Something Wild (Chapter 6)

6

My mind didn’t discover clarity until I sat down behind the wheel of my Jeep Cherokee.

“What am I doing?”

Thoughts somersaulted over feelings as I tried to get a grip on more than the steering wheel. My eyes focused on obscure features of the parking lot hoping a clue hid in the asphalt cracks.

I laughed, out loud, convincingly enough panic backed away.

I’m screwed.

“Someone’s trying to turn my life upside down and it only cost them $5.”

I laughed again. Harder. Offering an appearance of truth. Whether for myself or others, I wasn’t sure.

I knew the school didn’t offer any answers. I couldn’t go back inside and speak with Ryan. Jeanie had closed that avenue. Going back in would make me appear desperate. Crazed.

Writer’s Rage.

I repeated the word in my mind, Writer’s Rage.

It sounded like the title of a book.

“I wonder if Princess and Mr. Sullivan could pull it off?”

Princess becomes a teenager. Becomes disillusioned with her wholesome image. Write’s an anti-establishment manifesto.

I shook my head.

“It wouldn’t work.”

I sighed and dropped the Jeep into gear. I pulled forward without checking my surroundings, almost colliding with Charles Henderson’s unmarked cruiser.

Henderson and I put our cars in park simultaneously.

Coke.

I didn’t think Charles would get the reference.

He climbed out of his cruiser like a man who enjoyed his authority. He looked up, allowing the day’s sunlight to wash over his face. His large sunglasses protecting and serving his eyes.

He tapped on my driver’s side window. All smiles.

I shut off my engine and rolled down my window.

“How’s your car, Captain Henderson?”

His smile faded into a deep scowl. I had beat him to the punch line.

“In a hurry, Mr. Lewis?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hit you or anything, did I?”

I felt a bit of bravado rise up in my chest. As if my body needed to burn off the last of its excess adrenaline. I knew I should play it cool and allow Henderson his taunts, but a part of me couldn’t allow it.

I surprised Charles when I opened my door.

“Where are you going?” he asked. He stepped back enough for me to squeeze out, but held the door as if preparing to dislodge it from its hinges.

“I wanna inspect the damage. See if we need to call a tow truck or something.”

I brushed past him with my shoulder. His muscles rippled under his cop issued polo shirt.

“Looks okay.” I ran my hand alone the front quarter panel, “I sure do like that powder blue.”

Taking it a step further, I turned and leaned against the car, folding my arms with a defiance I didn’t know I possessed.

“Get your ass off my car.”

I’d pushed as far as Henderson would allow. Immediately, I obeyed. Someone more confident would have reacted a bit slower. I jumped like a dog.

He shut my driver’s side door.

“I like this one,” he said running his finger along the headboard. He showed me his finger, “You just get this waxed?”

“Yep. Just the other day.”

“It’s keeping the shine pretty well.”

He wrinkled his brow into the form of a question, “This ain’t the same vehicle you had before, is it?”

He knew the answer.

“Nope. It’s new.”

“How long you had it?”

“Three years.”

He nodded. His tongue rolling around in his mouth, “That about the time you lost the other one?”

“Yep.”

I felt a new source of anger building in my gut.

“Shame about the other one. I ain’t seen a car burnt that badly before. Almost like someone wanted it destroyed.”

I let the accusation hang before us until it had enough weight the wind could carry it away.

Captain Henderson stepped towards me, “I’d really hate to see something happen to this one.”

I closed the space between us, “I’d hate for something to happen to your vehicle, as well.”

We stood close enough the Holy Spirit had trouble breathing.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

I backed up, “You keep getting promoted and you’ll be riding in the back of a limo.”

Henderson allowed my joke to waft over him before allowing a great bellow to erupt from his soul. He pounded my chest twice, with an open palm, before shoving past.

“Alright,” he called from behind my back, “Let’s see how many promotions I can get.”

I turned to see him open his car door. Before climbing in, he stopped, “I wouldn’t want to disappoint my biggest fan.”

I waved. A plastic smile glued to my face. He returned the same before driving off.

I felt my hands tremble as Henderson drove off. I hadn’t allowed Charles to intimidate me. Usually I took the taunts and accusations with my head lowered.

But today is different.

I drove home with the window’s down and the radio blaring. I drove as if I was the unofficial town mayor. I waved at everyone, letting any motorist or pedestrian in front of me, without a care in the world.

It took me twice as long to get home. I drove on automatic, allowing the good feelings swirling around the car to lead me where they wanted.

As the garage door slid up, I sang along with Jon’s description of Bad Medicine. I put the car in park as he sang about needing it one more time;

With feeling…

“With Feeling,” I screamed at the top of my lungs.

The car shook along with Sambora’s guitar screech. But it wasn’t the normal vibrations you get with excellent speakers. The car shook from an outside force. I felt like I was in a mini tornado inside of my own garage. The car half turned from side to side. Sliding across the garage floor crashing into the garage workbench.

I reached for keys to shut off the car, for no other reason then I didn’t know what else to do. As soon as I turned the engine off, the car stopped moving. The radio silenced. An eerie calm settled over the garage as if a blanket had lowered from the ceiling.

I jumped out and scrambled away, frantic, the car would start moving again, crushing me against the garage wall.

BODHI!

Some unseen forced screamed inside my head. Loud enough I covered my ears in a useless gesture.

BODHI!

It screamed again. The voice sounded familiar, yet distorted, like a childhood memory vaguely remembered in adulthood.

“Hello?” I ventured. Unsure what to expect.

I spun in a circle with my hands pressed firm against my ears. Tension bowed me at the waste as if another verbal attack, would drop me to my knees.

Moments ticked by in my head. My own inner voice retreated to its safe place. I lowered my guard, dropping my hands to my side.

BODHI!

I screamed in surprise.

Upstairs, above the garage, something crashed. Sasha barked. Another crash bigger than before. I heard a woman curse the names of the saints. Sasha’s repetitive barks became more ominous.

“Shit. And this was a good day.”

I ran towards the side of the house. Above the garage was Samantha and Jessica’s apartment.

Behind me, I heard the car radio belt out, Born to Be My Baby.

A shudder ran the length of my spine.

“Not again,” I muttered.

Fear became my running partner.

 

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Something Wild (Chapter 5)

5

Princess and Mr. Sullivan delight the crowd.

They are my audience. They’re opinion matters more than the adults pretending to represent me. If I can win over a crowd of 6-year-old’s, with my writing, I’m a happy guy.

The students always have questions at the end of the reading. I always indulge their curiosity, but I make them work for it. I need a couple rounds of begging before I give in.

Maybe it’s the ego talking, but I love a good, “Please.”

I can almost anticipate their questions:

How do I come up with each story?

Does it take a long time?

Is Mr. Sullivan real?

Are the stories real?

There are always crazy questions too:

Am I the Princess in the story?

Do I pick my nose?

Have I ever been to jail?

What’s my stance on commitment?

The last one coming from Ms. Chatterstone, and only after she cornered me late one afternoon.

I checked my watch, thinking I had time for one or two more questions. I wanted to play it cool and duck out with questions still gripped in their waving hands. I’d lingered too long before. The silent stares were unnerving.

I noticed Kaley Sanchez raise her hand, in the back. Her twin brother Ryan Sanchez also raised his hand.

Their mother owns a delicious Mexican Bakery in town. I stop by, more often than I should. When you know how treadmill miles it takes to work off a dozen churros, you know you’ve got a problem.

