requiring my cognizant participation. Should I prove unsuccessful, Wilma would lose a seat at the table (I used her invitation) and I would lose my $1000 entry fee. Should I make the final table, I keep my winnings and Wilma and Gloria keep the money from their side bets. I could afford my losses. I trusted Gloria and Wilma. They keep their cards close to their vests and above the table. I accepted their terms.
The Dallas Invitational Poker Tournament began on December 1st. Day 1 was registration in the morning and photos at the evening mixer. Wilma sensed my trepidation and pulled me aside to ask me about it. I wanted to come clean about having my picture taken and what could transpire, but I lied and said I was nervous about looking my age. She took me to a salon for a makeover. By 6pm, Gloria did not recognize me. By 8pm, I was on my own at the mixer. I drank only chilled water, no alcohol. The press corps dubbed me the “Ice Queen”. My nom de plume matched my photographic poses and table etiquette. As per Gloria’s instructions, I left the mixer early and alone, despite the attention of some rather handsome men. As per Wilma’s instructions, I was not to refer to any man as handsome or cute or sexy. Men were men. Winning pots was cute. Winning huge pots was sexy. The Ice Queen needed her beauty sleep. First deal came at 8am and I would not have either Harris Sister to help me. It wasn’t my first time on my own.
December 2nd, 6am and I welcomed the alarm clock for the first time. Caveat emptor for me today. I dressed for success; comfortable slacks and shirt. Touch of this and a touch of that. I took to wearing flats. My outfit looked sharp. My play was sharper. Gloria taught me not to say anything to anyone at any time. Focus only on the cards. No small talk. No chit-chat. I wore a pair of designer glasses too dark for anyone to read my eyes during play. The tournament had 240 registered participants and we played 5 card stud, no wilds, until 8pm, with only one half hour break at 1pm. Another marathon for me.
By 1pm, I rose to walk. The Ice Queen did not show weakness. I did not stretch or ask for food. I did not ask for anything. By design, I was cold and calculating. My play did not warrant my behavior as of yet. I did not eliminate anyone this morning. All I did was survive. I started with $1000 in chips and currently had $1200. At my table of 7 players, I was short stacked. When play resumed, these sharks would come for my blood. To finish the metaphor, sharks are powerful. However, even they cannot remove the remora that fixes itself behind the shark’s pectoral fin. All the shark can do is know that a slow, draining death awaits him. The Ice Queen had her purpose.
The dealer dealt again. I sat in the big blind and waited for the others to place their bet. I had an 8 showing and an 8 in the hole. The man who bet first was known only as Marlow. He sat to my right today. He showed a Queen. He opened with $50. I called him and everyone else folded. I felt his eyes on me. He wasn’t staring at me in an overt sexual way. I expected that behavior from the others. No, Marlow stared at me for a tell. The dealer dealt a Queen to Marlow and another 8 to me. Marlow bet $50 and turned to stare at me. Wilma taught me how to slow down the table play by counting to 10 before I bet. I used her teaching and did just that. I should have raised Marlow, but I called him instead. The dealer gave us each our fourth card. Marlow received an 8 and I received a Queen. Now Marlow slowed down the play for half a minute. I remained the Ice Queen. Marlow bet $500. He didn’t look at me at all. I didn’t look at him either. Who the remaining players looked at was their business. Poker was tedious and deliberate. I should have gone all in. Marlow had me covered with his stack of chips. He could afford the loss, I couldn’t. I called. The fifth card helped neither of us. Marlow smiled as he gazed, not stared, at me. He picked up his cards and folded. I won a desperately needed pot from Marlow. He paid $500 to learn that I did not have the chutzpah to bet big when I had to. In retrospect, that night in the hotel, I realized I had another visible weakness. I brief call to my room from Wilma confirmed this. I needed to be careful.
December 3rd had the players reseated to different tables. It was sink or swim today. By 8pm, only 60 players remained. My stack was enough for a current 35th place ranking. Gloria, by the way, remained near the top of the leaderboard, currently ranked in 4th place. I didn’t look for Wilma or make eye contact with Gloria. Even the closest association of me with either of these two would prove disastrous.
December 4th and the remaining players arrived to sit at 8 tables. By the 1pm break, we returned to reshuffle our seats at 6 tables. Before 8pm, the Ice Queen eliminated two players, in the same hand with a set of 4s over two pairs (aces and sevens) and two pairs (kings and queens). Of the 40 players remaining, I sat in 21st place and Gloria remained ranked in 4th place.
December 5th and I decided to be daring. I entered the playing area wearing a white tube top, white shorts, my large floppy hat, and no shoes. I kept my makeup light and kept my glasses on. My finishing touch was a dark crimson red lipstick. Today, the officials scheduled us to play until only the final 8 players remained. I did not want to be here all night. I read a few of the remaining players as more than poker players. My costume was a distraction to eliminate the easily distracted. I dared anyone to prohibit blatant sex appeal from the Ice Queen while she culled the herd. I awaited the first shuffle from the dealer before my assault began.
The first hand allowed the 7 players at my table to witness this power. The first player I eliminated focused on my figure more than his cards. 10-9-8-7-5 does not beat a pair of jacks. All in meant all gone. The second player distracted could not cover my three raises. His short stack of chips removed him from contention. I cleared another player before the 1pm break. Before I sat down to a new table, I carefully strolled around its perimeter allowing all to view my wares. It also allowed me to view the drinks resting near and under the poker table. This was all Wilma’s idea. I wanted to know if any of the players were drinking alcohol and what type it was. I incentivized one of the hotel personnel to increase the alcohol content in each of the player’s mixed drinks. By 3pm, I eliminated another two players and moved to another table. By 6pm, the tournament director announced we were at the final two tables of 14 players. Gloria sat at the other table from me. Unfortunately, at my table, I now sat to the right of Marlow. I had to play before he did. He had the advantage over me that I had over him on the first day of play. Adding to my agony was the combined 200 years of poker experience, before me, that should precluded my reach to the final table of eight players. I needed more than my combined clothing, alcoholic drinks, and luck provided. Now I needed raw skill. Window dressing only goes so far.
The dealer shuffled and we threw chips in the ante. 2 up and a 7 down. Fold from me. Marlow in and Marlow wins. Another deal. 3 showing and 3 down. I am in for $100. Marlow raises me to $400. A few other players in. The rest fold. Next card gets me a Jack. Marlow pairs his 10s on the table. The rest fold. I bet $300. Marlow raises me to $1000. I fold. Back and forth between us. Unfortunately, Marlow gets more back than I get forth. He also gets more of my chip stack. The other table dwindles to 5 players and we still have 7. At 8pm, the other table saw Gloria eliminate two players. This called for a final reshuffle of players. I wanted Marlow to go to the other table. What happened gave me the same result, but from a different cause. Instead of Marlow leaving me, I left Marlow. I now sat at Gloria’s table. Worse yet, she sat to my left. If she changed her style of play, people would notice. Sitting here, Gloria had to eliminate me. If she did, the Harris Sisters would lose thousands on side bets. If I eliminated her, however unlikely, Gloria and Wilma would lose thousands in both side bets and winnings. I had the short stack of chips and I had to survive until someone eliminated two more players. I was so close and yet so far away from success. The dealer shuffled.
We threw our chips in the ante then received our cards. I went first and folded. I had nothing. Next hand same result. Third hand same result. Fourth hand same result. My only saving grace was that Marlow eliminated a player at the other table. I had to eliminate someone and I had to do it on this hand. The dealer dealt, and without viewing my down card, except for a souvenir $10 chip, I went all in, solely based on my up card of a 2. Gloria folded, the next players folded, and the last player viewed his down card. His up card was a king. He called. For the very first time, in this tournament, I removed my glasses and stared at someone. He wore a blue cowboy shirt and a western vest. He distracted everyone with the clatter of his bracelets on his wrists and multiple chains on his neck. I was the Ice Queen, he was the Fidgeter. He touched himself incessantly from hand-to-hand, hand-to-head, hand-to-vest, hand-to-every part of his body. No wonder this man was thin. This extreme level of nervous energy had to burn a few calories. I could only await my fate.
