“Old Habits Die Hard” A short-story from my upcoming Anthology. #RRBC #IARTG #WritingCommunity #WritersCommunity

Old Habits image

Hello and welcome to “Old Habits Die Hard” a new short story from my upcoming anthology “Glimpses Across the Barricades”

 

Old Habits Die Hard

From the upcoming collection: Glimpses Across the Barricades

By

Suzanne Burke 2019.

 

Cassie sucked in a deep lungful of nicotine and waited for the coughing to start. She shook her head in acknowledgment of her own weakness and abject stupidity, coughed as expected and finished the cigarette. She grinned at herself. Old habits die hard.

The thought caught her unprepared. Were they all simply old habits? Did she cling to things so desperately only because they were familiar? Was it a comfort to know ahead of time how each would respond in any given situation? If that knowledge gave us the tools to avoid the more painful outcomes, did that automatically presume that we’d use that wisdom?

Cassie was irritated with herself for even asking the questions.

She looked across at her iPhone for answers, already knowing she’d find none waiting.

When had he become just another old habit to cling to?

Cassie drew in a shaky breath as the memory of their last conversation played out vividly in her mind.

The 5th anniversary of their sad farewell was tomorrow. They’d been friends long before they became lovers. Their lives had collided the first time three decades earlier. Each acknowledging the chemistry that lit up a room whenever they were both present. They both smiled at each other and refused to allow that fire to burn. Life moved on and so did they.

Then twelve years ago fate had flung them together again.  What had been intended as a casual fling, a one-night stand, had become a passionate affair that neither of them had attempted to prevent from spiralling out of control.

She smiled briefly as a sweeter image tugged at her thoughts. The first weekend they’d run from reality, they’d danced on a rickety old pier in the rain. It was foolishly romantic and memorably perfect, and so was he. She could hear the music they’d played. “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues had echoed out across the deep water of the bay. They’d made slow sweet love in an old fishing shed, and watched on in shared wonder as a violent summer storm came sweeping up from the south. It played out a symphony with shattering crescendo’s and their lovemaking met and matched its passion.

Cassie reached for the safety of the present moment and whispered into the darkness, “Stop it. Don’t do this. Think about something else.”

She stood then and moved about her apartment, only vaguely aware of straightening things on the mantle that didn’t need straightening, and moving books around in the bookcase that hadn’t required moving.

She walked across to the bar, poured herself a double shot of JD and sat back on her sofa and lit up her bong. The balcony beckoned and she moved into the cool night air and the silence, alternating the hits of good weed and the alcohol and waited for the calm she craved so desperately to envelop her.

Yet the memories continued to invade. She was too stoned to avoid them, and they came at her without pity for her vulnerable state of mind.

Her marriage of thirty years had limped to a final conclusion twelve years earlier. She’d initially clung to the memory of it, allowing her mind to paint much prettier pictures of what had actually happened; she’d clung to it long past its use-by date.

Her lover’s staunch Catholic upbringing prevented his long marriage from taking the same course. He never spoke of it. Cassie never asked the questions. It was so much easier to pretend that their relationship may someday lead to them being together.

The memories flowed now, but not in sequence. The laughter they’d shared echoed through time, and conversations that made sense only to the two of them etched themselves afresh in this place and in this moment.

A jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. Pieces that she now went in search of.

They’d been fishing and hunting together often. They’d spent so many cold nights sleeping out under the stars, where their shared body warmth sustained them completely. They both loved the sounds of the night. Or the sounds of that long stretch of beach on the hottest summer days on record, swimming just after sunrise, cautiously waiting until the great white sharks had fed in deeper water off the reef. Cassie moaned as the sound of his deep voice surfaced unbidden, “We need to burn this into our memory. So, we can take it out and look at it when the world goes to hell.”

She brushed the moisture from her eyes. She’d never forgotten that moment. He had a way with words that echoed the romance of his soul.

The years had gone by so quickly. She watched and waited, wondering if she’d recognize the end if she saw it coming.

She saw it over five years ago. Phone calls that had begun every new day for years suddenly stopped coming, until they spoke only every couple of weeks. The visits went from a driving need to be together as often as they could steal the time, to a late-night knock on the door heralding a man who had only one need that remained to be met.

Cassie had tried so hard to ignore it, she floundered like a fish out of water on the sands of indecision.

She began wrapping her isolation around her like a comforting shawl.

The knock on her door at 3.30am on a hot summer’s morning had awoken her.

She knew instinctively who it was, and was angry well before she opened that door.

He stood there looking sheepish, then smiled. “Aren’t you gonna ask me to come in?”

Cassie stood aside without speaking and waved him across to the sofa.

He looked surprised as she stood there watching him, “What wrong, hon?”

“When was the last time we spoke?”

He looked away uncomfortably as he answered, “Guess it’s been a few weeks.”

“Try for three months!”

“Shit. Really? I’m sorry.”

“So, why are you here?”

He stood then, “You’re upset. I’ll call you later.”

She touched his arm. “I deserve better than this.”

For the first time in the thirty-plus years that she’d known him his dark hunter’s eyes filled with tears. She barely heard him as he struggled to speak, “Yes, honey. You do.”

She followed him across to the door and he turned and touched her cheek, then tucked a wayward curl behind her ear. He was shaking and his voice wavered as he spoke, “Goodbye, my love.”

Cassie felt the sobs tear through her, and she let them come.

He’d phoned after that, every couple of months and at ungodly hours. She’d register who was calling and declined the calls. The loneliness threatened to overwhelm her at first, she recalled using a telephone box to phone his work number just to hear his deep voice when he answered. She tortured herself like that constantly after they’d ended.

And now, what about now? She grimaced at her own question.

For now, she’d just get herself through the next anniversary.

And just before the alcohol lulled her into sleep on that anniversary morning her iPhone rang.

She was drunk, but not suicidal. She declined to take the call.

*

And for your enjoyment. “Nights In White Satin” by The Moody Blues.

 

Welcome to the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! Day 1 #RRBC #RWISA

 

RWISA SHOWCASE BADGE 2019Welcome to Day 1 of the Watch RWISA Write Showcase, where each day a different author will be featured!

It is my pleasure to start off this tour with Author, John W. Howell!

The Road

by John W. Howell

Just a couple more hours and I’ll be able to rest my eyes. Been on this damn highway for what seems like forever. His head slowly nods until the rumble strip noise causes him to jerk awake. “I have been asleep,” he yells. He yanks the wheel, and the tires screech in protest as he swerves back on to the highway. He can feel his heart in his chest and pressure in his eyes. In an instant, he regrets being so weak as to give in to the physical need. He also becomes alarmed since now he knows that sleep could overtake him without notice.  One second, his eyes could be open and the next closed. Thank God for the jarring and noise of the rumble strips since without its alarm, he is sure he would have ended up piled into a tree.

