~ Torn Deep ~
J. M. Dragon
e-mail: J. M. Dragon
Waves crashed against a boulder several meters from shore as white foam surged into the air before splashing against rocks in a spectacular show of water vying with the earth for supremacy. Darkness gradually pushed away daylight as the sun slipped out of view and the moon began to grace itself on the horizon. As it did, the glow of a harvest moon greeted the watcher and the stars, with their bright beacons, set the welcoming scene of a cold autumn day.
A house, built into the hillside of trees and native bush, had a single token light shining its existence. The building erected some fifty years earlier by an angler who loathed the mainland and wanted to live and breathe his chosen profession. A small jetty, which ran off the tiny beach, was the only visible access point to the property. Along the shoreline where the bay meets the ocean, several properties sprung up, but were so far apart they were only accessible by boat. City folk generally owned them as vacation homes and once summer was over the number of boats visible in the bay drastically reduced. Once a day, a tourist vessel from the next bay would venture into the area for a look at the splendor of a nearby waterfall. To the naked eye, buildings in the hillside were tiny dots, making it the perfect retreat from the outside world.
A figure clothed in a black scuba suit with purple flashings and matching flippers emerged from the surf and unlatched the breathing gear. It landed with a faint thud on the beach. Removing the face mask, dark blue orbs blinked a few times as the dim light registered in the brain. Then a gaze moved up to the house in the hill and the figured gathered up the scuba gear and walked with lithe ease up the beach and onto the boat ramp that took the figure to the underbelly of the house. Three garage doors were the first impression of the building. The figure unzipped a pocket on the wetsuit, retrieved a door opener and seconds later one of the doors opened. The figure stepped inside the area and placed the scuba gear on one side of the wall where racks of the same type of gear resided. In the center of the area, a Jet Ski resided along with all forms of fishing tackle.
Once the gear was stowed away, the figure moved to the back of the garage and opened an inner door. A hand reached for the door handle of the left door and entered. The wetsuit fell to the floor leaving only a full body swimsuit that left nothing to the imagination. The woman’s well-maintained body strode out of that room and across to the bathroom where a shower greeted her.
Ten minutes later in shorts and a t-shirt, she toweled her short chestnut hair as she crossed the lobby and entered the rest of the building then took the short staircase up to the main room of the house. An open plan kitchen and dining area led onto a large but cozy living area that featured a huge wood fireplace. The smell of freshly baked bread and a bubbling pot of chili welcomed the woman home.
Dark blue eyes scanned the room and then, with a smile tugging at the thin lips of her angular features, she saw what she was looking for. A sprightly woman in her late sixties grinned at the younger woman as she climbed out of the cellar doorway showing off her find.
“Angela, I told you before that if you needed anything from the cellar I’d get it for you.” Her indulgent words, though a reprimand, clearly held no aggression.
“We can’t have our meal without wine. Besides now that you’ve fixed the hand rail I don’t have a problem.”
A non-judgmental look appeared in the otherwise serious eyes as the dark head shook at the older woman. “Ok, have it your way but remember the last time you had a fall it was three hours before I returned and found you.”
“Point taken Zea, now will you sit and I’ll serve dinner.” Angela smiled at the younger woman who she regarded as the granddaughter she never had.
“I just need to download…”
Angela held up a hand in protest. “No, you will not. That infernal computer can wait. You haven’t eaten since breakfast and that was hardly enough for a sparrow to live on.”
Zea raised her eyebrows at the censure. However, she meekly sat down at the dining table. “I have to admit I’m hungry and the chili smells divine. I’ll open the wine.”
+ + +
Michael Tomlinson stroked the small beard he sported and considered the report on his desk. Then he looked up at the person who had written it and nodded his head slightly. “How accurate is this?”
“Very. I’d stake my reputation that the findings are as precise as one can be without the actual object in hand,” a female voice answered confidently.
He eyed the woman for a few moments before he spoke. “I’m told you have a very good reputation. How much will it cost me for you to undertake the restoration?”
A melodic laugh greeted the man’s ears as the woman shook her head vigorously. “I’m sorry I think we have a misunderstanding. I only looked over the details you gave me because a friend of mine asked me as a favor. Besides, the curators of the…”
“I only use the best Ms. Callahan, you’re the best. What will it take for you to undertake this assignment?” He spoke in measured tones while watching every move the woman made.
“I can’t be bought Mr. Tomlinson. Are you an agent for the…”
Tomlinson shook his head. “Thank you for your time Ms. Callahan. Send my secretary your bill.”
Susan Callahan shrugged. God damn him…he never lets me finish a sentence…how rude. Anyway,how can he offer me a contract on a piece he doesn’t own? It belongs to the Smithsonian and they have their own people. “No problem.” She picked up her valise and headed for the door.
Michael Tomlinson waited until the woman closed the door before he made a call. “Donald, I need you to do a delicate job for me.”
+ + +
Susan felt the breeze of a cold fresh autumn morning whistle past her ears and sting her cheeks as she rode her bicycle as hard as she could down the familiar territory of Dakar’s park. It was her only exercise in what would be another packed week of evaluation meetings with possible clients. As she freewheeled down the slight incline toward the gates, she mused over her conversation with Michael Tomlinson the previous day.
What is it about people with money? Not everyone has a price, hasn’t he learned that by now. To think he actually thought if he offers people the right incentives most will take it. Obviously he misjudged me…I think it has shady undercurrents so I’m glad I said no. I’ll have to call Guy at the Smithsonian and find out if Tomlinson works for him. The bike glided through the gates and Susan steered away from a woman pushing a buggy with a loudly crying baby.