The dealer gave me a 4 and the Fidgeter a Queen. Card four resulted in a 3 for me and a 10 for him. Still no luck from the other table. Marlow slowed the play, so the seating of the final table rested with the next card from my dealer. The dealer showed our last card. Mine was a 5, his was a Jack. He smiled. The Fidgeter turned over his down card of the Ace of Diamonds. He had a straight. He won. I started to rise, to exit gracefully, and Gloria, of all people, asked that I turn over my down card. Out of respect to the remaining players, I did.
When I did, I heard a collective gasp from the players at my table and the tournament officials. I thought I violated an unknown poker rule or tradition. I thought wrong. I turned over an Ace of Diamonds to make a straight in my hand. I didn’t understand. The Fidgeter went ghost white. Here, sitting on the table, were two of the same cards from a single deck of cards. The dealer called for security and I remained standing in disbelief. Play stopped at the other table. Conversation stopped in the room. Someone cheated. That someone was the Fidgeter. He knew. Of course, he immediately accused me of cheating and demanded that I be escorted from the table. I leaned forward, hands on the table, and gave him a reply only an Ice Queen could. I demanded that he be searched for hidden cards. He said I should be searched first. Marlow was the first to state what everyone was thinking. Where could a woman in a tube top hide cards? The Tournament Director agreed and searched the Fidgeter. Out came the remaining three aces in the cuff of his sleeve and folds of his vest. It was all the proof the Director required. Security removed the Fidgeter and play ceased for the night. I made the final table of 8. Gloria and Wilma cashed in on nearly $70000 in side bets. Tournament rules dictate the affronted party be awarded the chips in the pot, not the chips in the Fidgeter’s possession. My chips totaled a mere $3000, compared to the table average of $32000. Speaking to the Tournament Director, I asked to resign my 8th place finish and collect my 8th place winnings of $5000. I did not have enough chips to last one hand on the final day of play. The Director accepted my request and gave me $2500 in cash. The other $2500 belonged to the IRS agent silently watching from the audience. Nothing is certain but death and taxes. I cheated the first a few times this year. No one could cheat the second.
I slept in my hotel room that night, courtesy of the Tournament Director, and remained to watch Gloria finish in third place. I met Wilma and Gloria at a nice restaurant for an amazing dinner of filet-mignon and ice water. The Harris Sisters and I departed friends that night. Rarely does this happen to me. When it does, it is worth remembering.
I decided to collect my belongings and took a taxi to the airport. I never flew in a plane and today was to be my lucky day. I had over $4000 in my purse, one small suitcase, my South Dakota dress, boots, and hat on, and a desire to fly home to Seattle for the holidays and my official 18th birthday. My year would end as the prodigal daughter returning to visit my mother’s grave and plan my future. I could fly home on any airline I wanted. Price was not an issue, only availability. This late in December meant stop overs and delays. I did not want another adventure in another city, possibly resulting in disaster. I was tired and I wanted to go home. I thought about flying coach or standby; maybe even a redeye flight. Every possibility every airline had available seemed less than adequate. I made a few mental calculations. To get home tonight, I needed to compromise my standards. I resolved to lower them for this trip. I waited a little longer for a better offer to come my way. My way he did come.
Dressed in a dark blue pilot’s uniform, he tapped me on the shoulder. Not any he, but the HE. Copperfield HE. Helicopter pilot HE. The corporate pilot HE with an open seat. I said yes before he asked. He did wonder aloud if he needed extra money for fuel for the increased load on the plane. I hit him for that. I wondered aloud if a transfer of $2000 would lighten my “load” enough to make it worth his while. He rubbed his chin, extending the game he knew he already won. A counter offer was not necessary. He escorted me, slowly, to where his plane hangared. We had time to talk, but we didn’t. I watched him in that uniform the entire time. He could have recited a cure for world hunger for all I cared. This was the man who saved my life. I could not get passed how well he cleaned up. I also could not get passed how I felt about him. I left him showing no gratitude or kindness. I resolved to rectify that previous discretion. To anyone who saw us together during pre-flight, I had a case of puppy love and I had it bad. If anyone asked me privately, it was more than puppy love.
He explained he had midnight clearance to fly this single engine plane to Las Vegas then Portland. Each stop meant a transfer of cargo and an additional two hours of layover. If I was open to an adventure, I could sit in the co-pilot’s seat and learn to navigate. We would have the better part of the new day to ourselves, alone in the air. This time, I accepted his terms. I had difficulty climbing into such a small plane. He had no difficulty sweeping me off my feet and lifting me into my seat. If anyone now asked me privately, it was FAR more than puppy love; far, far more. Receiving clearance from the tower, we took off at the stroke of midnight. Which soared faster, my heart or this plane was open to debate.
If I had a diary, I wanted to transcribe everything that occurred in the cockpit of his plane that day. Our conversation needed only 2 pages, our thoughts - 10, our feelings - 100. We saw the sunrise over the mountains in Arizona and Nevada. He flew over the clouds and I witnessed the calming effect of the sunshine above storm clouds. Magical is a word that only begins to describe the overwhelming sensations overwhelming my senses. I turned to him and watched him. His hands, his arms, even his breathing. I was in love and I never wanted it to end. He smiled and I smiled. He needed a pen and reached for it at the same time I reached for it. Our hands met his on top of mine. He didn’t withdraw and neither did I. Seconds passed to minutes. This was as natural as it should be. I felt the electricity in his touch. I was putty. We kept our hands together all the way to Las Vegas.
We landed in Las Vegas and taxied to a row of hangers. There we met a truck with a crew of two. Their corporate logos matched the plane’s logo. When they asked him about me, I became a “last minute” addition. I wanted to blush, but the Ice Queen blocked sophomoric snickering from the crew. They unloaded a few locked trunks and gave him a few smaller packages and instructions for their delivery in Portland. He signed the paperwork and all shook hands on the deal. We had to refuel, fill out paperwork, and await an ETA for our departure. He wanted to know if he could escort me to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast. At this point, I would have agreed to coffee anywhere. We walked hand-in-hand. He looked dashing. I felt proud and weak-in-the-knees. I needed food as desperately as his company. He made sure I received the best of both.
This was not the first time he watched me drink coffee and eat food from his plate. He smiled every time I stole a bit of this or a piece of that. Today was for me. He ensured it was.
We cleared the tower in Las Vegas and made the shorter leg of the trip to Portland. My heart rose at takeoff and descended likewise upon landing. I wanted this time together to last forever. I asked how much to charter this plane and the pilot. I knew he had to reply in a way I would not want to hear. He leaned close to me to whisper in my ear. He was brazen. He told me he loved me. He told me he knew in Copperfield. It nearly killed him to see me leave. I started to cry and threw my arms around his neck to hug him. I told him I loved him also. Unfortunately, he told me I had to wait, just a little longer. He had contracts to complete taking him into Christmas Day. If I could wait, he would come for me in Seattle. All he needed to know was where and when we should meet.
I have never been good at thinking under such emotional conditions. All I could think of was the ugly purple tour boat that covers Puget Sound for day and night cruises. It stands out and everyone knows it. I would purchase two tickets. All he had to do was be on time for the December 27th night cruise. I didn’t tell him it was my 18th birthday. He didn’t need to know that, yet. All he needed to know was that his ticket would be waiting for him at the gate. All he had to do was get on that boat before it launched for the night cruise. He would easily recognize me (a small gaze to my Copperfield attire). He placed a finger on my lips before I could say any more. He leaned toward my ear for what I thought would be another small whisper in my ear. Instead, he leaned forward and gave me a kiss. Not a small kiss; but my first kiss, a real kiss. He gave me the kiss I expected, the kiss I deserved. He kissed me like a man should kiss the woman he loves. When we broke, he then decided to whisper. I heard him as loud as the jet engines from the adjacent runways. I would never forget what he said to me. I would never tell anyone either. All I could do was react. I watched him walk away, climb into his plane, and fly to the stars. I stared into the night hoping to see him return. He made me mad at him then worried for him. He left me for the last time. I stood near the hangers, in Portland, in December, only with my small suitcase, and no winter coat. Damn him! I am NEVER letting him out of my sights again. If he didn’t make that tour boat on my birthday, I would hunt him down and kill him. OK, I wouldn’t actually kill him, but I would make him suffer.
If he did make good on my birthday, I would repay kindness with kindness.
I was freezing standing at the far end of the airport, near the private hangers. Looking around, I saw, and walked to, an open administration building. I needed some warmth and then a coat. I found both inside. The woman at the desk watched me immune to the cold while kissing him. She also watched me instantly freeze when I came back to my senses. I do not know if it belonged to her or from a lost and found box, but the coat she gave me fit fairly well and covered my legs all the way to my boots. She also gave a cup of coffee to me. I sat down on one of the chairs and listened to her story about what she just observed. She was a romantic at heart and desired to know details. I felt obligated, but I needed a few more sips of coffee before I spoke. I told her about him, how he saved my life, and how long I waited before I saw him again. I do not know why I opened up so much to a complete stranger, but I did. Maybe her generosity overcame my defenses. Maybe it was something only a psychologist had the vocabulary to accurately describe. Whatever it was, she had it. I had not slept, nor changed my clothes in nearly two days and I dictated the details of him and his love for me. I unloaded most of my year on her and she ate it all up.
She instinctively filled my cup and I verbally continued. Details, but not damaging details I espoused. If she took notes, she might have the foundation of a made for TV love story. She said the redness in my cheeks could no longer be attributed to the cold outside. I looked in my compact mirror and blushed even more. No man should ever have that kind of power over me. And yet he did. My slump in my chair betrayed my exhaustion. I fell asleep. I needed it.
My guardian angel woke me. The sun in my eyes told me it was far past noon. She said her shift was ending and she could drive me to a hotel or something, if I wanted a ride. One step closer to a hot bath, I gladly accepted.
Fast forward six hours. I have a nice room, cleanly washed and pressed clothing, a warm bubble bath, and plane tickets for Seattle at noon. I also have a glass of ice water and a clear mind reviewing all I experienced in the last two days. My 17 year old tally includes: one bank robbery, one murder, one manslaughter, one drug deal, income tax evasion (I will never file on my winnings), three fake IDs, a stolen horse (actually borrowed), underage consumption of alcohol, underage participation in gambling, and leaving the scene of a crime. I am not a lawyer; I might have missed a few more. On the plus side, I have successful midwifery, avenging a death, preparation of killer jambalaya and gumbo, a thirst for great coffee, a first kiss from a man who loves me, and an unusual back scar to remind me of it all. I also have in excess of $30000 remaining from my bank job. Most of which is carefully distributed in various accounts; safe and secure.
Safe and secure. These two words leave an indelible impression on my mind. In a few days, I would be 18 and a real adult. Not a girl playing one for others. I had to find a job and a place to live. I am still a high school dropout with a fairly sizable bank account. This fairy tale life was going to end soon. I went to sleep not knowing what the distant future had in store for me. I only knew what the next eight hours had. And I welcomed it.
I flew the short, but lonely, flight to Seattle without incident.
I waited until Monday, December 10th, to find my mother’s grave. Almost a year ago, I left quickly. With my mother’s stories guiding me, I lived as much as I could. She would be proud of what I accomplished. Now, I wanted my last action for my mother to be my best. I needed information and went where I always went, to the library. However, until I accomplished my mission, I remained the Ice Queen. The combination of identification, money, and attitude gets results. Today would be no exception. By noon, I had an address and a name. Donning the glasses and my new fake fur coat, I made a trip to the coroner’s office. The name I had matched the name on the door; Doctor Jonas Mach M.D. I knocked once, prepared to knock twice. I say prepared, because the door slowly opened with a creaking sound normally reserved for monster movies and haunted houses. I would have thought it should have been locked; it wasn’t. As it opened, I said hello twice and asked if anyone was home. I received no reply. I looked into the office, expecting to find a secretary, or other people. I didn’t. I didn’t find anyone. A few more hellos and I gave up asking. Doctor Mach’s office did not have Doctor Mach in attendance. He must have been here earlier. His ham and cheese sandwich lay open on its wax paper wrapper awaiting the mustard clinging to the knife astride the top of a large, half full jar. Doctor Mach must wear glasses, for they occupied a place on his desk adjacent to his telephone. One pencil, one pen, and a large quantity of paperwork in his in-box populated the remaining bare spots of a desk twice as old as dirt. I began to suspect foul play. Looking around, his plants had all died and his calendar (the kind with the pages you tear off) still read Thanksgiving. I walked around his unoccupied office, not wanting to touch anything (fingerprints and dirt), expecting to find the good doctor waltzing through his door. What I did not expect was to find Doctor Jonas Mach waltz through his bathroom door, with headphones on, zipping his fly. He saw me in my business attire and I saw him finishing what should have been finished. Rarely does something embarrass me. Today would not be the exception. I wanted to say Doctor Mach, I presume. He beat me to the verbal punch. He asked if I was the temp girl for the holidays. At least he did not offer his hand. Catching me off guard, I uncharacteristically nodded yes. Doctor Mach waved me over to his desk and began clearing his lunch off. He motioned for me to sit down and began piling folder after folder of cases in large piles where his sandwich awaited its fate.
Apparently, I am the new Girl-Friday the good doctor waited for before he left for, until next Monday, a forensics symposium in Sacramento. Listening and nodding my head in agreement to anything he babbled about, I was to organize his back log files and begin data entry of each when his computer arrived tomorrow. He gave me a copy of the office key and forbade me to enter the lab or morgue portion of this building. No chance of poking my head around there. Furthermore, Doctor Mach provided to me a phone list of frequently encountered numbers and an identification badge. He explained that if the temp agency thought it was professional enough to get everything ship shape, who was he to disagree? I assured him of his fortuitous luck in allowing me to work my magic on his files. I watched him leave as I hung up my coat and sat down to work.
At this point, I had a decision to make. I wanted the information concerning my mother’s grave. Once obtained, I could leave and attend to her final resting place. Or, I could kill two birds with one stone. A mere three days ago, I contemplated my future as a high school dropout with little to no vocational training. If I remained with Doctor Jonas Mach, I would secure steady employment and be in a position to not only make inquiries concerning my mother’s grave, but how to properly (and legally) renovate her grave site with a proper headstone. She deserved no less than my best. I decided to stay.
By 4pm, I found all the information about my mother I required. I made enough phone calls, from the office of Doctor Jonas Mach MD, about securing paperwork for a headstone. Maybe I overstepped my authority in invoking the doctor’s name and office, but I needed to use both to get what I wanted. It was selfish, and somewhat devious, but the Ice Queen does not take no for an answer. On Wednesday, the funeral director attending my mother’s grave site would arrive for the headstone selection process and prompt payment. I would have the money ready.
I remained until nearly 10pm that night working on the files. When I returned on Tuesday, I did not make the mistake of wearing a skirt and heels to continue sorting these files. I donned sneakers and jeans, brought my lunch and dinner, and ordered a cleaning crew to arrive before I placed any of the files in the appropriate cabinets. The computer man arrived before lunch and installed one of the new TRS-80 computers on Doctor Mach’s desk. He must have installed the wires incorrectly. When the computer was on, the phone had an enormous amount of static and the fluorescent lights flickered so much that it caused a headache. I had to turn the computer off and file by hand. My next trouble arose at 2pm when the real temp girl, Susie, arrived with her paperwork in hand, ready to begin her new job. I could have sent her away, I didn’t. I wanted to keep this job. I needed to keep this job. But, I knew she was the person for this job and I needed the help. Now was the time for Plan B. I would stay the week and work with the real temp. By Friday, the two of us would have this office ready for a drill sergeant’s white glove inspection. Doctor Mach would have his assistant, she would have her job, my mother would have her gravestone, and I would have my pride; not gainful employment, but my pride.
