Cadie felt something cold and hard press against the back of her neck. At the same time, a hand reached over her shoulder and hung up the phone.
“You’re not going to do that,” came the low snarl by her ear.
Cadie swallowed. There was no mistaking the feel of the gun’s muzzle at the base of her skull. She could smell its metallic tang. Nerveless fingers allowed Naomi to take the phone away and replace it on its rocker.
“You can’t be serious, Naomi,” Cadie muttered, her mouth dry.
“About hurting you? Probably not,” Naomi agreed. “But then you can never be sure, can you?”
“Not anymore, no,” Cadie replied. Stupid, Cadie, real stupid. Turning down her father’s offer to come with her was looking more and more rash as the minutes ticked by. Then again, maybe she’s just nuts enough to have pulled a gun on both of us. Naomi yanked her backwards and pushed Cadie back down the hallway and into the lounge.
“Sit down,” Naomi said harshly, shoving Cadie down into one of the big leather armchairs, before she returned to the chair in which the blonde had first found her.
“So, now what?” Cadie watched as Naomi rested the gun across her lap. The senator rubbed her eyes roughly with the hand that wasn’t wrapped around the pistol’s grip and trigger. “You’ve lost your mind, you know that, right?”
“Shut up!” Naomi shouted. Cadie could see a fine beading of sweat on the older woman’s upper lip. “Just shut up and give me a chance to think.”
She doesn’t have the faintest clue what she’s doing, Cadie realized. She thought it would be all over by now – that I’d’ve agreed to come back to her by now. It seemed ludicrous to Cadie that a sane adult could even think that was a possibility. I’ve had enough of this. With a decisive movement, Cadie pushed herself up out of the chair and strode across the room towards her ex-partner.
“Give me the gun, Naomi,” she said softly as she approached with her hand outstretched. Immediately the barrel swung towards her and she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Get away from me,” Naomi said, her voice breaking on the last word. “Just get back.”
“You’re not going to shoot me,” Cadie said, her tone calm, confident and firm. She didn’t move any closer, however, all too aware of the muzzle of the gun as it trembled in Naomi’s shaking hand. “You didn’t come here with any intention of shooting me, Naomi. Let’s just put the gun away and talk some more.”
“There isn’t any more to say,” came the response. Naomi’s eyes were wild, flicking from side to side. “You’ve made it clear that there isn’t anything that will change your mind. So just sit down and shut UP! Let me THINK!”
Cadie ignored the thundering request and instead, stepped forward again. She refused to let herself believe that Naomi would pull the trigger. Instead the politician surprised her once again, swinging the gun barrel around and pressing it against her own temple.
“Stop, Cadie,” Naomi whispered as she stared at her former lover. “Just stop, or I swear, I will do it.”
Cadie sucked a breath in so sharply she felt her ribs twinge. “Come on, Naomi. Don’t do this.”
“Sit … down …”
Cadie backed up slowly, her hands raised in a supplicating gesture. She stopped only when she felt the chair against the back of her knees and she sat down. “Okay, okay.”
Naomi pressed the muzzle harder against her temple and Cadie could see the metal edges leaving an imprint in on her skin. Cadie winced, suddenly at a loss as to what to do. This was a side of Naomi she had never seen before, and while her instincts told her it was just another bluff, a nagging doubt pounded away in the back of her brain.
I can’t risk that she’s not bluffing. As many times as Cadie had wished Naomi out of her life over the past few months, she didn’t want the woman dead. She didn’t even want the woman hurt, if she could avoid it. And if she is going to hurt herself, I really don’t want to watch it happen. Cadie took in the wild-eyed woman in front of her seeing the first signs of despair, rather than anger in the older woman’s gestures and expressions. Somehow I get the feeling I’m finally seeing how she really feels about all this. Cadie’s heart sank. It’s going to be a very long day.
Jo walked along the concourse of Terminal C of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. She had never been to the Windy City before, though she had seen her fair share of LA and New York.
Impressive, she thought as she followed the crowd towards the center of the long, high-ceilinged building. Shops and boutiques, food stores and newsstands lined the walkways and Jo shunned the moving pathways, preferring to make her way under her own steam. Her backpack was slung over her right shoulder as she followed the signs towards the baggage claim area.
Jo had changed just before landing in Chicago, happy to shrug off the t-shirt she had worn for the past 24 hours. She had exchanged it for a long-sleeved cotton shirt that could’ve used an iron, but she was just grateful to be in something clean. Her stomach growled as she strode along the concourse and she contemplated the various cuisines on offer. She stopped outside a McDonald’s, smiling wryly at the all too familiar menu and atmosphere.
The faces and accents may be different, but the junk food remains the same, she thought, hesitating about joining the hungry masses queued up in front of the cash registers. She glanced down at her watch and tried to reconcile the time of day with the fatigue gnawing at the edges of her consciousness. Screw it. I can eat later, she decided, turning again and rejoining the flow of commuters hurrying for the escalators. I just want to get to Cadie.
Two minutes later she was leaning on the rail of a moving sidewalk, gazing up at the tendrils of twisted, colored neon lights that spanned across the ceiling of the long tunnel between the two terminals. Tinkling music followed the pattern of lights and provided a backdrop to the automated warning messages that piped up as she approached the end of each stretch of moving walkway. It was weirdly soothing, in a tacky, flashy kind of way.
Any other time I’d find this pretty, Jo contemplated as she waited to reach the end of the long tunnel. Right now it’s just flat-out bizarre. She shook her head abruptly, trying to make the creeping sense of disorientation she felt disappear. It didn’t work but she didn’t have a chance to think twice about it before she needed to pick up her carry-on bag and step off the walkway.