As his heart settles down, he concentrates on the road ahead. There’s someone at the side about a half mile away. A hitchhiker by the looks of a backpack. A sign in the person’s hand is not readable at this distance. The thought occurs that It would be a good thing to have someone else in the car to help him stay awake.  Of course, there are dangers in picking up a stranger. As he gets closer, he can see that the hitchhiker is not a guy like he thought. It’s a young woman about his age.  She is wearing some kind of overalls, but the distinctive female form still comes through. He decides to slow down and assess the situation. A girl makes all the difference in trying to reach a decision for or against a pickup. After all, who knows where this could lead? He does know that in all probability, she is not likely to stick a knife in his ribs and demand his wallet after a couple of miles down the road.

He eases the car to the shoulder and can’t help kick up some dust in the process. The sign is facing him even as the person turns away to avoid the dust storm he has created. Kansas City in black marker on cardboard is all it says.

He opens the passenger door and waves her over. “I’m going to Kansas City. Want a ride?”

The young woman looks back at him, and he can tell she is doing an evaluation on the safety prospects of accepting a lift. She slowly hoists her backpack on to her shoulder and walks with hesitant steps toward the car. She puts her hand above her eyes to cut the glare of the sun and stops short of the door. She leans in. “Did you say you’re going to Kansas City?”

“Yes. Yes, I did. I also asked if you would like a ride.”

“That all depends on your intentions?”

“My intentions?”

“Yeah. You are offering a ride. How much will it cost me?”

“Cost you? I’m going to Kansas City. Your sign says Kansas City. Why would it cost you anything?”

“Just want to make sure is all.”

“No charge. I’ve been on the road forever, it seems, and I would welcome the company. My name is James.”

“Sorry, James. I know I sounded a little ungrateful, but I have also been on the road and have met several guys that think I owe them something for a ride.”

“I can understand that. Let’s just say you can ride or not it’s your choice. No other decisions to be made.”

“Fair enough. I accept your offer. My name is Sarah.” She slides in and slams the door.

“Nice to meet you, Sarah. You want to put your backpack in the rear?”

“No, I’ll just keep it here in the front with me. You can never tell.”

“Tell what?”

“When I’ll have to bail. Everything I own is in this pack, and I sure wouldn’t want to leave it behind.”

“I get it. No use trusting someone just cause they say you can.”

“Right. I think I like you, James.”

“Wainwright. My last name’s Wainwright. How about you?”

“Not sure I have a last name. I go by Sarah.”

“No last name? How can that be?”

“You going to start this car or is my fear well founded.”

James flushes as he turns the ignition. “Yeah, here we go.” He looks in the side mirror and signals as he pulls back on the highway.

“You are a cautious one. There’s no one for miles.”

“I guess it’s a habit from city driving.” He keeps checking in the mirror until he is up to highway speed

“Where you from, James?”

“New York. You?”

“I think I was originally from down south somewhere.”

“You don’t know?”

“Well, it’s been a long time.” She pauses.

James glances at her and sees that she is lost in thought somewhere. Her skin is fair, and she has the high cheekbones and lips of a runway model. She looks vaguely familiar, and he compares her looks to Joni Mitchell. There is that innocent, fragile look that makes you want to take care of her.

“I’m sorry. What did you say?” She is back.

“I didn’t say anything. I’m amazed you don’t know where you are from.”

“Well do you remember where you’re from or is it someone told you?”

She has a point. James only knew he was born in Chicago because his parents told him so. He lived in New York for twenty years so unless clued in he would have thought he lived there his whole life. “I guess I should rephrase the question. Where did you last live?”

“Yes, James. That makes a little more sense. I last lived in Dubuque, Iowa.”

“What a coincidence. I am driving from Dubuque. Do you believe that?”

“I can believe that. Someone once said there are only six degrees of separation of everyone on Earth. You and I traveling from Dubuque at the same time certainly falls into that realm.”

“Aw come on, Sarah. We are both going from Dubuque to Kansas City. That has to be more than a coincidence.”

“I never said I was going to Kansas City, James.”

“Wait. You have that sign that says Kansas City.”

“Doesn’t mean I’m going there.”

“What does it mean?”

“You think I know?”

“I’m getting a weird feeling here, Sarah. Like you aren’t telling me something.”

“Do you remember swerving after you ran off the highway?”

“What? Back there. Yeah, I remember almost falling asleep. Hey, wait a minute. How would you know about that?”

“Think a minute, James. How do you think I would know about that moment?”

“Sarah I’m too tired for guessing games. What is this all about?”

“Do you feel okay, James?”

“Yeah, just tired.”

“Look around. Do you see any other cars?”

“No, but I haven’t for a while. What are you trying to tell me, Sarah?”

“You fell asleep, James.”

“When did I fall asleep? I know I nodded off, but when did I fall asleep?”

“Just before your car went off the road and you hit a cement culvert.”

“Now, you are joking. Right? Right, Sarah?”

“No joke, James. Look ahead. What do you see?”

“Uh, up the road, you mean?”

“Yes, up the road.”

“Nothing, but what looks like a sandstorm.”

“It’s no storm, James. It is nothing.”

“Who are you anyway?”

“Do you remember that little girl who went missing in the second grade?”

“Yeah, what does that have to do with you?”

“Does the nickname Jimmy Jeans mean anything?”

“That’s what Sarah called me in the second grade.”

“How did I know that?”

“You wouldn’t unless.”

“Unless I’m Sarah.”

“Oh My God. Sarah. It is you. Where have you been?”

“That’s not important. What is important is you were broken-hearted when I vanished. You prayed for my return and made promises to God if only I would come back.”

“I never got over that either. I think of that little girl. I mean, I thought of you almost every day. Why didn’t I recognize you?”

“’Cause I’m all grown up. There would be no way.”

“Where have you been, Sarah. I have missed you so much.”

“Don’t cry, James. I’m here with you now.”

“Can you tell me what happened to you?”

“No, James, it’s not worth the time.”

“So why now? Why are you here now?”

“To help you, James.”

“To help me. How?”

“To understand what your life is like now.”

“Now? What do you mean?”

“You were in an accident, James. You ran off the road, and I am sorry to say your body didn’t survive. You are now going with me on an eternal trip.”

“You are saying I’m dead. I can’t believe that.  Look at me. I’m just as alive as you.”

“That’s right. You are.”

“Um, Sarah?”

“Yes, James.”

“You are dead too?”

“Yes, James. A man took me from school and killed me. They never found my body.”