Not to hurt Jeanie’s feelings, but if I ever do move on, from Rachel, I may give Kaley and Ryan’s mother, Maria, a shot first. I know she wouldn’t be interested. She likes men whose arms are as big as the truck’s they drive.

I don’t measure up.

“Alright,” I point to both of them, “we’ll make you two the last ones. Kaley, you go first.”

Kaley is precocious enough she may become president of the United States someday. Her brother Ryan, no so much. So, I wasn’t surprised when she asked me a three-part question on publishing practices.

I was surprised at the questions Ryan start threw my way.

“I have a list.”

Ryan reached into his front pants pocket producing a folded loose-leaf note.

“You have a list?”

I glanced over at Jeanie. She shrugged her shoulders in return.

Ryan cleared his throat, “Number one, where is your wife? Number two, are you a bad guy? Number three is your wife dead? Number four…”

I cut Ryan off, “Whoa! What kind of questions are those?”

I rose to my feet as Ms. Chatterstone teacher stepped over to Ryan. He cowered at her approach.

“Ryan!” Her authoritative voice catching the attention of all the children.

Anger caught in my throat like bile. I choked it back down with repetitive swallows.

The anger surprised me. I didn’t realize it was there. We’re taught, at such an early age, to repress our feelings. Those who can’t are ostracized from society. They end up on a couch, paying a stranger to listen to them. They end up in jail, the street, crazy, alone.

Like you.

Somewhere buried deep was the feeling of assigned guilt. Like I knew everyone thought I had killed my wife. Around every corner were whispers, looks, accusations.

He did it. They just can’t prove it yet.

Like I wore a scarlet, M, on my chest. Invisible to the eye, but there for everyone to see.

The kids had picked up on my agitation. I felt their eyes asking questions their brains weren’t mature enough to answer. Their squeamish movements ceased in the presence of a moment they couldn’t comprehend.

Outside in the hall, an image floated behind my peripheral vision. My ears played tricks connecting the beating of my heart with a knocking on the exit door.

I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath in the process. I remembered the calming techniques Rachel had taught me.

Breathe in through nose

out through mouth

 

In through nose

out through mouth.

When I thought I was calm enough outwardly I smiled at Ryan. Jeanie had one hand on his shoulder and held the confiscated note in the other.

“Ryan?”

In through nose

out through mouth.

“Where did you get those questions?”

“From a lady.”

“Which lady?”

“The one who gave me $5.”

If only we could bottle the innocence of children.

“Do you know this lady? Have you ever met her before?”

Ryan shook his head.

I cautiously stepped towards him, careful to not trample any fingers or toes along the way.

“Does she work here? Is she a teacher or something?”

Ryan shrugged his shoulders.

“Ryan, it’s very important you tell, Mr. Lewis, who gave you the note.”

Jeanie tried to help. I smiled. She smiled back. I could see her heart flutter. Subconsciously, I shook my head.

Ryan pointed towards the back exit; the one between the computers and nonfiction section.

It was my heart’s turn to flutter.

“Some lady, before school, came into the cafeteria where I sitting with Billy and Enrique. Billy? Enrique? Remember?”

He strained his neck upwards looking for his alibi. They both nodded an open-mouthed agreement.

“She only gave them a dollar not to say anything,” he beamed with pride, “I had some paper so she told me some sentences to write.”

“Was she a reporter?”

I imagined a low-level reporter from one of the supermarket trash rags trying rattle my cage.

Ryan shrugged his shoulders again. I reached out and grabbed his shoulders.

“I need you to think, kid. Was she a reporter or not?”

Ryan stared back at me with wide eyes. I could see he was on the verge of crying, but I couldn’t let him go.

Jeanie laid a hand on my shoulder.

“Mr. Lewis? Why don’t we let the children go back to class?”

I pleaded, with my eyes, for more answers, but Ryan didn’t have any.

In through nose

out through mouth.

I let go of Ryan.

“Am I in trouble, Ms. Chatterstone?” Ryan asked.

“No. Not at all, Ryan. It’s just grown-up things. And you know us grown-ups; we can be kind of weird some times.”

“Okay.”

He stood up with the rest of his classmate. Ms. Chatterstone and the other teachers led their classes out of the library.

I stayed behind with the school librarian. Her inability to look at me said more than her words ever could.

I looked around for my displaced copy of Princess and Mr. Sullivan. Usually, after a reading, I leave a signed copy behind. The school gives them away as a prize or auctions them off for charity.

“Got a pen, Nance?”

She offers me hers, without looking up.

“Should I sign this with my name or creepy guy who almost made a kid cry?”

She pinned a half smile to her cheek. My attempt at humor not winning her over.

“I’ll just put my name.”

I closed the book and handed her copy and her pen. She took both reluctantly never looking up in the process.

“Have a nice day,” I sighed.

“You too.” Her voice an octave too high.

I pushed open the double doors at the entrance to the library. Stepping into the hallway I anticipated an attack from my invisible stalker. My legs muscles tensed to the point I thought I would end up with a charley horse.

No attack came. The sensation I had felt before was gone.

In through nose

out through mouth.

I looked back to see Nance, the librarian staring at me. I waved. She ducked my polite social custom and returned to her books.

In through nose

out through mouth.

By the time I got outside, I was delusional enough to think I was calm.

“Okay. Someone wants to play.”

I spoke to no one with a carnival barkers sense of bravado.

“Someone thinks they can get to me.”

I walked the teachers parking lot, with the steps of a bold man. They were foolish steps, but I wouldn’t know that till later.

“They don’t know who they’re messing with.”

My mind thought back to the presence in the hallway.

My bold steps quickened.

Something Wild (Chapter 4)

4

I exercise.

I don’t say that in a boastful way. You don’t have to feel my bicep or anything. But I need to move. I like the exhaustion I feel after an intense workout. Plus, I like not having to go up a pant size every time I pig out at Shirley’s.

I’m no Sgt. Henderson, actually Captain Henderson now.

His promotion was big news.

He’s a supersized piece of man meat. I’m like a medium side of fries.

I see Henderson from time to time. He an active member of the community and a photogenic masterpiece with a Denzel smile. I’m expecting a run for mayor in the next election.

Every time I run into Charles, Chuck to his closest friends, He always asks me the same question, “How’s the car?”

His fun way of finding the last puzzle piece.

“How’s the car?”

Like a grandpa with five minutes and a live mic.

After my interrogation at the police station, I needed a lift back to my car. I should have Ubered, but Charles insisted.

His way of sizing me up. Wanting to see if I’d drop my guard. Maybe talk like we were old buddies. He apologized for asking so many questions. He told me I was fortunate he let me ride up in the front seat.

Only the good guys get to ride up front.

He asked if I had any kids. Where did I live before I purchased my home in Dominion Park? Where did I go to school? Did I have any hobbies?

Everything but where I hid my wife’s body?

I never got the idea, he thought I was innocent. He kept looking at me as if I were a puzzle and the last piece was missing.

Confession is good for the paperwork.

I answered in short, clipped sentences. I wasn’t into the game he was playing. I knew he was doing his job, but his job was getting on my nerves. The more he prattled. The more ticks my face made. My skin felt too sizes too small. It was suffocating my organs.

When I thought my soul would burst from my human cocoon, Henderson turned onto Bourbon St. He drove his unmarked wheels down to where I told him I had left my car, but it wasn’t there.

Vanished like everything else.