Another climb up a long, steep escalator and Jo was confronted by another busy concourse … and a dinosaur skeleton. It caught her flat-footed and for several seconds she just stood, staring.
“I’ve been through some bizarre wormhole and ended up in the British Museum by mistake,” she muttered. “This week is just getting weirder and weirder, I swear.” She turned and followed the signs to the baggage claim area and waited patiently by the carousel. She cast her eyes about, taking in the security staff dotted about the large room. Jo had enough experience to know that she couldn’t relax yet. Not till I’m out of this airport. It occurred to her that she might not be heading into fair weather, even beyond the limits of the airport precinct. A flash of concern for Cadie knotted her guts. Worry about that when you get there, Madison.
Her leather bag appeared from the bowels of wherever the luggage was processed and she quickly hooked it, hefting it clear of the others. She gave the rental car booths a quick glance, but dismissed them without too much thought, reasoning that it was a lot less hassle to just find herself a cab.
Easier said than done, she thought as she caught sight of the long line-up waiting at the taxi stand. “Damn it.”
A red-capped Skycap appeared at her elbow. “Anything I can help you with, ma’am? Maybe carry your bags for you?”
Jo looked at him, noting that he was barely old enough to shave, if he was a day. But he obviously knew what he was doing, as he had spotted her hesitation and had decided she was an easy mark.
“Can you find me a cab I don’t have to line up for?” she asked, raising a dark eyebrow as he broke into the cheekiest of grins.
“I can probably go one better than that,” he said confidently, reaching for a cell phone clipped to his hip. “Just give me a minute?”
Jo nodded, aware that she was probably about to be fleeced, but also willing to spend a little more if it meant getting out of the crowds and on the road towards Cadie. The Skycap stepped away from her by a few yards and spoke quietly into the phone. Jo watched as he negotiated with whoever was on the other end of the line and she chuckled quietly to herself. Private enterprise at work. Finally he finished and walked back towards her, a smile plastered across his face.
“Follow me, ma’am,” he said, beckoning her in the direction of a side door. He picked up her bags, and Jo decided to humor him, a quick look at the taxi stand telling her there was very little progress being made there.
They stepped outside into what was a brilliantly clear and crisp Chicago morning. Jo breathed deeply, happy to be out of air-conditioning for the first time in days. Her young escort put her bags on the curb and stepped out into the roadway, looking left and right. Jo took a moment to take in her surroundings.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Geoff,” the Skycap replied cheerily. “And this …” He indicated an approaching minivan. “Is Maurice.” He waved the vehicle into the curb. The driver in question – an older black man who smiled politely – alighted and picked up her bags, taking them to the rear of the van. “He’ll take you anywhere in the city for a pre-arranged flat fee.”
Maurice returned, rubbing his hands together against the cool morning air. “Where can I take you, ma’am?”
Jo reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out the crumpled piece of paper upon which she had scribbled Cadie’s address. She showed it to the driver and he smiled in recognition.
“No problem. I can take you straight there for $30.”
Jo looked at Skycap Geoff and he shrugged, grinning broadly.
“I swear you won’t do better in a cab, ma’am,” he said winningly. “Maurice knows all the shortcuts.”
Jo snorted skeptically but knew he was probably right. “And I’m sure you won’t do too badly out of the deal either,” she said wryly, handing the young man a five-dollar bill. He took the money and tipped his cap to her.
“Have a wonderful stay in Chicago, ma’am,” he said, before turning on his heel and whistling his way back inside the terminal.
Jo turned to her new escort and shrugged at him. “Lead on, Maurice,” she murmured before she climbed into the back of the minivan.
“That’s the place, ma’am,” Maurice said as they approached the impressively big home at the top of the steeply inclined driveway. The driver glanced over his shoulder at the tall and brooding Australian in the seat behind him.
Jo had said very little on the trip out from O’Hare, preferring the solitude of her own thoughts. She didn’t know quite what she was driving into and wanted to be ready for any and all possibilities. About 10 minutes into the drive she had called the number of the senator’s Chicago house but it had gone unanswered. So, either Cadie has been and gone and is on her way back to Madison, or … Jo didn’t much like where that thought process went.
For a brief, dark moment she had entertained a tiny doubt about Cadie’s intentions. But the thought of the feisty little blonde going back to Naomi after everything the senator had put her through … Not to mention the fact that I trust her, and she’s given no indication that she’s not happy with me, Jo reminded herself. Well, it was just too ludicrous a thought to give any credence to for more than about a nanosecond.
Jo had her share of insecurities … And God knows, Cadie’s seen most of them by now, she allowed … but her faith in Cadie’s ability to know what was best for herself was damn near unshakable. If she’s gone back to Naomi I’ll eat my hat, coat and that old, scabby pair of ugg boots hiding in the back of my closet, Jo decided.
She looked out at the senator’s house sitting high at the top end of the cul-de-sac. None of that makes me feel any better about what might be going on in there, however, Jo decided.
“Maurice, do me a favor? Just drive past slowly and then take a turn around the block,” she said quietly. No sense rushing in where an armed police escort would fear to tread, she contemplated. Maurice nodded and did as he was told, swinging the mini-van in a wide arc around the top of the dead-end street.
Jo didn’t move from her spot, but turned her head and calmly cast an experienced eye over the landscape. What she saw did not please her. Perched on the hood of a late-model sedan was a black-suited goon and he was in animated conversation with someone who could pass as his twin brother, if clothing and attitude were the only criteria.
Hired muscle, Jo assessed. She turned away as Maurice straightened the mini-van up and headed back out to the main road. And not very attentive muscle at that. They didn’t even give us a second glance.
“Okay, Maurice, pull over,” Jo said when they were back around the corner and out of sight of the senator’s house. Once they had come to a halt, she fished inside her jacket pocket and pulled out thirty dollars and an additional one hundred dollar bill. “Thanks for everything you’ve done so far,” she said, handing Maurice the thirty. “And this …” She waved the C-spot. “Is up for grabs if you’re willing to go the extra mile for me.” Jo smiled at him winningly, a grin few on the planet could resist.
“You bet,” he answered immediately. “Name it.”
“Piece of cake, really,” she said casually. “Wait here with my bags for an hour, and then come up to that house we just drove past, and the hundred is yours. Fair enough?”
Maurice nodded. “Fair enough,” he agreed.
“Good on you.” Jo patted his shoulder and moved for the door. “See you in an hour.”
She turned into the cul-de-sac and began the walk back to the bottom of Naomi’s driveway.
Okay, Madison. No weapons, other than my fists. But I’m here illegally, so let’s try like hell not to draw any attention to ourselves, eh? Last thing we want here is anyone calling the police when they see a fight in their neighbor’s drive. Let’s just play it cool.
“M’not sure I like this, Jim,” Mr. ‘Smith’ said to his colleague. He reached up and loosened his tie as his partner refolded his newspaper.
“Yeah, I know,” ‘Not-Smith’ replied. “I was talking to Rod Makersley – you know, that guy we met after that Stone Temple Pilots concert? The tour manager?” Smith nodded in recognition. “They’re looking for more roadies for the tour they’re starting next month. I was thinking of applying.”
Smith shrugged. “S’gotta be better than this.” He jerked his head in the direction of the house behind them. “You know we’re effectively holding her hostage, dontcha?”
“Yeah,” Not-Smith muttered. “Press would have a field day if they knew.”
“Gentlemen,” Jo called out as she climbed the steep, concrete drive. The two men immediately stopped their conversation. Smith slid off the hood and together they began to walk towards her, shoulder-to-shoulder.
“Can we help you, miss?” said Smith’, who was on the right.
“You certainly can,” Jo drawled. “Would this happen to be Naomi Silverberg’s house?”
“Who wants to know?” said Not-Smith.
Oookay, play it that way then. “Nobody really,” Jo said, smiling politely at the two goons. “I’m just a friend of Cadie’s, come to pay a visit. I heard she was back in town.”
“They’re not seeing visitors today,” said Smith. He had his hand buried in his coat pocket, a stance that had Jo up on the balls of her feet.
Don’t make a scene, you bastard. Jo reached into her own pocket, where she felt the large roll of cash she had brought with her. Hmmmm, could it be that simple, she wondered.
Both men had stiffened when she had gone for the pocket and Jo quickly raised both hands to show she was unarmed. Her right fist now held the bankroll.
“Look, fellas, this doesn’t have to be complicated,” she said. “We all know what’s going on here. The senator is in there trying to talk Miss Jones into coming back to her, and I’m here to make sure that all that happens is talking. And you …” She pointed at the two big men. “Are being paid a lot of money to stop me. Is that a reasonably accurate assessment of the situation?” She grinned at them amiably and was pleased when Smith took the bait and grinned back.
“I’d say so, yes,” he replied, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back against the rental car’s trunk. His partner noticeably relaxed as well, and Jo decided it was time to take the plunge.
“Whatever she’s paying you, I’ll double it,” she said quickly, suddenly becoming very serious indeed. It caught the two bodyguards by surprise and they both gaped at her for a few seconds. Finally Smith regained the power of speech.
“You’re Jo Madison aren’t you?” he asked. Jo looked him squarely in the eye and nodded solemnly. “Thought so. You don’t seriously think we’re going to just walk away from this gig just because you wave a lot of cash in front of us, do you?”
Jo looked down at her feet and nudged a small stone away with the toe of her sneaker.
“How long have you worked for the senator?” she asked, looking up at him again.
“We don’t work for her full-time,” Smith replied, sharing a glance with his colleague. “She just uses us on and off.”
“So, on a job by job basis?”
“When she’s in Chicago, yes,” said Smith. “We’ve been doing it for about five years now.”
In for a penny, in for a pound, Jo thought, taking a deep breath. “Ah, so you’ve gotten to know her pretty well, then,” she said. Both men suddenly seemed a little uncomfortable, she thought, as she watched them exchanging looks again. “I mean, you’ll have noticed the changes in her personality the last few years.”
Smith hedged his bets one more time. “Don’t know what you’re talking about,” he muttered.
Jo snorted. “Come on, fellas. If you’re anything like her other employees, you’re beginning to wonder whether it’s worth working for the big-shot senator any more. She’s losing it, and you know it. Or did you think Toby and Jason left because they got a better offer?”
Smith and Not-Smith shuffled their feet and looked at each other again, their previous conversation replaying in their minds. Despite the money the senator had given them for this particular escorting job, neither of them were particularly comfortable with the idea of keeping Cadie as an unwilling resident. It was just the latest in what had been a series of weird briefs from the politician.
Jo waited, sensing that she was on the brink of an unlikely victory. She began counting bills off the roll in her hand, making sure the men could see exactly how much she was offering.
“That’s what I said.”
There was another pause before the duo made their decision. Jo smiled quietly to herself.
“Done,” said Smith.
“Good,” Jo replied. “Name your price.”
Smith did and Jo didn’t even blink as she handed over the cash. Mission accomplished, no blood spilled, and no authorities alerted. The two ex-bodyguards pocketed the money and sauntered down the driveway towards their own vehicle.
“Pleasure doing business with you, Miss Madison,” Smith said, tugging his forelock in acknowledgement as he walked past Jo.
