FROM THE PAST
Disclaimer: The characters are fictional and are mine, though as an uber they might remind you of others. But they aren’t them. While towns, places, buildings, etc. may exist, they are used fictionally.
Subtext: This story depicts a loving relationship between consenting adult women. If you are underage or this type story is illegal where you live, don’t read it.
This is a sequel to my story When We Met.
The tall brunette squinted at the articles held at arm’s length then dug out her reading glasses with a resigned sigh and slipped them on. It was only recently that it had become impossible to read newspaper print without them. Perusing every article in the first section, she folded and dropped that part of the paper to the floor, rocked a minute in the chair and checked her watch. After 10. Nearly time for bed. Her eyes went to the next section. Advertising. Normally newspaper ads held little interest for her. But this was the monthly gay newspaper. She couldn’t resist. Her eyes scanned the columns, finally locating the f/f ads. Wonder who’s searching for whom?
She glanced over at Ruby. The small blonde was folding and sorting clean laundry on the couch. Lonnie was eternally grateful that her search for the perfect partner was over, but it didn’t hurt to keep up with what was going on in the outside world, did it? With a roguish grin and a sense of voyeurism, she began to read. She chuckled at the ingenuity of some ads and nodded at others. Right on, she muttered. She had friends who had met this very way. Whoa, she continued, blinking at one particularly saucy ad, that’s succinct. Suddenly she froze...
“Oh.. my.. gosh! Lookit this ad, Rube,” Lonnie held out the page to Ruby. It’s in the monthly gay newspaper under f/f ads. Know whose ad that is? Peg from class. I’ll betcha anything.”
“A member of your karate class put an ad in the paper? Why?”
Lonnie pulled the paper back to read the ad again. “I’m positive it’s hers. Peg was so taken with that classy blonde who came to practice a few weeks ago. The woman was a knockout. Peg watches for her all the time now. The stranger said she was visiting but planned to move here soon, only she hasn’t been back since that one time. Whooee, Peg was royally smitten! I’ve never seen her like that before, but I know what it’s like. It happened to me.” She winked at Ruby. “Now, what was that blonde’s name? Judith I think.”
Ruby looked up from the laundry basket. “Peg in your karate class-- dark hair? pale blue eyes? beautiful features?” Ruby rarely showed an interest in other woman. It caught Lonnie off guard.
“Beautiful features? Should I be worried?” Lonnie’s brow rose.
“Don’t be silly. Of course not.” Ruby held her hand to show off her ring. “Partners for life. But maybe I should be worried about you reading those kinds of ads.” She raised both brows before going back to folding. After a pause she said, “I guess I don’t understand how an ad could help Peg find this mystery person. Does she say she’s looking for Judith or something?”
“No, here’s the ad,” Lonnie read aloud: “10. LALALALALA .. Blue-eyed brunette searching for green-eyed blonde. Martial art skills preferred.”
“That’s pretty general, though, isn’t it? If you ask me, it sounds like us,” Ruby chuckled. “You’re a blue-eyed brunette back in karate class regularly, and I’m a green-eyed blonde starting a Saturday beginner’s class next week.”
Lonnie hesitated, “Like us, except we’re found. Happily ever after,” she tapped her own ring. “I loved when we met, and I’ve loved you from the moment we met. I just hope that is Peg’s ad, and I hope Judith answers it.”
“Such a romantic,” Ruby teased her partner then mused, “Peg seems like a really nice girl,”
“She is,” Lonnie agreed, “Too nice, sometimes. She’s been in a self-imposed romantic drought after her last girlfriend took her to the cleaners. Broke her heart.” She folded the paper and dropped it atop the other. “Now it’s time Peg broke out.”
Ruby yawned. “Now it’s time we went to bed. Five a.m. comes mighty early tomorrow morning.”
Lonnie grabbed the papers from the floor and put them in the recycle bin. “Right you are, hon. I probably should get to the shop early tomorrow. I have a ton of work on my desk.”
The rarely used dirt road curved along the river, went under the heavily traveled bridge, then ended in a large empty lot camouflaged by weeds and cottonwood trees. Further down out of view boathouses had their own entrance road so this one had no real use. The busy morning traffic whizzing high on the bridge overhead, was totally unaware that anything was occurring below.
A well-dressed stocky man slid out of the shiny black Mercedes sports car parked so that it could not be viewed from above. He lit a cigarette and stood for a moment, inhaling. The body in his tailor made suit was brawny, muscular, bulky but without an ounce of fat. His steely eyes evaluated the fat man who stood breathing hard before him.
The fat man was taller, about six feet, and had a round belly. He wore an old white dress shirt opened at the top button, a stained tie pulled partially loose under the collar, the rolls of his neck hanging over the collar front. The shirt was frayed and discolored at both the collar and cuffs. His large wrinkled black suit jacket was open and the buttons on his grey-white shirt strained to reach across the girth of his belly. You could see the outline of a sleeveless undershirt beneath.
Without speaking the tailored man ambled over to the dull silver gray car parked by the bridge support, the dust getting his expensive Italian loafers dusty. It was an unremarkable car in nearly every way. Most people would not give it a second glance. He poked his head inside the open passenger window and sniffed. No particular odor. Cloth seats. Some cigarette burns. Manilla envelope on the passenger seat.
“This’ll do,” he said, withdrawing his head. He stood back, drawing on his cigarette then dropped the stub, grinding it into the dirt with his shoe. He took out his wallet. “It’s not hot?”
“No,” the other man huffed. “It’s clean.”
“Runs well? I don’t want any problems with it.” His strong meaty fingers held his wallet before him, but showed no inclination to open it.
“Motor’s souped up. It can get anybody out of, shall we say, difficult scrapes.” The fat man kept his eyes trained on the shorter man. “If ya know how to drive.”
The shorter man said nothing but moved to the front and looked at the outside of the motor as though he had xray vision. He put his hand on the hood.
“Want me to pop that?” the fat man asked.
He shook his head. No point. He didn’t know much about motors. No sense pretending he did.
He moved back by the fat man and narrowed his eyes. “You’ll be damned sorry if it’s not as advertised. I can find you anywhere, any time. And I will, if anything goes wrong because of you.”
“It’s as advertised. But if you don’t want it, I’ll drive it off right now and forget I ever met ya.” He looked the stocky man over. Damn amateurs. All alike. But this one had plenty of dough. He probably could pay to have him located under any circumstances.
The stocky man glanced at the car again. “Yeah, all right. I’ll call and tell ya where I’ve left it. When I do, I want it to disappear within the hour. Got that? And it better never be found again.”
He held out his hand. “Gimme the extra set of keys, you take the originals and leave the car in the furthest metro park in Gresham near the Max line.”
“Doesn’t end at Gresham any more, ya know,” the fat man supplied.
“I know that,” the stocky man growled. “Gimme the keys.”
The fat man decided not to warn him about possible cameras in public transportation. “All right.” The fat man dropped the extra set into his hand. The well-dressed man examined the remote attached to the keys and scoffed, “A panic button?”
“Standard. It works.”
The shorter man glanced around, “You got the other information I asked for?”
The heavy man reached in the gray car’s window with a grunt and pulled out the manila folder. He breathed heavily through his nose. “Yeah, their movements are marked here. They pretty much follow the same routine each week. Most people do. It’s all in there.”
“Okay. Just so we understand, I’m paying to make sure you’ve never heard of me. And I’m not buying the damn car, just leasing it. But you don’t get rid of it in time and you’ll be sorry.” He looked at the other man whose features had not changed throughout the whole transaction.
“Lease or buy, costs the same either way,” the fat man replied.
The shorter, stocky man snorted then opened his wallet and lifted out a wad of thousand dollar bills. He counted out the agreed upon amount.
The heavy man licked his lips and counted each bill as he received it. “That’s the deal,” he said. He jammed the money in his pant pocket and climbed into the dull gray car, starting it up. The engine ran silently. The shorter man lit another cigarette and leaned against his sports car.
“Might want to think about your cigarettes,” the fat man called out the window, “Easy way to place you. DNA ya know.” Amateur.
The stocky man said nothing. He watched the gray car drive off, small clouds of dust rising from the dirt road as the fat man moved along. “I’ll have to buy a cigarette holder and wear gloves when I smoke.” He moved around picking up all nearby cigarette butts even if they weren’t his.
He felt a jolt of excitement and a smile spread across his face. “Finally. Operation Face Lift.” He slid into the smooth leather seat of his sports car and jammed the butts in the ashtray. The strong odor of cigarette smoke clung to the interior even though the windows were open to the unusually warm spring air. “I’ve trained a long time, and I’ve planned this well, bitches. Round one to you. Round two, and the decision is all mine.”
A snarl crossed his face before he took a long drag, watching the smoke tendrils twist and turn in the air around him. He turned the key and the engine roared to life with a loud, satisfying purr. Out of gear he hit the gas a couple times just for the rumble it made. He shifted and eased the new car down the bumpy dirt road now that the dust from the other car had settled. “Hold onto your hats, boys and girls, it’s makeover time.”
Lonnie looked at the screen she was working then at the pile of work on her desk. “What is this?” she grumbled, “Doesn’t anyone work here but me? Must think they’re paying me the big bucks.”
Hearing her thoughts caused her to look up in surprise. Did I say that out loud? Dang. I’m working too hard. She ran her hand through her shoulder-length black hair. Very soon she’d have to make sure she didn’t. After all, she had agreed that she would bear their third and final child.
She was supposed to have gotten pregnant nine months earlier. Bethy was six now and Robby was three. Three years between. But life had gotten complicated. Their apartment wasn’t big enough. They’d placed a bid on a bungalow. If accepted, they’d have plenty of room and money left over when they sold the condo. But there was the expense of having a baby. And Lonnie’d have to take maternity leave. All required saving money. They weren’t quite ready yet. In fact, it looked like they’d have to push their schedule up more, making four or more years between Robby and their last child. Soon enough. The idea of childbirth both scared and thrilled Lonnie at the same time.
She scowled at her work. She loved her job, but not if she couldn’t breathe between assignments.
Her eyes narrowed as she spotted Benny. She’d already told him they needed to hire more help. She had a family now. She didn’t want to come in on Saturdays to work. Benny hadn’t argued, he’d called her in to review the budget instead. So...she had some ideas, if she could convince him. Benny was about ten years older than she and was a fixture at the company. Most workers these days changed careers like they changed underwear. He and Lonnie had bucked that system and both had stayed with this same printing company for all these years.
Benny stopped in front of her desk. “Don’t be blaming me, now. This time it’s from the LA office.” She looked at the tickets in his hand and knew what was coming. “The Senator’s dinner tomorrow night. They want you should go. Take Ruby.” He threw the two tickets on her desk with visible relief. She glanced at the top ticket--a formal dinner at the Hilton ballroom Friday night. It was not a dance, but a political soiree with the Senator scheduled as the main speaker.
“Political? I’m not political. Why me?” Was there any time politicians weren’t clambering for every ounce of limelight and every dime of donation? Lonnie moaned, “Send Riley and his wife.” She looked over at Riley’s desk, but the man was purposely ignoring them.
“They said to send you.” She looked at the tickets with a sinking feeling. The main office in L.A. had done this before. Well, Ruby wouldn’t appreciate it. They’d have to get a baby-sitter. And they didn’t really have what you could call formal wear, at least not anything good enough for the Hilton ballroom. “You go, Benny. You’re the boss.”
“Naw. Big bosses want top representation. They know you two are always real eye candy. And they like your style; they want you to go.”
“Benny,” she whined. “It’s formal.”
“It’s not a prom. Forget the corsage, dressy will work,” He turned and started to his office.
What does he know about dressy? He never goes to these things. “Dressy? It’s at the Hilton.”
“Hey, it’s a free meal.”
“Yeah, rubber chicken and we’ve gotta buy dinner clothes.” She scowled, “I want a raise.”
“Check for it in your bonus check.” Benny chortled. “Besides, I’ve never seen you dress better than you have the last five years or so. Everybody already thinks you’re pulling in lots more moola than I do.”
“That’s only because Ruby is expert at picking out clothing.”
“There ya go,” Benny grinned and closed the door to his office.
“Yeah, well, I’m keeping track of this,” Lonnie scribbled a note to herself, then examined the tickets. Fifteen hundred dollars a plate? That’s what these suckers cost? To hear a politician speak? Man, somebody got taken for a ride here. She wished they were going to pay the attendees fifteen hundred bucks each just to go listen. Then the thing might have some merit.
She grabbed the phone and placed the call. Ruby, as expected, was not thrilled. Among other things, she had to put off getting groceries and shop for clothes for this gala dinner instead.
A thick stream of smoke wafted from the open slit of the driver’s side window across the street as the man watched the blonde clad in jeans and a sweatshirt leading a three year old by the hand. They exited the condos and headed for the maroon jeep. His cold eyes followed their every move.
“Well, well,” he mused, “What have we here? A new little bastard? A boy this time. Been out whoring around again, Ruby?”
He jammed out his cigarette in the overflowing tray, then clumsily worked the butt loose from the cigarette holder with his gloved fingers. The gloves were flexible and skin tight, made of the finest leather. It was his hands that were large and hardened. Used to fighting. What a pain a holder was. And hard to find. Cigarettes were even a pain to deal with. But once he’d tried smoking wet, he’d gotten hooked. Right now, though, he didn’t need the extra buzz PCP gave him. He felt more than confident without it. “I’ve trained too hard to lose it all to a high.” Besides, he didn’t dare risk being picked up on some stupid drug charge.
He saw the blonde’s car heading towards the street and ducked before she saw him. He couldn’t risk being spotted. Even when it was too late she wouldn’t be able to prove it was him. But he really wanted to meet up with the other bitch more. “That black-haired broad,” his nostrils flared. “that’s the one whose face I can hardly wait to rearrange.”
Ruby stopped in the line of cars of mothers picking up their school children. She waved to Bethy, who came running, bubbling over with what she’d done this day. Ruby made sure both children were belted in securely before heading out. She listened with a smile to Bethy’s day, but inside she grumbled at what she had to do. Benny was always doing this, but this was the first ‘formal’ event. She hoped that didn’t mean long, to the ground, formals. Lonnie would never wear one.
She would have to stick to looking for a dressy pantsuit for the tall beauty. Lonnie looked great in dresses, but was rarely comfortable in them. She would probably have told Benny to shove the dinner, except that she didn’t dare risk losing her job now. She was the family breadwinner, they were in the middle of house negotiations and in a little more than nine months Lonnie’d have to schedule maternity leave. This wasn’t the time to tick Benny off. Having to look for another job was unthinkable, even though they could hold out a while on their savings if they had to.
As second in command, the tall brunette was sent to all kinds of luncheons and dinners on the company’s behalf, and often enough, Ruby went with her. Lonnie’s company encouraged it. Of course, some of it was that Benny hated the social side of his job and always pawned it off on Lonnie. Another part was that they were token gays and the L.A. office took advantage of that. The printing shop was surprisingly liberal about domestic partnership benefits even with the current antigay Republican administration. And the two had, for the most part, made a good impression around town. Lonnie said it provided job security since when these people wanted printing done, they remembered her.