Up and down the block like a Jack-in-the-box without its spring. The song rolling over its notes with every turn of the crank, but nothing coming out. Charles drove up and down streets parallel to Bourdon exasperating the point.

Nothing.

He put in a call in to the station.

Nothing.

Vanished like Rachel.

I slow trickle of giddiness wiggled up from my toes thinking Rachel had come back and stolen my car.

How would she have known where it was? Rachel would know. Rachel knows those things. Remember that time she found the exact change needed to pay the bill on that disastrous dinner date.

What had she said, “Find a penny. Leave a penny.”

Henderson saw my smile. I made sure it vanished too.

But that’s when his joke started.

“How’s your car?”

Over and over like a grandpa at open mic night.

It’s what he says to me now, as he passes me, in the hallway of Bowman Elementary School.

“How’s your car?”

He wears the same award winning smile. His cheekbones raise just enough to highlight the sparkle in his eyes. Somewhere a runway is missing their Blue Steel.

Charles, Chuck to his closest friends, smiles at me but I know he doesn’t like me.

I killed my wife. He’d respect me more if I was shouting about a one-armed intruder.

“How’s your car?” He doesn’t even stop when he asks me. He asks me like most people would say “How are you doing” or “Hi”. He jabs me in the arm as he passes.

It’s a special greeting, for me only. I play my part. I smile, do some weird thing with my eyebrows where I lift them up and pretend to be in on the joke. I even give a quirky half-smile when I respond, “Good.”

I never stop moving either.

He’s on his way to 5th grade to D.A.R.E kids to keep off of drugs. I’m off to 1st grade to read my latest creation, “Princess and Mr. Sullivan Discover the Land Down Under.”

The story is very basic. Princess and Mr. Sullivan have a new neighbor who is from Australia. We’re going to suspend belief, because it’s a children’s story, but the new neighbor has a pet Koala Bear. The Koala Bear gets loose, Princess and Mr. Sullivan discover the Koala Bear and help him get back over the fence. The new neighbor is so happy his Koala Bear has returned he tells them all about Australia.

Patti Smith is my illustrator. Not the same Patti Smith who is considered the “Godmother of Punk.” She was busy. Plus, I don’t know if she can draw. But if my illustrator for the book was Patti Smith the “Godmother of Punk”, I may be able to move more units.

You sound like your agent.

For the longest time, I kept Rachel out of my writings. I know they’re only kid’s books, but Rachel was mine and I didn’t want to share her with anyone. Over time, I found I needed her and I needed to share her. That’s why this story has a Koala Bear.

Rachel loved Koala Bears.

Princess used to be my creation, a little girl exploring the world with her dog, Mr. Sullivan. But more and more Princess has become Rachel. Rachel is my princess so she might as well be everyone else’s as well. I tell her story through Princess.

I fantasize Rachel has amnesia. She discovers one of my stories and it triggers her memories. She comes home and we live happily ever after.

I’m a writer. I’m allowed happily ever after.

Mr. Sullivan is Sasha. A black lab who is way more intelligent than the average canine.

Sasha had been a wonderful companion these past 3 years. I couldn’t have made it without her.

But she does hold two things against me. One is leaving her home the day Rachel disappeared. She was cooped up all day. Every now and again she reminds me of that event and I have to make up for it. An extra scrap of food. Longer walk.

The second thing is creating a character based off of her personality traits then turning that character into a male dog and naming him Mr. Sullivan.

She can get such an attitude, you’d think she was a Schnauzer.

The books keep me busy. They give me a chance to connect to the community in a small way by allowing me to read at the local elementary.

I feel Rachel with me, when I read.

Sometimes I take Sasha with me. When she was younger Sasha wanted to go all the time. We’d even take walks past the playground. The kids were at recess would love all over her.

She loved it. She insists she’s shy, but she loves the spotlight.

Today Sasha wouldn’t come. When I called for her she stayed on her doggie sofa. I tried picking her up, she let out a soft growl. Strong enough I left her alone.

She’s growled before. Quite often, the past couple of weeks. I’ve took her to the vet, but the vet didn’t find anything. I’m scared to death of tumors.

I don’t know if it’s age or a change in her diet. But something is bothering her.

Grubby little hands poking her in the eye or trying to hold her tongue while she pants probably isn’t what she needs right now.

I think she misses Rachel. More than once, I’ve found her whining at the door. I go to let her out and she circles back to the middle of the room.

Neither of us ready to move on.

These are all the things I think about as I make my way down the colorful hallway of Bowman Elementary School. This is what happens when someone with a twinkle in their eye walks past and asks, “How’s the car?”

I push all these thoughts to the back of my mind, as I’m introduced to the three 1st grade classes assembled before me. All of their little chairs have been formed in a semicircle around the reading chair, in the school’s library.

I study their faces as the teachers quiet them down. A few wave. I wave back. I’m their celebrity although they won’t recognize me outside of this room.

Above their heads, in the hallway outside the library, a ghost captures my attention. I crane my neck to see what has escaped my view. Book mobiles and art displays block the face of whoever is walking past the huge rectangle windows outlining the library.

The spectre floats past another window, rounding the corner. I stand up to track them as they enter the hallway closest to me. In a moment, I’ll have a clear view of their face.

“Mr. Lewis, is everything okay?” Jeanie Chatterstone asks. Jeanie is one of the younger 1st grade teachers.

I wave her off. As if the sound of her voice, could drive the figment away. The ghost is closer now. One more window pane and they’re identity will come into focus.

A child tugs on my pant sleeve, “Mr. Lewes?”

She pronounced it, “Lubness.”

“Will you read the princess story now?”

She says, “pin-cess”.

Her constant yanking forces me to look down at her angelic face. It’s brief. My look startles her. I’m panicked and sweating as if the ferryman has come to collect and I don’t have a coin for the river Styx.

The child backs away. My eyes to mature for 1st grade.

I look back up. My ghost has vanished. I step over several rows of children. Small squeals of surprised laughter ripples through their ranks.

I push open the back entrance, located between non-fiction and a row of computers. Left, right, the hallway is empty.

Her name escapes my lips before I realize I’ve said it, “Rachel?”

“Bodhi?”

I jump.

Jeanie steps into my personal space to place a hand on my shoulder.

“What?” My tone too sharp. Too agitated.

She takes her hand away. I’ve told her before I’m not interested, but I know she still carries hope. We’ve never even dated but she’s still upset I said Rachel’s name.

My eyes still a little wild. I can’t form the words to calm them.

“Are you okay? Would you like us to take the kids back to class?”

Her question is a little accusatory. As if, I’ve cheated on her in some way. She holds my continued love, for my wife, against me.

I know she has a wall dedicated to me.

I smile hoping my eyes swallow their wildness.

“It’s okay. I thought I saw someone.”

My smile isn’t enough. She folds her arms. I touch her arm, “Really.”

“Really?” Her resentment towards Rachel folds momentarily.

“Yeah,” I wrinkle my nose like a carefree sailor, “Let’s read some books.”

Behind me an unseen apparition lingers. I refuse to acknowledge its presence. It’s daring me to look. I want so bad for the presence behind me to be Rachel, but I know it isn’t.

It’s wants me to think so. It picked its moment well. I’m vulnerable here.

I shut the door between us. Waiting for the lock to click before I’ll let go. As if its flimsy layer of protection is enough to keep whatever if out there at bay.

To the kids I shout, “Who wants to hear a story?”