“W-what?”

“Don’t think about that now. Think about the future. Because you prayed so hard and missed me so much, I was given the honor of escorting you to the other side.”

“Other side? There’s a future?”

“A wonderful one.  You and I for all time.”

“I would like that.”

“Take my hand then. Let’s be off.”

“I have more questions.”

“All in good time, James. All in good time.”

THE END

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

John W. Howell RWISA Author Page

#Valentine’sDay #ShortStory “Shall We Dance.” #RRBC #IARTG #Romance

love is ommortal valentines day image

“Shall We Dance”

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

Valentine’s day was looming again and Candace resisted the temptation to rip the month of February from the calendar hanging on her kitchen wall.

She needed no reminder of the celebration. For so many, it heralded a beginning, a step into the future with a love that they were certain would last a lifetime.

For her, it had been both the beginning and the end. Mitch had proposed on that long ago Valentine’s Day. He’d taken her dancing that night. He’d danced her around a room filled with uniformed Marines and as they watched on he’d dropped to his knees in the middle of the dance floor and proposed. They’d all cheered as Candace had given him her answer.

The sad-faced pastor and Lieutenent Colonel Brian Henderson had arrived at her door on February 14th almost a year ago.  Her Mitch wouldn’t be returning from Afghanistan. What followed was now etched forever in her memory. The hushed voices of their friends as they’d rallied around her to offer their understanding support and comfort. The wives who had hurriedly blessed their own lives, grateful that their own men were safe, for now.

Candace had searched everywhere for comfort. The inside of a bottle gave her only a temporary respite from the agony of his absence.

She and her Mitch had refused to discuss the possibility of him dying in the service of his country. That knowledge hovered unspoken on the peripheral of their lives. Giving it life was unthinkable. The future unimaginable without the enduring love they’d shared for almost fifteen precious years.

They’d already mourned and accepted the fact that they couldn’t have children of their own. Mitch had been eager to explore all the other avenues now available to childless couples. It had been her choice to remain childless. For her, Mitch would be the only love she’d ever need in her life. Her decision came back to haunt her now in the desperate solitude of her days and the eternal emptiness of her nights.

The new future danced in her nightmares. She’d stopped drinking when even the oblivion of alcohol had handed her no solace.

There had been no coffin proudly draped with their countries flag. No headstone to dignify his final resting place. A plaque on a wall was all that signified his passing. He was listed M.I.A and presumed dead along with two others from the Seal team he’d led with such utter devotion.

The bodies of his two team members had finally been located and identified. Candace had attended their funerals and wept along with their wives.

After shutting herself away for many months and drawing the increasing concern of her friends she’d finally begun to see a counselor. Yet as much as she’d understood the words he was saying, as much as her intelligence had accepted the innate wisdom of those words, she’d still steadfastly refused to accept the finality of Mitch’s death. How could he be gone when she could still hear his laughter? And on the long nights, as she lay in the darkness she’d smell the scent of his favorite aftershave waft through the room.

She’d reach for him in the darkness and moan his name, then cry for hours at the empty futility of her longing.

Candace dragged her mind back to the present. The sound of her cell phone had interrupted her thoughts several times in the past two days. She’d ignored the calls. Tomorrow was the anniversary.  She knew it would be folks ringing to check on her and offer up their kindness and willingness to help her in any way they could.  She’d hidden away from the repeated knocks on the front door that had been increasing in frequency. She couldn’t deal with the pats on the shoulder and the looks of sadness. Not now. Maybe not ever.

A car pulled up out front and a young Marine slid an envelope under the front door. Her hands shook as she picked it up, it was from the office of Lietenant Colonel Henderson and marked as extremely urgent.

Candace couldn’t bring herself to open it. She knew what it would be. This explained all the calls and the attempts to make contact. It could only be the acknowledgement that Mitch’s body had finally been recovered. Opening that envelope would leave her no choice at all but to believe he was gone.

It must wait till after Valentine’s Day tomorrow.  She gave herself permission to have this one last chance of disbelieving.

Candace sat on the sofa in the gathering darkness, she leaned her head back, closed her eyes and began humming Shall we Dance from the King and I. That was the marvelous music that Mitch had arranged to be played on the happiness fuelled Valentine’s night when he had proposed.

The memories swept her away for hours and she welcomed all of them. The day was beginning to dawn as she fell into a troubled sleep.  Today would be the final day before she was forced by facts to move on with her life.

Candace jumped with shock at the sound of someone pounding on the front door. She flicked a glimpse at her watch, “Jesus!  Hold on. Do you know it’s four o’clock in the morning!” She threw on her bathrobe and hurried across to the windows and pulled back the curtains. A base staff car with flags flying waited outside the house. “What the hell?”

Candace opened the door. The uniformed man stood alone in the semi-darkness. “Yes, Marine?”

“Candy.”

“That isn’t funny.”

“Candy, honey, it’s me.”

Nobody ever called her Candy … only … “Oh my God! Oh my God! Mitch?”

The man stepped into the light shining on the porch from the sitting room.

Mitch stood there holding himself erect with the aid of two canes.

“Darling, oh my darling, I knew it. I knew it. Hold me close before I believe that I’m dreaming again.”

The man leaned his walking aids against the wall and held out his arms. “It will be a little while before we can go dancing again, honey.”

Candy heard the hesitation. “Mitch, my dearest love. We now have forever to practice.”

All the explanations and questions could wait.

Their arms enfolded each other and they cried together in the joy of reunion.

Valentine’s day had now become their new beginning.

***

Valentine’s night. Five-years later.

Mitch Avery swept a bow to his wife and gave her his perpetually cheeky grin. “Shall we dance, m’lady?”

He held her in his arms and they moved in perfect unison around the dance-floor.

The poker faced Marines watching on cleared their throats as tears threatened, then they began to cheer.

Delighted whoops of joy from their two adopted six-year-old sons rang out as they ran across the dance-floor and threw themselves into the loving arms of their parents.

Candace had finally acknowledged that she and Mitch had more than enough love to share.

The future waited.

They walked forward as a family to greet it.

#

I have a further treat for you all. For those that know and Love “The King and I” Here is the original clip of ‘Shall we Dance” For those who may have never seen it I envy you the new experience.

 

 

 

 

“The Comfort of Silence” #New #ShortStory #RRBC #Anthology @pursoot

silence confuscious

Hello and welcome. I have added one more story to my new anthology a work-in-progress. This is the last one I’ll share here until the book is released.  Thank you for joining me.

The Comfort of Silence

By

Suzanne Burke

From my upcoming anthology

“Closure”

 

Ellie sat out on the back deck and breathed in the comfort of silence.

Grant, her husband of ten-years had finally fallen into drunken unconsciousness around an hour earlier, and she’d left him laying on the floor in the pool of vomit that the last bourbon had created.

The days were long gone when she’d struggled and strained to drag his limp carcass into the bedroom. She’d even stopped placing a sofa cushion under his head and leaving a bucket beside him.

It was winter now and starkly beautiful sitting under that diamond strewn canopy. She shivered a little and snuggled down deeper into her quilted jacket. She smiled even as she trembled, knowing how cold his inert form would get laying there on the tiled living room floor.  She’d turned off the air-conditioned warmth everywhere in the house but her own bedroom. A woman has gotta conserve electricity when she can. That thought caused her to laugh out loud in the solitude, she enjoyed that rare sensation and laughed again.

Her coffee had grown cold and Ellie craved another, she stood and stretched languidly before heading inside to the kitchen.

She cast a brief glance at Grant’s now snoring body. He’d curled into the fetal position to ward off the cold. She shrugged and flicked on the recessed lighting above the kitchen island, then busied herself making another pot of coffee.

She craved warmth now and placed the coffee and some Oreos onto a tray and stepped over her husband on the way into the welcoming warmth of her bedroom.

There had been a time as recently as three years back when she’d deadlocked that door and placed barricades against it to keep the violent monster she’d married at bay.

It had taken her the intervening three years of hard soul searching to reach her decision.

Putting it into action was now delivering her a measure of peace.

The few friends she’d managed to keep isolated from the stench of her home life had commented on the change in her. When asked for the reason behind it she’d laughed it off as ‘just taking some me time.’

And she had.

She’d begun meditating and working out a few times every day, to assist in keeping her new resolve on track. She was reaping the benefits tenfold three years in.

It had taken Grant coming at her again with his filthy accusatory mouth and raised fists to at last fuel and light her new ignition switch. Her swift retaliation stunned him into shock and the kick to his abdomen felled him. She savored the sweet vindictive taste of revenge as he lay on the floor in a whining sniveling heap. Another savage kick to his gut stopped the sniveling. That was the sweet start of the solitude.

From a woman who had insisted on cooking any meal he asked for, at any time of the day or night, she’d become his keeper and fed him once in the morning. He’d help his drunken self to the rest if he could make it as far as the kitchen.

Ellie had carefully rearranged all the furnishings to create barriers between every room that a drunk would find difficult if not impossible to navigate.

She had no one but the delivery guy from the local bottle-shop knocking on this door. Nobody to raise an eyebrow at her new version of ‘home beautiful’. It had been another defining moment to be noted and reread in her diary at night for visual confirmation of her latest achievement.

Ellie reached for her coffee, munched on a few Oreos and switched off the lamp.

She calculated around five hours of downtime before the man outside her sanctuary would begin to awaken.

Ellie had at last begun looking forward to her days.

***

The sound of his whining voice awakened her. There was a tentative tap on the door. “Ellie, you in there?”

“What do you want?”

“I just wanted to be sure you’re here.”

“Well, I am. I’ll be there to fix you some food shortly.”

“Shortly? What the fu …”

What did you say?

Silence greeted her question, she repeated it. “Well?”

“I’ll, uh, I’ll see you, um, shortly.”

Ellie didn’t bother to comment further. She showered in her en-suite and took her time dressing. The stench in the living room made her head across and throw the windows wide, ignoring the cold wind that swept in.

She filled a bucket with disinfectant, grabbed the mop and placed both down in front of the man. He was sitting hunched over, still wearing the soiled clothing he’d passed out in.

“I’m not preparing food in this stench. I’ll feed both of us after you clean up your own disgusting mess.”

“I’m sorry, Ellie.”

“Yes, I believe you actually are. What else are you sorry for, Grant?”

The blank look that question created on his face didn’t serve to elevate Ellie’s mood.

“You ask me that every day. And every day I tell you I don’t know. Why the fuck do you keep asking?”

“I’ll keep asking that question until I hear the right answer.”

“But…”

“No, that isn’t it.”

Ellie sniffed at the air and gave him a pointed glare.

“Okay. I got this.”

“Don’t take too long. I’m craving my morning coffee.”

It had taken an hour for the room to begin to smell like the towering pines outside again.

“Ah, that’s much better. Grant, you need to shower and change those filthy clothes. Place them in the washing machine on the longest cycle.”

“I’m hungry.”

“The sooner you act the sooner you eat. Simple isn’t it?”

He muttered something she didn’t catch and went to do as she’d said.

Ellie closed the windows and ramped the heat up to a comfortable temperature.

She was seated on the large sofa drinking her coffee when he re-entered the room. She looked up at his freshly washed and shaved face and for one bitter-sweet moment, she caught a shimmer of the man she’d been so utterly in love with for as long as it took for the fear to kill it.

“Can we eat now?”

I don’t break my promises. What do you feel like?”

“Can we have pancakes?”

“Yes, that’s doable. Sweet or savory?”

“A stack with maple syrup?”

“It’ll be ready soon.”

“Did my delivery arrive yesterday?”

Ellie called “Yes.” from the kitchen.

She heard him shuffle across to the bar, a tinkle of ice and his grunt of satisfaction told her he’d just started on his binge for today. She checked her watch. 7 a.m was early even for him.

The pancake stack she placed in front of him sat cold and uneaten as the booze took back control.

Her diary was added to with the date and time he began and finally stopped drinking for any given day. She flicked back through several years worth and shuddered. His last 90-day rehab had only been three and a half years earlier.

It was just another 3-month break in the cycle. She craved for and enjoyed those breaks. They’d managed to help her hold on to her sanity for a little longer. He’d lasted exactly twelve days at home and every promise made during those sweet twelve-days was shattered as he beat her again night after night.

Ellie had begun planning today from that last night. The paramedics had managed to get her to the hospital in time to save herself, but their unborn child had died at 20 weeks with no chance to begin his tiny life.

If their little boy had lived he’d be three-years-old today.

She watched Grant slump further down into the sofa. His unsmoked cigarette still burning away in the ashtray.

Ellie checked the hour, well satisfied. It was only lunch-time and he was already nodding off to sleep. She knew well that he’d stay that way for two or so hours then he’d wake up and finish his first bottle of bourbon of the day.

It was time.

Ellie pulled the suitcases from under her bed, checked the contents again and carried them out through the mudroom and into the garage. Her other belongings had been loaded into the trunk and the back seat of her new SUV over a period of days. The suitcases fit perfectly on the top layer.

The refrigerator was emptied and switched off and she carried everything out front for the trash collectors to collect later this afternoon.