Ruby pulled their nine year old jeep into the Temple Street Thrift Store parking lot, followed not long after by the man in the silver sedan. He parked at the opposite end and watched carefully.
“Wait till I tell you to get out,” she reminded Bethy. She carried the three year old then hit the remote lock when she had Bethy come to her.
“I like this place,” Bethy said.
“Me, too.” Ruby took the children into the store, put the boy down, held his hand and began to look at dress pantsuits. At six foot it was not easy to find anything to fit her partner. Pants were particularly difficult, but Lonnie already had some dressy black pants in a silky material that might do. And Ruby’d just laundered them. Maybe she could get by with an evening designer style blouse or jacket to go with the pants. Finding just the right item seemed to be her particular genius. A dressy top could save the day and their pocketbook.
“Hold brother’s hand, honey,” she told Bethy. She found a pullover jacket style blouse with a drawstring bottom, very dressy that had a touch of silver blue shimmer to the almost black material. She held it out. It looked new.
“That’s pretty, Momma,” Bethy smiled. “Mumsy will like it, huh?” The child reached out and stroked the glimmering material.
“I hope so, baby,” Ruby smiled at her oldest. The child could be a rascal, but for the most part Bethy was the sweetest little girl. Ruby checked the sleeves. That was the hardest part about finding tops for Lonnie. The sleeves were often too short. But these had more style than most. They were three-quarter sleeves, a little longer than usual, and flared at the end for more length. She checked the shirt length. It would tie below Lonnie’s waist, emphasizing her flat tummy. It made Ruby think of Loren Bacall elegance and she smiled to herself. “Yes, it’s perfect.”
“Momma?” Rob said, pulling on his sister’s hand.
“What, honey?” Ruby chewed her lip, making her final decision on the fancy blouse jacket.
“Mumsy wants that.” He pointed at a jumbo red plastic toy dump truck on one of the shelves.
Ruby glanced over and chuckled, “She probably does.” She checked the price. It wasn’t much. “You can spend your allowance on it, if you want.” At three he didn’t really understand.
“Mumsy wants it real bad, Momma,” Bethy added, looking at the brother she adored. If he wanted it, she wanted Rob to have it. Robby brought his wide blue eyes up to meet his mother.
Ruby ruffled his light brown hair. “Mumsy can’t have it, but you can. Do you want the truck, darlin’?”
He put his fingers in his mouth and nodded. “Yucky. Take your fingers out of your mouth, son.” She took the truck off the shelf and handed it to him, saying to her daughter, “Robby’s going to spend several week’s allowance on that.” The girl nodded. Rob sat and began to play with it.
The stocky man moved quietly through the aisles, staying far enough away not to be spotted. He’d left his expensive gloves in the car. Wearing worn dark sweat pants, a dark jogging jacket with attached hood scrunched around his neck and tennis shoes, he did not stand out in any way.
He stopped occasionally to pick up an item. He pretended to look it over, but he never lost sight of the small blonde mother and her two children. Once she looked his way, but the cautious man turned and bent to pick up something from the opposite shelf to examine before she could see his face.
“Mommy, can I look over there?” Bethy asked, pointing to the toys one aisle over. “Please?”
“Do you want all the allowance you’ve saved, Bethy?” Ruby asked her daughter. The girl nodded and Ruby pulled out a dollar for her. “If you get confused, I’ll help you. Look at that row only. Don’t leave there. I can see you from here. Do you understand?” Bethy nodded. “Okay.” Ruby watched her daughter go over to see what she could buy. Her son played at her feet.
For a minute the man was startled. He saw the girl coming closer then she veered to the row of toys but Ruby’s eyes swept back that way again and again. He had to duck out behind another row further away without moving too quickly or she would spot him. He forced himself to move at a normal pace and inhaled the thrill of deception the risk gave him.
Ruby moved Rob and his truck to the more formal dresses in her size, constantly checking on Bethy. The young girl was carefully looking at toys as though each were a treasure. Ruby pulled out a long, soft green elegantly designed dress with a skirt of unevenly fashioned hem. It did not reach to the floor all around, although it did in most places. Everything about it shouted “formal”. She put it next to the top she had already selected for Lonnie. They looked good together.
She checked the label...a designer label. She smiled slyly and held it out, turning it in all directions. The joy of being a small size...you had a better choice of clothes that were in better shape. Usually you had to go to the designer’s seconds shops to find designer labels like this. This dress looked fantastic. She held it up in front of herself and checked the hips then ran her eyes to Bethy’s row. Her daughter was gone. Ruby’s heart jumped into her throat and came to a stop there.
“Beth?” she choked out, holding down her panic.
She gripped the dress in one hand, lifted her son in the other and stepped further out in the aisle, alarmed, her eyes scouring the toy rows. She was ready to shout out the girl’s name when she heard a small familiar voice behind her.
“Oh, Mommy, that’s a princess dress,” Bethy’s voice was appreciative as she walked up behind her mother with a Barbie-type doll in her hand. Ruby’s pursed lips blew out a breath of relief, moving the hair on her forehead. Her hands shook. She looked crossly at her young daughter.
“Where did you go, Beth? I looked over and you weren’t there. Honey, I told you to stay there where I could see you.” Relief washed over her and she saw the look of confusion ride across her child’s distressed face.
“I didn’t like that man, so I came around where that lady and her kids were,” the girl answered, pointing to a mother moving through the store with her three children. Ruby and Lonnie had talked to Beth about strangers and what she should do in various circumstances.
“What man, honey?” Ruby continued to hold her son and made sure her daughter was right beside her. She stepped out to look carefully, but there was no man anywhere in that direction.
“My truck,” the boy began to whimper. Ruby put him back on the floor by the truck then scanned the area. Had there been a man there earlier? She thought she remembered seeing someone. Several someones. But she hadn’t gotten a good look. She’d been concentrating on the clothes. There were several men in the store, but they were on the other side, over in the tool section. Ruby nodded toward them but Bethy shook her head at those fellows.
“He went in the bathroom,” Bethy said. Ruby looked at the bathroom doors in the back next to the employee’s backroom but no one was there. He must be inside, she decided. Why had Bethy been frightened? What did he do? If there was a threat, she needed to tell the people here. “Did he say something to you?” she asked.
“Did he come toward you or try to touch you?”
“No. He stayed in the back.”
“How did he bother you then, honey?” She didn’t want to frighten her daughter with questions, but she wanted to understand what had happened.
“I don’t know.” Bethy looked up. “I didn’t like him.”
“Okay.” Ruby watched the men’s room door but no one came out. She looked at her daughter, who was now combing the doll’s hair back with her hands and talking softly to the small figure as she did so.
“Don’t leave Momma’s side, honey,” she said. The child nodded and leaned against her mother, talking constantly to the new doll.
Ruby focused on the bathroom door, but no one came out. What had scared Bethy? There could be anything about a stranger that Bethy might not like. It didn’t necessarily mean the man was a threat. But at the moment there didn’t seem to be any man there at all. Cautiously she kept both children very close, fully aware that she had to make some clothing decisions.
Still seeing no man, she looked at the green dress. Yes, it might do very well. She looked at the price. It was higher but she could work it into their budget. And she had some heels that might work perfectly with it. She checked the size again to be sure. With a last glance at the bathroom door, she bundled her children around her with the dress, blouse and toys in tow and headed for the check out. A last glance back puzzled her, because Bethy was not the type of child to make up stories or tell fibs. Was it Bethy’s imagination? She asked at the counter if the clerk had seen any man go into the restroom, but she’d been busy and hadn’t.
Ruby scanned the parking area as they exited the store, but nothing seemed amiss. She looked over Beth’s doll choice. It would clean up well. They’d have a wash fest when they got home like they always did and clean up each toy. The children loved it. They climbed in the car, Ruby took care to look inside each car window that she could. Nothing seemed suspicious, but her daughter’s upset weighed on Ruby’s mind. What had upset Bethy?
In the back of the store where the loading dock and warehouse for incoming items was located, the man moved quietly to the dock and jumped down to the pavement below. This area was for employees only, but he had slipped into the area almost immediately after entering the bathroom and coming back out again. The girl had begun to watch him suspiciously and had moved away from him toward other people.
Damn little bastard. He barely got into the back room without her spotting him. Now he didn’t dare follow them. Shit. He loved the primeval feel stalking provided--like hunters of old. But it didn’t matter. He already had everything arranged. He’d gone to great expense to get tickets sent with no connection to him. Even the parking was included. Actually, that was the most important part. It guaranteed they would be where he wanted them to be just when he wanted them there.
He ran his hand the length of the scar under his chin. Years he’d planned and schemed while he’d worked out, strengthened his body and his skills. But he’d had no idea the power he’d feel while on the chase. It was exhilarating. He moved along the outside wall of the building, stopping where the large windows to the store began. He wouldn’t go by the windows or be where they might see him. Damn kid could recognize him. He paused, pulled the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and lit one to wait. He had left the holder and gloves in the car. Fuck it. He’d take the ground out butt with him when he left.
The man stood to the side of the building smoking just out of view. He heard a car start and knew it was theirs. Soon,” he smiled wickedly, “Very soon.”
Ruby smiled lovingly at their children as they headed home. Their life was wonderful, even if money was tight, and it always was. But they were making headway. Now a charming four bedroom craftsman bungalow might be theirs, if the sellers took their offer. It’d be a wonderful place to raise children. And Ruby could still stay home while the children were young if she shopped wisely for everything.
Occasionally she’d worked part-time for the print shop stuffing envelopes or applying labels. It wasn’t much, but she could do it at home. And she had her eBay income, which was growing yearly. The economy had been unsettled, there’d been layoffs but things were fairly robust at the moment. They knew it was not optimum with Bethy and Rob sharing a bedroom in their small two bedroom condo. They lined the chest of drawers for each child down the middle of the room and moved the couch from there out to take the place of their old one in the living room. The old one had worn out and was donated. Lonnie’s parents had to sleep in the living room now when they visited, but nobody complained.
The children’s twin beds went against the wall on either side and it gave each child some degree of privacy. With two they could get by, but they wanted three, so they’d saved. They had moved the crib and changing table into their storage unit downstairs, knowing they would need them when their last child was born. Their house offer had been under the asking price. They wanted full equity to carry over to their new home. Everyone else was mortgaging to the hilt hoping with each stock market uptick that the good times would come rolling back, but the nineties were gone. Saving was not only prudent, as always it was necessary.
Lonnie was the second highest paid worker at the print shop after Benny, not that she made a fortune, but she made good money. The money they’d set aside was earning plenty of interest and the two of them carefully watched over it and the children’s college funds using their computer.
Ruby glanced at their small trailer parked to the side in the lot as she drove into the condo’s parking area. What fun they’d had traveling. Their life was so good! They bought the used trailer instead of a newer car last time. Their favorite spot was a terraced RV camp that gave them spectacular views since it was right on the bank of a mid-Oregon beach. For very little expense they had spent plenty of comfortable vacations there as well as at the mountains, sometimes meeting up with Chase and Maddy, but often simply as a family. And now they were taking full advantage of the exercise room and swimming pool inside their building before they moved.
The man drove the gray car to the local boxing gym. A couple fellows were sparring in the ring. He didn’t have time for that. The punching bag was free and he took a turn. A little over five nine, he wasn’t as tall as some, but he was accomplished. He’d spent hundreds of hours at this.
He hadn’t been a natural, but he’d been motivated. He made the bag dance in a noisy rhythm as he moved his feet in time. Bam, bam, bam. All right old man, you want me to take the plant to some cheap third world country. bam, bam, bam. I don’t wanna, but after this...bam bam bam I’m gonna do it. Six years I’ve trained like a demon...bam, bam, bam...with only one thing in mind ...bam, bam, bam...this weekend...bam, bam, bam... Revenge. Sweet revenge.
Ruby called Mrs. Nelson. She said she could sit the next night. The gray-haired grandmother was getting older but was still a good reliable sitter, and she lived in the unit. Her granddaughter lived with her now and often joined her. The children liked them both.
With the toys, Ruby filled the bathroom sink half full of warm soapy water and one at a time, had them stand on their step stand to help her wash their treasure. “Here’s a towel. Your doll’s clothes will be dry before long, honey. I’ll make her more clothes next week if you want,” Ruby smiled at her daughter. “What did you name her?”
Bethy swept the doll’s wet hair back and wrapped her in the towel. “I named her Princess.”
“That’s a pretty name.” Ruby looked at the doll’s eyes. They were blue. Bethy’s blue eyes had turned hazel, more like her mother’s emerald eyes, as she grew older. “Would you like Mumsy to turn your doll’s eyes green?”
Bethy thought about it for a few minutes. Mumsy was a good painter and had turned some of her other doll’s eyes green. “No. I’d like them to stay blue like Mumsy and Robby’s eyes.”
Ruby smiled. “All right.” She left the children playing in the living room as she set about the task of cleaning up her own purchases. She hand washed Lonnie’s top in the kitchen sink, watching the children through the breakfast bar opening. For her own dress, she got out her cleaner, a type of dry cleaning fluid she kept in a locked cupboard. She was expert at doing this. She unlocked the door and moved outside the glass windows to the balcony, where, once cleaned, both items were left to dry in the spring breeze.
The children were completely happy playing with their new finds. Bethy sat cross-legged on the couch and Rob knelt on the floor, pushing his truck all around the couch and under the coffee table. By the time Ruby started dinner, the clothing was dry and aired, ready to press.
With dinner heating in the oven, Ruby took Robby and his truck to their bedroom to play. Bethy ended up coming too, sitting on the bed with her doll. Ruby grabbed her heels then stepped into the master bath to slip on the dress. A little steaming is all this needs. It did cling in all the right places. She stepped out to the bedroom mirror. Wow! Wait till Lonnie sees this. Thank heavens I kept up my tummy exercises. She turned sideways and checked. Oh yeah. Lonnie will be impressed. She glanced down at the sculpted line of one side of the hem. A touch of ankle, a touch of calf. Nice, she smiled, Very nice.
“You’re beautiful, Mommy,” Bethy breathed.
For the hundredth time Ruby wondered at how good for one’s ego children could be. “Thanks, honey.” Ruby twisted her neck and checked the back as well as she could. Not bad. Not bad at all. Many evenings when Lonnie was home to watch the children she’d gone downstairs to use the workout room. Then she ended her exercises with a quick swim. It was a fantastic feature of living here and had certainly helped her regain her figure after each child. Sometimes they all went down to swim during family swim.
Lonnie also used the gym in the early morning after a quick run. Lonnie’s tall, elegant figure had remained perfect through the years, although her primary concern these days was brushing up on her black belt karate skills. She’d be going to class tonight and probably would bug poor Peg about that newspaper ad.
Ruby slipped out of the dress and back into her jeans. She was delighted with her purchases. Later after the children were asleep and Lonnie was back from class, she’d model the outfit for her. She’d put a vanilla candle in the bowl holder she kept in their room and let that be the light. Lonnie’s eyes would bug out of her head when she saw this formfitting dress. Ruby remembered the tiny opening under the arm where a seam had begun to come apart on Lonnie’s new top. She got her sewing kit to fix it.