A high pitch agreement soars over my head.

On the outside, I settle in my reading chair and begin Princess and Mr. Sullivan’s down under adventure. I’m normal and the day is a good day.

Inside, my heart grows cold waiting for the presence outside the door to demand the payment due.

A payment I can’t possibly pay.

Something Wild (Chapter 3)

3

Before I ended the call, John had snatched the keys out of my hand.

“I’ll drive.”

Too numb to disagree, I followed him to his truck and slid in the passenger seat.

We rode in silence. The world, outside my window, a busy cornucopia of suburban privilege. I couldn’t focus on any one thought. Rachel repeated over and over in my head till my mouth allowed her name to escape my lips.

“Rachel.”

“We’ll be there in a moment, buddy.”

I couldn’t tell if John understood or needed something to say. His demeanor was that of companion and priest. I felt as if I could tell him my darkest secrets and receive absolution. I halfheartedly toyed with the idea of opening his glovebox, certain I would find a vile of holy water.

I’d never reported Rachel’s car as missing. My focus had been on her.

But the car has been found? 

I couldn’t answer my own question. Like an unbelieving Tomas, I needed to see to believe.

The police had told me to go home. They would send someone over to speak with me. I wasn’t needed at the scene. The car wasn’t like a body. They didn’t need me to identify her car. The vin number and license plate were enough.

But you needed to see. Connections.

John took me out to Old Culler Rd. He remembered hearing the call on his scanner earlier and had a pretty good idea where the cops were located.

In another life, Sgt. Charles E. Henderson, Chuck to his closest friends, may have been friends. On the side of Old Culler Road, we did not get off to a great start.

Sgt. Henderson was the guy who coached Little League and any other sport he had time for. He was a member of a local church. A Deacon; helping little old ladies cross the street and donating can goods to the food pantry.

Charles was built like a house, doublewide and two -stories. He could keep kids of the street by lifting the neighborhood up in his massive hands. He was a pillar in the community. Pun intended. His gravel voice was enough to scare any kid away from a life of illegal activities.

Built like Arnold, with the looks of Denzel; he gave people something to look up to. Something to hold on to.

I’m pretty sure he was good at telling jokes, but I never heard him tell any.

John dropped me off, but didn’t stay. I jumped out before he came to a complete stop.

“I’d stay, but I’ve got other calls,” he yelled to me.

I waved him off with the back of my hand. An ungrateful gesture for his kindness.

I made a bee-line straight for Rachel’s midnight blue Honda Civic. The front of the car was twisted like it had been wrapped around a tree. The windshield looked as if someone had flown through it. My mind conjuring an image of Rachel’s body flying onto the pavement. Her forehead impacting on the glass looping over and over. Like the sadistic part of myself had a remote control over my subconscious and left it on rewind.

A tow truck operator was loading the vehicle onto his flatbed. Officers were searching the area around where the car had been found. Shards of glass littered the ground. The police swatted a path in the high grass towards the tree line.

The koala bear air freshener she kept on her rearview mirror confirmed it was Rachel’s car. This is a woman who I dated for a year, married for 8 and been searching for 3 and I still don’t know why she likes Koala Bears. She used to have this weird fascination with thinking that if the Care Bears had been invented in Australia they would have been Koala Bears. She told this theory like it explained why she liked Koala Bears. Love is a maddening game I guess.

“Rachel!”

It made no sense to yell. She wasn’t here. I knew that, but sometimes knowing doesn’t change how the heart reacts. The brain can only offer so much advice. A person’s hert must remain true.

My outburst got the attention of those who mattered. Before I could yell out her name again, Sgt. Henderson laid a meaty paw on the back of my neck.

“Can I help you?”

He stepped in front of me blocking my access to Rachel’s car. He addressed me without looking directly at me.

“I said, can I help you?” his voice a rich tenor, a tad shy of Barry White.

Sgt. Henderson, Chuck to his closest friends, looked up from the legal yellow he was writing on.

“That’s my wife’s car.”

I tried to muscle my way around him. He held me back with a firm hand. I tried to slip off his hand with a shoulder dip he matched my movements by planting his hand square on my chest.

“Maybe you’re not understanding me, but I’m asking you politely to stay right here.”

I squirmed under the pressure he provided almost falling forward when he pulled his hand away. Before I could take a step forward, Henderson poked me with his index finger. It felt like I’d been hit by a rubber bullet.

“Son of a bitch that hurt.”

I rubbed the bruise on my chest.

“Do I have your compliance, now?”

I nodded but not without giving him a hard stare. He acknowledged my stare and dismissed it.

Rubber bullets.

We were seeing eye to eye, on the subject, but I still had to look up at the large man.

“Sir, what is your name?”

Henderson spoke with a professional tone.

“Bodhi Lewis.”

Mine was less so.

“Bodhi with an ‘e’ or an ‘i’?”

“With an ‘i’.”

“Is this your car?”

“It’s my wife’s.”

“Is she here?”

I looked from side to side, “No.”

Sgt. Henderson was getting on my nerves.

“Do you know where your wife is right now?”

“No.” My inner teenager was begging to be released, “Do you know where my wife is right now?”

Henderson’s eyes told me he did not appreciate my sarcasm. In fact, to me it looked like he was debating whether to taser me or not.

He blew out a breath and readjusted his professionalism, “Sir, can you tell me where you’ve been for the last 24 hours?”

“My wife, Rachel and I, bought a dog yesterday. We came home sometime late afternoon. I had some things at the house to do. She left to go get ice cream. She never came back. I’ve been driving around since midnight trying to see if I can find her. Where is she? Is she at the hospital? Was she in an accident? What is going on?’

This wasn’t Sgt. Henderson’s first rodeo. He’d had this conversation before. He knew all the parts, everybody’s lines. In his mind, my reaction was predetermined. I could act one of two ways; one way I did it, another I didn’t.

“We’re currently looking for the owner of this vehicle.”

“Rachel Lewis. My wife.”

“Right, Rachel.”

He scribbled her name down on his legal pad. His handwriting small and meticulous.

“The family who owns this farm,” he pointed over his shoulder to a farm set back from the road, “saw the car this morning and called it in. That’s what we know, unless there’s anything else you can tell us.”

Henderson waited patiently for my response.

I wish I had one. I wanted something intelligent and profound to drip from my lips. I wanted something magical to escape. Something that would change the look of accusation in Henderson’s eyes. Something that would cause all of the officers to leap into action.

I wanted to utter a miracle.

Instead, I stood gaping like a trout.

Henderson narrowed his eyes, “Tell me about your wife. How was your relationship/ We’re you two fighting? Any problems at home?”

“Oh I get it,” I lost control, “I’m the husband. I’ve watched Law and Order; it’s always the husband, right? Unless it’s some sort of a ratings week and then the special quest star did it. Plus, I match the description, right? I’ve got long hair and a scruffy beard. I kind of look like that guy, right? I must have done something to my wife. I drove her car into a tree. I’m the one who caused the accident!”

The tone of my voice and wild gesturing drew the attention of the other law enforcement officials. They stalked over readying their gun belts, but Charles, Chuck to his friends, waved him off.

He reestablished his hand on the center of my chest.

“Sir, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to place you under arrest,” his voice part intimidating, part reassuring, “Are we going to have a problem here?”

My chest heaved under the weight of his hand. I counted heartbeats unsure if they were mine or his.

“No.”

I seethed inside, but felt compliance would move the matter along. Nothing was more important than finding Rachel.