“And you.” She watched them as they reached the bottom of the drive and climbed into their black sedan. They drove off without a backward look. “Hurdle number 17 successfully negotiated. Now for the really …”
A gunshot split the crisp air with shocking clarity. For a stunned millisecond, Jo was motionless, caught like a butterfly on the sharp end of a pin as her brain tried to process what she had just heard. A small flock of starlings rippled out of a nearby tree, seemingly in slow motion. The time splinter passed and Jo jerked into movement, her head snapping around and her legs powering her forward and up the remaining incline of the driveway.
Before she could even gather her thoughts into a coherent sentence, Jo was through the heavy front door and heading towards the unmistakable sounds of the struggle from somewhere to her right.
Jo rounded the corner of the entrance to the living room and barely slowed down at the sight of the tableau before her. All she could see was the trail of blood down the side of Cadie’s face as the small blonde grappled with Naomi. Cadie’s hands gripped the senator’s left wrist and held it and the smoking gun clasped in Naomi’s hand, high above their heads. The two women were at close quarters, nose-to-nose, struggling in a do-or-die wrestle for control. Naomi was screaming like a banshee, her eyes wild and manic.
Jo launched herself at the pair, knocking Cadie out of the way when she slammed into the side of the senator’s stocky form. Her momentum took them both down onto the carpet, the gun spinning out of Naomi’s hand and clattering into the stone fireplace on the far side of the room. Cadie stumbled backwards, falling down and slamming into the armchair, the wind knocked out of her.
There was no time for Jo to do anything other than try and contain the whirling dervish that Naomi became. Despite being taller than the senator, and despite ending up on top of her, Jo had her hands full as Naomi squirmed and fought to get free.
“You goddamned bitch,” Naomi screamed, the spittle flying from the corners of her mouth. “Fuck you! Goddamn and fuck YOU!!”
Cadie sucked in a deep breath, hardly believing that it was really Jo wrestling with Naomi. She could feel something warm and wet trickling down the side of her face and somehow knew she was bleeding. Her ears were ringing from the close retort of the gun.
“Jesus,” she breathed hoarsely. “Jesus, Jo, what are you doing here?”
“Owwww, fuck!” Jo exclaimed as Naomi’s flailing arm caught her across the bridge of her nose. The senator was still yelling and squealing like a stuck pig as Jo tried to pin her arms to the carpet.
Cadie came to her senses and scrambled to her feet, intending to retrieve the gun.
“No!” Jo yelled. “Don’t touch it!” Don’t want anyone’s fingerprints but Naomi’s on that thing, she thought. She grunted with renewed effort as Naomi twisted under her in an attempt to gain purchase.
Cadie stopped mid-step, her brain still several miles behind the events of the last few minutes. Jo’s here. How the hell can she be here? “I’ll call the police,” she muttered, changing direction and heading for the phone.
Jo finally managed to get a grip on Naomi’s pummeling fists and she pinned them to the carpet with her full body weight. God damn, she’s strong. Then again, being totally fucked in the head will do that for someone. Then Cadie’s words sank in and Jo snapped her head around in alarm.
“No!” she shouted again. “Don’t call them. Don’t call anyone. Just let me get her under control and then I can think.” Naomi’s screams had turned to sobs now and Jo realized the anger was dissolving into a full-blown, emotional meltdown. Jesus.
“Why?” Cadie couldn’t see why Jo wouldn’t want to call the authorities. The situation was way beyond anything they could handle alone, surely.
Jo looked up at her lover and their eyes locked for the first time. She felt the flow of warmth between them, unmistakable, even under these bizarre circumstances.
“I can’t explain right now,” Jo said, indicating Naomi with a tilt of her head. “Just trust me. Okay?” She held Cadie’s gaze for a moment longer and the blonde nodded with a small, tight smile.
Naomi was almost completely still now, but she was sobbing helplessly. Cadie sat down heavily in the armchair, the shock of the situation and how close she had come to being seriously hurt finally hitting her. She reached up a tentative hand and touched the blood that trailed from her cheek. Holy crap. Cadie watched as Jo shifted her own position so she could more easily control Naomi should the senator get rambunctious again.
“Cadie, you’re hurt,” Jo said, concern and a need to be close to her lover warring with her need to keep the slippery senator subdued.
“I … I’m o-okay,” Cadie mumbled. “It’s just a scratch.”
Jo felt a sudden wave of nausea sweep through her. That was close. So close. And I was too late to stop it. Jesus. She sent out a silent thank you to the universe for keeping Cadie relatively safe.
“N-now what?” Cadie stammered. She was full of questions, not the least of which was how the hell Jo had managed to get herself here at just the right moment. But the warning look on her lover’s face made her bite her tongue.
“I don’t know,” Jo muttered. “I’m thinking about it.” She was still half-reclined over Naomi’s back, pinning the stocky senator face down on the shag-pile carpet. Despite the woman’s relative stillness, Jo didn’t trust her to stay that way if she let her go.
As if to prove the point, Naomi erupted again in a renewed burst of manic energy. Jo yelped as the back of senator’s head impacted the point of her chin and she narrowly avoided biting her tongue. Naomi snarled and arched her back, attempting to tip Jo off. The Australian, who wasn’t as heavy as the senator, but outdid her in the power and reach departments, clung on tenaciously.
“God damn it,” Jo muttered. She could feel her own temper fraying and she had to consciously resist the urge to knock the senator into next week. “For Christ’s sake, Cadie, what the hell were you thinking?” A political elbow jabbed up at her. “Keep still, you maniac or I swear to God I will …” Finally, she managed to pin Naomi’s hands. “Lie STILL, damn you. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“What do you mean, what was I thinking?” Cadie asked, bristling at the question, even though it was one she’d asked herself several times in the past two days.
