"Why do my eyes hurt?"

"Because, you've never used them before."

CH 1:

We were only supposed to be here for two days. Forty-eight hours, give or take one or two, and we were supposed to be on the road. Meanwhile, we found ourselves lounging on the porch swing in the early afternoon breeze, pointing out funny cloud shapes.

"Wade, I don't care what kind of imagination you have, that does not look like a Tellytubby." I pointed to the chunky shape in the sky and she sucked her teeth.

"You're looking at it from the wrong angle."

I moved her to the side and made a big show of turning on my side, hanging off the porch swing, and turning 360 degrees to look into the sky. "There is no wrong angle, that's not a Tellytubby."

Wade sat up and folded her arms across her chest as she fought the urge to laugh. "Fine if that's not a Tellytubby then there's no way that thing is a boustier" She thrust a finger into the air and off to the right.

I guffawed at the absurdity of her statement. And to make my point I collapsed onto the porch like I had just been run over. "Oh God! Put me out of my misery!" I howled and she laughed. "That is so a boustier!" I was throwing my hands in the air and she was laughing at me. "Can't you see the curve, the bend,·the tassel?"

Skeptical blue eyes met my coy gaze. "You almost had me."

I wiggled my eyebrows and sat up. "Well technically I did." I scratched my blunt nails across my shirt and blew on them as I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. As expected, Wade was off of the swing and straddling me in an attempt to pin me to the ground.

"If you're going to be like that about it."

"Hey I'm stating a fact, and besides I thought we had something, Wade?" I was trying to sound hurt, but neither one of us bought it. She started tickling my sides until the laughter reminded me that my ribs weren't quite healed. "Ow."

"Poor baby, I keep forgetting."

"At this point I may need a body brace if I keep hanging around you."

She laughed and I sat up with her in my lap. She was running her fingers through the length of my hair which was sending tingles to my stomach and making me drowsy. "What if I wanted you to hang around?"

I snapped out of my bliss and looked at her. "What do you mean?" I knew what she meant, but I wanted to make sure she meant what I thought she meant.

Small shoulders shrugged as she tousled my hair. She tilted her head to the side. "You ever dye your hair? I'm thinking a few blonde streaks or something."

My eyes grew big in surprise. "Way to change the subject. