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Trouble Times Ten

Chapter 1

“You are just being ten kinds of fool, Becky Anne Barton,” she whispered to herself as she sprinted to enter the secured door. Acting nonchalant she barely caught the heavy double doors from swinging completely shut. With one step she did it, committing the crime of trespassing as easily as that. This security sucks. What about the riff-raff, she mentally grimaced. Woohoo, you’re a criminal now, Bee. Why am I doing this? Her internal dialog continued, sarcastically. It’s not as if this morning I thought; Hey today I’ll become a criminal. Is this a mid-life crisis? Is super ‘stupid’ one of the phases?

Never thinking she would be trespassing for any reason, especially not because of a woman, she tried to ignore the guilty feeling and continued inward. The gorgeous body I followed is what I should be focused on. The excitement of doing something daring isn’t bad either.

Every day for the last two months, she woke up and rediscovered complete boredom. Wandering around her huge estate grounds, she continued to feel a growing emptiness in her life that craved to be filled. Her thoughts returned always to her departed family. Both her foster parents passed away within months of each other, over five years ago. Remembering the good times she’d spent with them brought back those feelings of belonging. Lately, she missed them both so much.

At thirty-seven years old, she was a truly accomplished systems architect, very wealthy, and highly respected. Accomplished and wealthy came with the brutal demand of always having to strive to prove to others she was better. Her life had been full of risks and gambles, racing through the last fifteen years. She'd lived a fast lifestyle of the entrepreneur from a growing computer software company. Respected, her employee base grew tremendously as her successful dotcom start up, survived the early 90’s stock market disasters and continued to run strong. The software products expanded and the World Wide Web marketing sales drove the company stock upward.

But, now she was tired and lonely. Always moving upward in achievement, her personal life was not as successful. After her last breakup, Becky decided she needed a change, or at the very least a break from work. Crunching the numbers she made the decision to finally step down. The newly appointed board members, trusted employees and friends, were asked to convene on her behalf and make the next generation of software products for her company. So far, she’d been able to remain in the background. A little too much in the background she shrugged with the feelings of being letdown and a little useless.

Spending time resting and reducing the intense pressures of her job was a harder task than she realized. Still involved peripherally she kept in touch with the board but found the challenges rare and unsatisfying. Designing, selling, and implementing plans for multimillion dollar company was her functionality. Now she was being asked to make simple corrections to the designs or approve other ideas. Her demand was minute and she was feeling deflated. Boredom was a dull knife stabbing at her.

But, today was different. A growing feeling of edgy nervousness and the thrill of excitement flowed through her veins. She recognized the missing symptom that had disappeared after leaving the company. Her secluded home life held nothing remotely close to the offering of excitement she had found from trespassing in this building. Becky frowned at the realization. Too bad it was illegal. She shook her head at the incongruous fact.

Maybe that’s what made me go insane today, obviously insane enough to finally snap. For a change of pace Becky went down to the open farmers market, less boring than roaming from empty room to empty room at her house. Once there, seeing a hot redheaded woman picking up fruit and vegetables for one, Becky spontaneously started following her. You just never know when you might get lucky and meet the woman of your dreams down at the market, she'd humorously thought, watching the short skirt and stylish boots as they moved ahead of her. Yep, Bee, you’ve finally arrived. You’re a stalker! Following the woman was an easy task until now. Her arrival at the ten-floor condo building was a bit of a tricky situation. Becky thought about going home for half a second but licked her lips and continued on. That woman better be single.

Her dark brown eyes surveyed the clean and empty lobby. The quick glance assured her the foyer held no security guards. Nothing stirred. The guy that unknowingly let her in was already on his way up one of the four elevators. Crap! Now what? Following some gorgeous woman home seemed fun at first. It really didn’t seem so difficult, until reality snuck in. Which floor does she live on, Bee? This damn building has ten floors. So much for that stroke of brilliance my workers were always saying I have.

She blew a puff of air out the corner of her mouth. A drooping curl of black hair stirred from her line of sight. What am I doing? I think I’m losing it. This morning I’m perfectly sane and here I am tonight stalking after some hot, gorgeous babe, who just happened to cross my path. I’m off my rocker. And now I’m trespassing. I am so going to jail. She noticed the sign for the stairwell and shrugged off her jitters. It’s only a few floors. I can look around. It’s not like I haven’t “already” broke the law. Becky rolled her eyes at her immoral inner voice managing to make such a lame excuse. If it’s meant to be…it will happen and maybe this time, I won’t blow it.

A sharp memory came back to stab her of an ex lover calling her a workaholic. Of course that didn't mean my ex was allowed to sleep around on me. Becky felt her lip curl derisively at the anger that instantly rose. For once, I’d almost settle for honesty and commitment, regardless of the passion. An instantly clear recollection of her foster mother’s voiced rebuke sounded in her head, “Be careful what you wish for.”

“Grrrrrrrr, Mother mine, don’t make me wake you up from that graveyard. I’m sure the pearly streets of heaven are much more interesting than me. You need to go play cards with Elvis and leave me and my poor single self alone.” Becky voiced the remark upward as she stood on the first step of many in the stairwell. . Up we go, then.

The first floor showed eight closed loft doors. Becky walked through the hallway and eventually found the opposite side of the building and another stairwell. She hadn’t noticed any blatant door sign stating “hot babe lives here”.This folly-filled escapade was probably a lost cause now that I, the pathetic stalker, am stymied. Her lip twitch at the ludicrous thought, a stymied stalker! Perfect! It just doesn’t get any more pathet… her thoughts stopped as she heard voices murmuring in the hollow tube of the stairwell above.

“We shouldn’t be out here, Gwen. Charlie told us to stay inside. We are gonna get in so much trouble.” A young boy’s voice warbled with fearful conviction. Becky stopped moving and intruded shamelessly listening closely to locate the speaker.

“Oh, Danny! I just gotta see Bunny. He is probably starving by now. I saved him some carrots from last night’s dinner at the mission. Charlie won’t find out. I just need a little help getting up the stairs. Come on…please!!!” A small girl’s voice begged adorably. Becky couldn’t help but smile at the dramatic pleading. The scrape and squeak of movement pin-pointed the two children a couple floors above. The glint of slowly moving silver bars explained the girl was on crutches. Becky understood they were beginning to move upward. She slowed her approach and remained quiet.

“These crutches are terrible. I can’t wait until you’re a big tall man that can carry me around. When we get married we will move into a big house and maybe get rich so I can get that fix that Grandma Alta was always talking about.”

“Here let me help you on this side. You sure got a grand imaga…igama…imashinatation, Gwen. We can’t get married. We are brother and sister, aren’t we? Grandma Alta said we was all a big family. You can’t marry family, can you?”

“You’re not my brother, Danny. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I don’t have any Momma or Daddy either, just like you. That’s what the home said. That’s why we were sent there. I’m so glad Charlie got us out of there.

“Me too, Gwen! Those other boys were always trying to fight. I had to hide in the bushes sometimes when we got to go outside, so that I wouldn’t get punched. At least here, Trevon and Terry aren't as mean. Sure they make me clean up and stuff, but that’s cause Charlie would be cross. I don’t mind that much anyway. I have my own half of the room and Charlie said we might be able to get some pictures to put on the walls. Don’t you think that’s fansta…fatast…great?”

Becky silently moved up the stairs listening, saddened and yet charmed by the enthusiastic childlike dream. She couldn’t see the little munchkins but she could almost feel the excitement in the boy’s remarks. Kids were always an enigma to her. They were so energetic and open, so unlike any adults she had ever known. That was until she started receiving second hand parenting lessons from her newly appointed assistant.

Doreen McCullen was an older figure that reminded Becky of her mom in some ways. Always giving advice and helping where she could. Doreen kept three things together for Becky, her schedule, her house and her sanity. If not for Doreen, Becky might've returned to her company after the first week. Having another adult to converse with about different things was just what Becky needed. And Doreen had plenty to talk about. She had three girls of various ages and she was always quick to share a 'moment' with her boss. Becky found herself laughing until her sides ached at some of the antics those girls could get into. The stories always held one of Doreen’s catch phrases somewhere in the tale. An often repeated phrase of “Can you believe that?” or “Do you know what that girl told me?” had Becky waiting for each punch line with a smile.

Gwen’s heavily panting breath broke into her thoughts.