“Coming down here on your own, is what I mean,” Jo snapped. She’d had just about enough of the wriggling ball of poison under her, and although she was aware she was probably taking out her irritation on her partner, she just couldn’t seem to help it. “I mean, Jesus, your parents offered.”
“How do you know that?” Cadie responded sharply, feeling the sting of Jo’s words. “In fact, how did you know to come at all?”
“Look, can we talk about this later?” Jo answered. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’ve got a bit of a handful, right now.”
The handful in question renewed her struggle. “You motherFUCKER!” Naomi screamed.
Cadie decided to ignore the hurt Jo’s words had caused, for now, the present situation needing all their attention. “Jo, if the gunshot doesn’t bring police running in this neighborhood, then her screaming will.”
“I know, I know.” Jo grunted as Naomi elbow caught her in the midriff. An idea occurred to her. “Does she have a therapist? Here in town, I mean?”
Cadie’s eyes widened. “Yes. Yes, she does. Dr Salinger. And she’s on this side of city as well.”
“Call her,” Jo said bluntly. “Explain what’s happened …” She glanced up at her lover. “More or less. And get her over here.”
Cadie nodded and reached for the phone.
“Wait, Cadie,” Jo said suddenly. “I’ve changed my mind about the gun. If she thinks you’ve been shot, isn’t she required by law to report it?”
Cadie thought about it. “I don’t know for sure,” she hesitated. “But I would guess so, yes.”
“Okay.” Jo let go of Naomi’s left hand long enough to yank a handkerchief out of her own back pocket. “Use this to pick it up and hide it.” Cadie took the piece of material and walked over to the fireplace, while Jo craned her neck to see if she could spot where the bullet that had grazed her lover had ended up. Finally, she spotted it, buried high in the opposite wall. No need to worry about that right now, she decided. I’ll pull that out later, when this is all sorted.
Cadie gingerly wrapped the firearm in the handkerchief and picked it up. It shocked her that the barrel was still warm and she swallowed, knowing just how lucky she was. She didn’t want to think about that right now. Nor did she want to think about how far Naomi had fallen. Or who was responsible for that. Instead, she wrapped the gun in the handkerchief and stuffed it under the cushion of the chair she had been sitting in. Once it was safely hidden away she reached once more for the telephone.
Fifteen minutes and a few more bruises for Jo later, there was a knock on the door. Cadie ran for it, opening the heavy portal to reveal a willowy redhead, carrying a medical bag.
“Arcadia.” The psychiatrist frowned. “I didn’t know you were back in town. What’s going on? Your phone call didn’t exactly make a lot of sense.”
Cadie nodded. “Come in, please.” She led the tall doctor down the corridor to the entrance to the living room. “I came back to clean out my stuff and Naomi was here,” the blonde said as she walked. “She’s been violent towards me, and then she threatened to kill herself.” Cadie nodded in the direction of Jo and Naomi, who were still sprawled together on the floor. Jo was breathing heavily from the effort of keeping the senator subdued. “I was lucky,” Cadie murmured. “My friend turned up at just the right moment.”
The doctor reached out and took Cadie’s chin in her hand, turning the blonde’s head slightly so she could get a better look at the scrape on her cheek. “What happened here?”
Cadie swallowed. “She scratched me,” she said quietly.
Salinger looked her patient’s ex-partner in the eye for a few seconds, finding nothing in the determined green eyes to make her doubt Cadie’s story. “Mmm.” She decided to take the blonde at face value and turned back to the bizarre scene on the floor. “Hello,” she said to Jo, who just nodded, preferring not to let her accent identify her any more than was necessary. “Okay, let’s see what we’ve got here.”
The psychiatrist walked over to Naomi and dropped to her knees by the senator’s head, carefully placing her bag down, just out of reach. Cadie moved back over to her chair and sat down, silently watching.
“Hello, Naomi.” Salinger looked carefully at her patient. They hadn’t seen each other since a few days after the politician had arrived back from Australia, without Cadie. Naomi had been livid and spitting venom during the two-hour session they had had together at that time. But that didn’t prepare Roxanne Salinger for the physical changes in the senator.
Naomi’s face was florid, partly, Salinger was sure, from the tall and, her brain acknowledged, thoroughly gorgeous woman who was practically sitting on Naomi’s back. But there was spittle in the corners of the senator’s mouth, and her eyes were wild and bloodshot. She had been clenching her fists so hard that her fingernails had left little crescents of blood on her palms.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Naomi hissed, more drool dripping from her mouth.
“I came because Cadie called me and said you needed some help,” Salinger said calmly. “Why don’t we talk about that?”
“Why don’t you go fuck yourself?”
Jo found herself suppressing a wry smile. Frankly, she almost agreed with Naomi. There’s a first, she thought solemnly. Quit talking, Doc, and just dope her up with something so I can get off her.
“Naomi. Do you remember what happened here this morning?” The doctor persisted, knowing that she had to make some attempt at assessing the woman’s mental state.
“I know that everyone’s screwing me over ... as fucking usual,” Naomi snarled. “I just wanted to talk to her. Just wanted to talk. Put it right. Go back … go back to the way it was.” Suddenly, Jo felt all the fight go out of the woman she had pinned down. Naomi started sobbing, her breath coming in huge, wracking gasps.
Cadie dropped her head, feeling like a big pile of horse crap. I did everything wrong here. This whole trip was a mistake.
“I think you can get off her now,” Dr Salinger said softly, looking at Jo. Crystal blue eyes blinked back at her, hesitating. “Really.”
Jo backed off, pushing herself up off Naomi and off the floor. She stood, twisting a little to work the kinks out of her back. There was no way she was going to relax, though. I don’t think this doctor has a vague clue what this nutcase is capable of.
But Naomi was past the point of violence now. Instead she curled into fetal position on her side, crying. Not small, contained crying, either. Big, loud, hysterical tears.