Well he can certainly keep that scenario…I’m glad it isn’t on my horizon. The screaming child became louder and made her grimace. The Tomlinson scenario certainly was something out of an old 30’s black and white movie. I’m sure there are others who can help him if it is legit and even if it isn’t. Yep, that’s even more reason to call Guy. With negligent ease she moved from the pavement to the road, checked for a gap in traffic before riding into the steady stream of vehicles. Five minutes later, she saw her condominium and thought about taking a quick shower before heading out for a meeting about a possible dig.
Just as Susan was about to ride into her driveway a disturbance to her left caught her eye. She squeezed the hand brakes and pulled over to the footpath. A man dressed in torn jeans and with a dark hoodie was pulling and pushing at a young woman. From Susan’s vantage point, the woman, who looked frail, wasn’t fighting back. She looked for any evidence that anyone else was in the vicinity and was dismayed to see that she seemed to be alone. Ok I can do this. It’s simple…I’ll call 911 and say…yeah, say what? This isn’t any of your business Susan. As the argument between the man and the woman heated, Susan sighed. I can either intervene or go inside and do nothing. She leaned her bike against the railings of her driveway and strode across the street to within a few feet of the pair.
She puffed out her chest in a show of what she hoped was courage before she spoke. “Hey buddy the lady doesn’t need you pushing her around.” Susan inwardly groaned at her pathetic attempt at bravado.
The man lifted his head and gave her a cold stare. It was then that Susan noticed his pockmarked face and the tattoo covering his neck. Hmm maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
The next occurrence left no doubt in Susan’s mind that she should have done what most would - go inside her home and lock the door. As the man turned his attention on her, he menacingly moved closer. “Lady the party’s just beginning, now that we have the guest of honor.”
What the hell does that mean? The comment took Susan off guard as the not so frail woman captured her. With surprising strength, the woman dragged her arms around her back and held her firmly.
“Hey what’s the idea? I was trying to help you,” Susan screamed. My god some people are deceptive, she thought, as she tried and failed to get out of the vice-like grip. In the process, her spectacles fell off leaving her virtually blind and very vulnerable.
A screech of tires was her only response as a car halted in front of them and then dumped viciously into the backseat. The vehicle moved away at such a pace that Susan felt physically sick. As she regained her equilibrium, she felt her body dragged up-right and she saw a thin, bespectacled man peering at her.
In a measured, authoritative voice, the man said, “Don’t bother with the usual crap Ms. Callahan…yes you’ve been kidnapped and no, we don’t want a ransom. There’s no point in screaming for the vehicle is soundproofed. It will be easier on you if you just allow this exercise to take place without the usual hysterics.”
Susan was at a loss for words as she watched numerous cars and people blurrily pass her by knowing that there was nothing she could do but watch through the car’s tinted windows. She looked at the man and said, “Why?”
For a few moments the man remained silent. It was hard for Susan to tell if he’d even heard the question since he never acknowledged it. In a quiet tone he finally said, “Unfinished business.”
Susan was about to go into full questioning mode when she felt the man grip her arm and pull up her shirt sleeve. Before she could protest the man’s actions, the needle of a syringe pierced her skin. What the hell ? A woozy sensation began to override all her previous brain functions and in what seemed like seconds her eyelids closed and she fell into a drugged sleep.
The man lifted her eyelids and smiled knowing that his captive was under the influence of the heavy sedative he’d given her. Then he flipped open cell phone. “This is Donald…the package is taken care of.”
+ + +
Angela Sterling thoughtfully gave the young woman sitting at the computer console a long look. She’s such a treasure; I don’t know why she’s doing this for me when she could be out in the world taking pictures of beautiful women. Then she walked back to the sitting room and switched the TV on low. Zea won’t even notice. She knew that when the woman became engrossed in her finds of the day from her underwater camera, she lost all track of time and place.
She flicked through the TV magazine and found a couple of her favorite programs began their new seasons that night. Once she settled into her favorite chair, she switched channels and relaxed for her evening of viewing.
Several hours later, a hand shook her shoulder and Angela groggily opened her eyes to peer half asleep into a warm gaze. “You missed half of the last show. If you’d told me how tired you were I would have recorded it for you.” Zea smiled gently at the older woman.
“I did? What time is it?” Angela asked surprised she’d dropped off to sleep. Must be my old bones getting the better of me.
Zea winked. “ Eleven fifteen, time for your beauty sleep.”
Angela began to drag her body out of the chair and felt Zea’s strong, supportive hand help her. “Yes, and for you too…I saw you leave at seven this morning. Winter is coming and that means colder waters Zea. Why don’t you stay in bed an extra hour?”
The reprimand made Zea smile wide. “That’s why I take as much of an opportunity as I can for my work now. I found an interesting underwater cave yesterday that requires further investigation.” She patted the older woman’s arm gently. “Why, don’t you stay in bed longer tomorrow I’ll get my own breakfast?”
Angela shook her head. “I haven’t slept past eight in forty years and I’m not about to let old age influence that. Away with you Zea, we both know you’d go out without the main meal of the day.”
An innocent expression flooded Zea’s face as she winked. “Probably, goodnight Angela, I’ll see you in the morning.”
Inside her bedroom, Angela looked at the picture of her deceased husband Fred. “How I miss you darling, and one day we’ll be together again I know it.” She gazed with a dreamy expression at the photo of a man in his twenties dressed in formal army wear. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw you at the train station and you lost your cap and it flew right towards me and landed at my feet. It was the best day of my life.” Her finger touched the glass frame as she trailed it over the smiling features. “Love at first sight I said and you laughed but I saw it in your eyes you felt the connection too.” Angela picked up a small jewelry box and opened the lid and a tune played ‘ The Very Thought of You’. As she listened, she remembered the moment Fred gave the box to her - their second wedding anniversary. Inside the box was an eternity ring. Ten days later, she’d received the news that Fred died in action. I thought my life was over but it wasn’t…I still had things to do and people to help. Her eyes glanced across at the closed door of her room. Yes, I’m still useful, but one day Fred I’ll know when the time is right we’ll be together for eternity. She closed the lid on the wooden box and walked into her bathroom to get ready for bed.