Ellie began calling to confirm again the arrangements she’d made.

The power would be disconnected at 5.00pm.

All internet services had been permanently closed.

She’d already packed his cell-phone. There was no longer a landline. He had no available contact with the world outside the stupor he lived in.

Their nearest neighbor was a ten-mile walk through rugged walkways to get to, without the car she now owned and would have in her possession.

Grant had been so acquiescent to her requests to place his drunken signature on any documents she’d handed him. Ellie had paced them carefully. The house had been signed over giving her sole ownership months ago now. The real-estate agent she’d hired would be placing the ‘For Sale’ sign up early this evening. She’d given her broker signed consent to have Grant evicted if he was still in residence when the property sold.

Grant had made her a signatory on his only bank account. The balance had made her smile. One hundred-thousand-dollars had been withdrawn slowly and she’d carefully spread it over several offshore accounts.

She placed another call to Grant’s alcohol supplier and canceled all further deliveries.

The sound of Grant belching into wakefulness had her return to the living room.

She watched him suck in the alcohol and surprised him when she held out a glass filled with ice. “I’ll join you.”

“Whoa, really? You! Have a drink? What are we celebrating?”

“A birthday.”

“Anyone I know.”

“You robbed yourself of the right to know him.” Ellie threw the drink back and stood looking down at him. “What are you sorry for, Grant? Last chance to answer?”

His expression registered nothing.

Ellie headed outside without a backward glance. She made one stop on her way out of town.

Every diary she’d ever owned had been copied. Her solicitor had been instructed to hand her written statement and all the proof of abuse over to the police in the event anything should happen to her.

She pointed the SUV east, hit the button on the playlist and sang her happy heart out on the journey towards a new tomorrow.

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“The Off Switch” A #Short Story #RRBC @pursoot … From my upcoming #Thriller #Anthology “Closure.”

#rrbc spotlight final blog piccie .masks coming off for acts of betrayal (2)

 

Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year. I’ll be including a minimum of ten short stories all in some way reflective of the title … “Closure”

 

The Off Switch

By Suzanne Burke

From the upcoming anthology “Closure”

I doubt that too many humans don’t experience the need we appear to have and crave. You know the one? That urgent inexplicable flash of emotion that drives us to connect with someone, somewhere, someplace and at some time on this our journey through the unpredictability of life.

Jake Caldwell shrugged off the raw-edged sadness. He’d read about that need and smiled each time he witnessed it occur around him everywhere he went. He simply didn’t share that craving. He hungered for isolation now. His memory too overburdened with all his failures to connect. He’d tried all of it. Oh, he understood the logic of his species needing to feel part of something they perceived as greater and more knowing than themselves. They grasped desperately at the magic wand of belonging and clung to it long after the spell had been cast and had faded into oblivion.

Jake didn’t believe in magic.

He believed in only what he could see, touch, hear and smell. The peripheral flashes of humanity’s need had touched his life once. So long ago that is was now merely a whisper in his mind and one he refused to allow volume. He’d flicked his off switch as soon as he discovered he had one. He had been young then. It was a brief space in time when he’d still clung to the vague hope that anything he did would echo through time and instill his memory with someone. Jake now felt he deserved to be remembered for all the other things he’d managed to accomplish.

***

He watched his target carefully.

The young woman climbed from the taxi in heavy rain. She grabbed a bag from the trunk. gave a brief nod of thanks to the driver, then climbed the stairs to her second-floor apartment two steps at a time.

He was denied a clear visual confirmation that it was indeed her, as she’d crouched low in her concealing hoodie and entered the apartment without facing him long enough for him to access his facial recognition technology. He had so many available techniques now at his finger-tips to be certain that he had the right target. There were many times when he’d bemoaned that fact, as he’d enjoyed every moment of the hunt. Now … now it was just way too damned easy. The challenge had lessened and along with it his pleasure in an achievement hard won.

Today … it was just a job. It paid for his addictions and his recoveries. The cycle hadn’t paused.

Jake pulled his thoughts back to the present and waited. The sky grew darker and the storm shattered the oppressive silence and shifted the air in an attitude of waiting for the latent violence to cut loose.

He loved storms. He admired their fury and unrepentant volatility. This he understood. This he admired.

He took a brief moment to read his scheduled targets parameters again. He liked to be certain. Mistakes in his line of work would see him terminated. He understood and accepted that. It added to the excitement to know he could die at his first mistake.

Sandra Bartholomew was an attractive woman. A woman that others would follow with their eyes registering lust.

Jake happily acknowledged that. She’d be long accustomed to being watched. One more set of eyes wouldn’t flag her a warning.

She was around twenty-seven. Younger than most of his targets. In fact, this was the first in memory to be younger than his own thirty-year life span.

She had a crowning glory of gold curls that tweaked at his memory a little.

But her line of work ensured she was often featured in the press. That was where the memory was located,  he was certain of it.

He recalled feeling a vague admiration for her at some stage in the last few years. This woman was unafraid to take a stance against corruption. He admired it as much as he knew it was a pointless journey.

***

Night fell rapidly and he watched the lights in her apartment illuminate the area beyond.

At 9.00 P.M she exited and locked the door behind her. The leather jacket she wore would conceal for many that she was carrying a weapon. Unless of course, you knew what to look for. He reached into the waistband of his jeans and felt the reassuring comfort of his Beretta. There was no clear line of site available for him to utilize his rifle. He watched her clamber into the black SUV with assured movements. This woman moved sparingly, each step measured and assured.  A twinge of something distracted him and he forced his mind back to his current assignment with irritation.

He followed her out and into the flow of traffic, making certain that he remained at least three cars behind her. She swung into the parking lot of a bar down on East Broadway. He scanned the area and noted the numbers of CCTV camera’s recording every moment and movement.

Jake smiled at the challenge. He’d need to take her down elsewhere. For now, he’d watch on from inside the bar.

He spotted her sitting at a corner table. She sat alone yet her demeanor indicated she was waiting for someone to join her. He watched the barmen take her order and return with a bottle of red wine and two glasses.

She gazed around with vague disinterest etched into her carefully concealed countenance. This was a player worthy of his undivided attention. He felt a thrill that had been absent for a very long while.

He ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels and swirled it in the ice that accompanied it three times before drinking. Funny how old habits linger without us being aware of them.

She poured another glass and drank it down hurriedly with an occasional glance around to check out how many hungry eyes were watching.

Jake jolted backward as their eyes made contact. “What the fuck?” He caught himself mutter as he looked hurriedly away.

The woman’s looked heralded recognition and Jake needed to move, and move fast.

He stood, swirled his drink three more times before finishing the contents and walked out of the bar without glancing once in her direction.