We were close. I could feel her.

I wanted all of this to be over with. A quick, easy solution.

But it didn’t end.

I took an eternity, but Sgt. Henderson concluded I was not a suspect in Rachel’s disappearance. They asked questions disguised as reassurances. Technology and friends confirmed my answers.

Around the time sunlight was fading, he let me go. He walked me to the parking lot, shook my hand and said, “For now.”

Later, I would receive a report listing the incident as an accident. Rachel’s DNA was discovered in the car, but that made sense. No other DNA had been found. No signs of a struggle. No evidence that Rachel left the car after the accident. No signs or evidence of anything.

They listed Rachel as missing.

Vanished.

Three years later, that’s still the word that wakes me from my dreams.

Vanished.

Like she wasn’t real or ceased to be real. Like she wasn’t a part of this world anymore. As if I had conjured her from the fantasies of my mind.

She was no more real than an imaginary friend. I knew her. I could feel her but no one else could. She was a figment of a past I couldn’t let go; nor could I recreate for others to see.

In the beginning, the accident, her disappearance dominated the gossip lines. Sgt. Henderson dropped the case to a Brenda something, she moved the folder around on her desk, until shuttling it off to the Cold Case filing cabinet.

There were reporters for a cycle or two. A Wal-mart opened. The president said something stupid and the people forgot. Old news turns bitter when it sits on the tongue too long. Rachel’s disappearance couldn’t compete with all the zoning issues and talk of nuclear war.

Shirley helped. Rachel’s 8×10 sat on the counter like a tribute to the 80’s milk cartoon kids. People looked but didn’t remember. Rachel looked like someone they used to know, but that’s true of all the pictures we dismiss.

Still, Shirley tried. She spoke of Rachel often enough, I imagined Rachel with a scar on her nose from all the scratching.

Everyone helped, when the story was new. When the flyers were still copy machine warm. When the tip line rang with false information.

One day, I woke up and it was just Sasha and I. We’d drifted away from society’s subconscious. Dropped into the deep end and told to sink or swim.

We’ve been treading water ever since.

The treading looks successful. My Princess and Mr. Sullivan books have become bestsellers. There’s talk of a cartoon on PBS.

My indulgence center is as full as my bank account.

But you see the glances.

Did he do it? They never did find the body. Those looks that are as cold as a social media review.

It’s enough to push me into the background; to rely on the shadows for coverage. Samantha and Jessica my human connection to the outside world.

People’s theories will linger; Did she walk into the woods? Maybe she had amnesia? Maybe she did want to escape or maybe she really did go for ice cream?

I don’t know.

I know she isn’t here. But I believe she is still out there. I believe she would come home if she could.

I don’t have blind faith. I just know.

I know in ways other people can’t know.

It’s what keeps me alive. Allows me to move from one day to the next.

I’d tell you what it is. I’d show you. But I’m afraid its discovery would cause her demise. I can’t allow that to happen

I may not be able to rescue Rachel today. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be able to rescue her someday.

Something Wild (Chapter 2)

2

Rachel walked out of my life 3 years ago.

I guess that statement isn’t really true. She’s been with me every day, but in memory. At first, I found myself talking to her as if she were still in the room. Time robbed me of those moments. Moments where I thought she was there. Time stole my belief she’d still walk through my door; a container of ice cream in her hand and a bizarre story of being abducted by aliens.

If Aliens had Rachel, they wouldn’t give her back.

By the time Sasha started to whine, I realized something was wrong. I had finished sending the emails and Rachel still wasn’t back.

I used to chastise myself for not following Rachel out the door. I should have jumped in the car, took her keys, slashed her tires, tackled her in the driveway and never let her go. I should have bear hugged her till the neighbors called the cops.

Those damn emails.

I remembered calling out for Rachel, thinking she must have come home through another door. Maybe she’d come in through the back. Maybe she had picked up smoking and was sitting out on the back deck. Maybe she decided to eat all the ice cream herself and was hiding in a closet until she was done.

Those ideas seem crazy, till you understand she’s not coming home.

Crazy would fill the void of unknowing.

Rachel never answered my repeated calls. I walked through the large house expecting her behind every corner. I flung open doors expecting her to leap out with a childlike glee.

I check rooms earmarked for children, rec rooms awaiting toys and children’s cartoons. The backyard stood empty, save for a freshly mowed backyard. Grass so green, you tried to remember why man created shoes.

Rachel wasn’t in any of those places. Only Sasha continuing to whine behind me, caught between the need to pee and concern for my behavior.

I checked the garage again, hoping to find her vehicle parked in its space. A call to her phone went straight to voicemail. Her throaty hello telling me she was unavailable.

“Where are you?” my voice cracked. I punched the end button.

I have no idea if she ever heard the message or any of the others I left.

I leashed Sasha for a walk, part to calm my nerves, part to check the street. Most accidents happen within one mile of the home. Maybe she’d been hit backing out of the driveway? I grasped at straws.

Sasha resisted the urge to pull me towards her favorite watering holes. She sensed my fear like a service dog. Sasha was an old soul from birth. I imagined her last life was very fulfilling. We’ve leaned on each other these past few years.

I continued to dial Rachel’s number, alternating between leaving a message and clicking off as soon as her voicemail started. I checked my phone to make sure she hadn’t left me a message.

Nothing.

Back at the house, I started calling friends. No one had heard from her. Social media couldn’t locate her. The iPhone app that tracked her phone couldn’t help. Rachel wasn’t anywhere.

I succeeded in upsetting family members, more hers than mine. Her mother was particularly worried. I had to release the fear in my own voice, before she would let me go.

I got the feeling she was hiding something from me, but I didn’t know how to push correctly.

The kitchen clock ticked seconds off of my life. I drummed my fingers on the Corinthian white counter.

Ice cream. 

My mind popped like a firework thinking about those two words. She’d gone after ice cream. There was only one place in town, she would have gone.

Shirley’s Squirrely Ice Cream Parlor was and will always be the best ice cream parlor in the entire world. Even the décor is better than wherever you’ve eaten ice cream. It was mishmash of grandma’s kitchen and mad scientist’s lab. Nothing matched. The piece of furniture told a story. Shirley would tell you a purple table, in the corner of the room, inspired Jimi Hendrix’s, Purple Haze. A highback chair once belonged to the Queen. You’d ask which queen and she’d tell you, “All of them.”

Motivational and demotivational pictures hung next to each other contradicting the other’s message. Shirley would hang pictures of celebrities and tell you stories of how they met and which flavor was their favorite.

Shirley experimented with flavors. At the time, I was stuck on a Red Velvet that tasted of old movies. You could taste the cinematic goodness in each bite. Rachel was drawn to a chocolate, peanut butter and caramel concoction she said reminded her of carnival rides.

A carnival ride, where you’re not invited.

I drove to Shirley’s the night Rachel went missing. If she really went for ice cream. It was the only place she would have gone. I was running out of options.

I didn’t see Shirley that evening. The girl behind the counter said Rachel hadn’t been in.

None of the regulars had seen her either. They frowned at my worry lines.

In the car, I called the police.

As soon as they answered, I unloaded an exhaustive explosion of worry.

The trained officer replied with the standard questions; Did you have a fight? Have you tried calling her friends and family? Did you talk to the neighbors? etc…

I found their polite calmness irritating.