She watched the two children for a minute and was delighted with how well they got along. They argued, of course, like all children. But for the most part Bethy coddled her brother, sharing books with him when they sat in the big wood rocker together, and she even let him scribble with her crayons when she was drawing pictures to be put on the refrigerator or to send to Grandma and Grandpa. Bethy watched over Rob. And Robby liked his older sister. Of course, both sat on Lonnie’s knees in the rocker when she read to them in the evenings before bedtime.
The man changed his clothes and drove back out to a spot up the street from the condo parking lot. “Right on time,” he muttered, checking his report. He observed Lonnie in his rearview mirror as she exited the bus and trekked down the curving road he was parked on headed toward the condos. His eyes narrowed and he rubbed the scar under his chin.
“You’re not gonna be just another pretty face. Not when I’m done,” he chuckled loathsomely. Suddenly she jaywalked and passed directly behind his car, tapping her knuckles lightly on the trunk as she did. He held his breath and turned his face from her.. His heart nearly pounded out of his chest.
She joined a couple from the condo who also had gotten off the bus and crossed up above. The three visited as they walked. He exhaled. That had been close! But how alive and jazzed it made him feel. If this feels so great, imagine what the real deal will feel like! He’d love to make the beating last forever but he must work quickly and efficiently to get away unseen. Afterwards he wanted them to suffer..for a very long time. No need to kill them outright. He’d prefer them to live with painful disabilities for the rest of their lives, but if they died, they died. It wasn’t that easy to pull one’s punches. And why should he? If his punch was deadly, so be it. And when it was done, he’d climb in this car and drive off, and no one would be any wiser. He laughed. Already the car had been almost on top of them and they hadn’t noticed it. The fat man was right. It was as advertised.
Lonnie unlocked the apartment door and tossed her keys in the bowl. “Hey buntlings, Mumsy’s home,” she called. The two children dropped everything and ran to where she was dropping to one knee in the entry. They threw themselves into her arms and she cuddled them thoroughly, their sometimes evening ritual. From the kitchen Ruby called for everyone to wash up, it was time for dinner.
After supper, Lonnie drove off to karate class and the man followed but did not pull into the parking lot. It was filled with students ready for their night’s session. Instead he parked on a side street and waited, the glow from his cigarette consciously hidden from view.
“Hey, Peg,” Lonnie called to the brunette. “Wait up.” The two women walked toward the dojo together. Peg was a few inches shorter than Lonnie and her hair, while dark, was not quite as dark. Her eyes were also blue, but they were a lighter blue. Considering the similarity in size and coloring, the two did not look that much alike.
“Remember that girl, uh, I think her name was Judith?” Lonnie asked.
“Is she here?” Peg eagerly looked around.
“No. I was just wondering if you’d run into her again. She was really something. And I got the feeling she was pretty impressed with you.” Lonnie waggled her brows with a rakish grin.
Peg sighed. “Naw. I guess you could say I’m moving on..” “...again” added under her breath.
“So you’re going to blow her off then?”
Peg laughed. “Hard to blow off someone who doesn’t return or make further contact. Besides,” she looked at her feet. “Ann and Christie suggested I put an ad in the meet and greets, and I did.” She grinned sheepishly. “Got a couple replies already. Not her, but interesting prospects. Ladies I’ve made coffee dates with. Nothing serious, you understand. Just potential java friendships.”
“Yeah, well, c’mon. I’ll put you through a workout that’ll make you totally forget your love life.”
“What love life?”:
“See. It’s working already.”
She heard the apartment door close but didn’t hear Lonnie walk down the hall. Ruby stepped out of the master bath, through the bedroom and into the hall.
“Lonnie,” she called softly. There was no reply. Why had their apartment door shut then?
She checked the children’s room on her way to the kitchen. They were asleep as they should be. This was strange. She called a little louder, “Lonnie? Are you here?”
“In here,” Lonnie replied, looking up.
Gods, Bethy’s upset in the store today has made me jumpy. Ruby looked in the living room and sighed in relief. There was the brunette kneeling on the floor, examining Robby’s toy truck.
“What are you doing?,” Ruby asked, “We’re supposed to try on our new clothes. If I have to adjust anything, I have to have time to do it before the dinner tomorrow night.”
“Uh, yeah, okay,”Lonnie looked up with a large happy grin. “Did you see this thing, Rube? Look, the bed flips up and you can dump stuff out. The tailgate opens and out it comes. The steering wheel turns the wheels and the doors open and shut and you can even make it dump with this little inside control. And the horn works.” She reached to hit the button, but Ruby quickly inserted, “Don’t wake the children.”
“I won’t. Neat, huh?” Lonnie looked over inquisitively.
“Yes, but it belongs to Rob, honey. If you want a new toy, you have to save your allowance.”
“Killjoy,” Lonnie laughed, hopping up. “It’s really cool.” .
“I don’t know if they say cool anymore, sweetheart,” Ruby headed to the back bedroom.
Lonnie followed, taking a long look back, “I, uh, I want one, Ruby,” she whispered.
Ruby looked at her with a smile. “Robby said you did.”
“Badly,” Lonnie added in case Ruby was discounting what she was saying.
“Your daughter said that about you, too.”
Lonnie was extra quiet as they entered the bedroom. Ruby turned with a half laugh. “Don’t pout. I’ll look for another one the next time we go back,”
“Oh, good,” a smile turned up Lonnie’s lips. “We’ll need them when we go to the beach next month. “Okay, let’s try on our new party duds.”
Ruby shook her head. What was it about items with moving parts that fascinated this woman so? Lonnie was happier fixing the huge printing machines at work than the people they hired to fix them. And better at it, too. Even the head man, Benny, preferred having her fix them. They stayed fixed longer after she’d worked them over.
Ruby eyed Lonnie. She was a multifaceted woman, a natural beauty, but not just on the surface. Though heaven knows, a tall woman with jet black hair, blazing blue eyes and a figure to challenge Greece’s ancient goddesses was striking no matter what. Yet here was a woman who held her own in a male-dominated office, kicking behind to get things done, then she could turn right around and use her feminine charm with clients over lunch. Then again when they went to the beach Lonnie could play in the sand with the children for hours on end. They built roads and castles for Bethy’s dolls. Sometimes Ruby helped, but usually she sat back watching, sun-bathing, reading literature for her one night class and, sometimes, a trashy romance as well.
Lonnie became a romantic when just the two of them strolled along the water’s edge in the evenings when they had a baby-sitter. That was a magical time. Every facet of this brunette settled in Ruby’s heart with a depth she had never thought possible. They say you get restless after seven years. But here’s my partner, the love of my life and each year while it’s true there is more familiarity, it just makes everything better. Six years later and being with Lonnie is every bit as overpowering a feeling as when we first met, only now it’s an even more comfortable feeling.
“Here honey, try on yours first.” Ruby kept her hands to herself as Lonnie pulled off her tee shirt and pulled on the new top. With Lonnie any touch while they were alone could derail what they were doing and Ruby didn’t have much time to get their clothes ready for the next night. “Fits good,” Ruby muttered. Lonnie moved her arms. There were no restrictions. She had lots of room. The blonde had Lonnie stand quietly while she checked the shoulders and sleeves.
Lonnie stared at Ruby, “Gods, you smell good.”
“Hold still.” The top fit well, and Lonnie looked sexy as heck in it. Ruby needed to change the subject, or she wouldn’t find out what changes she needed to make. “How was class? Peg there?”
Lonnie looked away. “Yes. And it was her ad. Unfortunately, Judith wasn’t there.”
“Oh, that’s a shame. Okay, my turn.” Ruby stepped in the bathroom to change so Lonnie would be surprised with the total effect. She smoothed the soft, clinging fabric along her hips. The color of the dress harmonized with the green of her eyes while the dress itself emphasized every curve. She chuckled to herself, Lonnie would go crazy wondering if she was wearing underwear or not. Slowly she stepped out, backlit by the bathroom light. “Tell me what you think.” One hand out, the other holding a handful of hair up, she turned in place.
“Sure, babe. You really....whoa.” Lonnie stood with the top she had just pulled off still in her hands. Her eyes swept Ruby’s enticing body. The dress fit like a glove. “Zowie,” she breathed. “C’mere.” She dropped her top on the bed, her eyes savoring the impending feel of Ruby’s fabulous body pressed against her own. Her stomach knotted. She moved suggestively towards the small woman. One arm slipped around Ruby’s waist, her lips moved to Ruby’s neck. “You are gorgeous,” she said huskily. Her hand stroked slowly down Ruby’s back, “What’s under there? Anything?”
“Mommy.” Bethy called from the children’s bedroom. “I had a bad dream.”
Ruby sprang from Lonnie’s grip and hurried out of the room to the children’s room. She settled on Bethy’s bed and stroked the little girl’s blonde hair. “Tell Momma about your dream, honey, but don’t wake your brother, okay?” She glanced toward the other side of the room but could only see the dresser drawers blocking the view of his side.
“There was a big monster,” Bethy shivered. “He was scary. And he was going to get me.”
Ruby kissed her small daughter’s forehead then stroked her cheek. “Don’t worry, honey, Mumsy and I won’t let any monsters get you. Do you want me to get you a drink of water? Then we can come up with something you can dream about that will give you sweet dreams.”
Bethy’s voice was unsure, “Okay.” Her eyes became heavy. “Your dress is pretty, Mommy.”
Ruby had forgotten she had it on. “Thanks, baby.” Her mother rose slowly and worriedly went to get her small daughter a glass of water.
Lonnie sat on their bed. The joys of parenthood. Sure could knock the heck out of spontaneity. But she wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. She quickly pulled her tee shirt on, grabbed the flashlight and moved into the children’s room. When Ruby came back with the water, Lonnie was on her hands and knees with the flashlight while Bethy was leaned over the edge of the bed. Both were looking under the bed. “See, no monsters there, sweet pea,” Lonnie grinned, moving the light to illuminate every shadowed spot, “and none in the closet either.”
Bethy took some sips from the glass of water her mother had brought, then nestled back into bed. “You wouldn’t let a monster hurt us, would you, Mumsy?” she asked.
“No, I certainly wouldn’t.” Lonnie straightened the covers. “That’s why I go to karate and why your Momma is going to start classes. It’s fantastic conditioning and we don’t ever have to worry about monsters. How about if I sit here beside you on your bed and sing you our goodnight song while you go back to sleep and dream about wonderful pictures you’ll draw for Grandma and Grandpa? Maybe you can show them a game you played in school today.”
“Or a book I read in group,” Bethy had learned to read in kindergarten. Now that she was in the first grade, she was proud of her reading skill and was called on often to read in class. She yawned. She slipped her small hand into Lonnie’s as Lonnie’s voice softly started the tune. Within minutes the six-year old’s eyes grew very heavy, then closed as the child fell asleep with much better dreams on the horizon. Lonnie softly placed the small hand outside the cover, kissed her daughter’s forehead, stepped across the room with Ruby to check on their sleeping son, and both she and Ruby left the room.
“You think it was the guy at the store today that you were telling me about that scared her?” Lonnie asked. “Bethy doesn’t have many bad dreams. In fact, I can’t remember the last time she had a bad dream that woke her up.”
“I don’t know,” Ruby chewed her lip. “I never did see a man. But something upset her.”
He leaned against an alder across the street out of the stream of the streetlights, the moving flicker from his cigarette dancing in the dark as it left his lips. He had been there since the brunette had gotten home. Okay, Poppa, he conceded, soon you can quit your bellyaching. Those untold profits you say we’ll make by moving the plant overseas, okay, I’ll do it. And no, we’re not facing ruin here because of rumors that your worthless son is a slacker, a drug addict and a wife beater. Going to the gym doesn’t make me a slacker. And so what if I do a little Angel dust or get to smoking wet sometimes? It makes me relax, and I can quit anytime I want. And as for a wife beater, I told you, I’ve squelched that crap. She’s not going to be letting you see any bruises that you can bitch about. Besides, you’ve knocked mother around for years. What about that? He took a drag of his cigarette. Maybe he should be smoking wet now. Thinking of his father always made him so unsettled. No, he couldn’t. He’d left the killer weed in the Mercedes.
The lobby of the building across the street was surprisingly busy for the time of night. Too much trouble trying to get in there, he scowled. He’d considered it,. Outside doors kept locked and the desk always manned. Getting in would be hard enough, but escape would be almost impossible. No, there’s better places. Besides, everything’s set. Soon my job here will be done, he grinned. Then I might even let Debbie get pregnant. That’ll shut everybody up.
He didn’t want children. Never had. Didn’t like them. It was hard enough teaching a wife to be dutiful to her husband. This one bruised so damn easily. That was what caused all his problems. Not like his first wife, Nicole. Now she never should have left him. He shouldn’t have let her. Maybe one day he’d take care of that, but,..he took a last draw from his cigarette...first things first.
Deciding they’d gone to bed , the man climbed into the grey car and ground out his cigarette. He headed for the metro parking lot at the entrance to the Gorge. He’d use the fast trolley to double back to the posh restaurant where he’d left his sports car. He could drive to his fancy lodging an hour further down into the Gorge and come back to the city early the next morning. He’d bring nondescript clothes with him. Tomorrow night...his pulse quickened. How long he’d waited! So many satisfying blows. So many broken bones. He rubbed his hands together. They’d wear his mark for life, if they didn’t end up dead to start with. His lip curled into a sneer. He didn’t really care which.
The whole family piled into the car in the morning. Ruby carefully scanned the parking lot.
“What is it, hon?” Lonnie asked quietly, not wanting to upset the children. “Still thinking about what we talked about?”
Seeing nothing troublesome, Ruby shrugged. “No, nothing.” Lonnie first checked the children’s seat belts as Ruby climbed into the driver’s seat, then climbed in herself. Carefully the blonde drove them out of the parking lot and onto the main street up the hill. The man was on a different side street and followed, but had to let himself slip further and further back in the traffic because the young girl kept turning back to see behind them.
Damn little bastard. What’s with that little bitch? He didn’t like either kid, but his grievance wasn’t with the children. Though he didn’t really care if they got hurt, too.
He thought back to when he’d been to the condo with Nicole, and had seen that girl as a tiny baby. What had they expected? He knew the truth and had rightly pronounced the kid a bastard. His eyes turned to ice crystals. They’d caught him off guard. Nikki hadn’t paid nearly enough for that fiasco. And payment was long overdue. One day he’d go after that Nyri broad since she seemed to be the only one who knew where Nikki was.
He snorted and lit another cigarette. There was much to atone for, his ex-wife Nikki and those two. But mostly that tall black haired bitch...she’d know his wrath. He’d not be caught off guard again.
Lonnie got out at work. Ruby headed the car toward school. She parked in front and walked both children into the building returning with Robby. The place was surrounded with busily moving parents and children. Tons of people watching at a school. He drove by her car when she was inside then moved up and crossed the main street to wait.
“Right on schedule,” he remarked as Ruby drove to the main street and signaled to turn. “Going home.” His knowledge of their routine was powerful. It was almost like he was controlling them. He followed three cars behind. Only she didn’t drive home. Instead she drove to the grocery store. “He’s got this schedule fucked up.” Irately the man tossed the pages across the seat, then calmed himself. “Easy. No problem I can’t handle.” He parked in the back of the store’s lot. She carried the boy inside and placed him in the child seat of a grocery cart.
“It’s like I’m invisible,” he declared with glee as mother and son disappeared inside the store. He checked his watch. “Time to set up my alibi.” He’d get his Mercedes, drive to the resort in the Gorge and check out. They’d remember what time he left. His sports car would be packed and ready for his trip home. He’d repark closer to Portland, change clothes and ride the trolley to get the gray car. Tonight when the deed was done, he’d leave this clunker, catch the trolley to his sports car, drop those clothes in a dumpster and drive to Spokane. By the time the police started checking for grey cars, if they ever did, the clunker would be long gone and so would he. It would be predawn when he arrived in Spokane. He’d sneak home. His current wife would swear he’d been there with her by one this afternoon. She’d better, if she knew what was good for her.
The silver grey car and its smoking occupant was waiting on a side street from the bus stop that evening as Lonnie and Ruby prepared for their night out. His heart was pounding in anticipation. He’d allow himself one killer weed within an hour of the event. No more than that. Being buzzed both made him feel peaceful and invincibly strong at the same time, numb but thinking clearly. He couldn’t afford to get wasted. It had taken him too long to get everything perfect. He didn’t want his legs turned to jello by some fry stick. Nor did he want to feel so heavy that he couldn’t move. He needed to be on top of his game to put them both at the bottom of their existence.
The elegant design of the dress clung deliciously to Ruby’s curves leaving one alabaster shoulder bared and drawing attention to the full bust, small, flat waist, and exquisitely curved hips. Two children later and Ruby had a figure like this. It had not been an easy task. The skirt dropped to one heel but rose with engineered finesse in its uneven length, allowing alluring glimpses of a well-turned ankle and enticing calf before dropping down again.
“Let’s just go to the Hilton and get a room,” Lonnie whispered to Ruby as the blonde put on her earrings in their bedroom. “We have a baby-sitter.” Lonnie was careful not to get so close that she mussed Ruby’s elegant hair style.
“Behave,” Ruby warned. Once both children were sound asleep the night before, the candlelight and closed hook on their bedroom door had been a good idea. Ruby smiled. She had finally modeled the dress for Lonnie. Oh yeah, I’m going to get lots of mileage from this dress.
Mrs. Nelson was in the living room getting ready to read the children a story. She sat on the couch, one child on either side of her.
In the bedroom Ruby cast a pleased look and pulled a little on Lonnie’s top to straighten it although it was already straight. “Oh, honey, that makes your eyes look so blue.”
“That’s it, we’re getting a room,” Lonnie whispered passionately. “Repeat performance.”
“Easy, girl,” Ruby chuckled, then flashed Lonnie a knowing look as she called, “Okay, Mrs. Nelson, we’ll be at the Hilton ballroom downtown. We should be home about midnight. I have all the numbers written right by the phone, including our cell phone.”
“All right, my dear,” the older woman called to them then added as they walked out into view, “My granddaughter’s coming over later to join us. My, you two look like belles of the ball. Would you like me to take your picture?”
“Please,” Lonnie posed next to Ruby while the shot was taken. Then both women moved to kiss their children good night. Ruby had them fed and freshly bathed, in their pajamas.
“You look like a princess, Momma,” Bethy breathed, then her lip quivered. It had always been hard for Bethy when Ruby left her with anyone other than Lonnie or her grandparents. She liked Mrs. Nelson and her granddaughter, though, which made the parting easier.
“Thank you, baby,” Ruby kissed her daughter. “Sing Robby our goodnight song if he has trouble going to sleep, okay? Mrs. Nelson’s granddaughter’s coming by. Be sure to show her Princess. She hasn’t met Princess yet. Be Momma’s big girl, okay?” Her daughter nodded solemnly, trying to keep tears from falling.
Chewing her lip herself, Ruby moved on to her son, gently squeezing his cheeks to kiss him. He kissed an enthusiastically wet return three-year-old kiss. “G’night, Mommy.”
“You be good, too, handsome,” she smiled, “Do what Mrs. Nelson says.” He nodded.
“Don’t forget to tell Mrs. Nelson there’s ice cream in the freezer, sweetheart,” Lonnie told Bethy, bending down for a kiss. “Remind her we sometimes have a small dish after a good book.”
“I will Mumsy,” the young girl said. “You look pretty.” She held up her doll, “Princess says she loves you and Mommy and wishes you weren’t going.”
“Tell Princess Mommy and I love you too. So very much. And we’ll be home before you know it.” She turned to her son, “We love you, too, tiger. Be good, okay?” The small boy reached up and put little arms around her neck along with planting a sloppy kiss on her face.
“I will Mumsy.”
“Promise?” Lonnie pulled away to look him warily in the eye. If someone was going to misbehave, he was usually the culprit.
“Yep,” their son acknowledged.
“Good boy,” Lonnie ruffled his light brown hair, leaned toward Bethy and said to the doll, “Good night, Princess. Make sure Bethy and Robby get to bed on time and that they leave some ice cream for Mumsy and Momma when we get home. She looked at Ruby chewing her lip and wasn’t sure who had the hardest time parting, Bethy or Ruby. “C’mon, Rube. Let’s get this boring political speech over with so we can come back home. G’night all.” She took Ruby’s shawl and they headed out.
“Well, well, dressed to kill,” the man scoffed as they exited the building, “for real.” He laughed at his joke. Though it was past normal dinner time, spring meant it was still light outside and would be longer. The condo was busy inside and out. Hateful eyes followed the two as they headed to their car. “Too bad you’ll have to bleed all over your fancy clothing.” He stubbed out his cigarette and checked his watch. His eyes closed in anticipation. “Almost zero hour.” He felt flutters of excitement in his stomach. Six long years of preparation was about to pay off!
Lonnie and Ruby entered the lobby of the downtown Hilton Hotel. Escalators moved endlessly to the next floor but they went to the bank of elevators. Their destination was many floors up. The brass inside the elevator car shone like mirrors, and the reflection of Ruby caused Lonnie to stare. She looks just like a movie star on Oscar night. And last night...her pursed lips formed a quirky grin.
“What?” the blonde asked softly as other patrons climbed into the lift with them. From their clothing it was obvious they were all going to the same floor.
“You look exquisite,” Lonnie said quietly. “Just think, maybe this will be our last time out as condo owners.” That was a hopeful thought, though they loved their apartment. They hadn’t received a reply from their bungalow offer yet but they hoped it would be accepted. They both stopped talking as the others were obviously listening.
A patron in a tuxedo pushed the button, and the elevator rose to the ballroom floor high above the city. The room was clad in wall to wall windows and filled with large round tables covered with white tablecloths and swanky dinner settings. Outside the sun was setting as lights began to come on lighting the downtown and east side for miles around, adding tiny points of glitter to the gathering shades of crimson. The snow on the mountain top rising in the blue distance echoed the glow of the deepening orange-red dusk.
“Red at night, sailor’s delight,” Lonnie whispered. They watched in awe as the skies put on an impressive show. That nautical ditty happened to hold true for this part of the country. The next day would most likely be beautiful. They checked Ruby’s shawl then got in line to be seated.
As the outside darkened, shards of glittering candlelight from a beautiful crystal candle holder on each table danced off the crystal wine and water glasses at each setting. Everything was elegant.
Democratic or Republican fund-raiser? Lonnie decided to read the ticket more carefully. She hadn’t even bothered to check until now. It wasn’t unusual for their shop to contribute to both parties. She found the name on the ticket. The speaker honored at this dinner was to be the Republican Senator, unlike the other who was a Democrat and not in attendance. Lonnie wondered if she and Ruby were the only attendees not from the GOP.
The grey-haired Senator was a bear of a man. He stood smiling and glad-handing everyone that swarmed around him, pounding the men soundly on the back as he shook their hands and gripping the women’s elbows with one hand as he gave a quick, firm squeeze to their hand with the other. He was not a man to allow any appearance of weakness.
Lonnie noticed that Salem’s Republican minions were well represented and wondered if anyone would be interested in her opinion of the current discussion regarding universal health care or public schools. She decided they wouldn’t. They certainly wouldn’t be interested in her thoughts on gay rights since this party had come into power on a platform firmly lambasting gays.
Many years ago when she had turned 21, politics in Oregon had not been all that wrapped up in parties. The citizenry seemed more bourgeois then, what a person stood for being much more important than the party they represented. Then the Gore/Bush election rolled around and the political world forever after, it seemed, became firmly divided. Now at 33 she noted sadly that politics was no longer the friendly rivalry it had once been.
She looked around. Lots of the super wealthy in attendance. Mostly she disagreed with their politics yet here they were, a gay couple about to be seated in a big-time fund-raising dinner for a Republican candidate. Why send us to something like this? Half the time she couldn’t figure out what their head office in L.A. must be thinking. She sighed. It must be part of her being “management.” She scanned the large room. Didn’t look like there’d be any empty tables. The GOP must feel very confident about retaining the seat. Ah well, it’s a free meal.
Given an escort, the two stepped behind the guide into the main dining area and instantly felt the attention of many eyes on them. Ruby particularly raised quite a stir when almost every eye went to the gorgeous blonde in that glove-like dress. She had all the right curves to do the dress justice.
She stayed close to Lonnie, feeling the confidence Lonnie seemed to exude in such situations. A number of eyes wandered to the tall beauty with the long black hair and exquisite bearing. Lonnie moved with a graceful stride and smiled back at those she saw looking their way as they worked around the tables toward their assigned seats.
Then Lonnie’s eye lit upon a face from her past. She sucked in a breath. The dinner had not even started yet, and the woman appeared to be well on her way to being loaded. She looked overdone with heavy make-up and a dress that was expensively cheap. It was hard to tell if she was with the man seated beside her or the woman on the other side. She hung all over both.
“What?” Ruby asked as they moved slowly through the room.
“Back table by the window on the left,” Lonnie said softly. “Cheryl.”
Ruby’s eyes flew to the area and settled on the woman. She worked to keep a soft smile from spreading on her face. So this is what that young beauty had turned into, the one who had gone with Lonnie before her and who had threatened to steal Lonnie back when Ruby was an eight month pregnant blimp. Now, six years later Cheryl just looked...puffy and alcoholic.
For a second their eyes met and Ruby looked away. They didn’t need any interference from a drunk ex-girlfriend.
“Makes me wonder why I was ever interested,” Lonnie whispered as they walked.
“Just what I was thinking,” Ruby agreed. She walked with more confidence and noted the appreciative eyes following her. Why had she ever felt threatened? But she knew why. That was a whole different time and place. She wrapped her hand over Lonnie’s arm so there would be no question of who had won. Maybe it’s juvenile, Ruby thought, but it still feels good.
“Oh, going too fast? Sorry.” Lonnie slowed and made sure they arrived together.
There were six people at each table. Seated next to Lonnie was Representative Max Ripples and next to him, his wife, Ava. They were a couple in their early sixties. Max was an elected Representative serving at the state legislature in Salem. His politics were ultra ultra conservative.
Next to Ruby was Georgia Manningham and next to her, her husband, Victor. They were perhaps in their early forties. Georgia was a businesswoman who ran a chain of small greeting card stores. Her husband was a salesman in the computer field. She had a delightful sparkle in her eyes. Lonnie hoped she might have a good sense of humor.
Lonnie and Ruby both smiled widely as they arrived. Everyone made their introductions. The two ladies got seated while Ava raised her brow at the fact that both Lonnie and Ruby had the same last name. “You don’t look at all like sisters,” she smiled politely, leaning slightly in front of her husband to speak to them. His attentions were wandering around the room, no doubt wondering what important personages he should be sure not to miss before the evening ended.
“No, we’re not,” Ruby said cordially in return. “Part...” she started to say before her remark was overshadowed by the squeal of a nearby party greeting dear old friends. All eyes flicked with amusement to the nearby table then back to Ruby. They did not hear the “ners,” she added.
“Yes, of course,” Ava said, not understanding in the least.
They hadn’t been seated more than two minutes before Cheryl and the woman beside her came their way, headed, ostensibly for the bar. “Why if it isn’t Lonnie from long ago,” Cheryl said with a sneer as they pulled up behind them. Lonnie had to turn in her seat to see the woman she had once dated. “Still the big fish in the little pond, Lonnie? And little Ruby. From the blimp I remember, you clean up well.”
Lonnie almost...almost replied that Cheryl didn’t, but instead she smiled gallantly and rose. “Nice to see you again, Cheryl,” she lied politely. Trying to draw the woman’s attention away from Ruby, she took Cheryl’s hand and shook it then released it immediately. “And this is?” she smiled sweetly at the woman behind Cheryl and stretched out her hand.
“That’s Naomi,” Cheryl said without looking back. Instead her eyes stayed on Ruby and there was no friendliness of any kind in them.
Naomi shook Lonnie’s hand then apparently being very familiar with Cheryl’s moods, she took the woman’s elbow and pushed her along. “You’ll have to excuse us, we’re headed to the bar before this shindig starts.” She smiled and moved the slightly reluctant woman along. Lonnie was surprised that Cheryl didn’t complain more, but she didn’t.
Lonnie sat back down, but not before Georgia had a chance to thoroughly examine the two ladies now making their way to the bar. She was very familiar with the family, and had heard stories about the Representative’s “hell-raising” daughter who had, it was said, been told to tone it down or lose any access to daddy’s fortune. Word was, Naomi and those with her had calmed down considerably.
“Keep a watch of the time,” Georgia said to her husband. The lady storeowner turned to the others, “We have to call the sitter about midway. You know how it is when you have children.”
“Yes,” Ruby smiled in reply.
“Do you have children, my dear?” Max asked, his attention whipping back to the table. He was not a politician to ignore his civilized duties, especially since he discovered he had two of the most beautiful woman in the room at his table, and neither was his wife.
“Yes,” Ruby replied, pulling up her purse and digging out her pictures. She hesitated, “If you don’t mind, I have pictures.” Everyone chuckled politely. “This is our daughter, Bethy. She’s six. And this is our son, Robby. He’s three.” She passed the pictures past Lonnie to Max, who passed them to his wife Ava before they were returned and Georgia asked to see them.
“Cute children,” Georgia smiled, handing them back. Victor had taken a quick glance on their way, but kids were not a main interest of his.
Georgia immediately caught on to the situation. A mischievous smile sat on her face. This evening might be less boring than I thought, she mused. Mr. Super Conservative next to a lesbian couple. Strange bedfellows, as they say. Just might enliven the prospects of a pretty staid evening.
The waiters came with bread, wine and the appetizer, a medley of some kind with an unpronounceable French name, not much substance but a lot of taste. Lonnie silently noted that you got free wine when you paid the big bucks for your dinner. They began to eat, being careful to work their forks from the outside in.
“What school do you have your children in?” Max asked Ruby politely, putting a bite of the mystery food in his mouth. “It’s so hard to get into the better private schools these days.”
This was a pet peeve of Lonnie’s, since the city’s public schools had been among the highest rated in the nation until literally being gutted by Republican efforts to slash funding. She leaned forward, “Bethy’s in public school,” she replied. “We believe in the concept of public education.”
Surprised to have the brunette answer for the blonde, Max replied,“Uh, yes, of course,” He smiled with a legislative bearing. “We all believe in education, of course. The major portion of our budget goes to that fund. And do you have children, too?” he asked Lonnie cordially.
Georgia had the look of the cat that swallowed the canary. Oh yes, this is gonna get good. She folded her hands in her lap and waited with an air of great expectation. Her husband Vic ate and looked around with a bored expression.
“Yes,” Lonnie replied. “This,” she pointed to Ruby’s pictures still on the table between them, “is my daughter, Beth, and this is my son, Rob.” Georgia’s face broke into a huge smile. Oh, wait till the light blinks on.
But at that moment another large noisy group were about to be seated. They looked over to see a powerful House leader and his party at the entrance. Max politely excused himself and rushed over with others from the room to greet the man and his guests. His wife Ava held her fork mid air, completely lost. “Wait,” she said, “You can’t both be their mothers.”
Good girl, Georgia encouraged Ava silently. Give it your full thought now. Think about it.
“Yes,” Lonnie answered politely, “We are.”
“Really?” Ava sat back to quietly eat her appetizer and digest that nugget of information.
Georgia chuckled softly then dug out her own pictures when it became apparent that Ava was not going to take the issue further. “Here’s our three,” Georgia passed her picture with a savvy smile, showing their three boys. Everyone looked at it and smiled in return, but it was evident that Ava was still mulling over the other. Max returned but was once again letting his gaze wander the room.
What were left of the appetizers were whisked away. The salad course, grilled pears with something green, a greenish dressing and topped with smoked cheddar was served next. The bread was passed around and everyone took a roll to accompany their salad surprise.
Lonnie felt a soft hand on her shoulder. “Lonnie. I thought I recognized you.” The stunning young woman had moved to the space between Lonnie and Max. Lonnie twisted in her seat. Ruby looked over but didn’t recognize the cultivated and poised blonde. Everyone at the table was now watching.
“Judith,” Lonnie grinned. “Hi.” The brunette started to rise.
“Hi, stay put,” Judith replied then added hopefully, “I don’t suppose Peg is here tonight?” Her voice was so soft the people next to Lonnie could not quite make out what she was saying.
“No, afraid not, but let me introduce my..”
Max stood with a flourish, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the Senator’s lovely youngest daughter, Judith. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you, young lady,” he boomed reprovingly. “I heard you were on your way back from D.C.” He reached his hand out and grabbed the young woman’s hand. “You remember my wife, Ava.” He was obviously pleased to have such an important person stop at his table. “And this is Mr. and Mrs. Manningham.” Both Georgia and her husband smiled a greeting. “Next to Mrs. Manningham is Mrs., what was it dear?” he asked Ruby.
“Shaeker,” Ruby replied, smiling. “Nice to meet you.”
“And, of course, you know Lonnie.” He passed right over the brunette, not letting go of Judith’s hand the whole time. “Now you tell your father that we’re counting on him to get some important legislation passed in Congress this term. There’s no reason to put it off. They have the numbers. And we and the Christian Coalition are all pulling for him.”
“Yes, uh,” Judith slipped her hand away, “it’s good to see you again, Representative Ripples. She smiled at the table. And it was nice to meet all of you.” Her hand dropped to Lonnie’s shoulder. “Perhaps I’ll see you back in class before long.” Then she said in a more intimate manner to Max, “I really must get back or I’ll be missed. You understand. I’ll tell father we talked.”
“Harumph,” Max roared, “You do that!” His chest pressed forward in his tux. He wanted the room to see that he was intimately familiar with the Senator’s family and therefore must have the Senator’s ear. “Tell him what I said now.”
“I will. Good night all,” Judith gave a perfunctory wave, turned and headed to her father’s table.
Max seated himself with a sense of grandeur. “Yes, well, harumph, harumph, we’ve known their family for years, haven’t we Ava?”
Ava looked up from her meal with surprise. Her thoughts had been elsewhere. She smiled her political smile. “Of course, dear.” Her eyes circled the table then fell on Ruby and Lonnie. Wrinkles formed on her brow as she went back to trying to sort through what they had said.
The main course...beef with a fancy name, a small serving of mashed potatoes with a fancy topping, and some French sliced vegetables...was served, complete with a third half-glass of a completely different wine.
“So,” Max’s voice was deep and loud, “you have a class with the Senator’s daughter?” he looked at Lonnie with a little more interest.
“Yes, an advanced class in karate,” Lonnie replied, then tried the beef. “This isn’t bad.”
“Karate? Oh, my,” Ava looked with shock at her husband.
“Modern women, dear,” he said aside to his wife. “They use something like that for exercise, to keep in shape. I suppose it helps them find a good, physically fit prospect for a husband.”
“Oh,” Ava said. “Of course.” Georgia watched with the hint of a grin on her face. She could hardly wait for the break out moment when everything became crystal clear to the older couple.
“You’d better not drink it,” Ruby said in a whisper to Lonnie, indicating the wine, “This is the third wine and you’re driving.”
Lonnie took only a small sip before putting it down. She wanted to experience what it tasted like. She found it very smooth. “Smooth,” she said, and Ruby agreed.
Lonnie leaned back. So Judith is the Senator’s daughter. And she IS interested in Peg. I knew my gaydar was working that night she came to class. She looked around and noticed that Cheryl and Naomi were back at their table with what must have been the rest of Naomi’s highly political family. I hope they stay over there. We really don’t need a big scene, especially in front of Judith. Peg would never forgive me.
Noticing that the recalcitrant Victor appeared bored out of his tree, Lonnie asked him what he did for a living.
“I work for a company that sells computer parts.” He smiled politely.
“Not Hadley K. Simon’s company, is it? Computer Realm Super Plus?” Lonnie asked. They did all the printing work for Hadley K. Simon’s company.
“Yes,” he replied, giving her a little more attention. “Do you know them?”
“Yes,” Lonnie said. “We do their printing for them.”
“Wait a minute,” he put his fork down. “Lonnie? Is that what you said your name was?”
“That’s right,” Lonnie smiled.
“I’m Vim.” he exclaimed. Seeing her slightly puzzled look he added, “My middle name is Irwin. V. I. M., get it?”
“Oh, for crying out loud. Small world, huh? I must talk to you from work at least once a week.”
“I know,” Victor chuckled. “Hey, I loved the work you guys did on our catalog. It was perfect.” And you’re a beauty! Next time I’ll insist on seeing you personally instead of lunching with your sales rep like I always do.
“Thanks,” Lonnie smiled. “That project was all mine. Hey, what’s that new memory item you’re offering. Something to do with handheld business planners? It looked intriguing.”
“Shop talk,” Georgia said in warning just under her breath to her husband, who rolled his eyes then smiled at his wife.
“Yes. It’s a frontier item out from one of our local startup companies. Imagine, it’s the size of a credit card holder and contains the complete local phone book in memory. It’s gonna be big for such a small item.” He grinned at his small pun. “I’ll call you the first of the week and tell you about it. It updates online whenever you want for a very small fee. And it contains a year’s planning days that can be changed out yearly then saved in perpetuity. To a point, of course.”
“Of course. What did they call it...a black book or something?” Lonnie was fascinated.
Victor looked at his wife who gave him a raised brow. “Uh, yes. It has some other unimpressive name but around the shop we call it The Little Black Book, based on what they used to call an address book with all a guy’s girlfriends’ phone numbers in it. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember. Only this one is electronic. All our sales staff carry them. The whole city directory’s in it plus any numbers you want to add. Anyway, I’ll call you about it.”
“Great.” Lonnie said. She turned to Ruby, “I’d love to have one of those,” she said softly.
If Lonnie got a third of all the things she said she wanted, she was lucky. “Before or after the dump truck?” Ruby asked just under her breath so only Lonnie could hear. She flashed a large warm smile and Lonnie poked her discretely for that comment.
“They sound very interesting,” Max said courteously, obviously not finding them the least bit interesting. Ava still sat mulling their relationship over.
The plates for their main meal were whisked away and the dessert was served...a gateau St. Something-or-other, which to Lonnie looked like a slice of flaky cake topped with whipped cream. A desert wine was served with it, and Lonnie figured they must be very positive the Senator would serve another term since they were putting plenty of their proceeds into the wine. She’d taken a taste of each and so far had found them all excellent.
“Mmm. Spend all your raised loot on wine and maybe the Senatorship gets stolen away by the Democrats,” Lonnie mumbled with particular satisfaction, unaware she had said anything out loud. Ruby glanced at her but said nothing.
“Not at all,” Georgia whispered, catching the tall brunette completely by surprise, ”the wine’s donated by the La Rue de Vintage Winery outside Salem. They get advertising plus a ton of potential wealthy customers this way.”
“Oh,” Lonnie was startled that anyone else had heard. She glanced wide-eyed at Ruby who smiled calmly back at her. Dang. I’m going to have to muzzle my thoughts. Once the surprise fell off, she took another sip and decided it wasn’t a bad way to make a buck. Donate, write it off, then reel in sales from the folks who can afford to buy a case if they wanted. You’ve gotta have a good product, though, or it wouldn’t work.
Once the dessert was served, the Senator stood, tapped his fork on his glass and greeted the audience like old friends, and, of course, many were old friends. He began his speech and Georgia poked her husband. “Baby-sitter,” she said, and he smiled and rose to make the call.
Wish we’d thought of that, Lonnie glanced at Ruby, She was without a doubt the most breathtaking woman in the room. The blonde’s hands were folded in her lap as she politely listened to the presentation. On the other side of Lonnie, Max had turned his chair away from the table toward the Senator, enthralled with every word of the man’s speech, his wife next to him still facing the table, contemplative.
I need to let Peg know about Judith. Wonder if I’d dare go make a call? Lonnie put her napkin on her plate. Besides, who wants to sit and listen to a political blowhard, even if he is Judith’s dad? Lonnie leaned over to Ruby and whispered, “Gonna check on the baby-sitter.”
Ruby looked back with concern, “Why?”
“Just because,” Lonnie whispered.
Max turned with a look of annoyance. “ Shhhh.”
Ruby nodded and Lonnie rose to quietly exit. Both Georgia and Ava looked Lonnie over carefully. Then Georgia’s attention went back to the Senator. Ava let her eyes go to Ruby instead. Ruby smiled then centered her eyes on the speaker. Finally Ava turned her chair to now view the speaker.
Lonnie hit the lobby with a sense of relief. She glanced into the bar and saw Victor sitting nursing a drink. “Hey, you snuck out, too,” he chuckled. “Gods, I can’t stand political dinners.”
“Why go, then?” Lonnie asked, sitting next to him. “Especially when they’re this pricey.”
“It’s good for my wife’s business. She’ll meet a lot of people when it’s over and you’d be surprised how helpful that can be. But we have an arrangement. I’ll accompany her if I get to slip out during the speeches. I’m, uh, not into politics.”
“This is a Republican soiree, so I assume you’re Republican.” Lonnie said.
“Oh, yeah, pretty much. Actually, I’m still old Oregon. I like to pick the person, not the party.”
“A more and more remote concept, but I know what you mean,” Lonnie replied. “My whole family’s Democrats, yet my boss insisted that we come tonight. Go figure.” Then she laid her fingers on his arm. “I really do have a call to make. Better go. Enjoy.” She got up to leave.
“Hey, that Ruby’s a knockout.” Vic’s eyes widened in appreciation as she stood. And so are you.
“I think so,” Lonnie grinned. “Bye, Vic. Or should I say Vim?”
“Get ready for a long one,” he added, taking a large slug from his drink.
“How so?” Lonnie paused. “The Senator noted for speaking for hours?”
“The Senator is only the first. Then they’re going to ask for impromptu’s from every important and unimportant politician here. You can bet every one of them has a little speech prepared in their pocket. It’s called rallying the troops. The faithful love it. Probably the same no matter what party it is. But for us unpolitical schmoes, it makes for a loooong night. Ah well, as long as the booze holds out.” Thinking about that, he ordered another drink and waved her goodbye.
Lonnie called Mrs. Nelson to see how everything was going. The children were both in bed asleep, She called Peg and got her machine. “Hey, Peg. This is Lonnie. Just thought you’d like to know. I just ran into Judith. She asked about you. She’s down here at the Hilton at the dinner fundraiser for Senator Matthews, who, are you sitting down, happens to be her father. I don’t think she’d dare answer a newspaper ad unless she knew who placed it. Maybe not even then. Gotta go. Bye.”
On her way back past the bar, Vic waved her in again.“Hey, don’t spread it around,” he said confidentially, “but I can get you one of those Little Black Books at a discount. Least I can do for a fellow sufferer.” He smiled and held up his drink in toast.
Lonnie smiled, “Thanks. That would be great.” Then with a grim smile she headed back to the table and sat down just as the Senator was finishing up. The room burst into enthusiastic applause.
“We, really have to get going,” Lonnie said to everybody, standing quickly. Ruby looked at her with surprise. “Our baby-sitter is older. Good night, everyone,” she smiled. “It’s been so nice meeting you all.” She helped Ruby get her purse and they headed to the coat check.
Many eyes in the room followed the handsome couple as they made their way out. The tall brunette was striking enough, but a good number were checking the back swing of the blonde in the gorgeous, formfitting dress, politics be damned.
“What’s going on, Lonnie?” Ruby asked worriedly. “Is there a problem?”
“Everything’s fine, hon,” Lonnie explained. “I found out every politician here is going to give a short political speech now.”
“Oh, well, I’m ready to go then.” They headed to the coat check to get Ruby’s shawl.
Ava’s eyes followed them out. During the short pause following the applause, Ava turned to Georgia and said, “Well, I think those two ladies were so nice. You just don’t see that kind of friendly relationship much today.”
Ava’s husband Max looked at her blankly. Obviously his mind was elsewhere. Momentarily stunned, Georgia blinked. She knew this particular politician was far right of right and had campaigned heavily against gay rights of any kind. She had imagined his wife shared his opinions. Ava must mean something else.
Wicked delight danced in Georgia’s eyes. “Is that right?”
The politician’s wife continued, “Oh, yes. Imagine the mother and stepmother both caring so much for those little children and being on such friendly terms with one another.”
“Mother and stepmother?” Georgia momentarily choked before chuckling began to overtake her.
“Yes. They said they were both the children’s mothers. And so friendly. Why, you’d think they were the most intimate of friends.”
“Just the feeling I got,” Georgia remarked, pressing her lips together hard to keep at bay the amusement that was bubbling up. She lost the battle, however and broke out into giggles. She grabbed her glass of water hoping to compose herself, but twinkles of delight danced refreshed from her eyes over the rim of the glass when she looked at Ava. She had to force her gaze elsewhere.
The politician now looked at his wife with confused interest.