He hurried across to his car, climbed in and headed out of the area as fast as the night traffic would allow.

He drove for what seemed endless miles before he’d centered himself enough to park off the road in a secluded area many miles from the bustle of the city.

“That’s fucking impossible. It can’t be her. She’s dead, you moron. You saw her die.” He exploded aloud into the darkness as a long forgotten and hated memory surfaced despite his efforts to deny it.

Melinda was long dead.

He could see her lying in a pool of blood alongside the woman who had birthed both of them.

He couldn’t unsee her pretty ten-year-old face etched in shock and covered in blood as she lay broken and bleeding in the nightmare that their father’s insanity had unleashed.

The man they’d been afraid of since birth had shot them both. His mother and younger sister lay dead on the floor, and his father was still standing over the bodies muttering the vile last words. Words they thankfully would never hear. He’d placed his gun on the mantle and sat in the blood and brain matter to watch them bleed out.

“You’re mine” he’d screamed. “You can’t belong to anyone else. Not now.”

Jake recalled the look on the man’s face as he had entered the room unseen and reached without thought of consequence and took that gun from the mantelpiece.

“Father” he’d said as he’d opened fire. He didn’t wait for the first responders to arrive. At the tender age of thirteen, he’d known only to run. He’d stopped running eventually and took his need for revenge out on anything that he contracted to take care of.

How could it possibly be his sister? He’d seen her die, hadn’t he?

Jake climbed from the car and sucked in a deep lungful of air. She’d recognized him too. He knew it. He removed his concealed Beretta and lay it on the passenger seat.

His need for answers at last supplanted his need to stay safe and unconnected.

Jake drove back to her apartment, a little surprised to see her car already in the parking lot. He sat in all his uncertainty for a long time before his need to know had him climb from the car.

He felt the hood and it was cold. She’d clearly been back a while. The apartment was dark.

“Jakey! Put your hands on the bonnet and stay absolutely still. Don’t make me shoot you, big brother.”

“Sweet Jesus, Melinda. How? I saw you die. I saw you both die.”

“No, Jakey. Momma died. The paramedics got me to the hospital fast enough to revive me.”

“Oh, no. Oh, no … I didn’t know. I would have stayed. Please believe that.”

He heard her deep sigh and felt her uncertainty. “Why didn’t you check?”

“I don’t really know. I can only remember the blood and him kneeling there muttering his vile farewells. All I could do was make him as dead as I thought you both were. So, I shot him.”

You shot him?”

“Uh-huh. Yes, I did.”

“Then why was the weapon found in his hand?”

“Oh, Meli, I put it there. I wanted him to only ever be thought of as a coward. Too afraid to accept the consequences of what he’d done. I couldn’t grant him the option of being considered insane and misunderstood.”

He heard her breathe out a shuddering sigh of understanding.”Jakey, oh my, Jakey. Don’t you see? You carry it too … that gene that separates you from the rest of humanity.”

Jake nodded and his face revealed his final understanding. He reached for a gun that was no longer there and the deputy district attorney from New York fired her weapon.

Jake died where he stood.

It would take years for his sister to come to grips with the fact that he’d welcomed that bullet. His weapon had been disgarded in the vehicle. He’d been unarmed and deliberatly so.

That final acceptance was the only comfort she had as she’d moved through the ranks of law enforcement.

The price of closure came at great cost.

She paid the price and moved forward.

***

Jake Caldwell’s grave was isolated and the only visitor came late at night.

She placed no flowers there. But knowing that his poor damaged soul was finally at rest gave her a measure of comfort.

She spent her years searching for the others that had no such connection. She saught always to find them help if help wasn’t already too late in arriving.

 

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“Why?” A #ShortStory #RRBC #IARTG @pursoot

WHY YES.jpg

 

Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year.

WHY?

By

Suzanne Burke

Cassandra pulled the SUV into the parking lot of the old motel. She killed the motor and sat watching the sheets of rain blow and billow in the world outside the safety of the car’s interior. The storm grew louder and added an electric charge to the environment.  Adding its own shades of darkness and volatility to her mood of uncertainty. It had taken the Private Investigator she’d hired months to track down this location, and now she was hesitant, reluctant to discover the truths that may await her. Would the past be best left undisturbed? Perhaps. Yet the questions would remain forever unasked if she didn’t find the strength to ask them now.

Just why she’d made the choice to try and locate her father had made some sort of sense at the outset of this journey.

The answers she’d hungered to hear for twelve long years may now only be one conversation away. Yet she reminded herself one more time that her father had appeared to have no desire to be found. He’d changed his name several times in the years since she’d last seen him. She needed to prepare herself for the fact that he may not be at all pleased that she was here. He may be in no condition to even recall who she was if his drinking had escalated beyond what it had been in the long months after her mother had died.

She’d watched on, too caught up in her own pain of dealing with a world devoid of the loving and reassuring presence of her darling mother to help her father with his own debilitating grief and his agony of loss. She was thirteen years old when her mother had passed and utterly powerless to give him much measure of comfort beyond being there to reach out for if he’d needed it. He never did.

The military had flown him home when his wife’s illness had deteriorated. He’d been with his wife of twenty-years as she passed. Cassandra recalled her desperate need of his reassuring presence in a world suddenly gone mad. She’d sought comfort from him and found him unwilling or unable to offer it.

He’d started drinking heavily soon after the funeral. She began finding him asleep on the couch or the floor, wherever in the house he’d had the final drink that rendered him unconscious.  There was no extended family to reach out to. He and her mother had both been the only child of only children. There were no siblings around her to help absorb the intensity of that sudden stark and empty aloneness.

She’d begun to flounder and withdraw from her old world. Watching her friends interact within their own tight-knit family groups had simply been too painful to witness.

She’d watched her father dive deeper into any alcohol or substance that would give him the numbness he craved.  Money would be tossed carelessly on the coffee table alongside the perpetually full ashtrays and empty bottles. His bong sat alongside the marihuana he smoked with increasing regularity. The glass-topped coffee table was smudged with the residues of the cocaine now added to the mix.

For over a year their only shared conversations were his slurred questions about the availability of food. He seemed content with what she’d managed to purchase and prepare, although he existed on very little apart from the daily replenishment of alcohol he now had delivered. Refusing anything she offered up as a meal if she dared try and recreate a dish that was her mothers. She’d soon discovered that the easiest way to feed them both was a continual stream of cheap food to go or frozen TV dinners. He needed and wanted a relationship with his drug dealer. He craved no such bond with his only child.