“I gotta rest. Jus a sec.” Her breathing was loud and wet sounding. Becky frowned. Danny seemed to take it in stride and talked louder.

“I hope Charlie stops being so sad. Grandma Alta was very nice but she was really sick. I think she needed to go to sleep. To rest up for heaven.” A pause, then he rambled on. “She was a nice lady. Do you suppose we will get a new Grandma? Charlie seems to be look’n for one?”

“I don’t think so. I heard Trevon say we have to cut down on money stuff cause the pin..son check doesn’t come no more.” Gwen had caught her breath and they were moving upward again. Danny and Gwen fell silent.

Becky frowned at the obvious hardship, she stood at the second floor doorway still listening for any further information. It was bothering her, two very young kids like that, one crippled and the other with such small dreams, neither sounded like they were having such a good life. Even the Charlie fellow sounded over worked and struggling. She hesitated, hand on the doorknob to enter the second floor and look for the good-looking woman she was trying to find. It seemed a bit trivial at this point. The mood was lost.

Suddenly she heard another door open above her. Well she thought it opened. The following silence in the stairwell was deafening.

“I saw you little darlings. Come on out and see your Unc’a Robert!” A man’s slurred voice sounded, chillingly above. Becky frowned at the creepy feeling that slithered over her skin. Heavy steps of a larger person began to stomp upward and Becky felt her heart begin to beat rapidly.

“Ya’ll know you shouldn’t be out here. I let you live in that place without no fuss. Your guardian don’t pay me nearly enough. I think I’m due a bit more. I need me some hugs. You come down here and give me some hugs.” He had already moved up a flight when Becky vaguely heard the shuffled movements and squeaks of crutches and slaps of feet on stairs up higher.

The “Unc Robert” cackled happily as he obviously spied his quarry. Becky dropped her hand from the doorknob and began to climb the stairs, swiftly. She leapt two stairs at a time when she heard a sudden cry of alarm from a child. A metal clank of a dropped crutch slamming flat onto the floor had her sprinting up the last flight. Rounding the rail, she spied a very small child with a foot brace pulling away from a huge man as he reeled her inward.

“Let her go.” Becky’s ominous tone must've broken through the drunk mans demeanor. He jerked sharply upward and looked down at Becky even as she stepped up closer to the two figures.

His red shot eyes narrowed as he slowly slid his hand down off Gwen's upper arm to her hand grasping it tightly. Gwen struggled to get away to no avail.

“An who do we ‘ave here?” He involuntarily burped, scratching his stomach, ignoring the young girl’s struggles. Becky smiled dangerously.

“Someone you do not want to mess with. Let her go right now, or I’ll toss you down five flights of stairs onto your thick head. Got me?” Becky let her grin grow. She was told her Barracuda smile during business transactions could make a grown man tremble. She hoped this grown man would shit his pants.

Unc Robert focused his blurry eyes onto the woman and must have seen something that made him think twice. He took a half step backward. Becky heard a slight scrape of the small metal crutch being broken as his weight pressed down onto it. A cry of dismay from the girl confirmed the destruction. The man looked down for a moment to see what he was on and Becky took that moment to react. In two strides she hit him with her body. Her black belt gave her some wicked moves for pinning a body down that unfortunately caused pain. He released the young girl as he grunted and yelped. Becky ignored the vulgar stench of alcohol on his breath and growled, viciously jabbing his pressure points.

“Never touch a child again dickweed or I’ll find you and rip it off. Apologize to the little lady.” Becky growled to him as she dug into the pressure point. His yelping “I’m sorry” was the pathetic yelp and Becky quickly pulled him from the wall to toss him in the direction of the stairway.

“Get out of here. Before I feel a need to break your neck anyway, you miserable piece of crap. Don’t mess with these kids again.” Becky eyed the young girl who was shaking badly and had scooted over into a corner. The drunk half fell and grossly stumbled down the stairs to the next level door. His mumbled “I’ll get you…” trailed back up until the door closed behind him and the stairwell became silent.

Becky crouched down near the young girl and murmured her name.

“Gwen, sweetheart? It’s OK. He’s gone.” No response. Becky was just moving forward to touch the girl, when a voice behind her made her wait.