+ + +
Zea flashed her torch into the cave and marveled at the numerous aquatic animals that had made it their home. It was one of the most peaceful moments in her life as she watched the undersea world and knew that it didn’t pose a threat - at least, not generally. A stingray flashed by her visor and she carefully moved slowly out of its way. Then a shoal of a multicolored fish of various species moved languidly past her and she smiled as her camera sprang to life snapping images.
She swam farther inside the cave and, as if she were watching a slow motion movie, several crustaceans went about their daily routine. Then she ventured further and saw a smaller opening and was about to go inside when she noticed at her air gauge. Not enough time to go there…there’s always tomorrow. With a sideways flip, she changed direction and left the cave making her way towards the surface.
Ten minutes later, she surfaced a couple of yards from the tiny cove and began to swim towards the beach. As she exited the surf, Zea disconnected the tanks on her back and dropped them onto the pebbled beach. When she turned towards the bay, she spied a boat within the outer limits of their domain and frowned. Must have gone off course… no one comes here.
As she watched intently she saw two men pick up a large object but from that distance she couldn’t clearly see what it was. When she moved to have a closer look she saw the object move. What the hell, is that? She saw an object cast overboard as the boat’s motor roared into action and left the area. In macabre slow motion, Zea watched the object tumble into the water. Maybe I didn’t see it right and it wasn’t alive. Then she saw movement. Without further thought, she dove back into the water and headed for the frantic motion in the water.
In what seemed like a lifetime later, she reached the exhausted entity just as it was about to go under for the last time. Instinct kicked in as she reached for the figure and held it above water. When she placed one arm around the figure there was no protest. Then, with a strength born of years of exercise, she swam back to her private beach with the body in tow.
+ + +
“My goodness Zea, what’s happened?” Angela asked as her eyes took in the stranger on the sofa. The water that was liberally dripping everywhere meant nothing to her as she spied a woman who looked half-dead. “Is she alive?”
“Yes, I think its shock more than anything else,” Zea replied as she chafed the pale woman’s cheeks for any kind of response.
A groan finally greeted her attempts making Zea rock back on her heels. She watched the woman open her eyes revealing green orbs as lush as a summer field.
She glanced around disorientated and asked, “Who are you? Why did you bring me here?” Then the woman shot up off the sofa and tried to escape her captors.
Zea’s hands moved like lightening and her strong grip held the woman’s shoulders down on the sofa. “You were drowning…it was the only option,” Zea replied firmly.
A wild expression took over the fear in the stranger’s eyes. “I don’t believe you!” she accused. Her gaze flashed between the two women and she saw nothing but a blur.
“Believe what you want.” Although she didn’t release her grip, Zea felt the sting of the accusation keenly.
Angela saw the fire flare in Zea’s eyes. Not a good thing. “My dear we aren’t responsible for whatever you think has happened to you. Zea probably saved your life. How about we get you into a warm bath and a change of clothes, perhaps then we can work out what’s going on.”
“Then why won’t she let me go?” Fearful eyes moved to the intense grip Zea had on her shoulders.
Zea immediately removed her hands and fluidly stood up. “I’m going back out I’ll return later,” she said before stomping out of the room.
Shocked, the stranger‘s gaze fixed on the fuzzy image of the retreating woman. She then turned and spoke to the other woman. “I’m the one who should be angry not her.”
Angela chuckled. “My dear I’m sure you should be. Now come along and have that hot bath it will help and we can perhaps solve your predicament.”
The stranger stood up and then realized she didn’t know this woman’s name. “I’m sorry, my name is Susan Callahan, thank you for helping me.”
“Well Susan, welcome to the Retreat…my name is Angela Sterling. The testy one is Zea. Come along now the bathroom’s right down the hall.”
As her wet shoes slogged on the floor, Susan walked behind the woman thankful that the place and the old woman appeared harmless. I’m not so sure about the woman called Zea. She sounds dangerous to me and I wouldn’t be surprised if her tone didn’t mirror in her eyes. Crap I need my spec’s I’m too damn vulnerable without them. The big question I should be asking myself right now is, what am I doing here, and where exactly is here.
+ + +
The hot bath and change of clothes helped to settle Susan’s rattled nerves. She waited for the woman named Angela, who was making coffee, to return. Susan tried to scan the large area but found the details difficult to decipher with her impaired vision. The area appeared to be in three distinct portions, a kitchen with a dining area, a lounge with a large object she thought was a television and by the bright light of possibly a computer monitor she thought she recognized a study. Fuzzy outlines of wooden frames filled the walls, although she wasn’t sure if they were framed paintings or something else. There was a familiar homely feel about the place and Susan felt its relaxing ambiance wash over her. At least I don’t need my spectacles to check out the ambiance of a place. After she left the bathroom, she noted three other doors down the corridor and speculated that they were bedrooms.
Angela arrived with the coffee and placed it on an old, scuff marked wooden table. “Now tell me Susan why were you in the water, so far off shore?”
“Thank you,” Susan said as she took a cup of coffee. She stared for a moment blankly into its black depths. “I don’t know. I really have no recollection past riding my bike towards my condo. I don’t even know what day it is.”
Angela’s hand went to her mouth in genuine concern. “My dear, how terrible for you…do you think you have amnesia?”
Susan placed a hand to her temple and frowned as she tried to recall what happened - she couldn’t. “I guess I could have fallen from my bike and hit my head on the pavement. I’ve lost my spectacles and can’t see anything properly…I’m virtually blind without them. However, that doesn’t tell me how I got in the water. Can you tell me what day it is and the date?”
Angela smiled slightly. “It’s Saturday, November 7th.” Angela saw a stunned expression fill the woman’s face.