I went home at their suggestion He car wasn’t cooling in the garage. A thorough search of the house showed she had not returned. She hadn’t slipped back, while I was gone, and grabbed a suitcase of clothes. Nothing was missing or out of place.

I let Sasha out of the downstairs bathroom. She had chewed on the back of the bathroom door. Under normal circumstances, I would have been furious, but it barely registered.

I called Rachel’s phone again, my hands working the recall buttons without the need for my eyes. Her mailbox told me it was full.

My mind was raced searching for an explanation that wouldn’t come. I decided to try my door to door skills. I drug Sasha with me. Some answered politely. Some ignored my intrusion.

No one had seen Rachel, knew Rachel or even knew who I was.

Most were more interested in fulfilling their curiosity then helping me find my wife. I was a party trick akin to a Youtube video they hadn’t seen. Their medicated faces told me before they spoke, they held no answers for me.

Call the police became a parrot answer.

Exercising all my options, I sat, facing the door, till morning. Around 6am I got in the car and drove through town. I went past Shirley’s again; past the bookstore and park. I tried all of her favorite spots. I cruised every parking lot to see if I could find her car.

Not once did I ever think she had left me or cheated on me. Still don’t. I didn’t know where Rachel was, but I knew she’s not in the arms of another person.

Rachel was missing and I needed to find her.

I drove till I ran out of gas. Too focused on finding Rachel, I didn’t notice the warning light come on. I ended up on Bourbon St. I found it appropriate, since I could have used a drink at that moment.

My nerves and senses were shot. My eyes bleary from lack of sleep. I was so worried I’d miss something, I refused blinking.

I tried calling the hospital to see if anyone matching Rachel’s description had been checked in. It turned out to be another dead end.

My mind started playing tricks, “Was there really a Rachel? Did she really exist?” I’d look at the picture in my wallet to make sure. Our smiling faces would remind me I wasn’t crazy.

Just tired. Too tired.

I was at my wits end by the time Triple A arrived with gas.

I took my anger out on John, the Triple A, agent. He responded with kindness. More kindness then I deserved.

I was grateful he didn’t engage in polite conversation. He tipped his hat and started filling my tank while I signed his form.

“Give me a second, and I’ll have on your way.”

“Thanks,” I mumbled. I barely got the words out.

“You need anything else before I go?” John tapped the spout against the opening, wringing out a few more drops.

I covered my face with my hands and leaned against the car, “No, man. I’m good.”

“You sure?”

“John? Is it?,” I read his nametag, “I don’t think you can help me.”

My harsh remark didn’t remove the smile off of John’s face.

“I meet a lot of people,” He shifted his stance, “I’m pretty good at reading body language. Running out of gas is the least of your worries.”

“You a private detective as well John?”

“Nah. Just trying to be a good person.”

He hesitated before walking back to his truck.

“Hey, I’m sorry, man,” I called out. I walked towards him. “I can’t find my wife. She went missing yesterday and I’ve been driving around hoping I could find her car. I really don’t know what else to do.”

John made a face and moved his lips from side to side. He scratched the underside of his chin and asked, “What kid of car does she drive?”

“Honda civic.” I replied.

“Uh, I think there was a Honda Civic on the police scanner not too long ago. But there’s a lot of Honda Civics out there.”

I stood up. John had my attention. “Police Scanner.”

John smiled, “Oh, I know, who listens to the police scanner. I don’t even know if it’s legal anymore. But my momma used to do it, so it reminds me of home, and lets me know what’s going on out there.”

“Stop. You said you heard something about a Honda Civic on the police scanner?”

Right then, my phone rang. I answered on the second ring.

“Mr. Lewis?”

“Yes?”

“This is Sgt. Harris of the Queen’s County Police.”

My heart stopped.

Something Wild (Chapter 1)

1

I’m a married man and I live with 3 ladies.

None of which are my wife.

I would have celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary this past summer but I haven’t seen my wife in 3 years. Not because I don’t want to, but because she isn’t here.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

Before you get any ideas, I am not some sleaze ball, nor do I fashion myself a ladies’ man. Hugh Hefner’s status is safe.

Technically, two of the ladies don’t actually live with me. They live in a small apartment above my garage. I say small, but it does have two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and full bath. I’m surprised they haven’t asked to add an additional bathroom.

Just saying.

Jessica and Sam attend class at Admere College; a private university that contributes greatly to the economic stability of the town. To the locals it’s a treasure. I could care less.

I’m sure it’s a great college, but some of the professors, in the English Department, have rubbed me the wrong way. To them, children’s books aren’t real literature. So, I am not a real author.

The checks deposited in my bank account feel real.

About as real as my life as a man who lives with three women. Jessica and Sam are nice. I’ll admit it’s weird being married and living with two college-aged women.

I don’t need the money, but I force myself to charge them rent. We all agreed on $200 a month, during the months they’re in school.

For the most part, we don’t interact much. We have an unspoken commitment to stay out of each other’s way. The apartment’s convenience allows for them to come and go as they please. Sometimes they invite people over and sometimes they don’t. So far, no wild parties. Crossing my fingers that holds up.

Jessica and Sam do come the house on Sunday’s for dinner. The tradition started after a thunderstorm had knocked out the electric. They came down to investigate and we had a meal. I liked it enough, I invited them back the next Sunday.

Sometimes I cook and sometimes they do. Sometimes we order take-out from anyone who will deliver. I have a plethora of menus and coupons. Most are outdated. My wife collected them. I don’t have the heart to toss them out.

What if she comes back?

Jessica and Sam don’t seem to mind my obsession with old coupons. If I remember correctly they met in a Literature class. They agreed to partner reading something by John Updike. I believe Jessica got the idea from the television program Full House, where Uncle Jesse and Steve agree to both read half of a book and tell the other person about the book, thereby cutting the reading time in half. I confess I’ve seen this particular episode.

I confess I’ve watched a lot of Full House.

It didn’t work out for Steve and Uncle Jesse, and it didn’t work out for Jessica and Sam either. I can’t remember if they passed the assignment. Probably doesn’t matter now that they’re so close to graduation. Their friendship blossomed afterwards. I imagine they’ll be friends for life.

I came to know the combo of Jessica and Sam through Sam.

Sam and I meet at Honker’s, the local grocery store. Their bakery keeps them from being overtaken by the big chains. I could live off of their breads for the rest of my life.

We were both looking over the community bulletin board when she introduced herself.

“So, my choices of places to stay are cardboard box, a place with more rats then a pet store or this studio apartment that looks like a live version of clickbait.”

She used air quotes when she said, “studio apartment”.

“A cardboard box might be nice,” I mumbled, “Every time someone buys a refrigerator you can add on a room or create a second floor. Plus, if you draw on the walls who cares? It’s a cardboard box.”

She smiled politely. I could have ran my thumb across her lips and declared I’d found the holy grail. But her eyes held me back. They shone with the shade of blue one only finds in paradise.

She noticed my wedding ring.

Self-conscious I held my hands behind my back, “What are you looking for?”

Still on guard, “Some place affordable. Right now, I live on campus, but the dorm scene is not for me. I need someplace with space and a little bit of quiet. My parents are paying for college, but if I want to live off campus, I’m on my own.”

She made a “what-can-you-do” look with her face. Her smile returned.

“I have a place,” I blurted out.

She eyeballed me, and gave me that come on man, I may be young but I wasn’t born yesterday, look.