Wonderment crossed the older woman’s face. “Sometimes you want to give up on humankind, then something like this happens and, well, it just seems to be the rainbow after the storm.”
“Oh most definitely the rainbow,” Georgia managed to get out, choking back outright laughter with forced coughs. Then she drew out a tissue to hide behind.
Max shushed everyone, another speech was beginning. He felt in his pocket. The cards with his notes were there. Georgia was the only one at the table right at the moment except his wife. He drew the cards out carefully, keeping them below the table on his wife’s side just to glance at them for a second or two to review his thoughts.
The powerful Oregon House Speaker from Salem finished his impromptu speech and the crowd again burst into applause. As it died down, Ava leaned over and whispered across the table to Georgia. “Blonde. Gotta be.”
Georgia dabbed her eyes, looking at the brown-haired Speaker just sitting down then at the woman’s husband, Max, whose balding gray hair had only hints of brown left in it. “Who?” she asked.
“Why the husband, of course. I’ve wondered about it all evening.”
Oh, my god! Georgia coughed and laughed into her tissue, drawing out another to wipe her eyes.
“Who?” Victor asked, now returning to the table and sitting at his place between Georgia and Ava.
“The husband,” Ava repeated. “That’s a bad cough you’re getting, Georgia.”
“Who’s husband?” Vic asked, looking around. Georgia clamped her mouth and giggled behind her tissue.
“Shhh,” Max said. The impromptu speeches were about to begin again.
Ava whispered, “It’s a shame he couldn’t be here tonight. He has an eye for the beauties. I’ll add his name to the summer conference list. Surely he can make that. Anyone that’s anyone will be there.”
“Whose name are you adding?” Max looked over with interest. Maybe this was someone he should know. “The summer conference you say?”
“Mr. Shaeker,” Ava said softly, turning toward the new speaker. “Shh.”
“Mr. Shaeker?” Vic murmured to himself then turned to whisper to his wife, “Why would she want to invite Lonnie’s father? From what she said, I think he’s a Democrat.”
Holding her hand over her mouth, his wife managed to half laugh, half cough out, “shhh.”
“I don’t think he even lives in Oregon,” Vic continued.
“It’s all right, shhh,” Georgia clamped her hands over her mouth but her body shook in laughter.
Another politician rose to speak but now Max pondered who was being invited to the summer conference. He looked quizzically around the table. “Who is invited to the summer conference?”
Georgia smiled at him and shook her head. She whispered, “He won’t be there. He isn’t anyone. Trust me.” With particular delight she added, “Shhh. Another speech is beginning.”
“Another speech?” Vic scowled, “I thought they were over. I’m going to the bathroom.” He rose to find further refuge in the bar.
“I didn’t know you knew him, Georgia,” Ava whispered, a touch miffed. “Well?”
“Well, what?” Georgia asked.
“Is he blonde? Didn’t you see the pictures of the children?”
Georgia began giggling again and had to excuse herself to go to the powder room as well.
“Georgia’s a strange woman,” Ava said to her husband.
“World’s full of ‘em,” he nodded, then caught himself, “But we can’t forget, they’re voters.”
Lonnie and Ruby moved out into the soft breeze of spring. Ruby pulled her shawl over her shoulders. Nighttime between events meant there weren’t many people walking along Broadway, just a few here and there, though the weekend vehicular traffic was heavy as always. Teenagers, particularly those ready-to-graduate teens, gunned their cars’ engines and honked their horns as they noisily dragged the well-known street. Starlight was totally subdued by the lights of popular theaters, department stores, hotels and restaurants that lined Broadway’s long stretch.
Their meal hadn’t been bad, and they congratulated themselves on leaving at the right time. Lonnie wrapped an arm around Ruby’s shoulders which the small blonde allowed. They walked up Broadway a couple blocks to the old theater, close to the parking garage their tickets had paid for. They laughed and chatted as they went. Lonnie snatched a glance at the reflection of Ruby’s behind in passing windows from time to time. Fabulous.
A solvent-like chemical smell hung in the air as the hooded man waiting across the street ground out his Sherm with his gym shoe. Properly dusted, he grinned. He reached down, pocketed the butt and crossed with the light to get behind them. His drug of choice was not used that often these days, though he’d heard that gang members sometimes took a hit to get pumped up before a drive by or other crime. He could see why. At first he felt a familiar numbness, a little like getting drunk, followed by a certain elation at being invincible. Though plenty strong on his own, the drug’s anesthetic effects made him immune to pain, convincing him that he was immortal.
His mind had begun steeped in anger. The effect of the drug welled that emotion as he knew it would and escalated it to rage as he trailed the women. Filled with aggression to start with, he felt he had now become Godlike, an unbeatable superpower. He caught the sway of Lonnie’s black hair as she moved. It reminded him of the stealth of a panther, and that agitated him even more. Kill the panther, sat in his convoluted mind.
Lonnie and Ruby turned down the side street to get to the parking garage. There were no alleys in downtown Portland except this one short alley behind the old theater, the one he had made sure they’d pass.
He slipped a ski mask over his head and pulled his hood back up though he was already sweating. He closed the distance then moved as though to pass them on the street side of the sidewalk, forcing them closer to the alley entrance. Both women glanced over just as he pushed them roughly into the alley entrance, growling as he did so. They stumbled and Lonnie had to grab Ruby to keep her from falling.
“Hey.” Lonnie yelled, barely keeping Ruby upright. Quickly she thrust the blonde behind her.
“Well, two dyke bitches,” the man in the mask growled, his words coming out much slower than he thought they were.
“Fire!” Lonnie yelled, “Fire!” If this was a hate crime, people who wouldn’t respond to “help” usually would to “fire!” The man laughed above the street noise. “Teenagers and their cars drown you out, freak.” He managed to burble it out but talking was getting to be difficult for him. The hooded figure’s sneer was lost under his mask. In the shadows he was bulky with muscles, a formidable appearance.
Kill the panther! Straight away he began to throw vicious punches all aimed at Lonnie’s face. Lonnie’s forearms flew up in defense, deflecting each aimed blow. She edged to the side, expeditiously whisking one arm up after the other, continuing to knock aside each punch. But she felt the power of his rerouted blows. They were strong and professional. She was momentarily thankful that he was on something that slowed his motions, but there was no doubt he was a trained boxer. He knew how to throw a punch. That worried her...a lot.
Though slowed, his pace left her little time to do anything but react. Fortunately, she was very skilled at repelling blows. She kicked off her dress flats as she defended, her blue eyes nearly luminous in the shadowy alley. Danger danced in their gaze. Suddenly he paused in place, his eyes beginning to bounce up and down then back and forth. It was so eerie both women momentarily stared at him in surprise.
This man weighed a hundred brawny pounds more than Lonnie did. And he had them backed into a shallow alley. His punches were professional but he was a little slow at protecting himself. Lonnie took advantage of the lull, curled her toes and threw a quick but hard kick to the groin, knowing if it landed, it would at the very least slow him down, at the most give them an opportunity to escape.
The blow struck with a satisfying thud. Surprisingly he showed no reaction at all other than to start back towards her with his punches. Good God, what’s he on? That would have doubled up any man. Growing fear chewed at her. She forced it away.
He threw a hard punch. Lonnie jumped back, pushing Ruby back with her. She couldn’t sacrifice her forearms to defending forever. She’d have to avoid any way she could. And I’ve gotta keep this monster away from Ruby. He could kill her with one well landed punch. “Stay behind me, hon.” Fatigue advanced quickly in Lonnie’s arms from the parrying she was forced to do. She threw a perfunctory kick aimed at his calf hoping to topple him, but he was not only powerful but surprisingly expert at keeping his balance. The leg reacted like steel. He didn’t even stumble.
Then she managed a power heel thrust again at his crotch, this time locking her leg for full power. Surely this would stop him. His defenses were a little faster this time, his hands blocking the blow as though he were swatting a fly. Straightening up to his full height, once more the man headed for her as though she had not landed a kick at all.
Lonnie’s eyes widened. “Keep back,” she advised Ruby softly, trying to hide any sign of fear that might escape through her voice. Her arms up in defense, he aggressively drove forward, throwing punches, forcing them both back. There was something familiar about him, although Lonnie knew she had never been up against an opponent with this kind of what? raw strength? lack of pain? unusual drive? Ruby had some self defense skills, but they were mostly designed to free her from holds, or for surprise flips. That wasn’t what was happening here. This man was trying to bash them into oblivion.
The alley was shallow and they were being pressed toward the dark back wall. Lonnie quickly put out an arm to guide Ruby to the side away from him. There were boxes with other dry trash on the side, however and Ruby found herself stumbling through it in her heels as he took advantage of Lonnie’s outstretched arm. Lonnie continually bobbed her head, but a punch careened off the side of her cheek. Both her arms rose again as she shook off the two-ton glancing blow, knowing a landed punch would certainly have downed her. Her mind raced. She had to stop him, but how? Nothing she had tried had even slowed him down. She was running short of room to maneuver and short of maneuvers that might stop him.
Then as though in a dream he seemed to notice Ruby. She was far enough away that he would overextend if he punched at the blonde, so he thrust a hard, reaching kick at her instead. Lonnie sent a sudden snap kick to his outstretched muscular leg diverting his wallop so that he only caught the blonde glancingly on her side. Still, Ruby was thrown to her knees amongst the trash, scraping along the cement surface and tearing the skirt of her dress.
“Are you all right?” Lonnie called worriedly, clenching her teeth and rapidly snapping another kick aimed at the man’s knee that in her enthusiasm landed a touch too high. Every leg hit felt like she was striking a brick wall. His boxer’s body was solid muscle. Lonnie had the height advantage but he had the muscular precedence. Something had to bring him down, but what? What? Certainly not being off target. Get centered, Lonnie reprimanded herself. You can’t afford misses. Calm and get centered.
“I’m okay,” Ruby replied shakily. Her knees were bleeding as were her hands. She tried to get up but her every motion seemed to attract this unpredictable beast whose eyes were still bouncing.
“Stay very still,” Lonnie shouted dancing amazingly close to him. Ruby froze. The man seemed to focus on Lonnie. She wanted his focus on her. “Rule one,”the brunette called, dancing swiftly before the man. He grabbed wildly at her this time and just missed. Rule one was get away. Ruby didn’t see how she could get past him, especially since every move she made seemed to draw his attention.
Compiling her energy for a life and death battle, Lonnie spun, faking an elbow to his face then landed a hard snap kick to his midsection, drawing a loud “oomph” from him before she quickly danced away trying to draw him further from Ruby. She fought panic. She knew how to land hard, disabling kicks. She was no weak sister. But after her hardest kicks he acted like she was not even touching him. That should have cracked his spine or at the very least left him unable to breathe for a minute or two. But he sucked a deep breath, only temporarily slowed.
Lonnie glanced hurriedly over at the blonde, debating whether she needed to try going to Ruby’s aid no matter what the risk, but the man lumbered forward cutting off her path. He pounded his chest and began another series of hard, professional punches that she barely avoided. Lonnie spun for a back kick to the groin that he tried to grab. He backed closer to Ruby. Lonnie backed up to draw him away. “C’mon sucker,” she taunted. It worked. He headed for Lonnie.
Ruby hurled a cardboard box at him. The distraction let Lonnie land a sturdy front kick to the kidney, thrusting her hips for greater speed and power. The grunting noise she made on impact showed the force she was exerting. She knew a blow like this should have brought even a giant of a man down.
Angered instead, he flew out of control, throwing a wild haymaker. Lonnie crashed the line to block it knowing he’d never expect that move, hitting his neck with her forearm on the way in, withdrawing instantly before he could make a grab. She had greater reach with both arms and legs, but not in like that. He was more than strong but his motions were slow. It had been a very risky move, but it stayed his punch. I have to concentrate on his vulnerables: knee, groin, throat, chin, eyes.
The move left him closer to her than ever. His fist moved to land what would be a certain crushing blow when one of Ruby’s shoes flew through the air, striking him in the head. Instead of a direct blow, that distraction was enough to make his punch into another glancing blow, catching the brunette’s same cheek as she bobbed to spare her throbbing arms. She shook her head to restore clear vision. She knew he had winged her and so did he. Immediately her cheek swelled to twice its size, effectively closing one eye. She stumbled in the shadows, watching his unusual footwork. Normally that was the clue to what he was going to do next. She allowed him to back her up in what little room was left then yelled, “Run, Ruby, get away now!”
Ruby yelled back, “I don’t want to leave you,” as she scrambled on her hands and knees to move more toward the entrance where help might exist, hoping Lonnie could somehow get around him. But the tall brunette appeared cornered in the back of the alley. Terrorized though she was, Ruby could not leave Lonnie here at this man’s mercy. The tall brunette had gotten her balance back, but was trapped. Tears streamed down the blonde’s face as she frantically searched for anything along the way that she could use as a further distraction or a weapon to allow Lonnie to break free.
Lonnie knew the man had to be totally numb, feeling no pain of any kind. That was the only explanation. He was not reacting to any of her kicks. His motions were slower than a normal boxers would have been. But he wasn’t trying to hold perfect form either. He was out to destroy, and he wasn’t above kicking, biting, hitting or tripping to defeat her. If he could grab her, he would try tearing her apart. Lonnie had no doubt of that.
Again one of Lonnie’s shoes came flying through the air at him, followed by Ruby’s other heel. He turned his attention toward the blonde, who resumed crawling toward the entrance. If I can just break a bone that’s holding him up... Lonnie decided. The temporary distraction of Ruby’s throws allowed Lonnie to land a grunting full force front snap kick to his shin that made an echoing cracking noise. That drew his attention back to her. He paused to look down, puzzled. Gods, is he made of steel? That should have brought him down, disabled him.
With Ruby closer to the street than the man, Lonnie was not about to be trapped in the back of the dark alley. She quickly sprinted sideways to the solid wall of the opposite corner, extending her legs and running up the sides of the wall then down just past some trash much in the way Fred Astair sometimes did in his movies. She landed close to him. It surprised him but he turned and headed toward the entrance in the direction Ruby was moving.
“Get help, babe,” Lonnie yelled, running barefoot through more trash toward the small blonde. “Go! Now!” Finding herself away from the back wall but still not past him, she saw with horror that he was steps closer, was blocking her and was moving faster than the blonde, who was scrambling on hands and knees. Lonnie nudged him, placing herself easily within his reach, but he was fully concentrating on the small blonde. “Run Ruby!”
The man thrust an arm to catch the blonde as Lonnie grabbed his jacket, flipping the keys from his shallow jacket pocket into the trash as she yanked. She planted her feet and leaned back, but it was like yanking on a tank. She held with all her strength, but he dragged her along, managing to grab the hem of Ruby’s dress. You could hear it tear more as he used it to flick the small blonde like a rag doll against the side wall. She hit with a nauseating thump then slumped down to the ground, gasping for breath.
“Ruby!” Lonnie dropped her hold on his jacket and tried desperately to jump ahead, to get around him, to cut him off. “Jesus, Ruby!” Fear battled with white hot rage within her. She took a leap that was enough to give her a better view of the small blonde but still not pass him.