I’ve lost almost a week! My god, where have I been? “I was riding my bike early Monday morning before work that was the 2 nd. I don’t remember anything after that.”
Angela smiled warmly and tried to sound up-beat. “Drink your coffee my dear and we’ll try to figure it out for you. Zea may be in a position to help you since she was the one who rescued you.”
Susan put both hands on either side of her head trying to abate a thumping headache. “I’m sorry Angela, do you mind if I lie down for a while. My head is suddenly screaming at me.”
“Certainly, please come with me” Angela led Susan down the hall and into the spare room. Then she watched as the young woman crawled on the coverlet, laid her head down and seemed to fall asleep instantly.
Before leaving the room, Angela paused to watch the pale features of the blonde woman. She isn’t particularly beautiful but she has an elfin quality that makes me feel comfortable around her. Guess we’ll see what is in store for this poor young woman. Then her thoughts turned to Zea. Now that is another situation altogether. What will Zea make of all this and most importantly how will she react. She shook her head, rolled her eyes and silently prayed that it would all work out. Then Angela quietly left the room and ventured back to her kitchen and the preparation of the evening meal.
+ + +
Susan woke to find herself in a strange room and tentatively placed fingertips to her head recalling the headache - it was gone. God I don’t believe this is happening to me.How on earth did I lose a week and the memory of it? She closed her eyes and attempted to dredge up any vestige of a recollection of what had happened to her – she found none. I guess, somehow I’m going to have to work that part out, maybe I’ll ask Mack for a regression therapy session. He’ll think I’m crazy and right now, I’m wondering if that isn’t a fact. Damn, I wish I still had my lenses so I can see what this place and these people look like.
She heard the sound of a faint voice outside her door. Ah yes the two women, at least I haven’t forgotten them. They probably think I’m weird for sleeping like a baby instead of asking for help to find a cab or some kind of transportation to get back home. Where is this place again…ah yes she said the Retreat or something like that. Wonder where that is exactly.
She scrambled off the bed and opened the door only to jump back as she found herself caught in the other woman’s gaze. “I…I thought I heard, at least …look is it possible to use your phone. I need a cab.”
Zea assessed the slightly smaller woman as she tilted her head from side to side. Hmm.
Susan couldn’t make out the woman’s features but she was certain they were evaluating her and that annoyed her. “Have you finished your assessment because I need to call a friend?”
A voice, deeper than most women’s but not masculine in any way, responded. “We haven’t a phone.”
“There isn’t? What do you do in an emergency? It doesn’t need to be a land line, a cell will do.” Susan said. Who in this day of throw away cell phones doesn’t have one or access to one.
There was silence for a few moments then Zea remarked, “We have no need for either device. Besides, we can’t get a land line here.”
Ok this is some kind of cult. By sheer misfortune, I’ve landed here instead of at a saner household. Hold on, I’m pretty sure I saw something that might be a computer. They must have an internet connection. “That’s ok I can use the computer, if you don’t mind.”
“The computer isn’t connected to the internet. Angela asked me to check if you were interested in dinner. We’re about to eat,” Zea said as she turned away.
Guess my reply is of no real interest to her. Susan closed her eyes. My god, how do these people survive so cut off from the outside world? Resigned to her fate for the time being, Susan followed the woman to the kitchen. In marked contrast to the other woman’s demeanor, Susan was certain she could discern a bright smile on the face of the older woman.
Susan took a position at the table that was the furthest from the woman called Zea and waited for Angela to dish up the delicious smelling food. While waiting, she decided to scrutinize the woman with half closed eyelids. It was the only way she could make out any kind of sketchy detail of what she looked like. At least I’ll look like I’m taking interest in the pictures on the opposite wall.
Zea appeared to have an angular profile with a nose that looked long and thin. From her vantage point, the woman’s lips were practically invisible therefore she thought they were possibly thin too. I bet she has those unforgiving austere features that frighten people. I don’t know why, but I think her eyes are shimmering blue like the sea. Though we’ve barely spoken a few short sentences, I think she’s intelligent. Deep water… that’s what my dad always said about people who gave away little emotion and even less expressions. For Susan, from the little she could actually see, the woman epitomized those particular traits.
“It’s a photo of a great white- shark,” Zea remarked in her deep voice.
The cadence of the words hit a cord inside Susan. She didn’t miss a beat as she said, “It’s a wonderful photo. I envy the person who has the courage to take such chances for a single photo opportunity like that. It makes me wonder if the photographer is still intact.” She smiled inwardly knowing that years of practice at pulling explanations out of the bag because of her eyesight helped her enormously at that moment.
Zea placed her head on one side, which for Susan was becoming a familiar mannerism in the woman. “Every part accounted for.” She raised her fingers flexing them in Susan’s direction as she looked directly into the eyes of the woman opposite her.
With a gasp Susan cried, “You took the photo? Wow, I’m impressed.”
Angela chose that moment to bring in the meal. She placed a casserole in the center of the dining table along with freshly baked bread. “Eat up my dears.” Angela said as she reached for the ladle to take a portion herself.
Conversation was minimal through the meal. For Susan, it was because the meal was so good that she wanted to eat rather than talk. She hadn’t had such a wonderful home cooked meal since her grandmother looked after her during the school holidays when she was in kindergarten. That was a long time ago, but the memories of those happy times at my grandparent’s small comfortable home, in one of the leafy suburbs of San Diego, still makes my heart smile. When she looked up from eating the last of her bread soaked in the gravy of the casserole, she had two pairs of eyes staring at her.
Again, because of her impaired vision, she couldn’t discern their expressions and had to come up with a logical deduction of why they were looking at her so intently. With a rush on her words she asked, “Have I spilled something down my chin?”
Angela giggled, “Why no Susan. It looks like you look like you haven’t eaten in days.”
