Friday, February 13, 2009

An Inconvenient Truth

Copyright Marta Stephens 2009 all rights reserved







Thanks to the Scotch Joe planted in front of him, the evening at the Pig and Whistle held no prospects except to forget. This was the only break in Sam Harper’s ten-hour day. Soon, he’d get up and do it again. He’d continue to scour the streets for leads on the Raymond Anthony murder. If he was lucky, they’d produce some viable evidence.

As it was, ballistics hadn’t matched the bullet taken from the victim’s brain to any known registered weapons and Anthony’s prints and bodily fluids were the only ones found at the scene. A week into the case, still no leads. It seemed the odds on a swift arrest weren’t stacked in Harper’s favor. The exceptionally clean shot through the temple sparked unrest among the other detectives. The guys tossed several possible scenarios around, but the one that kept ripping through Harper’s mind was the chance they were dealing with a professional hit man. If that were the case, the usual breadcrumbs marking a path to the killer’s identity would be non-existing.

Harper motioned to Joe with his glass for a refill. After a minute, the bartender returned with two.

“There you go. I’ll put ’em on your tab.”

Joe read his mind. Harper knocked the next one back then stared into his half empty glass, swished the Scotch through the ice and waited for the red-labeled concoction to work its magic.

At happy hour, the Pig and Whistle was dotted with regulars, now at nine p.m. he and a handful of patrons had the place to themselves. All eyes were on the flat screen TV at the end of the bar watching the Celtics lose to the Knicks by a measly five points. Harper didn’t care who won. It was a temporary distraction meant to work with the booze and help him relax. A few more of these, he thought, and I’ll be there. That’s what he was thinking when he heard Jennie’s voice.

“I thought I’d find you here.”

He drew in a breath and slowly glanced over his shoulder. Jennifer Blake had etched herself into his heart two months before, then vanished as abruptly as she entered his life.

“Mind if I sit down?” she asked.

Harper lowered and raised his glance. He sensed what was coming. It wasn’t where he wanted to be; not here, not now. Jennie was all he’d thought of for weeks. Every provocative inch of her body was seared into his thoughts. Part of him wanted to pull her close, kiss her as if it were their first and pretend she had never left. That was at the heart of his being, but his logic demanded answers and now. “I called you. Several times.”

“I want to explain,” she said. “Can we talk?”

“Skip the apologies, Jen. They don’t suite you.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you knew the truth.”

“I’m listening.” For once he’d like nothing more than an honest statement but something in her voice put him on edge. Harper ordered a glass of Chablis for her, grabbed his drink, and led her to one of the small tables near the back. He watched every move she made; the way she slipped off her coat, how she brushed her bangs from her eyes. Everything about her was all too familiar, especially her eyes—he’d never forget their spark or the intimacies that had led them here to this minute. “Well?”

“I was on a special assignment for the Chandler Times.”

“Come on, Jen. It’s me. You can do better than that.”

She stared at him for a second before breaking her silenced. “I didn’t have a choice in the matter.”

“Since when?” Where was that playfulness in her tone or that staunch determination that had captivated him the minute they met? Jennifer Blake didn’t have a submissive cell in her body. Did she really expect him to buy the line that her editor, Brian Taylor, forced her to go against her will? The Jennie he knew wouldn’t let him. On the other hand, Jennie wasn’t beyond working an angle. “So which is it? Are you after another exclusive or did you step in a pile of trouble?”

“Neither.”

“Good. I’m fresh out of favors.”

“It’s the truth,” she said, taking a sip of her wine. “Foolish me for thinking you’d appreciate the challenges of my job.”

“I can live with the demands of your career, but you left without a word, no warning, nothing. Three weeks ago, I came home after work—you didn’t. I was crazy with worry; checked the hospital, the morgue, missing persons. You weren’t listed anywhere, just gone—vanished. What the hell was I suppose to think? You could have called.”

“There was no time.”

“Bull.”

“I didn’t want…” She choked on the words. “I didn’t know about the assignment until Brian handed me the plane tickets that morning.”

“Two seconds. That’s all it would have taken. I’m on your speed dial, at least I was.”

“I couldn’t. I was under strict orders to keep my location confidential. Brian was worried that if the calls were traced, it would have blown my cover and jeopardized our chance for an inside story.”

Harper narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “What hell did he send you to?”

“Please … don’t ask.”

“Why not?”

“It’s still sensitive information,” she said.

An uneasy silence seemed to suck the air out of the room.

“Then why'd you bother to come here?” he asked.

“Because I wanted to tell you what happened.”

“Cut the charades, Blake. You haven’t told me a damn thing more than what I already know. You left—end of story.”

Jennie took a sip of her wine and looked away. Harper didn’t need to see her face to know she was checking her options.

“I was investigating a drug ring in Florida.”

“Christ, I know the scum that’s out on the streets. You could have been killed.”

“I wasn’t. Besides, it was a huge exclusive for us.”

“Right, the story. Now you’re back and what? You want to pretend none of this happened? Goddamn it, you could have been wasted and no one would have known to ask. And what’s so damn important about Florida? We have plenty of drug related stories right here in Chandler.”

“It’s linked to a high-level state official,” she said. “That’s all I can tell you. The story will break in a couple of days.”

“What the hell were you thinking? I’ve heard you say no before. That would’ve been a great time to voice it.”