He’d always prided himself on his level of fitness and Cassandra recalled all the times her friends had commented on it. Indulging themselves with a comment here and there about their own father’s lack of the determination it took to work out daily as he had done whenever he came home on leave. It now shattered her to see him asleep in his own vomit amidst the stench that went right along with his unwashed body.

Cassandra’s grades had slumped and she began to fail all her classes. Her lack of attendance at school had drawn further attention. Her father’s failure to respond to repeated requests to see her school counselor hadn’t gone unnoticed. The principal had felt he was left with no option but to express his concerns about her continued well being to Child Services.

The welfare folks had come by and her father was too inebriated at 10 o’clock in the morning to even stand up, much less impress them with his willingness to change the situation. His one expressed desire was for them to get the hell off his property and mind their own damned business.

Two days after their visit he was gone. He’d left five hundred dollars on the kitchen bench. There was no note, no explanation, no nothing.

Cassandra sought comfort by telling herself repeatedly that he’d simply gone on another bender. She managed to do that for a few weeks until the phone calls about missed mortgage and credit card payments had begun coming in. The five-hundred dollars kept her fed for quite a while, but she knew it wouldn’t last her much longer.

His buddies had stopped calling by. If no drinks were on offer at the address then they had no desire to be there. The fact that she was a thirteen-year-old girl alone didn’t factor into the equation.

Child services were called in by a concerned neighbor who had noticed her father’s continued absence.  Cassandra had ignored the knocks on the door at first. She’d stayed silent and hidden until the police had arrived and convinced her to open the door.

Cassandra was ultimately placed in a loving and caring foster home. It had taken time and dedication and long months of counseling for her small world to begin again to function. She was lucky and grateful to have them in her life. The abandonment issues she faced as best she could.

It was her upcoming graduation from Harvard that had finally prompted her attempt to locate him.

Knowing that the proud event would be celebrated by her foster family should have been enough. Cassandra acknowledged that and yet knew that somehow she wanted her father to know how well she’d done. It was some half-assed need to prove to the man that she’d managed just fine without him.

She guessed she still wanted and indeed still craved his approval.

Cassandra pulled her thoughts back to the present as she watched a man stagger and lurch his way up the stairs that led to the motel units. He balanced himself up against the rail that bordered the walkway as he fumbled in his pockets. His long grey hair surprised her a little but there was no mistaking her father. She opened the car door and stepped into the rain as the man leaned over the railing and threw up. She shuddered as she watched him open the door to unit 6. Her father’s room.

Even as she walked upstairs she could hear the screams that accompanied her father’s arrival.

She waited till the door had been slammed shut.

She sucked in a deep lungful of air and willed herself to knock on the door.

A woman around her own age answered. She was thin to the point of emaciation and the rolled back sleeves of her dirty blouse showed the dark blue and purple track marks that covered the inside of both arms.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’d like to speak to Brad, please.”

“Don’t know no one called Brad. You got the wrong room.”

The man she’d recognized as her father came into view behind the woman and he roughly shoved her out of his way. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Cassandra looked into his face and caught the shock and denial in his expression. “Sweet Lord Jesus you look just like your mother.”

She stood there and waited for more. His eyes filled with an expression she couldn’t quite recognize.

“What are you doing here? What do you want? I’ve got no money to give you.”

“Money?  Dear Lord, is that all you can say? I’m your daughter. I’m not here for any damned money.”

The woman he’d pushed away from the door started screaming. “Did she say she was your daughter? What the fuck? You didn’t say you had a daughter?”

“Shut the fuck up, Kerry. Mind your own business.” He turned and gave her a hard shove and the woman fell backward and landed in a screaming heap on the floor.

He stepped outside and slammed the door behind him.

“If it’s not money you want, why the hell are you here? I got nothin’ to give you.”

Cassandra looked at him without speaking until he could no longer meet her eyes. He moved to turn away.

“You’re quite right. You’ve got nothing to give me. You never did. Thank you for finally helping me understand that. I won’t ever bother you again.”

She had no tears left to shed for the man she’d once believed him to be. He’d died right alongside her mother fifteen years ago. She’s already mourned his loss, now it was time to bury him.

She climbed back in her car and grabbed her cell phone. Craig Bannister answered her call “Hello, sweetheart. Are you okay, did you speak to your father?”

“I’m speaking to the only father I’ll ever need right now.”

She heard the sharp intake of his breath as he responded. “Thank you, sweet girl. I’ve been so proud to be considered your father. Will you be home in time for dinner? I’m cooking your favorite. All the gang will be here.”

“Yes, dad. I’ll be home.”

Cassandra drove out of the parking lot and never looked back.

It was up to her now to lay the past to rest.

She graduated from Harvard with her extended foster family all in proud attendance.

The future waited in all its burgeoning promise. She went forward at last to greet it.

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“Taxi” By Suzanne Burke @pursoot #Thriller #ShortStory from my next #Anthology. #RRBC #IARTG #IAN1

 

TAXI NEW YORK SHORT STORY

Taxi

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

The plane landed late at Dulles. Very late. The storm that had prevented us from arriving on schedule finally hit and hit hard as I left the terminal. It was icy cold and felt like snow was on its way.

I kicked myself again for drinking so much on the damned plane. I guess I had never really gotten over my fear of flying.  The car was in the long-term car park and considering how much booze I’d had it would need to stay there at least for tonight.

I was thankful that I had been one of the first to clear through security and a lone cab remained at the rank. Heaving a tired sigh I tapped on the window, the driver gave me a grin and opened the locked back passenger door. He saw my baggage and resigned himself to opening the trunk. I threw my bag in and gratefully slid into the rear of the cab, it was warm in here.

“Where to, lady?”

I gave him the address and smiled as he said, “Hey whaddya know…That’s a good long trip, lady. You sure?”

“Uh-huh, yeah…thanks.”

“Plane was late, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Where’d you come in from?”

“Los Angeles”

“Long trip.” This was a statement more than a question.

“Yeah, it was.”

“You out there for a holiday?”

“Business.”

“So what line are you in?”

“Insurance.”

“What sort?”

“Life insurance. …  Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m really tired, can we just get where we’re going, okay.”

“Sure, sure…just making conversation, is all.”

“Thanks, appreciate it.”

I settled back into the corner and closed my eyes; the trip would take at least 40 minutes, longer still on the icy roads. It would be good to get home. The trial had ended ahead of the time allowed and I was back a full three days earlier than planned. I needed sleep and a long hot bath.

The driver was humming happily to himself, I relaxed, he clearly knew what he was doing, and had slowed down to adjust to the dangerous driving conditions.

I was falling asleep.

I felt the taxi stop, a red light I figured, keeping my eyes closed.

I heard the door open, and slam again…

“What the hell! I’m taken, buddy. You see my light?”