With relief she noticed some movement from Ruby. Had he seen? He would kick her to death before Lonnie could stop him if he realized the small blonde was moving. Letting the rage drive her, Lonnie began to recklessly yank and pound on his upper arm till his face turned her way. She jumped back, kicking his keys and other trash towards the entrance past him. Their eyes locked. For a moment he paused then turned fully toward the brunette. Her adrenaline was pumping, which wasn’t necessarily good. Calm down. You can’t help Ruby or yourself like this. Center. Center. Get calm.
Backing up again towards the wall end of the alley, she sucked in a deep breath and let it out as slowly as she dared, forcing herself to concentrate. The second breath centered her. As in her meets, she felt a sudden unearthly calmness overtake her. Fists tight, she felt everything move in slow motion.
He was moving toward her, fists jabbing at the air. She threw a snap kick with her left leg, a diversionary tactic aimed at his groin. He dropped his hands to seize her foot grabbing only air as she immediately curled her toes back and executed a textbook roundhouse kick with the same leg, never touching the ground with that leg. Her foot landed with concentrated force on his unprotected jaw, and at last he wobbled. Taking advantage she instantly followed with a rage driven palm heel thrust crashing into his chin with an audible crack to his jaw. She heard him spitting out some teeth inside his mask before he dropped to his knees, finally stunned.
In a flash, Lonnie was on top of the man, pressing his face down onto the alley floor. She grabbed and twisted one meaty arm up behind him, then stood to press one foot into his back, lifting his arm as far as she could in the process. She held the man’s hand in both her hands, twisted at an awkward angle and clasped with as much of an iron grip as she could muster.
“Ruby,” the tall brunette entreated. “Honey?” Ruby moaned, gasped for air, then with her vision clearing, she saw that Lonnie had him down. “Please go,” Lonnie begged. “Please. Get help.”
Shaking off her blurred vision, the small blonde scrambled, crawling on the ground, grabbing the purse she’d dropped when they’d first entered the alley, digging for her phone. She grabbed the nearby keys, getting to her feet and stumbled to the alley entrance as 911 answered
The masked man began to recover from his temporary daze. Lonnie gave his arm a good yank that he seemed not to feel, though she felt the maneuver reverberate through her own hammered body. She pressed harder with her foot. A couple people on the main street had been drawn to the alley entrance by the ruckus and stopped stupefied at the vision of a wobbly blonde, dress made shorter by being torn, knees and palms bleeding, hair a mess, staggering from the shadows toward them.
“Get help,” Ruby called, “We’ve been attacked. Lonnie’s still there. Help her. Please.”
Lonnie felt her muscles quivering in exhaustion. This hold took considerable might against a man of normal strength much less one who could not feel the pain the twisting should be providing. She couldn’t maintain it long. He would muster brute strength to get her off, and she worried about how many resources she had left to draw from.
Ruby’s at the entrance. If I drop this hold and sprint, we might be able to outrun this monster before he can touch us again. Of course, that meant jumping across him before he could grab her with the free arm that was out, an uncertain move at best. Space in this alley was limited. It would be close. And what would he do to the small group of people forming at the entrance? Suddenly from nowhere a man in a suit was dropping to the ground by her, his hands on the downed man’s free arm. “You can let him go, lady. I’ve got him,” the man said confidently. His wife stood near Ruby, watching with equal confidence. Her husband was not a small man, but Lonnie knew he was not at all aware of the monstrosity she was keeping down. Her chance to run was gone.
“Better keep clear,” she called, but it was then the masked man made his move, twisting, forcing himself out of her grasp. He jumped up with surprising speed and a fearsome growl, grabbing the man and flinging him against the side wall before Lonnie could hinder him. The body blow knocked the good Samaritan out. The masked man’s glazed eyes showed no pain at all as they turned to her.
Lonnie drew a quivering breath and prepared herself. This man’s purpose was very clear. He was a primary force on a mission to kill. And as before, she was the target of his rage.
The woman bystander ran to her downed husband as more people gathered at the alley entrance. Lonnie backed deeper into the alley, drawing the masked man’s attention from the unprotected wife on the ground. And then pushing her way through the small entrance group came Peg. She stepped inside the alley behind the masked man. And what a vision she was! Lonnie was never so glad to see a classmate in her life, especially one with Peg’s skills. “Is this a private brawl or can anyone join?” Peg quipped, getting into position.
Slowly the attacker turned toward the voice behind him.
Lonnie’s arms and cheek throbbed and her knees quivered. “He’s trained in boxing,” she warned, “He’s very strong and he’s on something . He doesn’t feel pain of any kind.”
“Well, let’s stay away from his fists then,” Peg mocked. They took turns placing fast, furious tactical kicks from both directions. He growled in fury, throwing blows at one then the other, all avoided or blocked. But he managed to push Peg back then Lonnie.
“My gosh, he’s right out of some dark evil forces comic book,” Peg scowled. “It’s like I’m not even landing a blow.” Her last kick had been solid, thrown with everything she had. The man would not go down.
“Tell me about it,” Lonnie threw a side kick as high as possible. She gave it her all, curling her toes and snapping her hip into it, keeping her arm above her legs. It was one of the hardest kicks to stop. It caught his shoulder when he bobbed his jaw out of the line of fire.
Looking over her shoulder to view the target, Peg instantly spun into a side kick of her own to the solar plexus as he turned towards her. The combination of hits finally staggered him again. He stumbled toward Lonnie, but he would not go down.
Once more Lonnie centered herself, assembling what energy she had left. She followed Peg’s kick with a perfectly placed heel kick to the knee cap. The sickening, bone crushing noise that followed echoed in the alley. With a scream of outrage, the man fell heavily to the ground on his back, his knee cap demolished. In a flash, Lonnie was again on top of him, one knee solidly against his Adams apple, her other knee pinning both his arms to his chest.
It was the leg pinning his arms that worried her. Knowing he’d again try to use his strength to get free, she shifted her balance, increasing the leverage on his Adam’s apple. She stiffened two fingers into dual spears aimed at his eyes. She kept her fingers three inches above his mask eye holes, close enough for him to see the threat even in the dim light. Unphased by the prospect of being blinded, he roared in frustration at being held and struggled to knock her off him.
“Gods, he doesn’t feel that his knee’s gone, does he?” Peg marveled. “You’d think a drug like that would kill the user.”
“Sometimes it does.” Lonnie’s voice was tight, “Stop or I’ll crush your throat and take your eyes as well!” Her blue eyes flashed. Peg danced around, ready to land another blow if this fearless, painless beast of a man got loose. The adrenaline was pumping through her system as well, but she amazed herself with how calm and utterly centered she felt. The sound of sirens filled the air as the police headed to the alley.
The man shut his eyes. He was the Almighty. He could not be stopped. Desperately he struggled but Lonnie’s increased pressure on his throat was cutting off his air. He had to do something and quickly. He gathered strength, trying with all his might to thrust Lonnie off with his arms. Exhausted but focused, she increased the pressure even more to his adam’s apple till his body involuntarily choked for air.
“You’ll die in this alley,” she snarled between gritted teeth, “I can crush your larynx with not much more pressure, or blind you for life. Doctors won’t be able to help. So stop! Stay still!”
He didn’t hear, but neither could he breathe. Ruby stumbled back toward them. With his pinned arms he lifted Lonnie about a foot into the air, but her leg was long enough to lean harder on his throat till he coughed then made gurgling noises. She pressed till his arms settled back down. The hand on Lonnie’s shoulder startled her. She was ready to swat it away. But if it was Ruby...
“It’s okay, lady. You can let him up now. We have him covered.” A policewoman stood behind Lonnie. Two others were to the sides, their pistols drawn and aimed at the man. Peg was standing to the side, slag armed, sucking deep breaths. Lonnie hadn’t even noticed that the police had entered the alley.
“He’s on something,” Lonnie let go then grabbed the mask and tore it off as she rose from the ground.
“David!” Ruby said, kept back by one of the policemen. Her hands and knees throbbed and her body ached from being thrown against the wall.
“You know this man?” the policewoman asked. But all attention went back to the struggling man on the ground. Defying all odds, driven by a blinding hatred and loss of all pain, he was trying to get up. It took all three police personnel as well as Lonnie and Peg to hold him down enough to have double cuffs applied to both his arms and legs.
“He used to be married to my good friend,” Ruby said when the policewoman got back up from the ground. “He beat her up regularly, and she finally got away from him. I don’t think he was on drugs then, though. He’s always”...Ruby gathered the torn bottom edge of her skirt... “hated us.”
She didn’t want to explain how David had come to their home six years prior and swatted at Nicole while she held newborn baby Bethy. Ruby had been practicing self-defense training at the time and had caught him by surprise, tripping him, dropping him to the living room floor before baby Bethy could be hurt. Then as he’d grabbed for Ruby’s leg, Lonnie had kicked him in the jaw, knocking him out. He’d bitten his tongue and blood was everywhere. Nicole had taken him to the emergency room where his jaw was wired and his tongue looked after before she drove him back to Spokane.
In the alley David now gasped in large gulps of air. “Alert the hospital. Tell them it’s likely he’s on Angel Dust. They’ll have to find out before they can take him into surgery. His knee cap is crushed and it looks like his jaw’s broken. They’ll need to do xrays to check for other injuries,” a policeman called out, “I can’t tell what else, but he’s still struggling and trying to say something. The only words I could understand were ‘phone call.’”
Lonnie rushed to Ruby, enfolding the blonde gently in her arms. One side of the brunette’s face was swollen badly while the ugly discoloration of bruises ran the length of both her swollen forearms. “Oh, honey, your cheek,” Ruby gasped. A musical ringtone seemed hidden in the cacophony around them. Peg walked to a quiet corner of the alley and answered.
“I’m fine. But are you all right, Ruby?” Lonnie gently leaned back to examine her partner. With one hand she caressed the blonde’s face. Ruby’s hair was disheveled and her dress a mess. “I was so worried when you hit that wall.”
“It knocked the air out of me,” Ruby replied. “That’s all. I didn’t hit my head. But not being able to breathe stunned me for a minute. I’m okay, though, uh, I think.”
“Sweetheart, your knees....and your hands. They’re bleeding.”
“Just scraped.” Ruby couldn’t stop shivering. She felt clammy and shaken. She wrapped her arms around the brunette and clung to her as Lonnie folded her arms around Ruby, pressing her good cheek against the blonde’s hair. Ruby’s lips quivered against Lonnie’s chest. “I just want to go home to our babies. It had to have been David that scared Bethy in the store that day. A monster like that so close to our children. I need to see them with my own eyes and know they’re safe. Please, honey.”
“All right. What about your side, love?” Lonnie noticed Ruby favoring the side where he’d kicked her. Slowly they pulled apart.
“It’s just a little sore.” One hand went to her side before large green eyes rose to Lonnie. “Oh, your arms.” She ran a finger delicately down one of Lonnie’s swollen forearms. “I was afraid he couldn’t be stopped. He was so strong. For the longest time, no matter what you did...he just kept fighting. I was terrified one of his punches would get through. I kept looking for anything to throw at him to keep him away from you.”
“I was glad you were such a good shot. He was strong years ago when we knew him, but he’s done a lot of training since that time. He’s solid muscle now. But he doesn’t have super powers or anything like that. The drug he’s on just kept him from feeling the pain people normally feel. It’s a pretty scary combination.”
“Ladies,” the policewoman interrupted, “the EMTs are here. You both need to be taken to the hospital or at least be checked over before you go down to file your statements.”
Peg closed her cell and reached to get Ruby’s wrap in the trash. She pulled it up and shook it off.
“They can check us over,” Lonnie escorted a shivering Ruby to the back of the ambulance then turned to the man they were wheeling past on a stretcher. “I hope you rot in hell,” she snarled. David’s face and throat were swelling and whatever he growled back was indecipherable.
Peg brought them the shawl then went to find Ruby’s heels. The EMTs checked the blonde for cracked ribs, concussion or broken bones. They wrapped her in a blanket then cleaned her knees and hands.
Lonnie was told she needed to get xrays in case she had broken bones anywhere including her feet. “Tomorrow,” she told them. “I don’t feel like anything’s broken.”
“With the beating you took lady, you wouldn’t necessarily feel a break. Better go in tonight.”
“I’ll take you,”Peg volunteered, coming back from her search. “I don’t mind serving as chauffeur. And, uh, by the way, it looks like they’re taking the fellow who tried to help you to the hospital, too, just to make sure he doesn’t have a concussion. He’s awake. They’ve just loaded him into the other ambulance.”
“I’ll go in tomorrow,” Lonnie glanced down at her feet. They were dirty, had a small amount of crusted blood on them, and her nylons were torn with runs.
“Looks like you’ve got some cuts on your feet. Better get them checked while these folks are here,” Peg suggested.
“From running through trash. Yes, all right.” Lonnie sat beside Ruby who was being treated by one EMT and let the other EMT cut off her nylons and take care of her feet.
“You had a current tetnus shot, lady?” Lonnie’s medical worker asked.
Lonnie nodded, “In fact, I have had, yes.” She turned her attention to her friend, “What are you doing here, Peg? I’ve gotta tell ya, I was never so happy to see anyone in my life.”
“Getting tired, were you, old lady,?” Peg teased. Then the younger woman added soberly, “I’ve never seen anyone as strong or as immune to pain as that guy was. He could have killed you both.”
“Uh, yes, I believe that was his intent.”
“A hate crime?” Peg questioned softly.
“Well, I don’t know. The D.A. will have to decide that. I mean, I suppose he was angry from what happened between us years ago. Part of it might have to do with our life style. But I think it was mostly because Nikki brought him to our condo, and we had a falling out about his behaviour back then. So, anyway, what brought you here to all the action?”
Peg looked at the working EMTs who tried to look like they weren’t listening and grinned bashfully. “Actually I got your phone message and came right down to the hotel. That’s where I heard two women had been attacked up the street. You know me, never can mind my own business.”
“Thank heavens. Did you get to see..”Lonnie considered those around, “uh, you know who?” She didn’t want to name the Senator’s daughter and see it appear in the papers the next morning.
“Yeah,” Peg blushed. “For a second. We, uh, exchanged numbers.”
“On the phone just now...was that...?”
“Oh, you saw that. Yeah. Wanted to be brought up to date. I’m to call later with the details, uh, when I know ‘em.”
“It’ll be interesting to hear what David has to say, but I don’t expect he’ll be talking anytime soon. All I know is that we were walking to the parking garage after the formal dinner when we were attacked. He pushed us into the alley and tried to kill us.” And nearly succeeded. She glanced at the medical workers. “Anybody seen Ruby’s shoes, or mine either for that matter?
“The police said they’re taking them as evidence,” Peg inserted, “You said something about throwing them at the attacker, didn’t you Ruby?”
Ruby looked up. “Yes. I threw anything I could find at him.”
“And it’s a good thing she did, too,” Lonnie noted.
“All finished.” As the one EMT finished up with Lonnie, Ruby looked with puzzlement at what she’d dropped in her lap with her purse. She picked it up, “Oh, it’s his keys.” She held them out to the policewoman. “He dropped them in the alley.” Ruby pressed the ‘panic’ button on the remote and the measured honking of a horn was heard in the parking garage down the street. “And there’s his car.” A policeman took the keys and headed to the garage on the run.