With a blush she knew must be reminiscent of a red light she apologized. “I’m sorry. Did I make a pig of myself? Your cooking is the best I’ve had in years. Since my grandmother actually and it brought back some wonderful memories.” She thought for a moment then added, “Then again I might not have eaten for days, as I appear to have forgotten so many.”
The older woman waved away the apology and the praise to her cooking skills. “Let me know your favorite and I’ll do my best to provide it for you. Zea isn’t fussy about what she eats as long as it tastes good.”
Susan turned her impaired gaze to the silent woman opposite her. Nope, I still can’t read her expression…it’s impossible. Nevertheless, locked gazes and it was Susan who turned away first. Even from this distance she sends out waves like an impenetrable force. “I love seafood…almost anything though lobster defeats me I have to admit.”
Angela then began to reach for the empty plates, but Zea stood up and waved the older woman away. “I’ll take care of the dishes. Doesn’t your program start in five minutes?”
“It does, thank you Zea. Do you like Coronation Street Susan? It’s my favorite show,” the older woman asked as she trotted off and switched on the TV.
Susan knew she had a dumb look on her face as she turned toward Zea.
“It’s a British soap. Angela originally came from the UK before she settled here after she married a New Yorker.”
Glad that Zea apparently understood her unspoken question and she tried to dredge up if she’d ever heard of the soap before. Friends, Greys Anatomy, ER and a few others but a British soap nope. Susan was about to thank Zea for her insight when she remembered what she wanted to ask her. “You call this the Retreat, right?”
“Exactly where, as in the location is the Retreat?” Susan waited for the reply half in trepidation and half in bemusement.
Zea replied, “We are on Lake Ontario that’s the reason for lack of normal communication.”
Susan, so shocked by the information she couldn’t speak. When Angela called her to watch the unknown show her feet automatically moved in that direction. My god, I’ve been transported to the other end of the country and I don’t remember a damned thing!What is going on…did aliens abduct me?
+ + +
Ok, ok I can deal with this. I’ve lost a week but not a lifetime. I’m certain no one has prodded me or put me under some unspeakable torture or at least I don’t think I have. Goddamn it what is going on. Think Susan think, there is always an obvious explanation. Yeah right, I’m thousands of miles away from my home or am I. Oh god what do I do next? As her mind worked overtime, she chewed on her bottom lip and when she felt the bitter copper taste in her mouth knew she’d drawn blood. With a quick glance in the direction of the older woman engrossed in her show she stood up and walked to the kitchen for a glass of water and a tissue to wipe away the blood she felt flooding into her mouth.
Thankfully, Zea isn’t here. The woman had apparently finished her chores and was sitting in a far corner oblivious to everything and everyone. She must have headphones to mute the sound of the TV. I’m glad she isn’t here so I don’t have to explain myself to her. But I think I’m going to need her help to get out of here and find out what’s going on in my life. If I’m truly in this place without, money or identification what else am I going to do? Susan reached for the paper towel and dabbed at her mouth. The nerves in her stomach churned as each scenario of her missing week made the knot to tighten.
The sound of running water was almost a surprise until she realized she was the one turning the tap on. Then she looked around for a glass, cup or anything she might use for the water. I’m not an emotional woman but right now at this moment I want to cry like a baby. Tears welled in her eyes as she lost herself once more in the abyss of her crazy situation.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” The low melodious voice dragged her from the bowels of her despair and sat her upright.
She knew her face filled with anxiety as she accepted the glass. “Thanks, I didn’t want to disturb anyone,” Susan replied. Shit how lame is that. She took the glass and filled it with water before she gulped a mouthful and almost choked on it. Then she felt a firm hand pat her back. With a sheepish expression, Susan looked into what she thought were deep blue eyes. Her green ones began to fill with tears. “Thanks again.”
For her part, Zea didn’t say anything. She merely moved her head in that curious half tilt fashion of hers before she began walking away.
Susan, unprepared for the tingling sensation in her fingertips, placed a hand on Zea’s forearm. It must be static electricity. “I need your help,” she said.
The woman stopped in her tracks and faced Susan. She quietly responded, “I’m aware of your predicament…tomorrow…we’ll talk about your quandary tomorrow.”
She lost all rational behavior and Susan felt a melt down coming as she screamed, “I can’t wait until tomorrow! Don’t you realize that something bad happened to me? I need to contact the police, not tomorrow but now!”
Susan felt a charge build up in the room and thought it must be like a confrontation with an angry lion. She shivered feeling sure that the deep blue eyes held anger. If I could see clearer I bet I’d see her lips curl bearing perfectly white teeth.
“It’s impossible I told you that already. I have work to do. Now either sit down and watch TV with Angela, or get some rest…you look like you need it. Either way, I’m unable to help you until the morning.”
I can’t believe this! She doesn’t seem to have taken on board the fact that someone threw me into the goddamn sea and left me as fish bait in damn strange part of the country to boot. Get some sleep…I’ll give her some sleep…how does she think I’m going to look…like a model off a catwalk for god’s sake! Ok, ok, I can handle this. Think Susan, you have a decent brain so use it. She bent her head and drew in a deep breath before trying to speak rationally to a woman who seemed to be ignoring her dilemma. “Look I know this is a nuisance and I’m really grateful you saved me from the sea, but can’t you see it from my point of view. I’m here in an unfamiliar part of the country, stranded without any means to support myself and without any type of identification. Please is there nothing you can do this evening to help me?” Susan saw Zea tilt her head to the side and now figured it was an unconscious movement when asked a direct question.
“You’re safe here, no one can harm you. If I were you, I’d take advantage of the hospitality as meager as it is and by tomorrow, things could be a whole lot different. Goodnight Ms. Callahan.” This time Zea walked away and Susan felt no urge to call her back – what’s the point.