“She don’t like to be touched, ma’am. She don’t usually like help neither but I’m sure glad you was here.” Danny came down from the stairs above and moved over beside Gwen.

He crouched down and with his back against the wall slid down to sit beside Gwen. The two children were definitely NOT siblings. Gwen was a very small white girl, frail, with a pixie face. Her pale features might have been from shock but Becky noted the boy was a bit pale as well. These two were not getting out in the sunshine much. Gwen’s dark hair was similar to Becky’s a midnight black. Danny was a very young black boy with rich brown eyes and Becky guessed he'd have a huge friendly smile if he ever showed it. They were both probably under ten years of age. Becky felt a leap of anger that the two kids were alone during the day.

“Gwen, the nice lady made him go away. Maybe we should thank her?” Gwen lifted her eyes for a moment and looked at Danny. She mumbled something then leaned a bit closer to him. Danny nodded.

“She says thank you, ma’am. But, now we have to get home.” Danny waited for the tall woman to take off. He was mentally trying to figure out how to get Gwen home without her crutch. He watched the whole terrifying scene and had almost cheered out loud when the lady had tossed that creep down the stairs. Could he fix the crutch? His thoughts were interrupted when Becky moved forward and disregarding him and Gwen’s token words to the contrary, she picked up the small girl as if she were a feather. Becky was slightly amazed at her own actions. She hoped the girl wouldn’t be afraid of her, but she knew that Gwen needed a shoulder to cry on. Becky murmured to the girl everything was going to be OK and tucked her in close, wrapping her heavy outdoor jacket around her. The heavy trembling Gwen had been displaying began to subside the second the girl was cocooned within. Becky held her and continuing to murmur simple phrases of “It’s OK” or “You’ll be alright” as she began to rock sitting on that stairwell landing. Danny sat wide-eyed and felt a small chip of jealously lodge in his heart at the kindest gesture he had witnessed in his long eight years of life.

Gwen felt the strong hands of the woman lifting her. Although she was a complete stranger, she knew the gentle hands were not meant to hurt. The brittle barrier of shock and ice that formed around her six year old heart, melted as she felt the fear and frustration lifted from her soul. Was she safe to trust? Tears rose to the surface. She felt the warmth surround her and the fresh smell of cologne invade her senses and began to cry. Trying to stop she couldn’t. The low murmur of the woman’s voice drew her closer. She couldn’t name it but she needed the strength this woman offered.

Becky felt the sobs begin and she continued to rock and give soft kisses to the top of the wee ones head. She knew she was accomplishing something right. For one of those times, Ma, this is for one of those times. If she had never before truly atoned for doing the wrong things in her past, today she made up for it. She felt a swelling of tenderness grow within as the small body against her chest shivered and sniffled. The small hands that clutched to her shirt, pressed against her heart. She felt the young girl go limp in her embrace and knew she was sleeping. Looking down the stairwell she let the surge of anger sweep through her. How could this small wonderful little girl become victim of such a creature that attacked with such sick intentions. Surely she was not meant to be so hurt.

Here dark direct gaze unconsciously turned to face the young boy nearby. He stepped back from her look. She registered his angry and hurting gaze instantly. Her mind swirled with what she might have done to cause the young boy’s reaction. She looked down at the burden in her arms and realized Gwen wasn’t the only needy person here. She thought quickly and whispering told the boy that Gwen was asleep.

“I’m so glad she has you to watch out for her. Maybe you can help me figure out a way to get her home and into her own bed? She might get scared later and I know I always feel better when I am at my home with all my stuff around.”

Danny dropped his eyes to the ground, nodding once. Becky reached over with a warm hand and lifted his chin.

“It’s not her fault and it’s not your fault, Danny. Some people…” Becky couldn’t help it, she broke into a low menacing growl, “some people are bad. Sometimes you can’t always figure it out.” She paused to stare at him. “That’s what good friends are for. Sometimes you can count on one to help you.” Danny nodded slowly, trying to understand the stranger’s words. She sounded like she was offering something to him. Becky saw he didn’t trust easily. I’ll have to work on that. Where did that thought come from? They both got to their feet; Danny immediately reached to retrieve the broken crutch.

“Let’s get her home, OK? You lead the way and I’ll carry her.”

Suddenly below she heard a door slam open and the rush of hurried footsteps coming swiftly upward. She knew it couldn’t be the clumsy drunk. These were much lighter. Looking down at Danny she noted he was biting his lip nervously.

He whispered “Charlie” and unconsciously moved closer to Becky. His young hand crept upward and grabbed hers. She smiled slightly at the gesture and squeezed his small hand gently. They stood there together waiting. Becky had no idea what she was thinking this Charlie would be like, but it wasn’t who rounded the stair rail.

A young fair haired woman, with a lightly freckled faced, flushed with climbing exertion, looked upward. She was nothing close to the tall gorgeous woman that had brought Becky into the high rise in the first place. Blue eyes filled with anxiety and fear and an extreme weariness showed Becky a person sapped of her energy, riding the edge of exhaustion. She stopped abruptly taking in Becky’s tall form. Her eyes raised upward to finally meet Becky’s. For a moment she looked ready to brush past her then she saw Danny at her side. Eyes narrowed as her gaze sharpened. She quickly found the small bundle Becky held within her coat. Her eyes glittered strangely for a moment as she noticed Danny’s hand clasped in Becky’s.

“Is Gwen OK?” Charlie burst out her question, as if she had been holding her breath forever. Becky noticed the extreme tension and pale features. Danny stepped forward.

“This lady saved her from Mr. B…Ba..Bingham. He grabbed at Gwen and this lady punched him and threw him down the stairs.” His nervously high pitched ramble was fast and furious. Charlie’s features turned pale and she moved closer to the three at the top of the landing.

“Is she OK? Was she hurt? Are you OK, Danny? I told you to stay in the apartment, damn it.” Charlie’s voice broke into a rasp of dismay as she grabbed the young boy and gave him a strong hug. Her gaze stayed on Becky as she one arm hugged Danny’s small form. Danny buried his head into her side and took the offered comfort. Charlie looked back up at Becky and with extreme focus gathered her breath and seemed to stabilize her fears.

“I can take her, Miss. She is my…she lives with me. Thank you for helping them out. I can’t thank you enough.”

Becky just nodded. But, she didn’t release her bundle. Charlie frowned at the obvious care Becky took to tuck Gwen further into the heavy coat.

“I can carry her. I’ll just follow you.” Her voice, husky with suppressed emotions, still released some of the unresolved anger. Becky noted Charlie tense. The younger woman’s shoulders seem to drop slightly, a slight defeat. She turned away from Becky to hide the haunted expression of guilt. Danny ran down faster and opened the door to the second floor landing. He held it for both silent women.

The apartment doors they passed seemed all similar, nothing out of the ordinary. The silence of the hallway was suddenly broken by a thump as someone from a nearby apartment hit something against a wall.

Charlie gave a nervous glance back over her shoulder to Becky and picked up her pace. She headed for a specific door and quickly whipped out a key to open it. Poking her head inside she spoke to someone within. The thump and scraping noise now more clearly heard stopped abruptly. Pulling her head back out she turned to hold out her hands to take Gwen.

“This is it, ma’am. Gwen will be fine now. I’ll make sure she gets tucked into bed and we can watch her closely.” Charlie let Danny enter into the apartment and hold the door for her as Becky had no recourse but to gently extract the small form from her coat and hand her over. Gwen barely stirred as she curled up into Charlie’s strong arms. Becky watched the younger woman glance her way then turn to enter the apartment. Once again she found herself reaching out at the last minute to catch a door before it shut. Going for broke on the trespassing bit, huh, Bee? She thought as she just reacted. Her gut said something was amiss and she blamed it on the parting look Charlie managed to convey. Guilt and desperation warred within the exhausted features. Something is wrong here and I want to know what it is.

Her rock solid hand and arm stopped the door so effectively from shutting that Danny yelped at the abruptness. With her hands full of sleeping child Charlie watched helplessly in growing amazement and fear as the tall dark imposing stranger pushed the door backward enough to step inside. Those dark brown eyes gave her a quick glance as if to say 'sorry' but they immediately began to sweep the rest of the apartment to see what was inside. Charlie felt her world come under scrutiny and she shivered as the brown eyes began to narrow.

Continued in Part 2.


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