Wednesday, I returned to the Ice Queen attitude, ready for the funeral director. I gave Susie an early lunch and directed my full attention to his arrival. When he did arrive, he was not what I expected. I thought funeral directors would be short, somber, and always wearing black. He was tall, likable, and attentive. His name was Lewis Stanton and he listened to all I requested. Our conversation was brief and to the point. I introduced myself as my mother’s niece and wanted to see her final resting place updated to reflect her station in both her life and her family’s life. He offered a simple fare of a granite tombstone, granite border, and eternal maintenance. I wanted the stone to list her name, date of birth, and state “dutiful and loving mother”. He agreed and calculated the price. I paid in cash, totaling $5200. I received an ETA on the work and a map of the grave site. By this time, Susie returned and I gave her the remainder of the day off if she returned tomorrow to help me finish the filing, however long it took. We would start the computer work on Friday together. She agreed and eagerly left. I asked Mr. Stanton for a ride to the cemetery where I could view what my money purchased. Ever the gentleman, Lewis allowed me to accompany him on a motor tour of the cemetery, its features, and finally, my mother’s unmarked grave. It was a mess. I asked Lewis when the renovation would begin. He said, since I paid cash, first thing in the morning and finished by Friday evening. If I wanted, he could come by Doctor Mach’s office to pick me up at 4pm and bring me here to see the results. I would be waiting for him then, but I needed some time here, alone. Mr. Stanton understood and left.
A year. I left my mother as a 17 year old child and returned as a 17 year old woman. I talked to her as I pulled the weeds from her grave site. I cried during the entire process. I made a mess of my dress and shoes. I didn’t care. I finally reunited with the only person who cared about me. The only person who loved me. The only person who sacrificed it all for me. I loved my mother as she loved me. It was that simple with us. It always was.
Despite all of my traveling, I could never leave her again. Seattle was my home and at this very spot was my anchor. I would wander away, but I would always come back home.
Wiping away a few tears, I told her of my adventures and escapades. I told her of him and how I loved him. I told her that he loved me. We would meet again on my 18th birthday. I would bring him here, when the time was right, when he proved himself worthy of presentation.
I nearly pulled every bit of vegetation from the site when Mr. Stanton returned. He didn’t speak. He didn’t need to. Whether by instinct or by training, funeral directors are by nature not chatty. They are patient and attentive. I saw his wedding ring. He was married for 11 years and had two small girls. Mr. Stanton belonged in this position, this occupation. I accepted his offer of a ride to my hotel from him. We never spoke. I had too much on my mind. Before, I never had time to grieve for my mother. I went inside, crawled into bed, and cried myself to sleep that night.
How many words describe pain? Hurt, ache, distress, anguish, and misery do not go far enough. I didn’t greet the alarm clock this morning. It smacked me about. It kicked me in the gut and had me for breakfast. I was not the daughter my mother wanted. The intrepid adventuress was a character and I no longer wished to play the part. The Ice Queen was to die a permanent death on Friday at 4pm. Until then, I had no choice other than the one I planned. I put myself together and donned the dress of a woman consigned to a final 40 hours of life. She served me well. The Ice Queen demanded action and received action. She was both an aphrodisiac and a narcotic. I could lose myself in her persona. My next visit to my mother’s grave would be as her daughter. I can confront grief best when I confront it honestly.
I arrived at Doctor Mach’s office before Susie and began a forced mindset to the remaining filing. When Susie did arrive, she jumped right in and worked as well as her resume pedigree indicated. Noon became 2pm, 2pm became 5pm, and night became late night. I never broke stride and neither did she. For me, secretarial work was forced. Just as my previous false identities, I had to act to survive. For Susie, she soared with each small success. At 9pm, we both saw the end in sight. At 10pm, we finished as a team. I felt proud to work with her. If I had a business, Susie would be a full time employee. I hope Doctor Mach had similar insight.
Before she left, I told her to wear her interview attire for Friday; I would. I wanted to use the imaginary power invested in me to set Susie up for success, should Doctor Mach or anyone else arrive early. Susie justified my respect for her when she explained the noise on the phone originated in the unshielded RF source on the computer. Moving the phone further away and placing a lamp on the doctor’s desk removed the effect, not the cause. Doctor Mach would be impressed with Susie. I already was.
Another night at a hotel, another night thinking about my mother, another night thinking about him. I didn’t think about December 25th. All I thought about was December 27th. I should have thought about nothing, sleep would come easier. I ignored the former and for two days in a row, the latter ignored me.
Morning came with a small respite. When the alarm rang, I successfully hit the clock with a telephone book. The book covered the clock muting the alarm until the spring wound down. If this was the last day for the Ice Queen, it started off in an auspicious manner.
It did not end in the hotel.
The Ice Queen got her way on the streets of Seattle. I walked to work. The Ice Queen moved through pedestrian traffic with ease. I was the last time I was the woman everyone expected me to be. It was a thin veneer, but only I knew that. Men stole looks at my swagger. Women admired my confidence. I purchased a small group of flowers (short stem white roses) for my mother’s grave. I also bought a single red rose for Susie. By the time I arrived at the doctor’s office, I placed the roses in water. Susie smiled when she saw hers. We both got down to work.
Susie and I owned the place. I was the boss and Susie was my Girl-Friday. We made short work of the data entry. Susie was in her element. She moved as a ballerina through this work. I took a few computer classes last year. Susie could have taught those classes. I should be working for her.
At 3:45pm, we took a break and I turned the reins of office power over to her. I also explained how she was to explain my absence to Doctor Mach. I saw him as intelligent enough not to ask questions that interfered with his daily routines. I changed clothes in the bathroom and exited as myself. Susie was nearly my size and I gave her the Ice Queen clothes to do as she pleased. I hugged her and said my goodbyes. I greeted Lewis Stanton and his wife, Lisa, in the lobby of the building. I carried no more baggage in my life. Life would have to take me as I am.
The drive to the cemetery was to be uneventful. At the first traffic light, Mrs. Stanton gave a file to me to open and read. Her poker face was that of Marlow at the table. Somewhat suspicious, I opened the file. I wish I hadn’t. The light turned green and Mr. Stanton did not proceed. He gave me an out. I needed it.
The file contained what little of a biography I ever saw about my mother. The welfare department compiled it from previous records from other departments. It also included her family history stating she did not have any brothers or sisters. She only had a 17 year old daughter, a minor child that should be picked up for processing through foster care. This file had a picture of me, a rather nice picture from my freshman year in school. I remembered that day. I smiled in that picture. I do not remember smiling since; not sincerely anyway.
I looked up to see the Stantons give to me a we-are-not-here-to-turn-you-in-to-the-authorities look. I did not have to trust that look, but I did. I asked Lewis to continue driving.
The rest of the file contained a collection of departmental reports of sightings of me over the past year. Lisa explained she personally assembled this file in the hopes I would someday return to see my mother. Apparently, the escapade of the Mister Marble Bandit piqued her curiosity. She had the time to follow the story of my death, from coyotes in South Dakota. She almost gave up on me until she saw a picture of me at the Dallas poker tournament. Mrs. Stanton informed Mr. Stanton of my impending arrival, at or near, December 27th. The Stantons discussed my situation at great length, and decided to give this file to me. In doing so, they violated a few minor legislative acts. In doing so, they gave me the final documentation linking my past to my present. Possibly, no definitely, this was one of the greatest acts of kindness to me. I knew I would be crying today, I did not know it would begin now.
When we arrived at the cemetery, I asked the Stantons to walk with me to meet my mother. It was a cold, blustery day in Seattle, which meant rain. Every day in Seattle means rain. Today dropped a cold December drizzle which would turn to ice later tonight. They could have said no, but they didn’t.
When we arrived at my mother’s grave, I dropped to my knees and gasped. She had what she should have had all along. The tombstone was exactly as I ordered. The granite border was perfect. The Stantons explained that the grass sod would remain green all year long. The only thing I added was the small group of white roses I carried. I placed them in the small holder designed for flowers. All I could do was silently cry in the cold drizzle. The Stantons gave me a few minutes then intervened on my behalf. Mrs. Stanton helped me to my feet. We needed to remove ourselves from the rain to avoid a cold or pneumonia. The short walk to their office gave me a few minutes to clean myself up. The Stantons asked me in to get dry and relax. I thanked them and quickly warmed with the coffee they offered. We all sat in the padded chairs. Not the kind you find in any other type of office, but the large, comfy chairs designed to lull the occupant to complacency. If I ever had an office, my clients would sit in these chairs.