“And lose my job?” She shook her head. “It’s okay for you to risk your life, but when I—”

“Don’t even go there. I’m trained to take risks.”

“Some things never change, do they?” She pushed back her chair and grabbed her coat.

“Where’re you going?” Harper shot around in his chair in time to see her rush out of the pub. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He jerked his coat off the back of his chair, yanked the door open, and stood on the snow-cover sidewalk. A glance in one direction made him turn and run in the other. She was only a few yards away. “Jennie, stop! Where’re you going?”

“You forgot to yell, Freeze, Detective.”

He raced to reach for her arm and made her stop. “This's your answer to everything, isn’t it? You disappear, come back, dangle a carrot in front of my nose, and take off? Think again.”

“Sam, what do you want?" she asked, blinking away the tears that welled in her eyes. "I tried, but there’s no talking with you.”

She was wrong. His thoughts and emotions were playing war, twisting the words he wanted to say and leaving them in a tangled mess somewhere between the pit of his gut and a brain that wasn’t connecting with his speech. “I’m not the one who left. I deserve some answers.”

“Then you should have the courtesy to hear me out! I told you what I could. Believe me, don’t believe. It won’t change the facts.” Jennie wiggled from his grasp and slipped away.

He cursed under his breath, rubbed a hand over his mouth then yelled again, “Jennie, wait. I didn’t mean it.”

“That’s the problem, Sam, you never do.” She took a few more steps then stopped. “Yeah, you’re a cop and you, of all people, should know it isn’t a perfect world. Things won’t always go your way, you’re not going to get calls when you expect them, but damn it, the least you could do is trust that maybe, just maybe someone else’s life is a tad more complicated than yours!”

“Trust? Hell, I didn’t know what happened. I called Brian—”

“And he told you he didn’t know where I was, right?”

“Yeah. Talked with your neighbors too. No one’s seen or heard from you. What was I supposed to think? For all I knew you skipped town with another guy.”

“Another …? You don’t get it, do you?”

“Evidently not.”

“I’m in love with you. There, it’s out.” She paced back and forth then stomped a foot and held her ground. “Do you think I wanted to leave the way I did? Do you have any idea how many times I reached for the phone fully aware that I shouldn’t? How much it hurt not to be with you—wondering what you were thinking—knowing the next time we’d meet you’d react exactly like this?”

It wasn’t the what of the situation, but the how and her inability to give him details that sent him into a rage. But even the brilliant Jennifer Blake didn’t have what it took to make this one up and bluff her way through it. She was, however, one of the few people who could make him feel like an ass and get away with it. “I’m sorry. Jennie, I’m…”

Had they stood in the frigid air looking into each other eyes for a minute or was it five? It didn’t matter. It wasn’t the cold he felt or the reason for his embrace. All he wanted to do was soak in her being and prayed she wouldn’t resist.

“It’s been like a bad dream,” he whispered. “The one where someone dies and you go through all the emotions of loss. Then you wake up in a sweat and realize how damn lucky you are because nothing has changed and you never, ever want to go back there again.” He kissed her cheek. “I woke up, Jen. Back there. You scared the hell out of me.”

“Ever?” she asked.

He cupped his hands around her face and leaned in for kissed. “Only if I can I hold you to it.”

“Hold me to what?”

Harper glanced away for only a second. “You know … what you said a minute ago.”

“Spit it out, Harper. It’s not like you to be at a loss for words.”

“That you care.”

“I’ll always love you.” She pressed her lips to his. “Take it as a threat or a promise.”

Jennie was the only person who could send him on an emotional rollercoaster ride and make him feel grateful for it. She was back in full form. They were as different as the jobs they had married. He’d concede he was a skeptic—a left over tick from his work, but Jennie was exasperating at times. Still he needed her by his side to keep him in check, to remind him there was more to life than the scumbags he chased for a living.

“What do you say we get out of the cold?” he asked.

“My car is right here.” Jennie reached into her pocket for the keys. “I’ll meet you at your place.”

“Not tonight.” He took her by the hand and walked her toward his jeep. “It’s late and I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

The End
Happy Valentine

8 comments:

  1. Wow, what a story! Why do I feel all fuzzy and warm, lol? Love the pictures alongside the text...good idea!

    ReplyDelete
  2. LOVED this!! This is just the coolest site and I love the pictures with the story - great visual addition!
    Have a great weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I met Jennifer Blake while working my last big case, “The Devil Can Wait.” This hard-headed woman definitely has a gift for getting in trouble. I admit, I don’t mind rescuing her. If you haven’t read through the case file of TDCW, you should. Then you’ll understand why I’m so crazy about her.

    Sam

    Sam

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ah Sam. I didn't know... you know... um. Thanks for everything Sam :)
    Shannon

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nancy LuckhurstFebruary 13, 2009

    Well, Sam you may have met your match with Jennifer! Good for her!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Shannon, you can call me any time.

    Nancy, I figured you ladies would gang up on me the minute you met Jennie. She's a prize all right.

    Sam

    ReplyDelete
  7. How sweet! What a fabulous story. :-0

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow Girl you can write!!! this is so good. and the pics are perfect. where did you get them? This is out of sight!!! Happy Valentine indeed!
    Jo Ann Hernandez

    ReplyDelete