“Shut the fuck up and drive!” A male voice exploded from the front seat.

“Sure, sure!Whoa! Easy, man. Whatever you say.”

“What are you doing? This is my taxi.” I was in no mood for crap.

The new arrival turned, seeming surprised to see a passenger…He had a gun clenched firmly in his right hand… “Oh shit, shit shit. A fuckin’ woman, that’s all I need. Shut up and sit back.”

“What? What are you doing? Don’t be a fool!”

He waved the gun at me, “Just shut up.”

“Do what he says, lady…okay? For Christs’ sake. The man’s got a gun.”

The man with the gun was sweating, the beads of perspiration on his face clearly visible in the neon lights of the city street.

I took a deep slow breath and tried to think.

“Don’t be doin’ nothin’ stupid bitch. I don’t much care who I shoot”

“Why don’t you just let us go, and you take the cab?” I hoped my voice sounded calm.

“Not gonna happen. I need the driver. But you are expendable, so shut the fuck up.”

“Do what he says, lady, sweet Jesus! He ain’t kiddin’!”

The gunman was agitated, and it wouldn’t take much to push him into doing something neither the driver or I would like.

“You got a cell? He asked the driver.

“Yeah. Here.” He fumbled as he took it from his pocket. Handing it quickly to the other man.

“All women have cell phones, so hand it across, bitch.”

“It’s in my luggage in the trunk.”

“Why”

“I ran out of charge … it’s dead.” If he stopped to check he’d be a fool. I knew that.

“Give me your handbag …you better be telling the truth. Hear what I’m sayin?”

I handed over my bag. The driver gave me a frightened look. The gunman rifled through it and tossed it on the floor in front, not before removing my purse. “You got lucky, bitch.”

He opened my purse and took out the notes, “Where’s your license? “

“I don’t drive anymore. I had an accident….”

I left the sentence unfinished. I watched him look at my social security card, and that joined the bag on the floor.

He turned to the front and addressed the driver, “Take the next left”

The driver was picking up speed…gradually. I knew what he was doing…smart move, but if we got pulled over for speeding the guy in front would shoot his way clear, he looked and sounded like he had nothing to lose.

“You think I’m fuckin stupid man. Slow it back down…now!”

“Sorry…sorry, take it easy, you make me edgy and I wasn’t watchin’ the dial.”

I slid my right hand inside my jacket. I felt the cell phone nestled against my side. My hand was shaking. I took a slow quiet breath.

The gunman was watching the driver, intently.

My service pistol felt reassuring in the shoulder holster, but the driver would eat a bullet before I had a chance to use it if I made a sudden move.

I said a thankful prayer that I had set the cell to silent on the plane. I’d been too weary to turn it back on.

I withdrew it gently and slowly…hoping I hit the right button in the dark.

My team had a panic button, a number that would answer 24/7. There would be no voice communication. I had to leave the connection open, and hope that the trace would pick out our location. With as much help as I could give.

“Where are you taking us? You’re heading for the river? You’re going to shoot us both aren’t you?’ I raised my voice, pretending hysteria I was close to feeling anyway.

“I’ll shoot you if I have to. Understand?”

“But why? What did the cab driver and I ever do to you?”

“Nothin’! You’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shit happens. Now shut the fuck up.”

He waved the gun in my face again.

“Okay okay…” I made my voice more tearful… “ Please, I don’t wanna die..not out here…it’s so…so empty…we passed the river, your gonna kill us aren’t you?”

“Jesus, Lady. Shut up! You’ll make him pull that damned trigger.” The driver was understandably shaken.

All I could do now was wait, hoping that I had given the response team a hand with directions and that the global positioning satellite had pinpointed my exact location.

I sat back again. I remained quiet. We were heading further and further away from the city. We had been traveling for the best part of an hour. I made no sudden moves, watching the gunman stiffen as he stared out the windows. He was clearly on the lookout for something or someone. If he was meeting up with anyone we were in even bigger trouble.

“I’m almost outta gas.” Said the driver.

“What?”

“Gas! I’m nearly out!”

“Let me see the gage!” He grunted, “Fuckin’ inconvenient! There’s a gas stop about another 15 miles on. You have to get us there. Understand?”

“Man, I don’t know. The tanks almost dry. I was coming off shift when the woman climbed in.”

I applauded his smarts. He wasn’t coming off shift, he was too thankful for a long haul fare to be coming off shift. I couldn’t see the dashboard. But the gunman could.

“Fuck.”

“Will you let us go at the gas stop?” I asked

The man turned. He had no regret in his voice. He simply said, “NO!”

I knew the driver and I didn’t have much of a chance.

I would need to use my pistol. The Glock was a good gun, and I knew how to handle it…but the subject was armed and it wasn’t just myself that stood to die out here.

I heard the faint sounds of a chopper in the distance, all I could do was hope that it was my team. It had to be something urgent to be flying at all in this weather. Maybe a medivac flight. I guessed I’d know soon enough.

The gas station appeared as we crested a hill and the driver slowed and pulled into the pump.

“Get out, fill the tank. I have the woman and I’ll be watching you every step of the way.”

He turned to me, “Get out slowly, lady. Come round and stand in front of me, and we are gonna stand and watch your friend here real close.”

“You!” he poked the driver with his gun “Fill the tank, pay for it, and get back here. Make it fast. You take too long, she ain’t gonna stay healthy.”

The driver gave me a long look and then unhooked the hose and started pumping. He clicked off and headed inside to settle up.

The gunman had the weapon firmly pushed into my neck. I watched the driver go to the counter. It was then I recognized the guy behind the register.

I knew what had to happen, I saw the driver pocket his change and nod at whatever he was told to do. He exited the station and walked towards us.

“Down!” the single word came from behind and to the left!  I dropped; the driver dropped. I rolled and fired. How many shots I got off I didn’t know or care.

The gunman was on the ground.

The team surrounded his prone form. He wouldn’t be car-jacking anyone ever again.

I stood on legs made of jello and hurried the few steps to the driver.

“You okay? Are you hit? I asked as he scrambled to his feet.

“Life insurance, huh?” He managed a weak smile. “Good name for it.”

My team did what they had to do. The body was covered and I turned to the driver..”You weren’t really out of gas were you?”

“No but that gage has been faulty for months, it always shows empty, I hadn’t got round to fixing it”

He laughed now in reaction. ‘So you’re with, um …  FBI life insurance…?’

“Yup,” I smiled at him. “That’s the one.”

“After we do all the paperwork I’d be pleased to buy you a beer.” I smiled.

“I think we should each get the other drunk. That’s what I think.”

I shook his hand, “Sounds like a plan.”

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