I viewed Mrs. Stanton as an older sister, perhaps an aunt. I somewhat trusted her. She inquired as to my plans for the future. Since I was nearly 18, this was frequently on my mind. However, I told her I was unemployed and would be seeking a position in the New Year. Mr. Stanton asked about Doctor Mach’s office. I told him the entire story and had both of them laughing. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough to say that wouldn’t be intrusive, and the silence became awkward. I was getting late. I thanked them and could not impose on their generosity again. Mr. Stanton called a cab for me and Mrs. Stanton gave me one of those if-you-ever-need-anything talks as she helped me with my coat and gave me a hug. They gave me the access code to the security gate for the cemetery. I could come and go as I pleased in visiting my mother. I had the file in my hand and a belly full of coffee as I waved goodbye to the Stantons. The taxi took me back to the hotel for another night alone. I take that back. With my file, and the information about my mother, I was not alone as long as I read. Even in sleep, I felt my mother’s spirit emanating from these pages. Tonight, sleep came and it came as a friend.
The sun poked through the morning clouds to announce Saturday, December 15th. The coffee at this hotel smells as great as it tastes. A few stretches and I removed the cobwebs clouding my head. I needed to do yoga. I cannot start each morning as an old lady attempting to recover my youth.
I wrote my resume as a record of the truth. I wrote my resume as an article of pure fiction. Even I wouldn’t hire the candidate presenting the first. I might have her arrested, but I wouldn’t hire her. I could easily acquire a position as a candidate of the second, but I gave up playing the role of imaginary characters. What I needed were skills. And a formal education. And some luck. I started today at my ground zero, the library. I read books. I didn’t know what books to read, so I read the books others read and left unshelved. I studied English. I did math problems. I asked questions. I wrote practice business letters. I borrowed a typewriter and practiced. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
The library closes at 8pm on Saturday and 5pm on Sunday. The main librarian had to escort me out, at closing, both days. I used this time to answer questions I never even thought of. What does it take to start a business (the dehydrated survival food dilemma in South Dakota)? How do you invest money? How do computers work? How do you publish (my mother’s stories)? Do you need a license to get married (I was thinking about him and wondering aloud)? How do I acquire a GED? What do I need to enroll in college? How do I pay for it?
Two days I spent exercising my mind. I lacked the same effort for my body. Saturday night, I walked to an outdoor skating rink and tried to learn to figure skate. I wore jeans. I fell on my rear and the jeans offered no protection. Sunday night, I returned in a skating outfit with posterior padding. I fell often, but it did not hurt as much. That night, I gave up on skating. My bruising did not justify the aerobic benefit.
Monday, December 17th found me in the library until noon and a yoga class, at a nearby YWCA, until 3pm. This was more to my liking. No bruising and no freezing. I moved at my own pace. So did others. I kept to myself, but remained attentive to other ideas. On Tuesday, I found my nirvana. I learned about rock climbing and strength training at a sports shop that sells supplies to cavers and rescue personnel. This activity spoke to me. My frame lent itself to a few activities, and short of ballet (which I loved as a young girl), I excelled at rock climbing. I took to this activity so well that the manager of the facility gave an application for employment to me. I returned on Wednesday and he hired me on the spot. They desperately required sales staff that could demonstrate the products and could bring in females to the activity during the Christmas holiday season. I fit the bill on both accounts. They were open from 9am to 6pm and I wanted to work the entire time. The manager wanted me to work the entire time. He allowed the staff to arrive early (7am) and correctly learn the safe operation of the equipment. I found a purpose here, albeit, for the brief shopping season, but a purpose nonetheless. Evenings found me back at the library. Now I became an intellectual and physical fiend. The days passed quickly. So quickly, I lost track of details I should have attended to.
First of these was the purchase of tickets on the People Eater. This was a large tour boat, painted purple, in homage to the pop song. It carried nearly 100 chairs for passengers on the large flat stern. Everyone in Seattle knew about the People Eater. Pilots found it as a landmark. It was a rite of passage to purchase a ticket and see the sites along Puget Sound on the People Eater. I would be no different. On Thursday, I purchased two tickets for the December 27th trip through the Sound. It debarked, on a night time cruise, at 8pm sharp. My tickets said December 27th and I was ready for him to return. I was more than ready. I was still giddy. Even apart, I still had it bad.
Next was a trip to see my mother. I had the entry code and a taxi to take me, wait for me, and return me to my hotel. The weather cleared on Friday night and I spent an hour explaining to my mother my plans for my education and employment. I felt better, much better, than during my previous trip. I resolved to have the strength my mother wanted from me. I spoke to her with the good tidings of my present and the hopes for my future. She was and always would be my pillar of strength. On the ride home, the taxi driver asked if I was pregnant because I had the same type of glow his wife had. I took it as a compliment.
Saturday morning I went to work. I didn’t have to; I wanted to. Saturday night I spent in the library. Algebra and reading. I focused on these two. I needed to master these two. I planned on taking the GED in the New Year and then enroll in college classes. While I loved him and everything about him, I had to plan for my future. He could be my life, but not my livelihood. Luck comes to those who wish. Success comes to the prepared.
Sunday, December 23rd was my day off from the sales position, but not from the library. So close to Christmas, I was the only patron in such a large facility. I worked on every math problem I could find. I practiced my typing on half a ream of paper. I might have remained there until morning if the librarian had not asked if I could leave soon so she could close early for the holidays. I understood. I shelved my books and departed happily. Two days until Christmas and I would be alone for the first time. I did not want to accept a pity invitation or throw-the-dog-a-bone inducement to a stranger’s house. I would be uncomfortable and would only make others uncomfortable. Christmas would be rough on me with no one to share it.
Monday, the 24th, and the staff finished decorating the store with the cheesy plastic garland and ribbons designed to make customers feel good about their last minute purchases for the hard-to-shop-for individuals. I wore my body harness and self-belayed to the top of the overhanging rock wall to replace burned out light bulbs in the ceiling Christmas lights. Management explained the uselessness of placing scaffolding across the sales floor when so many employees were proficient in high elevation work. I volunteered immediately for this job. Everything looks so different when you are forty feet above the ground, upright or inverted.
From this position, I could see what the customers and employees actually do when they think no one can see them. Some pick their nose, some try to change price tags, some even stare at good looking people to the detriment of walking without tripping. On self-belay, I could lower myself and climb back up without the assistance of a ground person. Until I made a noise or someone looked straight up, I was invisible.
Sometimes luck comes to those who are prepared. Today was such a day.
At 9:15 am, a masked man with a shotgun ran into the store. He knocked over two shoppers on his way to the cash register and the cashier. Her name was Linda and she has worked here since the store opened seven years ago. She was made of tougher stuff than most people imagined. With barely enough time to duck, Linda avoided the butt-stock of the shotgun aimed at her head. By ducking, she received only the butt-stock backlash to her ribs. Linda went down hard. The robber leveled the shotgun at the remaining shoppers and employees. No one moved except him. With one hand, he raised Linda to her feet and demanded that she empty the contents of the register in a bag. In her present condition, Linda could only empty the contents of her stomach. The thief punched her for her insolence. While it hurt her, vomiting moved Linda farther from the thief, thus saving her life. Unfortunately, the shotgun wielding thief yelled to the next employee to come close and go his bidding. He yelled at Ralph, the store manager. Ralph kept his cool and proceeded to do as the thief ordered. Without the shotgun, Ralph would easily take this thief in a fair fight. Ralph had military training. Ralph had the strength. Ralph could break this guy. This thief could injure many of the shoppers with just one shotgun blast. Maybe that is why people rob stores with such weaponry.
All eyes were on Ralph and the thief. He kept screaming for him to hurry. He kept scanning the crowd to ensure nobody moved. He looked left and right. He looked at Ralph. He did not look up.
I was ready for the signal, whatever the signal was. All I knew was that the signal would come from Ralph. I was prepared. I was also scared out of my mind. I gathered 32 feet of belay rope and tied a knot to it at that length. This guaranteed I would not crash into the floor. I inverted and waited. Here I was, nearly 40 feet up, hanging upside down, and feeling like a vulture waiting to strike.