The psychiatrist sat back on her heels, watching her patient. There wouldn’t be any talking to the senator while she was in this state, she knew. Salinger reached for her bag, opening it and withdrawing a syringe.
“What are you going to do?” Cadie asked hoarsely. The tone of her voice caught Jo’s attention and she looked across at her lover. Cadie looked haggard, close to exhaustion and Jo cursed herself.
You were hard on her, before, you idiot, she thought. She’s been through enough the last couple of days without you coming down on her.
“I’m going to sedate her, and then I’m going to take her to a rehabilitation clinic,” Dr Salinger replied as she filled the syringe with a clear fluid from a small vial.
“Rehabilitation clinic?” Cadie asked. “She’s been taking drugs.” A statement, not a question.
The doctor finished filling the syringe and reached over to the senator, lifting the sleeve of her polo shirt. Carefully she inserted the needle, smoothly and steadily injecting the fluid into Naomi’s bloodstream. Almost immediately, the older woman’s sounds quieted, though she continued to cry.
“You know that under doctor/patient confidentiality, I can’t discuss the details of Naomi’s case with anyone, not even you,” she said. Cadie nodded, understanding. “But I will say that I think a rehab clinic is the best place for her to be right now.”
“Fair enough. Doesn’t she have to agree to it, first?” Cadie murmured.
“Yes.” Salinger looked down at her patient. “But I don’t think that’s going to be much of a problem.” She reached out and stroked Naomi’s hair away from her forehead. “Naomi.” Watery, brown eyes blinked at her. “I want to take you to clinic where we can get you some rest and some treatment. Do you think you’re ready to do that?”
There was a pause and Cadie swallowed as Naomi’s eyes tracked to her, as if she was seeking Cadie’s advice. The blonde just nodded, hoping that, one last time, Naomi would listen.
“Yes, I’m ready,” Naomi whispered hoarsely.
“Good girl,” her therapist said, patting Naomi’s shoulder gently. “I’ll make the arrangements.” Salinger pushed herself to her feet and pulled out a cell phone, talking as she walked out of the room, leaving Jo and Cadie looking at each other over the prone and now almost unconscious Naomi.
“I’m sorry,” Jo said quietly. Cadie just shook her head.
“Don’t,” she husked. “Not now.”
Dr Salinger stepped back into the room. “The paramedics will be here shortly,” she said. Out of her pocket she pulled a business card and handed it to Cadie. “That’s where we’re taking her. I know that you’re probably not going to come visit, but perhaps you could let her people know where she is.”
Cadie took the card and nodded. “Thanks.” She looked up at the redhead. “Thanks for coming over.”
Salinger sighed. “That’s okay,” she replied. “You did the right thing calling me. To be honest, I’ve been half-expecting this. You coming back was just the trigger.”
“It was a mistake,” Cadie said quietly.
“Don’t beat yourself up for it,” the psychiatrist answered. “You didn’t really have any way of knowing just how far she would go.”
“Thought you couldn’t discuss the details with anyone,” Jo growled from across the room. Accent be damned.
“You’re Jo Madison,” the doctor said, suddenly putting the pieces together. Jo said nothing. “You’re right. I did say that. But that doesn’t mean I have to be a complete asshole, Miss Madison.”
The conversation was brought to a halt by the arrival of the paramedics. Cadie watched forlornly as the two men and the psychiatrist talked together in low voices before they knelt by Naomi’s side again. For a few moments, all Cadie could see of the senator was her left hand, complete with the wedding ring Cadie had slid onto it almost 13 years earlier. Where did she go, that woman?
It had been a perfect fall day, Cadie remembered. Not a cloud in the sky and she had decided to celebrate the moment by skipping classes to take in a rally down in the quadrangle. The student elections were only a couple of weeks away and the campaigning had reached a fever pitch. Cadie had decided it was time to get more involved, at least as much as it took to inform herself about the issues, and she had happily settled on the grass to take in the speeches.
The sound of the two paramedics grunting as they lifted Naomi onto a gurney brought Cadie sharply back to the present. She was surprised to feel tears on her cheeks, and the sight of Naomi’s older, wearier, but so familiar features did nothing to stem the flow.
Where did she go?
The paramedics wheeled the gurney out, the doctor walking behind. Within minutes, Jo and Cadie were watching the ambulance driving away, the psychiatrist’s Mercedes following.
“Well, that’s that,” Cadie muttered absently, as she turned from the front door and walked back into the living room. Jo waited a while longer, hardly believing that Senator Naomi Silverberg had just disappeared out of their lives. Hopefully for good. She felt a pang of what could have been guilt, but it lasted for a fleeting second. Couldn’t have happened to a bigger bitch, she finally decided before she followed Cadie back inside.
She walked in to the room to find Cadie back in the chair, looking very small and lost. The blonde was sniffling, a sound that immediately tugged at Jo’s heartstrings. Awwwwwwwwwww, shit.
Jo walked over and knelt down between Cadie’s legs, placing her hands gently on the blonde’s thighs.
“Talk to me,” she said softly.
Cadie shook her head, scattering tears. “It’s nothing you want to hear,” she whispered.
“I might surprise you,” Jo replied, ducking her head to try and catch Cadie’s eye.
Cadie struggled to find the words. “I feel so sorry for her,” she finally said, shrugging her shoulders, knowing that it was hard for anyone else to understand that perspective.
Jo pulled her into a hug and Cadie nestled in, adoring the feel of the Australian’s long, strong arms around her. Keeping her safe.
“Unless I’m totally misinterpreting what I saw, she’s just tried to kill you, love,” Jo pointed out carefully. She knew that no matter how hard she tried, she would never see Naomi the same way Cadie did.