+ + +
Sleep held her in the false state of security as its cocoon wound around a dreamless state that eclipsed the painful world that Susan now inhabited when awake. The sound of sea birds shrilly chirping outside the slightly open window as dawn broke woke her from her slumber. For a brief moment she thought it was her normal morning alarm however, that would have been too easy - her incredible situation wasn’t a dream. Her eyes scanned the room filled with labeled boxes, all neatly stacked against one wall of the room. Frustration filled her thoughts as she tried desperately to make out what the labels said. From now on, I’m always going to were my contacts.
As the thought of her dreadful problem surfaced she felt panic in the form of bile creeping up her throat. God how am I going to get out of this? Zea did say she’d help me today. The thought of help from the woman had Susan on the defensive. There was a jaded aura about her that somehow didn’t quite fit. If I weren’t so caught up in my own melodrama I’d want to know what her story is. Well at least Angela appears to be what she is…a nice homely grandmother type - that’s something to be thankful for I guess.
She inhaled deeply as delicious aromas wafted under the door. Ah , is that bread baking? And, that is definitely my guilty favorite breakfast, bacon and sausage. Her ravenous stomach grumbled eager to sample the smells that were tempting her. She climbed out of bed and reached for the oversized T-shirt and tightly fitting shorts they gave her the day before.
Minutes later, she presented herself in the kitchen strangely surprised to see Zea expertly turning the bacon and sausages on the grill. Don’t tell me she bakes bread too! Does she ever sleep?
“Good morning, that smells great.” Susan’s face lit up in a friendly smile as she greeted the taller slimmer built woman at the stove. Eyes glinted in her direction but she received no more than a nod of acknowledgement.
Susan tried not to look aggrieved at the lack of response. After all, not everyone is a morning person -I’m not. She moved closer to the woman who had already turned back toward the stove, “Do you need any help? I could make coffee or tea, though my tea might not be to standard.” You’re a blustering idiot…she’ll think you’re stupid. Susan thought she saw a frown that pucker Zea’s forehead as she turned in her direction.
“You can make coffee. Angela won’t be getting up early, she’s still sleeping.”
Several minutes later, the two women sat opposite each other with a breakfast of cooked bacon, sausage, hash browns and mushroom in front of them. Coffee suitably perked to Susan’s perfection completed the meal.
Once she consumed a portion of the breakfast, Susan attempted once more to strike up a conversation with Zea. “This is wonderful thanks. Do you always bake fresh bread for meals?”
“Depends on your definition of baked,” Zea, replied.
“Well it is fresh isn’t it? I’m pretty sure I smelled it baking and it looks and tastes like that way to me.” Susan punctuated her statement by sinking her teeth into a wedge of wonderfully smelling bread.
Zea felt her lips curl into a half smile. “The machine does it on a timer. All that’s needed is to load it up so I can’t really take the credit.”
“Kudos to the machine then.” For a moment they sat in companionable silence before Susan said, “You said you’d help me today.” Susan said in nervous anticipation. “Are you still going to?”
“Eat your breakfast it will get cold.”
Susan knitted her brow. It wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear. God damn her doesn’t she realize the seriousness of the situation. “Look I know you don’t know me from Eve, but I need your help. If you will just get me as far as the nearest police station you can forget you ever met me.”
Susan felt, more than saw, the blue eyes catch hers and for a moment both were lost in an exchange that had more to do with a dimension other than the present. Susan broke the ethereal connection with a swift shake of the head.
“I rather think that’s impossible. After all you are in a rather strange predicament.” Susan watched as Zea ran her hand over her face.” After breakfast, I’ll take you to the loading platform for the supply boat due in an hour. I’ll explain your dilemma and they’ll take you to the mainland.”
Susan felt a sense of panic spread over her. “And what do I do then?” The pitch of her voice rose in response to her uneasiness. “I don’t have money or ID just the clothes on my back and even those don’t belong to me.” For the first time since they’d met, Zea actually smiled. At least it looked like a hint of a smile from Susan’s vantage point and that was good enough.
She nodded in the direction of a distant counter. “Your clothes have been washed and folded. I’ll ensure that you won’t be destitute while the police check out your situation.”
For a few moments, Susan digested the information and felt an enormous sense of relief that something was actually going to happen. At the same time, her gut felt the strange sensation of being torn away from something important. The entire emotional gamut that was running through her mind and body felt surreal. None of this make sense…I have to keep asking myself if this is really happening. “Is there any chance you can travel to the mainland with me for a few hours?” It was a tentative suggestion and Susan had a hard time deciphering the strange gaze she thought appeared on Zea’s face.
“I’m sorry I’m needed here.” Zea’s pointed response held no room for further discussion as she turned her attention back to her breakfast.
I call that a rebuke. I wonder why she won’t go, there isn’t that much to do here, and Angela looks fit enough to be alone for a few hours. Susan decided to let that sleeping dog lie for she had enough problems already. “Thanks, will Angela be up in time for me to thank her and say goodbye?”
Zea finished chewing her toast and shook her head. “No, Angela won’t be up until later. I’ll pass on your thanks.”
Susan frowned slightly. Ok, what am I missing here? Something’s going on…but what?. “I’m …thanks.” She picked up a slice of toast and ate it in quiet silence - what else was there to say?
+ + +
The Jet Ski pulled up alongside a floating platform. Susan’s first trip on the sea-going contraption had been an experience to say the least. As she gingerly climbed off the vehicle, she heaved a sigh of relief arriving unharmed. The fact that she was on what looked like an abandoned raft some distance from shore wasn’t particularly encouraging either.
She watched as the blurry image of her rescuer stopped the engine and with negligent ease jumped aboard the platform. For some unknown reason to her, Susan felt in a way shy as she faced Zea again. As she did, she tried but failed to commit to memory Zea’s features. The woman was covered head to toe in a black skin-tight diving suit, accessorized with wrap around sunshades. It was impossible to perceive much about her.