When Ralph finished emptying the register into the bag, he tied a knot in the bag, securing the money, as he stepped left. This forced the thief to step to his left. Ralph extended the bag for the thief to grab. I released my descent device and pushed off from the overhang wall. He might have heard the small audible zip of metal rub against the nylon rope that I hung from. He remained focused on Ralph’s face. It was all I required from the thief. What I required was better math skills. In a perfect world, I would swing just above the thief’s head, gracefully arcing past, and grab his shotgun. Ralph would have the thief secured before my swing back, and I would be the daring hero of the day. In a perfect world. However, in my world, I swung down with the knot catching in the overhead pulley. The rope was not designed for such a shock. The tension exceeded the rope’s limit and broke. I hoped the belay rope would stop my descent. It did. What it did not do was stop my forward momentum (from my swing) toward the thief. What did stop my forward momentum was the thief. I crashed into him and crashed hard. Customers made statements on police reports that I looked like a bowling ball. The only saving grace was that by colliding with the thief, behind his knees, I forced him to buckle with the shotgun pointing upward when he pulled the trigger. The shotgun blast caused slight damage to the ceiling and major hearing loss (albeit temporary) to myself. Ralph moved fast enough to push the thief over and knock him out. By securing the shotgun, Ralph saved the customers and employees from further harm. He asked everyone to remain calm and for the police to arrive to take everyone’s statements.
Ralph checked on Linda first. Even I could see she required an ambulance and treatment for a broken rib or two. Once satisfied with Linda’s status, Ralph checked me. I too was injured. While I did not have any broken bones, I did have a series of bruises and a sprained wrist on my left hand. I told Ralph I should go to the break room and put some ice on it. He agreed and asked if I wanted any help. With an assured smile, I arose and glided away telling Ralph I was OK. A few people applauded and I saw a few police sirens in the parking lot. I went to the break room as I promised Ralph.
I did not stay there. I couldn’t.
I hate fear. My fear. To live in fear. I hate making decisions because of fear. Today I had no choice. I grabbed some ice and my coat. The ice went into my coat pocket and I went out the back door. I left in such a hurry that I still had my climbing harness on. Once outside, I kept my coat closed and blended in with holiday shoppers going about their business. I couldn’t stop. I kept moving. I didn’t want to speak to the police and I didn’t want them to speak to me. Once again, I found myself so close to the big picture success only to find myself returning to face the same problems I so frequently have to encounter. I had to get to my hotel and check out before someone figured out I was missing. Like an idiot, I gave a false home address on my application but the real phone number of my hotel room. How long would it take before someone began investigating? How long before someone put two and two together? The Stantons did. They gave me my file to prove it. Oh shit! The file! My hotel room had my file in it. I had to get there immediately. I checked my jeans pockets. I had my hotel key and some money and the phone number of the Stantons. I found a phone booth and made the call. I was desperate.
My pulse raced with each ring. These two were my only hope. I almost hung up after the sixth ring when I heard a hello. It was Mrs. Stanton. I just started spilling everything. I heard Mr. Stanton say the robbery was already a breaking news story on the radio. Time flashed by. I begged her to come pick me up and she agreed. I almost fainted from relief. I told her where I was and she told me to stay put. I did. In less than 10 minutes, both Mr. and Mrs. Stanton arrived in separate cars. I listened to Lewis. He told me to write the hotel name and room number for Mrs. Stanton. He told me to make a list of what she should recover and give her the room key to do so. I told her of the telephone mistake on my application. I asked her to recover my few clothes and my file she gave me. She told me to relax and go home with Mr. Stanton. She would return in an hour or so with my belongings. Everything would be all right. Mrs. Stanton had that trust me look in her face. It was the second time I saw it. If either of them wanted to turn me in, they could have. I had no choice. I gave my trust to the Stantons and remained quiet all the way to their home in the back seat of Mr. Stanton’s car. The pain from my hand was the only thing keeping me awake during the short ride.
By 6pm, local time, I was the toast of Seattle. I sat in the Stanton’s mother-in-law suite watching the television news reporters interview various people in front of the climbing wall. Each had their own description, adding their own embellishments, of what they witnessed. Apparently, I swooped down from the ceiling, graceful as I thought I was, and personally apprehended the thief, saving all the customers from death. I saw this as I rested my left wrist in a bowl of ice water to reduce the swelling. Lisa was tending to my bruises and hanging my clothes in the closet. I could not thank the Stantons enough. All they asked was that I lay low here. Their daughters were too young to ask embarrassing questions. I would be safe.
Then I saw it. My picture on the television. Someone used a Polaroid to take my picture and give it to the police and the news people. Everyone now knew who I was. At least I used a phony name on my application and at work. That was a small conciliation. Everyone in Seattle, maybe further, knew me on sight. When Mr. Stanton came rushing in to tell us about my television picture, we said we already saw it. He then asked if we heard the latest radio report. Obviously we hadn’t. Lewis informed us that the police, using my work application, tracked down the phone number I gave to the hotel room I was staying in. That in itself was not as bad as the rest of the story. The police issued a statement about finding a receipt for tickets for the night of December 27th. The report did not state what kind of tickets or to what event these tickets belonged. Unfortunately, the receipt gave all this information away. Fortunately, the police did not report the details to the public. The police did not know where I was now, but they knew where I planned on being Thursday, December 27th, at 8pm. Since they were deeply involved, I asked the Stanton’s to sit down and listen to my entire story; events from my 17th birthday to my upcoming 18th birthday. They earned the right to hear it.
I left nothing out. I explained everything to them. They already knew of my mother. I related the exploits of the Mister Marble Bandit. I told of Eva and Mr. Knoll. I spun yarns of the paddlewheel boat and cooking with Adelaide. I braced them for my tribulations with the McNamaras. And I did confirm the Ice Queen’s participation at the poker table. I was mortified, they were shocked. Mrs. Stanton arose and returned with a bottle of bourbon and shot glasses. If I could live like an adult, I could drink like one. All three of us took two shots each. I drank because they drank. They drank to numb the shock I subjected them to.
Mr. Stanton asked me to continue soaking my hand in the ice water. They needed to speak privately. They rose and left. The minutes turned to an hour. Each tick of the clock became as unbearable to me to listen to as my story was for them to listen to. I wanted to leave, to run. But where? I had money, but I no longer had privacy. I would not get far. I sat in that chair until they returned. When they did, they only had one question for me. I smiled and told them the story of the tickets and how they related to him. I covered every detail from start to finish. From my first sight of him to our first, and only, kiss. Mr. Stanton took Mrs. Stanton’s hand. As I spoke, she rested her head on his shoulder. I left out no details, however small. I glowed. Lisa soon glowed. They knew it was all true. When I finished, a single tear slowly fell from her eye. They looked at each other and nodded. When I finished, they told me I should stay for Christmas and together they would help me make my rendezvous on Thursday. Now I cried, more than a single tear. All I could do was thank them. They said to turn in early for Christmas is a big day in their home.
It used to be a big day in my home also.
Since I fell asleep early, I awoke early. I took a chance and walked over to my mother’s grave to wish her a Merry Christmas. It was inconceivable not being with her today. I kept my time short so no one would see me. I made it back into the mother-in-law suite at dawn. I turned on the television to see if anyone cared about me today. The news people didn’t. The rest of Seattle didn’t. The only people who cared about me were the Stantons. They went out on a limb for me and I was going to show them how much I appreciated all they did.
I cleaned the suite and made a large pot of coffee. When they said the suite was fully stocked, they meant it. I found food and supplies I never heard of, let alone cooked with. I would leave the cooking to Lisa.
By 8am, the coffee aroma drifted through their house and I found Lewis shambling to its source. I didn’t speak and didn’t let him speak either. The coffee spoke for the two of us. Make that the three of us. Lisa soon appeared. She is definitely not a morning person. Two sips in and we heard their two young daughters, one stirring, one crying. I asked if I could help and the Stanton’s introduced me to Paula and Patricia. We hit it off instantly. Throughout the course of the day, I earned my keep as the official nanny of the Stanton household. Playing games with these two allowed Lewis and Lisa the time they should have together. I watched them as a family open presents, sing carols, and eat. I spent time with Lisa and she told me a family was worth it. I didn’t ask if it was, but I would have anyway. I watched Lewis with the girls and I started to glow again. When Lisa noticed this, she glowed also. Mine was from pride, hers was from the obvious. I asked if Lewis knew yet. Nonchalantly, Lisa informed me people get presents at Christmas that do not always come from a store. Lewis was a family man. Now he was a larger family man.