“I know. That’s what’s throwing me. She … Jo, I loved her once. I still care about her.”
“I know,” Jo replied. “I’m guessing you’ve been swamped with memories the last few days, right?” She felt Cadie nod. “Were you tempted?” The last came out in a hoarse whisper.
Cadie pushed herself back and looked Jo in the eye. “Tempted? To go back to her, you mean?” Jo nodded and Cadie’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re kidding, right? Jo, I was remembering how it used to be, but having a gun held to my head was a pretty strong reminder of how much Naomi’s changed.”
Jo breathed out slowly, and caught herself blushing at her own show of insecurity. “Okay, I can see that,” she said wryly.
“Good.” Cadie returned to her position, nestled under Jo’s chin. “She’s sick, Jo.”
“Mhmm, yes she is.” argument there.
“I guess I’m just finding it hard to believe that the two Naomi’s I know are the same woman. Sometimes I almost wish I couldn’t remember how it used to be.”
Jo kissed the top of the blonde head. “Don’t do that,” she said. “It would be good to give her credit for being human once.”
“Mmmmmm.” Cadie closed her eyes and just let Jo cradle her.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Jo murmured.
“No, you were right,” Cadie said, her voice cracking. “I was an idiot to come alone. Dad even offered me his cell phone and I turned that down. What the hell was I thinking?”
“Sweetheart, you thought Naomi was on the other side of the country. And I’m the last person on the planet to criticize you for trying not to rely too much on your parents.” She smiled at the irony. “I just wish I could have gotten here earlier. It might have saved you this.” She brushed a tentative fingertip across Cadie’s cheek, tracing the edge of the scrape the bullet had left. Jo swallowed, suddenly uncomfortably aware of just how close her partner had come to being seriously hurt. Or worse.
Cadie reached up and took Jo’s hand. For the first time since Jo had appeared, like magic … less than an hour ago, she thought wonderingly … she fully absorbed the fact that her lover was actually here. In the flesh. With a surge of relief she pulled back again and cupped Jo’s now-smiling face in her hands.
“You’re here. You’re really here,” she whispered.
“Yes, I’m here,” Jo replied. “God, it feels good to hold you.”
Cadie gazed at Jo, a tentative smile creeping on to her face. “How did you manage it? Did Ken help you?”
Jo’s eyes dropped and she suddenly felt uncertain and more than a little sheepish. “I’m … um … not exactly here legally,” she whispered. She glanced up and saw nothing but love in Cadie’s sea-green eyes. “That’s why I didn’t want to say too much while Naomi and the doctor were around. And why I didn’t want to get the police involved. I’ve got to keep a very low profile. I’m, uh, not here on my real passport.”
Cadie leaned forward again and brushed her lips across Jo’s. “I adore you,” she whispered. “You risked that for me?”
Jo felt a lump the size of Coonyabby in her throat. “I’d do anything for you.”
Cadie’s heart melted and she went back for a second kiss. This one was slower and delicious as they reacquainted themselves with each other. By the time it was done, both were breathing raggedly and their faces were flushed.
“You do say the most wonderful things sometimes, Jo-Jo,” Cadie sighed.
“Mmm, and sometimes I say the stupidest things in the world,” Jo said gruffly, remembering how she had snapped at Cadie earlier.
“Shhh,” Cadie replied, putting a gentle finger on Jo’s lips, which were impossibly soft. “It’s okay. Naomi’s gone now.” Really gone.
“So what would you like to do now?” Jo asked. Cadie sat back in the chair and squeezed her lover with her knees. She exhaled soft and low as she thought about the possibilities the day held.
“Well, I guess we can pack up the rest of my stuff.”
“Mhmm, sounds like a plan, Stan.”
“And then we could head north and you can meet my parents.”
Jo’s eyes widened, her face a picture of shock and consternation.
“Oh my god.”
Jo dug the long-nosed pliers carefully into the small hole high up in the wall of the living room. She was balanced on a stepladder, one hand pressed against the wall and the other manipulating the pliers. Her tongue poked, rather endearingly, Cadie thought, from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated on her task.
“You found it, then?” Cadie asked, chuckling when Jo jumped. The blonde had been outside, loading some more of her things into the rental car and Jo had obviously not heard her come back in. Cadie stepped forward quickly to steady the ladder as her partner recovered.
“Jesus, woman, you startled me,” Jo exclaimed. “I nearly had the damn thing, too.”
“Sorry, love,” Cadie replied. She looked up and watched as Jo carefully extracted the crumpled bullet fragment from the hole.
“Got it,” Jo said, somewhat redundantly.
“Just out of curiosity,” Cadie began. “Why do we need it? I mean, Naomi shot it, Naomi loaded the gun, presumably, and I don’t think she’s going to announce either of those things to the police. So why are we worrying about pulling it out of the wall?”
Jo climbed slowly back down the ladder and they both took a few moments to study the bullet as it sat in the palm of the taller woman’s hand.
Jo shrugged. “I don’t know really,” she finally said. “I’d suggest keeping it as a souvenir but the last thing we’d want is for it to set off some damn metal detector between here and Sydney.” She grinned at Cadie. “Maybe we should just put it down to me being a neat freak?”
Her partner smiled back but then turned serious again. “Let’s leave it with Mom and Dad,” she suggested suddenly. Jo met her gaze and raised an inquiring eyebrow. “The bottom line is, we don’t really know how she’s going to be feeling about you and I, even if this rehab clinic does her some good,” Cadie explained. “There weren’t any witnesses today. If she wanted to say I’d shot at her, she could. But, if we’ve got the bullet – which, presumably, she loaded into the gun – at least we have a chance of proving it was the other way around.” Her uncertainty turned the last part of the sentence into a question. Jo nodded and smiled at her.