“The boat that will take you to the mainland, is heading our way.” Zea pointed in the direction of a small dark object indiscernible to Susan.
“They will take me won’t they?” A sense of panic began to build up inside Susan. I don’t know this woman, but at least she’s been, if not sociable, at least gracious in helping me out. Not to mention saving my life, did I ever thank her for that?God I wish she were coming with me. I can’t expect her to understand or even want to do that for me. I bet she’s glad be get rid of me.
“Yes they will take you. The skipper is a friend.” Zea turned away and let her eyes scan the horizon for any other activity.
Susan wanted to say more but when she heard the droning of an approaching engine grow louder and louder she turned her attention in that direction. She watched as the vessel pulled alongside and saw she thought was a rangy, wizened featured man pop his head out of the cabin.
“What’s this Zea, a live package for me today?” The man’s voice boomed over the sound of the idling engine.
To Susan’s surprise, Zea didn’t reply but launched herself onto the small boat and closed in on the captain. She couldn’t hear anything since the noise of the engine and the splashing of the water around the platform effectively created a barrier between the conversation and her.
Several minutes later Zea moved back toward the platform and beckoned Susan to the edge of the platform. She extended her hand and said, “Take it and come aboard.”
With a hint of hesitation, Susan reached out and took the offered hand, which easily hauled her onto the small deck. For a moment, her eyes fleetingly caught Zea’s and she smiled her thanks for the help.
Zea gave her a long look then nodded. “Johnnie will take you to the mainland and then to the local police station. He’ll stick around until you’re settled.” Then Zea shoved and envelope into Susan’s hand. “Here’s some money, if you run out of money ask Johnnie for more….don’t be too uncomfortable to ask. I hope they find who did this to you Ms. Callahan.” She vaulted off the deck and onto the platform then strode towards her jet ski with a package from the skipper under her arm.
Everything was happening too fast for Susan. The sheer kindness of another stranger helping her without explanation took her aback. She didn’t have time to ask how she could pay the woman back before the ski roared to life and shot off in the direction it originally came.
“How do I pay you back?” Susan finally voiced hoping her words would float to Zea.
A male voice startled her. “Zea said not to worry. She told me about your predicament so let’s get you to the police station and find out what’s going on shall we.” The captain grinned warmly as the boat roared into action pulling away at speed towards the mainland.
Susan had one thought running through her head as she watched the small cove, she’d left barely half an hour earlier, disappear from view. Will I ever see you again? Her gut ached inexplicably as if somewhere deep inside she was torn in two.
+ + +
Susan’s imagination didn’t come close to how difficult the trial actually was. Her testimony had helped to convict David Tomlinson of organizing a heist of the artifacts that Susan appraised originally. He was going to prison for ten years and that gave Susan a measure of conciliation. Since she was unable to identify clearly the people who abducted her, the DA couldn’t make a case for her kidnap or attempted murder. Now that I have contact lens’ that’s never going to happen again.
“Susan, do you want to celebrate by going out to dinner? The treats on me,” Jillian Short asked.
Susan smiled warmly at the assistant DA. “Thanks but right now all I want to do is take a long hot bath and soak the trial out of my skin. I need to move on with my life and forget all about this.”
A sultry look crossed Jillian’s face as she winked. ”Want me to join you? I can change dinner into taking you to the best sauna in town?” Both women laughed.
Once the FBI finally tracked Tomlinson and the artifacts he’d stolen down, it was up to the DA’s office to try the man for robbery. That was when Susan met the assistant DA, Jillian Short. After their initial meeting almost a year earlier, they clicked and became good friends. It wasn’t long before both disclosed that they were lesbians and neither woman was surprised. Their friendship flourished, neither wanting to venture into the area of becoming lovers.
Susan sent her friend a grateful look. “You know I think I’ll take you up on that offer. What time do you want to pick me up?”
Jillian smiled warmly. “I’ll be around at six. I need to speak with my boss and take the congratulatory slap on the back drink first.” She saw the doubtful look on her friend’s face. “Yeah I know, it will only be one, I promise. See you at six.”
Susan nodded and they headed in the opposite direction. Once she flagged down a taxi and was on the way to her apartment, she began mulling over the events of the past two years
My god is it really two years since this all began. It feels like yesterday…especially today. When I met with the police in Canada, they showed me a photo of me from Interpol - I nearly had a seizure. Apparently, the government wanted to question me in connection with a robbery at the Smithsonian. Within two days, U S marshals came and escorted me back to the states. After several hours of repeating the same story of kidnapping and then dumped in the water as fish bait, I finally convinced them to check with the woman who saved my life.
I owe it all to her. When asked, she concisely transmitted how she saw them throw me overboard and how she rescued me. It’s one debt of gratitude that money can’t buy…although I owe Zea money too. Yeah Zea, the mystery woman who didn’t appear to be kind during my short stay with her, but deep inside I knew she was. I wonder what she’s doing now. More importantly, I wonder if she remembers me at all. I’ll never forget you for you’re in my thoughts so much I’ve even made up my own version of what you look like - my dream lover. God I really am crazy.
When she finally arrived at her apartment, Susan tipped the driver generously and minutes later entered her home. The flashing of her answer machine made her smile - she knew whom it was. She pressed the button and listened to the message.
“Hi Sue, it’s Jill. Sorry can’t make the sauna tonight…what about tomorrow? The boss is taking me out to dinner and it’s a first so I can’t shirk that…it might be good for my career. Hope you don’t mind, I’ll call you tomorrow.”
The machine bleeped as the message ended and Susan shook her head in understanding. It happens every time you win a case Jill…good for you my friend.