The day proceeded and I remained indoors. Because of the cold rain, this was easy to justify. It was cold enough for snow, but just too wet for snow. Seattle is known for its rain. I checked the radio news and still did not hear anything about me. Good. The day wore on and the three of us watched the two girls play with their new toys. Lisa was correct, they were too young to understand my situation and too young to ask questions. I envied them.
By 9pm, The Stanton’s said they had a plan for me for Wednesday and Thursday. I was to get a good night’s sleep. I would need it.
The morning sun in my face means a trip to visit my mother. I spent so much time away from her before, that I tried to make up for lost time. My return found Lewis at work and Lisa with the girls. All I could do was help out. Paula and Patricia had to be ready by 10am for their pickup by Lewis’s mother for the day. This gave Lisa and me a few hours. Feeding, cleaning, changing, cleaning (again), dressing, and packing their toys were too much for me. How does Lisa do this by herself? How can she do this with three children next year? Even with my help, it took her almost 2 hours to get her girls ready. But get ready they did. I remained out of sight (i.e. I hid) when grandma arrived and kept out of sight until she left. Lisa waited a few minutes to find me watching the morning news about the Christmas parade, the weather, the shoppers returning gifts, and me. They flashed my picture from work, and my file picture taken my freshman year. Each picture had my name and a police phone number if someone saw me. I helped take down a thief with a shotgun. You would have thought I was the thief.
Lisa told me not to worry. Here was her plan. Lewis was going to have an employee of the boat smuggle me aboard. Lisa was going to use one of my tickets and meet me on board with an appropriate change of clothes. Lewis would wait for him, with the remaining ticket. If he did not arrive, Lewis would use the ticket to board and help me debark without discovery. It wasn’t a great plan, but it should work.
I liked the plan. It was simple and did not depend on my success. If I did not get on board, Lisa would signal to Lewis and Lewis would help me leave the docks. All this plan depended on was the timely arrival of him. If he did his part, I started to blush, I needed to be ready. I brought out the white dress belonging to his cousin. I also showed Lisa the boots and cowboy hat. She suppressed a laugh. The dress has seen better days in the dust of South Dakota. However, if I didn’t mind a few alterations, and wouldn’t complain, she could make this outfit work. I agreed.
She rummaged through her clothes and removed some clothing and sewing supplies. If I were to wear the cowboy boots, I had to shine them to a high gloss. Once finished, I got to work on the cowboy hat. Lisa asked me to wear the clothes she left on the bed for me so she could begin the alterations. I went to the bedroom and stripped down. I donned the dress and excited for a Mrs. Stanton inspection. I didn’t look bad, but I didn’t look great. I stood on the stool and Lisa began the alterations. She pulled in and pinned the extra material to accent my figure. She wanted to raise the hem well above my knees. I never wore a dress that high. She explained it would turn his head upon first sight. She did the same thing to hook Mr. Stanton. I was hooked and agreed to everything she asked of me.
She asked a lot.
By 2pm, she finished with the dress. Lisa said I needed a makeover. I sat with a sheet wrapped around me watching Lisa cut and dye my hair. I hoped I did not look like the Ice Queen. I wanted to be myself, just not look like myself. By 3pm, she turned me around to look in the mirror. I did not recognize myself. I was blonde with long straight hair. I now had short wavy auburn hair with highlights. My eyebrows and makeup matched. I was almost 18 in age, 30 in looks. Lisa asked me again if I wanted to wear those boots or a pair of high heels. I kept the boots. She told me to wear an old dress she had and a pair of heels to join Lewis and her when they went to pick up their daughters. If I could fool Lewis’s mother, I could fool anyone. If nothing worked as planned, I still had Thursday to pull it together. I was ready.
When Lewis came in, I acted like I was just leaving. Lisa introduced me as Monica, a friend from high school, as Lewis shook my hand. He did not know. Even when I would not release his hand to purposely stare at him, he did not know it was me. It wasn’t until I dropped the fake semi-southern accent that he finally understood. Lewis was in shock. He caught himself and said it was a good thing I looked so much different. His original plan of smuggling me onto the Purple Eater was a no-go. Plan A was out, Plan B was staring him right in the face. I wanted to blush, but forced myself not to. The three of us still had to pick up the children. When we did, neither Paula, Patricia, or Lewis’s mother recognized me. On the ride home, we all paid homage to the greatness of Mrs. Stanton. I cooked, with a small amount of Lisa’s help, for the Stanton’s. I cleaned the dishes and played with the girls. All of this in a dress and heels. By the end of the night, I was as proud as a peacock with feet as sore as a soldier. I looked forward to wearing my boots on Thursday. I went to sleep on Wednesday knowing I had every contingency covered.
Only fools rush in where Angels fear to tread.
The only part of Thursday that went according to plan was my morning visit to see my mother. I told her everything and sought her guidance. If she could help in any way, this was the day to help. December 27th, and I am officially 18. I no longer feared the authorities looking for me. I turned my attention to him. I wanted this day to end with him sweeping me off my feet and telling me he loves me. It is difficult to grow up forging little girl and-they-lived-happily-ever-after endings. Maybe they always have a place in our lives.
By noon it was show time. I donned my clothing and walked through the Stanton’s living room. I still had reservations about the short hem of my white South Dakota dress, but glad I wore boots instead of heels. I had my ticket in my purse. What I did not have was my coat. Here is where Lisa came to the rescue, twice. The first coat she gave to me was a short red wrap around with a belt to cinch it. I was not as flattering as I hoped. Despite this, this coat had a purpose. Last night, Lisa sewed a fake pregnancy belt for me to wear over my dress. Its Velcro attached at my back and she instructed me on how to walk, sit, and complain like a very pregnant woman. The red coat and its belt now became fashionable for such a woman in a family way. The second coat she gave me was larger, belonging to Lewis’s mother (pinched from last night’s visit). It was long and a dowdy brown color. It was hideous, but it was sacrificial and it was warm. I could arrive as a frumpy pregnant woman in a brown coat and move as a slim woman in a red coat. If these disguises did not deter police scrutiny, I still, reluctantly, had in my possession the Ice Queen’s fake driver’s license. My cover story was that I was waiting to meet the father of my baby so he could make the right decision. This was Lewis’s Plan B. I am glad he did not have a Plan C. Plan B was too close for comfort, but that was its genius. Lisa was to remain at home, with their children and Lewis would escort me to the boat and remain at the dock, waiting for him to arrive. That part of the plan remained the same. The beginning was Plan B, the end was Plan A. I could live with that.
I had my few remaining items packed, should the Stantons have to ship them to me, or if I should return to pick them up. I said my goodbyes to the girls and Lisa. She whispered that we would see each other again for pre-wedding planning. I pulled away, somewhat shocked and blushing. She reminded me that the combination of a severe case of puppy love and a short hem usually results in such planning. It did for her. I turned to Lewis and said I was ready to go.
The 4pm ride to the dock was uncomfortable purposely, for it was practice for me. I had to ride as a 30 year old pregnant woman. This was not easy. To add to my situation, I donned a bright yellow plastic head scarf both to cover my auburn hair and to keep it dry. My arrival at the dock coincided with a few reporters staking out the area looking for a young me. Mr. Stanton, ever the gentleman, opened my door for me and helped me out. I grabbed my back and wobbled purposely for the cameras. I even waved to them. The reporters did not see me as me and no one wants to see a pregnant woman on television. They turned their attention elsewhere to other people. As Lewis held my hand and walked me to the People Eater, we encountered only one police officer. Lewis explained my situation and said he was not going on the boat. The police officer attended his daily briefing, as police officers do, learning what to concentrate on for that day. What he saw was not what he was told to find. I passed him easily, but he did write something in his notebook. It could have been a simple headcount, but I was not under any allusions today. So far, with each labored step, my passage was too easy. Later, the police would be back to ask me questions. They knew I was going to be here. I was not Public Enemy #1, but I was a person of interest. My HE was now on the clock. I exposed myself with no Plan C. He better get here and get here soon.