“Spot on,” Jo murmured. “Okay, then. We’ll leave it with your parents.” She looked at her partner again. “You realize that means telling them pretty much what happened?”
“Yeah, I know. They’re not going to be happy.”
Jo wrapped an arm around Cadie’s shoulder and pulled her in for a quick hug. “They’ll be okay. You’re safe and Naomi’s in the nuthouse. That’s all they need to remember.” Cadie squeezed her back and both women enjoyed the contact for a few seconds before they separated with a quick smile.
Jo bent down and extracted Naomi’s pistol from where Cadie had hidden it under a seat cushion. She unwrapped it from the handkerchief and studied it carefully. It was similar to a million other guns she had seen and handled in her former life, and nothing about it was extraordinary.
“Does Naomi usually keep a gun in the house?” she asked casually. “Or did she bring this with her just for this trip?”
Cadie looked more closely at the gun. Unlike Jo, she’d never had more than a passing interest in firearms and had only ever fired rifles. She had no idea if this was Naomi’s only gun.
“There’s only way to find out,” she concluded. “Come on.”
Jo followed her across the hallway and into a spacious study that was lined with dark wood panels. It was cluttered with books and papers, but like everything else in the house, there was a thin layer of dust covering all. Cadie walked over to the large oak desk and sat down in the leather chair. She reached under the desktop.
“Naomi kept it in a secret panel under here somewhere,” she said as she fumbled around. “Aaaah.” There was a satisfying click and a panel slid out. Inside was a felt-lined shelf, empty except for the faint outline of a handgun on the material, and a box of bullets. “Bingo.”
“Well, that answers that question,” Jo said. Before she could think about what to do next, however, the front door bell rang.
“What if that’s the police?” Cadie whispered, her face a picture of alarm. Jo’s eyes widened for an instant but then she slapped her forehead.
“Jesus, that’ll be Maurice. I completely forgot about him.”
Blonde eyebrows rose.
“Who is Maurice?”
Jo grinned at her. “My driver. I promised him a hundred dollars to show up in an hour with my luggage. I guess the hour’s up.”
“That’s a hell of a tip, Jo-Jo. Want me to go pay him?”
Jo shook her head. “No, I’ll do it.” She handed the gun, still wrapped in the handkerchief, back to Cadie. “Slide that back into its place in the drawer – but don’t touch the metal at all, okay?” she said. “Then wrap this –” She tipped the crushed bullet out of her palm and on to the desktop. “In the handkerchief.”
Cadie handled the gun gingerly. “You’re sure?” She looked glumly at the gun and Jo leaned down and kissed her softly on the forehead.
“Cheer up, sweetheart. It’s almost all over and then we can go home,” she whispered. Cadie leaned against her for a few moments.
“I do love you, you know.”
Jo smiled and kissed her again. “I know. Be back in a minute.” With one last pat of Cadie’s shoulder she turned and headed for the front door.
Cadie watched her go and then turned back to the task at hand. Gingerly she slid the gun onto the felt and nudged it into place with the handkerchief. Then she picked up the spent shell, again using the material to keep her own fingerprints off the metal. She tucked the little package into her jeans pocket.
She was about to go find Jo, when a thought occurred to her that made her sit back down. A stack of Naomi’s personalized stationery caught her attention and she slid a blank page towards her. After all, my fingerprints should be all over this house, she reasoned. I lived here for seven years, God knows. Cadie lifted Naomi’s fountain pen out of the desk set … I gave that to her three Christmases ago … and began writing.
Jo peeked through the peephole, relieved to see that it was indeed Maurice who had rung the front door bell. She opened the door and grinned at him. “Hello, Maurice.”
“Oh, thank goodness, ma’am. I was beginning to think something was seriously wrong,” said the driver, relief written on his face. “I saw an ambulance leaving and didn’t know what to do.”
Jo stepped outside, picking up one of her bags as she walked past him. “No worries, mate, you did exactly the right thing,” she said reassuringly. “Give me a hand with the other bag, will you?”
Together they loaded Jo’s gear into Cadie’s car before she handed him the promised cash.
“Thanks,” she said, grinning and shaking his hand.
“You sure everything’s all right, ma’am?” Maurice said, more than happy with his profit on the day, but eager to be of whatever further service was needed.
“Everything’s great,” Jo answered, and for the first time since she had arrived in the country, she actually felt like that was the truth. “A friend of ours just had a bit of a nasty turn, that’s all. She’ll be fine.”
“Well, that’s good to hear, that’s for sure,” he said, enthusiastically pumping her hand. He reached into his pocket and gave her a battered business card which had seen better days. “And the next time you’re in Chicago and need someone to drive you around, you just call my number.”
Jo took it happily. “I’ll certainly do that, Maurice. If I ever get out of this country and back again without being arrested or shot at, it will be you I call.” She grinned at the uncertain look on his face. “I’m joking, mate, honestly.”
“Uh, yes ma’am,” he muttered, suddenly not so sure that she was joking at all. “Well, safe travels to you.”
An hour later the car was packed with everything of Cadie’s they could find. Cadie pulled the front door closed and backed away, looking up at the big house. Jo leaned against the hood of the car, watching her friend say goodbye to a lot of memories.
Cadie patted the head of the ceramic dragon sitting by the doorstep. Bye, Albert. I’d like to think there are a lot more fond memories of this place than just you, but I’m struggling to remember many of them right now. She turned and headed towards where Jo was waiting, and Cadie felt the smile coming to her own face. I’d much rather look forward than back. Check out how gorgeous my future is.
“Ready to go?” Jo asked quietly as Cadie came towards her.
“Absolutely,” Cadie answered firmly. “It’s time to go home.”