“No really.” I said, “Here’s my card. It’s got my address on it. Google it. The space above my garage is fully furnished. No one lives up there. It was created for my wife, but she doesn’t use it. It just sits empty.”

“Okay, and if I like it then what? Ring the doorbell or something?”

“I tell you what, if you like it, we’ll discuss all the details over dinner. If you’re in college, you probably don’t get a home cooked meal too often. I’ll grill something and we can discuss the terms.”

Her eyes read mine as if she were psychic.

I broke off her trance by throwing my hands up.

“Look, I’m just trying to do something nice here. No strings attached. Honest. I don’t even know why I’m talking to you. My name’s Lewis. Bodhi Lewis. My mom says people are supposed to pronounce the “I” in Bodhi. But most people say it Bodh’e’ with an ‘e’ at the end. I write children’s books. I use to be married, but my wife went missing. She’s probably dead but they never found the body and why am I telling you all of this?”

She smiled and stuck out her hand. “I know who you are Mr. Lewis My names Samantha Giordano. Mrs. Deems and I are good friends.”

“Mrs. Deems?”

She turned me around and pointed towards the store manager. The store manager waved.

“Vera?”

“Vera Deems is a good friend of mine. I see her little Joey most afternoons over at the Sunshine Preschool. I’m studying to be a teacher. Mrs. Deems, and I chat all the time, I mentioned I needed a place and she said she knew of a place and here we are.”

“How did Vera know I had a place for you to stay?”

“Bodhi, from what I understand, when you have a conversation with someone over and over again, they remember things about you. Mrs. Deems remembers things you’ve told her, because she’s a solid human being, with the capacity for memory. Although, I bet you don’t remember all the things she’s told you other than her name, have you?”

I really liked this girl.

I smiled and she told me she’d be bringing a friend for dinner. I was expecting a guy, but she showed up with Jessica and a bottle of wine. I offended and asked if they were old enough to drink alcohol or even buy alcohol. They countered with the age-old advice of never asking a woman what her age was.

It was a delightful evening. I believe they are secretly teaching me to remember things about other people’s lives. Being in their company makes me a better person.

I never thought of myself as someone who needed to get better. I was happy. Life was comfortable. But then the love of your life is gone and you reevaluate things.

It changes you.

The third lady I live with is Sasha. Sasha actually lives with me. She’s a black lab, Rachel and I rescued when we moved into this house over 3 years ago.

Sasha is my strongest link to Rachel.

Sasha was named for the character Sasha Goodall in the Dean Koontz series Fear Nothing and Seize the Night. We were going to get a male black lab and name him Orson, like the dog in the book, but Sasha came bounding out from behind the counter at rescue center. Her front and back legs didn’t seem to want to go in the same direction, on the tile floor. When she got to us, she leapt at Rachel, who had bent down to pick her up.

Rachel got the kisses and I got some puppy piddle on my shoes.

We knew then, she was the one.

Life was perfect. We had a new house. A dog. Our only disagreements were about where to hang the pictures. After 8 years of marriage, I felt like we had finally arrived. The first “Princess and Mr. Sullivan” book had taken off. My agent was talking franchise.

Life was perfect.

Then one day, Rachel told me she wanted some ice cream.

“Why didn’t we pick some up while we were out?” I asked.

“Didn’t want any then.”

I watched her gather her purse and jacket off the kitchen counter.

“I’ve got like five emails I need to send real quick. Give me a minute and I’ll go with you.”

She leaned over the couch and gave me an upside-down kiss like were Spiderman and Mary Jane.

I can feel her lips on mine.

“I’ll be back before you finish the last email, promise.”

I typed without looking, “What’s the hurry? We’ll go together. We can take Sasha with us.”

She looked over at Sasha curled up on a massive, brown dog bed.

“When I get back, we’ll take Sasha for a walk. Love you,” she said closing the door behind her.

I shook my head.

You never argue with a strong headed woman.

Rachel broke her promise.

She’s been gone ever since.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your OwnAdventure

I wanted to be in the middle of the action without looking like I wanted to be in the middle of the action. So, I sat three stools over from the center of the bar.

Three was good.

Three was lucky.

“You want to get lucky?” a woman said, reading my mind.

“Excuse me?”

I turned, from my drink, to see a little black dress drop her matching purse on the bar next to me. She sat professionally crossing and uncrossing her legs.

“You mind if I sit here?”

I shrugged. “It’s a free country.”

“But not everything’s free.”

“Are we negotiating already?”

“Lady, you look real nice and all, but I’m not interested.”

She smiled. It contained the right amount of seduction and girl next door. It was a practiced smile. The kind of smile a salesman uses to get you to sign. But it her eyes carried the fine print.

She waved at the bartender. He nodded and proceeded to fix her a drink without a word.

“What do you want?”

I nodded towards the bartender, “You must come here often.”

She smiled again, but more like a predator. “I come here as often as I need to. Sam and I are old friends.”

She winked at Sam, the bartender. He winked back as he placed a red drink in front of her. “Thank you Sam. Can you make one for my friend here?”

“Sure thing.”

Sam went about making another. I couldn’t see what spirits he added.

She took another sip, “I asked before what interests you.”

Sam set the red drink in front of me. He waited till I took a sip. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if this was some sort of reverse roofie number. Then I remembered I’m not that good looking. She wouldn’t have to roofie me to sleep with me.

I took a sip before I thought she might roofie me for something else. But I couldn’t think what I had, that she would want.

The drink was good. It tasted like a Cosmopolitan.

“Cosmo?”

Sam winked and walked away.

“You sound disappointed,” she said finishing off the last of her drink in a gulp. Sam proceeded to make another.

“I guess I was expecting something a little more exotic.”

“Exotic? Why?”

I shrugged, “I don’t know. Aren’t we always looking for something exotic.”

She nodded, “We do. And yet, you don’t want me?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I asked if you wanted to get lucky. For the right price, I can be as exotic as you’d like. But you’ve been sneaking glances at that blonde over there. Kind of hurts my feelings.”

“I’m sorry. I just…”

“want what you can’t have,” she said finishing my sentence. Sam placed another cosmopolitan in front of her.

“You saying I can’t have her?” I finished off the rest of my drink.

“You want another Cosmo or gin and tonic?” Sam asked.

“Cosmo,” the woman answered for me, “I’m buying.”

“Whoa,” I held up my hands, “You don’t have to do that.”

She crossed her legs again. The silk of her pantyhose asking if I wanted to see more. “I know. But I find you exotic. I want to know more about you and that girl over there.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“But you want something to tell? Something that starts with… her number?”

Sam placed a cosmo in front of me. I took a sip before answering. “I would.”

“How much?” she sipped from her fresh drink.

“How much for what?”

“How much for her number?”

“You have her number? What, is she a working girl like you? You two friends or something?”

She looked down at the blonde, “Nope. Nope. And nope.”

“So how are you going to give me her number if you don’t have it?”

Sam smirked as he filled an order for another couple.

“$200 to find out.” Her smile part sex, part gameshow host.

I almost spit my drink on the bar. “$200? I was thinking $50.”

She slid her finger around the rim of her glass. “Do I look like a $50 girl?”

“No. But $200?”

“Look at her. You’re already thinking till death do us part.”

I looked down at the end of the bar. She was more than a blonde conquest. She tucked her hair under behind her ear, so her bangs wouldn’t hang in her face. The bar was slowly filling up with the after-work crowd, but she ignored those around her. Her face in a book. The words on the page more interesting than the conversations around her.