Lonnie ran an exhausted hand through her mussed hair. “Hand me our phone, will you, hon? I’ll call Mrs. Nelson and make sure our children are all right.”
Ruby began to search for their phone. “Here, use mine,” Peg smiled, handing her phone to Lonnie.
Lonnie hopped off the ambulance step. “Thanks. I actually need to make two calls. You don’t mind, do you?”
“Course not,” Peg replied.
“Cause it occurred to me that David’s wealthy family will do everything to get him off, starting with his first phone call. I want someone on our side who knows him and can make sure he’s held accountable.”
“Won’t the police handle that?” Peg asked.
“That’s standard procedure, yes. But have you ever heard of ‘all the justice money can buy’? David’s wealthy. I want better odds. We have a friend named Nyri. She’s exFBI and runs an investigation service for corporations. Nyri’s got all kinds of contacts in the D.A.’s office and on the police force. I need to call her. Never hurts to hedge your bets. She got David’s first wife Nicole safely away from him. And he still doesn’t have a clue where she is.” Or know that she and her new husband are living in Santa Fe, expecting their third child.
Years earlier they’d been worried when Nikki told Ruby over the phone about the new man in her life. But he turned out to be someone Nyri knew and approved of, so they quit worrying. Although there’d been rumors lately that this marriage might now be in trouble. The word was that Nikki and her newest husband were considering an amenable separation.
Lonnie walked a few steps away to call home to a surprised Mrs. Nelson. The children were still asleep in bed. Then the battered brunette called Nyri.
Ruby looked over anxiously as Lonnie stepped back. “How are the children?”
“They’re still asleep. Everything’s fine. Mrs. Nelson says no one has called or stopped by, but we’ll go right home just to satisfy ourselves that they’re okay.”
“Good.” With a rueful smile Ruby added, “Did you get Nyri?”
“Yes, hon. I told her we’re going home to our children. She said not to change clothes. She’ll call her contacts and meet us there with at least a police photographer and a doctor.”
The two EMT’s finished up with Ruby, who remained sitting on the ambulance step. They told her to keep the blanket around herself. The men then gathered up discarded bandage packaging before heading to the alley to clean up the same from there.
Peg went over to where the police had gathered. When she came back she shrugged. “The police found your shoes in the back of the alley, Lonnie, but like I told you earlier, they say they’ve already bagged them as evidence.”
“They can keep those shoes, I have some tennis shoes in the car I can wear. They’ll fit more easily over these bandages anyway.”
Peg added very quietly, “The attack’s premeditated, and they can prove it. I heard the police talking. The officer who checked on the car called in and said he found a report David had on you two in his car. Apparently he’s been stalking you.”
I knew it--the man that Bethy didn’t like. Ruby frowned, “I hope this means David’ll end up in jail forever.” Nikki brought him into our lives and barely got away from him with her own. Now add drugs to the mix and the monster he was before has grown tenfold. I hope this means he’s taken out of circulation for good now. The stubborn strength growing in Ruby’s eyes boosted Lonnie’s spirits. Despite fighting shock, Ruby’s amazing resilience was coming through.
“At least let me go get your car for you two,” Peg suggested. “You can’t walk to it barefooted.”
Lonnie dug out her keys. “Thanks, Peg. We’re in the parking garage. Second floor by the east elevator. You know our jeep. Are you going down to make your statement tonight?”
“I expect so. Might as well.”
All heads turned towards the alley as the two EMT’s voices rose from the shadows. “Those two karate babes and the blond with them are HOT! Imagine trying to batter babes like that.”
“Well, I wouldn’t pick a fight with any of those women,” his partner replied, “You see what they did to that guy? Built like a brick wall, stoned out of his tree and immune to pain and the jerk ends up with a crushed knee, a cracked jaw, missing teeth and a badly bruised trachea. And who knows what kind of internal damages he has. I doubt that surgery can make him walk or talk right ever again, and he’s the one going to jail.”
“Karate babes?” Peg snorted before her eyes caught a limousine turning onto the street beside them. Tinted windows made it impossible to see inside.
The Senator and Judith, betcha, Lonnie nudged Peg. “Smile, here’s you know who.” But Peg was already standing, grinning like a fool.
“There! There’s one reason I am firmly against this life style choice you think you’ve made,” the Senator growled disapprovingly at his daughter inside the vehicle. “Like I told your mother, some people have violent opinions about such things.”
Even in the dim street light Judith saw the bruises on Lonnie’s arms and the tall woman’s puffy cheek. On the back step of the ambulance she saw the elegant blonde she’d met earlier at the dinner table, only now the small woman was a mess--she was barefoot, wrapped in a blanket and had bandages on her hands and knees. Her hair was disheveled and what showed of her beautiful dress was filthy. It made Judith feel sick.
But suddenly her full concentration was on Peg. The tall, stockily built brunette stood rakishly grinning at the limousine. “Oh,” Judith said softly when she thought she saw bruises already forming on Peg’s arms and hands.
“Oh, indeed,” her father replied, assuming she was acknowledging his comment. “Your mother and I decided it’s just a phase, Judith. It’s not unheard of for college women to experiment. But now it’s time for you to move on.” He poured himself a stiff Scotch as he puffed on his cigar. “After all, all kinds of kooks are out there willing to go to any lengths to bring someone who’s made bad choices back to the fold. This just proves it. Besides, I told you I can set you up with any number of fine young men at the state department. Some of them could be very helpful to me in my next campaign.”
Then you go out with them, father. Judith found herself returning a wistful unseen smile to the tall brunette grinning at the limo. There was something so special about Peg. She’d even seen the woman’s ad and found it exceedingly charming, though her father would have had a fit if he knew she read such publications. “We discussed this already, father,” she said icily. “I told you I won’t be dating any more young men. I haven’t changed my mind.”
“I don’t like your tone of voice, young lady,” he grumbled, waving the thought off. “Sometimes I think you make these wild claims as a personal attack on me.”
Judith sighed. Everything in this world is not about you, father. She raised a brow. But since you seem to think it is... She had inherited her father’s ability to play devil’s advocate, only hers was cloaked in the more gentle presentation she had inherited from her mother. In the relationship between Judith and her father, it made her the one child who had the ability to constantly get under his thick political skin. Surprisingly, it also brought her an element of his respect that he did not extend to her siblings. “Did you consider that a lawsuit might be filed against you for this?” she asked softly.
“Against me? Don’t be ridiculous. How could anyone blame me for this?” He pointed at the group outside the window with his cigar then took a drink of his scotch.
She looked back at her father with the polished political smile she’d grown up using in D.C.. “For all we know the man who attacked those women might have been one of your dinner guests tonight. With all the antigay rhetoric in the last campaign, who’s to say the idea of the party’s tacit approval might have set him off? Maybe he’s even planned this attack since the last election, believing he has the party’s blessing. After all, the two women were in attendance at your dinner tonight. I spoke to them there.”
The Senator swiped his paw across his forehead. He’d had part of this argument with his daughter before. “The party does NOT give its approval to such actions!” He scowled out the window. He did recognize the two women from Representative Ripples’ table. They’d been quite lovely at the dinner, but look at them now. “Those two are gay, you say? Are you sure?”
Judith could hear the tiniest edge of worry in his voice and kept herself from smiling. He wouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of a lawsuit, but it did place his thoughts off her and back on himself.
“I don’t believe they try to hide it, father.”
He scowled heavily and took a slug of the liquid, letting it burn its way down. “There’d better be nothing in the paper tomorrow connecting this to my dinner,” he snapped. “It’s hard enough dealing with questions about you.” He pulled out his cell phone to make a call. He turned toward the opposite window and growled in a softer voice, “There was an incident just off Broadway tonight that I want you to investigate immediately. Yes, an attack of some kind. I want to know everything. And you need to make sure it’s not mentioned in the same breath as my dinner in tomorrow’s papers. Got a pen?”
Judith knew he was talking to his chief right-hand aide, the man who could find out anything about anybody. The Senator put his hand over the receiver end of his cell phone and studied his daughter for a moment. “All right, Judith. You seem to know that young woman. Be discreet, but find out anything you can about who was involved in this attack and why. And you know what I mean about being discreet. I don’t want my name attached to this in any fashion.”
Judith felt a sense of relief. She disliked being under her father’s thumb every minute while they traveled together. She could hardly wait till she was able to move into Portland to work for the Department of Justice, far from the parental ranch in Central Oregon and farther still from the parental home in D.C.. She already knew that Peg had little information they didn’t already know. But it was fine with Judith if her father thought she was helping him out. Meanwhile, she’d be discrete all right. She’d invite Peg to have coffee with her at the hotel tonight. Then they’d see where things went from there. After all, a green-eyed blonde just might also be searching for a blue-eyed brunette.
She felt her father’s flashing eyes on her and made her face featureless. “All right. I’ll find out what I can.”
“Good girl,” the Senator sat back and turned to the opposite window. “We raised some good money tonight,” he said into the phone. “Now, about that other, there should be police reports filed....”
The limo passed. They watched the taillights move toward Sixth Avenue. “Well, I’ll go get your car. You are going to be okay while I’m gone, aren’t you old girl?” Peg grinned. She could see the total exhaustion her friend was trying to hide from her partner. She hoped Lonnie’s injuries only went as far as what could be seen. Those were bad enough.
“You might be ten years younger, and I might be a touch bruised, but it takes more than that to stop a good woman with training,” Lonnie feigned indifference to her injuries. “I’ll still be able to take on a young pup like you in class next time and show you a thing or two.”
Peg judged Lonnie’s injuries. “Let’s give that a little while, okay?” Her face turned serious. “I’ve never seen a scarier opponent, Lonnie. I don’t know what else might have been used to bring him down, but it makes me think I might want to get training in all the different martial arts that I can.”
“Yeah,” Lonnie agreed.
Peg waggled her fingers. “Okay pal, I’m on my way to the parking garage. See you two in the funny papers.”
“We’ll watch for one hot karate babe’s ad instead,” Lonnie teased. Even Ruby grinned at that as Lonnie sat herself back down on the ambulance step beside the blonde who leaned her head on Lonnie’s shoulder.
“No more ads,” Peg turned back, “I promised.”
Really? How long did she talk to Judith anyway? When did she do all this promising?
Peg grinned then headed toward the garage. At that moment her cell phone rang. The brunette hadn’t quit smiling since the limo had appeared. Her grin grew broader at the voice at the end of her phone. She looked at her hands. “No, don’t worry, there’s just a few bruises. Nothing major. I got in a few good kicks and got a few bruises in return, but I’m fine, really. No, he didn’t hurt me much. No worries.”
Lonnie snickered. Oh yeah, that’s going to be one hot romance.
Lonnie kissed her green-eyed beauty’s forehead as they watched Peg move toward the parking garage, cell phone to her ear. “We need to talk a little about Rule 1, honey.”
Annoyed skepticism crossed Ruby’s face.
Deciding this might not be the best time for that talk, Lonnie added, “Uh, later maybe.” She pointed to the parking garage. “You know, I think it’s true what they say--it’s an ill wind that blows no good.” Seeing puzzlement in her partner’s expression, Lonnie added, “Remember the ad-- Blue-eyed brunette searching for green-eyed blonde? Despite everything, tonight Peg found Judith.”
Ruby slipped her arm around Lonnie’s waist, shut her eyes and whispered from the brunette’s shoulder,. “If they’re half as happy as we are, their life will be overflowing with joy.” Her eyes opened, “Never doubt I love you, Lonnie Shaeker. And I’d best get some good martial arts training, cause no, I won’t leave you to fight our battles alone with a beast like that ever again, so don’t ask. He wanted us dead, both of us. And besides that, he stalked us and came close to our children. I won’t have that!”
“I know honey, but getting away and getting help is usually the best option.”
“Not if you’re killed while I’m gone. If we both could have gotten away at the same time... Well, I tried to do both I guess,” Ruby sighed, “but I just couldn’t leave you there alone. Please understand. Oh, here comes Peg already. Can you drive? Are you all right? Cause we could have her take us home and pay her cab fare back to her car.”
“No, I’m fine. I can drive.” Lonnie marveled at the secure warmth of Ruby beside her. Nothing in life was overwhelming as long as they had each other. They were battered, beaten and their clothes were ruined, but thankfully they weren’t the ones taken out of the alley on a stretcher. Now all they needed for recovery was time with each other and their beloved children. The world always righted itself when their small family was secure.
There was no question in either of their minds that they would fight whatever battles they had to fight to keep sacred all they held dear. Together, with Peg’s help, they had finally won this round. Bruises would fade, aches would end, clothes could be replaced. Tonight they’d go home together to their little ones. And Lonnie was confident that after all the legal finagling was done, David would be in jail, ultimately becoming nothing to them but a very bad memory.
Peg double parked their jeep in the street and got out. Lonnie considered the odds they’d bucked as she loosened the laces and slipped the tennis shoes over her wrapped feet. He was a determined lethal weapon, a definite peril from the past. But we had the best reason in the world to prevail--our love. Lonnie mused, We fought and won. And we will again, if we ever have to.
She helped Ruby into the car then looked back at the shallow alley. “All David had was hate and drugs. Stupid jerk. Didn’t he know that in the end, love always wins out?” She climbed into the driver’s seat, waved at Peg standing on the sidewalk, and without another look back headed their jeep for home.
Peg bid goodnight to the remaining police then headed for her car parked on the street down by the hotel. She flipped open her ringing cell phone. “Hi again,” she purred. “Coffee at the Sheraton? Tonight?” She glanced at her watch surprised at how late it was. “Uh, yes, I understand you’ll be flying out to your ranch in central Oregon first thing in the morning. Your father won’t mind? Sure, I think the bars are open till one or two maybe. If not, something in the airport will be open. Great! Let’s meet there in say...” she checked her watch again, “an hour?”
A gentle laugh came through the line. Judith watched the town go by outside the limo windows. Her father was busy with one of his important calls. “An hour will give me time to change out of this sheath,” she added.
“I meant to tell you how beautiful you look in it,” Peg said into the phone.
Judith shielded her phone with her hand as she faced the window. “Thanks. It’s a date then. See you in an hour.”
“All right! See you then.” Peg closed her cell phone, jigging a few steps on the sidewalk in pure joy. A number of wary looks accrued from people still leaving the Hilton as she walked by. She threw her head back, a fist rising triumphantly in the air. “Yes! It’s a date. It’s THE date of the century,” she pulled her arm back and added more softly, “It’s my all time date.”
She glanced down at herself. She wasn’t a mess exactly, but it was obvious she had been in a fight. “Oh my gosh. I’d better get there early and clean up in the restroom.” Her mind scrambled. “No...” If she hurried, she could swing by home in time to make a quick change. After all, this was the Senator’s beautiful daughter she was trying to impress. She had a date....finally...a date with the green eyed blonde of her dreams. The blue eyed brunette had finally found the green eyed blonde. And she had every intention of making the most of their very first date!