Tickets sold out for this cruise through Puget Sound based solely on the rumor I would be on board. I saw nearly two dozen young women dressed as my picture try to pass police scrutiny. Half did. Half did not. This boat now became the place-to-be for the people-in-the-know and the A-Listers of Seattle. This could work in my favor. Discarding the dowdy coat and the baby bump belt would allow me to blend in with all the people trying to blend in. Now I had a plan C.
I sat on a port side deck chair waiting for the 8pm launch. It was getting cold and I placed my hands in my coat pocket. I found a small book. I took it out and could only laugh. The title was, The First Time Mother’s Guide to Pregnancy. I opened the cover and could only laugh louder. On the inside was a handwritten note from Lisa. She wrote that if HE likes seeing you looking pregnant, he will love knowing you are pregnant. It was that way for me. Today was now a trifecta of important dates. My mother died on this date, I was born on this date, and now I had to worry about becoming pregnant on this date. I laughed so hard, I drew the attention of a porter who asked me if I wanted something to drink before departure. I turned to look at him and saw, possibly, the oldest man on planet Earth. He moved slower than I did. He couldn’t even stand up straight. He had more wrinkles than the average 80 year old. His hands matched his face. I declined his offer content that I did not make this man suffer in the cold any more than was necessary. He moved back into the cabin and I decided to read my book. Both of us benefited from our wise decisions.
At 7pm, the police walked the decks checking ticket stubs. When the Purple Eater lights came on at 7:30pm, the police (I counted 5 officers) now closely inspected the passengers and the crew. One asked me why I was on board. I gave him the same story Lewis gave the first police officer when I boarded. He tipped his hat and moved on. 7:50pm and the Captain blew the all-ashore-that-are-going-ashore whistle. At 8pm, we debarked for the 4 hour cruise of the Sound. I saw many people walk the crowded deck. I did not see him. I was not worried. Not yet. I had to believe he was on board. While I could face the New Year alone, I did not want to.
At 8:30pm, I decided to find my him. I rose and kept to the inner rail for balance. I felt a little awkward. I almost looked desperate. A few people took pity on me. No, I did not need to talk about it. No, I will be OK. No, I do not need any help. I had to ditch this outfit and ditch it soon. I moved a little faster toward a small bathroom and began my transformation. Inside, I locked the door and ditched the plastic scarf, the brown coat, and the pregnancy belt. I teased my hair and applied a sensible amount of makeup to blend in with the others on board. I checked myself in the mirror and exited the bathroom. I now strode confidently, out of sight of the few police I saw, from bow to aft, looking for him. I didn’t find him. What I did find was the Captain. We bumped into each other and he caught me. I wasn’t used to the roll of the boat and it showed. He excused himself and apologized for his behavior. He had nothing to apologize for. Without him, I would have slipped and fell into the bulkhead. I am tired of being bruised. I thanked him. Before I turned, he offered to show me the bridge of the People Eater. I was curious and took him up on the offer. I might be able to see him from the bridge. The Captain opened the door and ushered me in.
I was somewhat amazed. This bridge was more updated than I expected. I shouldn’t watch so many movies. This bridge had those closed circuit cameras displaying all sorts of information on ceiling hung television sets. From here, I could see the entire ship and all the people. I had to take advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately, the Captain locked the door and had the same plan. He was fast for a man in his early 50's. He grabbed me hard. His lips wanted my lips. His hands wanted more. I never had a man grab my rear. The Captain was strong enough to pull me close and keep me closer. My futile attempt at resistance made him only bolder. I resolved to bite his face and spit it at him. I did not have to.
The Captain just let go of me and slumped to his knees. I didn’t know why until I saw the old man with a heavy wooden peg in his hand appear behind the Captain. This old man knocked the Captain out cold. How did that happen? This old man now moved quickly to bolt the door then engage the auto-pilot. Who is this old man? It was the question I wanted to ask. I am glad I didn’t. When he secured the bridge, he removed his makeup. First his hands then his face. He peeled it off like a cast member from Mission Impossible. He now looked me in the face. He was him. My him. Once again, he saved me. I moved to him and jump to his waiting arms. He was not prepared for that. The roll of the ship and we fell to the floor. I am now bruised again, but I didn’t care. All I could do was kiss him. For the next few seconds, he shared my intimacy and reciprocated in kind. A few seconds later, another roll of the ship, and he said we had to get up immediately. I asked why. He didn’t know how to pilot a ship. We had to wake the Captain. I grabbed a first aid kit and broke the smelling salts open to waken the man who I wanted to knock out. He handcuffed the Captain to a rail. When the Captain awoke, he struck out toward me. I easily moved away and picked up a surgical knife from the kit for defense. The next roll of the ship caused two epiphanies. The first focused the Captain’s attention, despite the large bump on his head, to the pilotless People Eater blindly navigating the Sound. Ten seconds was all the time the Captain required to rectify this situation. The second epiphany focused my attention on the secured bridge door and the crew and police attempting to break it down to enter. Both could see the three of us on the bridge, but none of them could hear any sound we made. I figured we had less than 5 minutes before they breached the door or found another way in. I told him and he just smiled. Not the type of smile a child has when presented with ice cream. Not the smile of an athlete competing at the Olympics. No, this was a different smile. He gave me one of those I-have-a-plan just-trust-me smiles. This must be Plan D.
Once he told me, and the Captain, of his plan, I rated it Plan F. Even the Captain said it was foolish at best, stupid at worst. If we looked out the glass of the bridge, we could see more than one police authority on board. The ones in black were Seattle PD looking for me. The ones in white were the crew looking for the Captain. The ones in red were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP, looking for him. If all three of us did not follow his plan, all three of us were going to jail. His plan was simple. He knelt on one knee and removed a one carat diamond ring from his pocket. He then asked me to marry him. Not later. He wanted me to marry him now. I wondered aloud where a priest was. He replied that the Captain of a boat or ship could marry people out at sea. If the Captain performed the ceremony, I should drop the charges of assault on him. If I agreed to marry him, he could remain in the United States, since he overstayed his Visa and would not be deported if he married an American. The people outside now had a battering ram pounding on the door of the bridge. It would not last for long.
The way I saw this plan was that I had to give the most. I secretly knew he was worth it. Yet, I am not getting married just because of his good looks and charm. I needed more than that. He brought an engagement ring. Did he bring a wedding band? I thought I had him cornered. Not this one. Not my him. From his pants pocket came a matching set of gold wedding rings. He remained kneeling on one knee and proposed marriage again. Why I looked at the Captain, I will never know. Even he nodded that I should. I looked out the window of the bridge. There was an entire group of people (crew, cops, and passengers) gathered. Most gave the thumbs up. The battering ram making dents in the door brought me to my senses. I said, “YES”.
Now it was a race. The police are not romantic. The Captain stood, still handcuffed, and cut to the chase.
“Do you . . .”
“Young lady, what is your name?”
Another hit from the battering ram.
“Judith. Judith Rainey.”
“Do you, Judith Rainey, take . . .”
He spoke before the Captain asked.
“Do you, Judith Rainey, take Nigel Carruthers to be your lawfully wedded husband?”
Two more quick hits and the hinges began pulling from the wall
“Do you, Nigel Carruthers, take Judith Rainey to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
Another hit from the ram and a hinge went flying off the wall. Only one hinge and only one massively distorted lock prevented the police from entering the bridge. It was now or never. Nigel and I ran to the door bracing ourselves against it. We didn’t have time to stand on formality. Nigel gave me a ring and I put mine on my ring finger of my still hurting left hand. Nigel placed his ring on his similar finger.
Bam! Not the last hit, but the penultimate hit. We paid for that hit with many bruises that day. This seems to be an occupational hazard with me. However, it gave the Captain the time to say the last line in record time.
We lay on the floor, in each other’s arms, trying to complete our first wedded kiss. We never heard the final hit from the battering ram. We never felt the stampede of feet over the door. In the hours that followed, we didn’t care. He made good on his promise. He loved me and I loved him.
We went to the police station as Mr. and Mrs. Nigel Carruthers. The on-call public defender convinced the DA to drop all the charges against us. By nightfall, we began our honeymoon. By January, Nigel and I disappeared into our new positions at TZP Corporation as Forensic Accountants. I know my mother would be pleased as to how it all turned out; I know I was.