“She’s smart. I could see her as the mother of my children.”

Sam rolled his eyes as he dished ice into a two-finger tumbler.

“Isn’t your future bride worth $200?”

I finished off the rest of my drink, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand. “You know what? You’re right.”

I reached for my wallet.

She grabbed my hand. “Hold on cowboy. No need to whip it out so fast. Let me go get her number first. Two things in this world I hate the most; quick lovers and having to return money.”

“I thought quick lovers were what you would want in your line of work?”

She smiled the way a killer does when you insult them, “People I meet in my kind of work, are not my lovers.” She hip-checked me before walking over my potential bride.

As she had done to me, she laid her purse on the bar next to the blonde, a conversation bloomed before she had taken the stool next to her. I watched as they bonded through martini’s and laughter.

I snapped a finger at Sam, “Hey, how did you know to serve her cosmos with me but martinis with the other woman?”

He looked down at the two women cackling over something the Little Black Dress had said. “She’s in here a lot. I know what she drinks with certain people.”

“And I look like a cosmo kind of guy?”

“Isn’t that what Caty would drink?

“Carrie.”

“See what I mean?”

I motioned towards the two women, “What is her name?”

“Ask her when she gets back.” Sam walked away to help a designated driver call a cab.

My cosmo drinking partner winked at me as she accepted a napkin from the blonde. She patted the blonde’s hand and excused herself, stepping into the ladies room. A few minutes later she returned to her place by my side.

“Here you go.” She placed the napkin next to me. On it was a phone number written in blue pen.

“What’s this?”

“Her phone number.”

Sam placed a cosmo in front of her.

“For real?”

“For realsies.”

“How do I know it’s not a fake?”

“Call it and find out.”

“How do I know this isn’t some scam. I call this number and get billed like $20 a minute or something.”

“It’s not the 90’s.”

“Yeah, but, she just gave it to you?”

“Yep.”

“How did you do it?”

She sipped her drink, “A girl doesn’t tell so easily.”

“Yeah, but…”

She handed me her phone. “Call her. You can dial.”

I took the phone out of her hand, but hesitated. Because I could think of nothing else, I punched in the numbers from the napkin. As the phone rang in my hand, I watched as the blonde searched for her phone. She picked up on the third ring.

“Hello?”

It was her. I could see her mouth move as her voiced filled my ear.

“Hello?” she repeated.

“Hello,” I answered.

“Who is this?”

“I’m at the bar?”

“What?”

Little Black dress giggled at our exchange.

“I’m over here at the bar,” I waved, “I’m with your friend.”

She looked over, exchanging a small wave with a confused look on her face.

“I wanted to know if I could buy you a drink?”

“What?”

The professional took back her phone. “Veronica, it’s Deb.”

I heard Veronica respond, “Deb? Who is that guy?”

Deb gave me a sideways glance before turning away with the phone so I could only hear one side of the conversation.

“He’s harmless.”

“I know right, stalk much.”

“Haha. Okay, love. I’ll tell him.”

Deb ended the conversation. “She said, thank you but no thank you.”

I looked up to see Veronica gathering her things and heading towards the door.

“Looks like you chased her away.”

“That sucks.”

Deb finished off the last of her cosmo and laid a couple of bills on the counter, for Sam.

“Thanks for the fun.”

She slipped off her stool with as much polish as she had sitting down.

“Hey, wait?” I called after her.

I caught up to Deb outside.

“Hey, your money.”

She laughed as she hailed a cab, “You keep it. I had fun tonight.”

I stuck two $100 bills out towards you. “No, a deal is a deal.”

“Yeah, but you never agreed to the deal.”

I thought back to our situation. She was right, I hadn’t. “Still,” I insisted.

Deb looked at me the way I’m certain my maker will look at me on judgment day, “You really want to square the deal?”

“Yes,” I said pushing the money towards her.

“See that bar across the street?”

“Yeah.”

“Inside is a man who has a package for me. Give him the $200 and take the package.”

“What’s the package?”

A cab pulled up. “Give me a minute?” Deb asked the cab driver.

He started the meter in answer.

Deb adjusted the lapel on my jacket, “Does it matter what the package is?”

I held up my hands, “I don’t want to mess with anything illegal.”

She smiled. It was the first genuine smile I had saw all evening.

“It’s not illegal.”

The cabbie honked.

Deb continued, “Go across the street. Inside, is a man in a cowboy hat. Give him the $200 and take the box he’ll give you. Meet me her in one week and I’ll give you $2000. Agreed?”

“Why a week?”

She put her finger to my lips, “Shh. You ask too many questions.”

The cab drove off.

“Your cab drove off.”

A medusa smile spread across her lips, “That’s okay. It’s a nice night for a walk anyway. Go.”

She scooted me with a tap on the behind, as if I were a small child.

I started across the street. I turned back to see her watching me. I started to say something. She shook her head. “Cowboy hat. Money. Package.”

“Got it,” I lied.

“Oh, one last thing,” she called after me, “Don’t open the package.”

I turned back to ask why, but she was already walking away.

“Hey,” I called after her.

“Don’t open the package,” her voice echoing off the city walls. Like a shadow she slipped around the corner and disappeared.

Inside the bar, I located a large man in a cowboy hat.

I introduced myself. He looked at me as if I wore two heads.

“I met a woman tonight. She told me to give this to you.” I laid $200 on his table.

He looked at the bills, then back at me. He picked up the bills and inspected them like a prospector mining for gold nuggets.

“All be damned,” He reached for a package sitting in the seat next to him, “I guess this is yours.”

“What is it?” I asked before accepting the package.

“Don’t know. Didn’t look inside.” He regarded me, “She did tell you not to look inside, right?”

I accepted the black box, “She did.” The box was latched on all four sides. “What do you think is in it?”

Cowboy Hat stood up, “Don’t know. Don’t care.” He collected the money off the table, “But if I was you, I wouldn’t open the box.”

He tipped his hat as he walked away. I drew conscious of the other patrons around me and decided I needed my own exit. With the package in hand, I headed for home.

The package wasn’t heavy, but I could feel something inside. It dismissed the notion the box was empty. A psychology trick from a woman who liked to toy with men.

Something was inside, but I couldn’t ascertain what it was.

It had weight. No larger than a bread box. No smell. No sound. No holes for air. So not alive.

These thoughts got me to my front door.

Inside my apartment, I put the box down on the living room coffee table. Too tired for TV, I switched off the lights and headed for bed.

As the first cycle of REM sleep accompanied my dreams, a demon cry, shot me straight up in bed.

“What in the world?”

I strained against the darkness listening to the blood pump in my ears. Thinking it must have been a dream I laid back down. As my head hit my pillow, the cry pierced my apartment walls.

“Holy shit!”

I jumped out of bed, switching on lights as I went. Childhood fears of the boogeyman chasing after me. I ran to the box. Another cry erupting from inside. I picked up the box, the cry cut out immediately. I held the box to my ear. I swore I heard purring inside.

I titled the box over and over looking for air holes but there were none. I rechecked the latches on the four sides of the box. They were all tightly secured.

I set the box back down, the demonic cry started again. I picked up the box. It stopped.

A neighbor pounded on my door, “Keep that cat quiet or throw it off the fire escape. I hear it again, I’m calling the super.”

I sat on the couch, with the box in my lap.

I knew what I needed to do…

If You’re the kind of person to open the box; CLICK HERE

If You’re in it for the money; CLICK HERE