Susan spent the next couple of hours soaking in a hot scented bath allowing the trail and that part of her life to disappear into oblivion where it belonged. When she finished Susan felt bodily refreshed but her inner being felt bereft, much as it had when she’d left the cove behind along with Zea. She needed to find something to do and flicked through the newspaper, noting that there was an exhibition of photography from the Iraq conflict. I’d like to see that. The proceeds were for those injured on both sides of the clash. Looks interesting and I could do with something more worthy then my mind of my own subconscious woes. An hour later, she entered the exhibition.
Several people were walking around viewing the first floor displays which were battle scenes depicting the blood and guts of the whole affair. Susan walked among the graphic portrayals making the realism seem palpable in the room. Her stomach flipped dangerously as some of the images were so unbearable that she could only quickly glance at them. God what must these photographers think and feel when they shot these.
A man walked over to her with a sheaf of pamphlets in his hand and seconds later handed her one with a shy smile. “Hi. How are you enjoying the exhibition?”
Susan took the proffered leaflet with a smile and glanced at the man in curiosity. He is barely out of high school. She noted that the badge on his lapel indicated his name was Paul Sanders. “Hi, a little too graphic for me I’m afraid. Had I known, I would have skipped dinner first.”
The young man nodded as his eyes filled with a serious light. “Yes, I understand. It’s not only the soldiers who are brave out there but the men and women taking these kinds of shots.” He paused for a moment. “Some of them are injured and even killed so we can see what’s really happening.”
Susan’s brow knitted when she heard the censure in his voice. “Do you disapprove of them going?”
Paul shook his head vigorously and quickly replied, “No, no, if it wasn’t for people like them you and I couldn’t make an informed judgment on the rights and wrongs of war.”
“Ah, so it is the actual war you disapprove of? I’m kind of on the fence myself. It’s one of those scenarios you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Terrorism is the modern warfare and as much as we all hate it we can’t get away from that aspect of life today.” Susan suspected the young man was as surprised as she was by her intense comment. Crap, what made me say that. “I guess I’d better see the rest of the exhibit.” She sidestepped a corner pillar and walked away from the man’s lanky frame as quickly as possible.
She was surprised when the man followed her. “Would you like me to give you a guided tour of the exhibits? It is part of my job,” he said with a shrug.
Susan looked the man over and noticed his light brown eyes matched the color of his flyaway hair. For a few moments, she gave his proposition serious consideration. What the hell, he appears personable enough and at least it’s better than being in my own company. “Thank you I’d be delighted.”
Paul Sanders gave the woman a boyish grin and walked alongside her as he pointed out various photographs. Susan found him to be quite knowledgeable as he gave her details not contained in the brochure
An hour later, he directed them toward the final display. In the previous photographs, the photographers targeted the actual war but in the final exhibit were depictions of the harsh realities of those left to live in the aftermath of each explosive situation.
Susan stood dumbstruck by what she saw. She felt like if she reached out she would enter the ravaged scene. As Paul Sanders related facts about each portrayal, his voice drifted in and out of Susan’s consciousness. She turned to him as tears of shame, heartache and grief simultaneously vied for attention. “I know you already told me, but who took these Paul?” she asked in a bare a whisper.
Paul saw the emotional trauma etched in Susan’s face and recalled that he too experienced much the same when he viewed this part of the exhibit. “It was a freelance photographer named Helen Tobias.” His words dropped slightly as he mentioned the name.
Susan noticed the inflection in the young man’s voice. She blinked away the tears, as she stared up at him. “Was? Does that mean she became a casualty of this war too?” A profound feeling of grief assailed her. God I don’t even know the woman but if she’s dead, I’d be devastated for it would be such a loss.
“No, she didn’t die in the conflict…at least not to date anyway. Last update we had was that she was still there, but that’s unconfirmed. She’s my role model. If I took a shot half as good as hers, I could demand a job on any of the classy magazines or newspapers…” His face reddened. “Sorry too much information.”
Susan laughed and placed a reassuring hand on his forearm. Her reward for her effort was one of his boyish grins along with a puppy dog look from his light brown eyes. Opps, I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it might. Don’t want to give him any false hopes. Christ, I’m old enough to be his mother…well almost. “It’s good to have something to aim for.” Susan grinned. “I felt like that about one of my old professors back at the university.” Yeah and she was hot and knew it and didn’t mind the odd dalliance with a student either. Oh, Kay Oberon was one very sexy lady. Makes me shiver when I recall our lovemaking…she certainly taught me some extra curriculum activities.
“What did you study?”
“I majored in archaeology and ancient history. I suspect they are a bit dry for your tastes,” Susan added before stifling a yawn. “Sorry, I’ve had a long day.”
Paul inclined his head slightly. “I understand. I’ll let you move on. The exhibition closes in half an hour and they’ll want me to lock up. It was good to meet you Ms. Callahan. I hope we see you here again soon.”
“Thank you Paul and the name’s Susan. I’ll be sure to come back especially now that I know about the way take care of your visitors. Thanks again Paul, goodnight.”
She heard him about to say something more and darted towards the exit. I’d feel like I was cradle snatching, and he’s the wrong side of my particular fence. A few minutes later, she walked briskly towards the street to hail a taxi. Although it was a lovely night and she could have easily walked the distance, her experience of two years earlier no longer afforded her that luxury. She had also curtailed her early morning bike rides unless she could persuade someone else to go with her and that was not an easy task. She climbed into the nearest taxi, told the driver her address, leaned back into the pseudo-leather upholstery and closed her eyes.
She recalled one of the final photos she’d seen. It was of a small child carrying water to a broken old woman bandaged and crying amongst the rubble of what presumably was once a house. Its poignancy heartbreaking as the expressions of the two people in the scene etched the very raw burden war had placed on their shoulders in differing ways. Then Susan thought of the photographer. I should have asked Paul what Helen Tobias was like. Hmm I’ve an aim - I’d like to meet her one day.
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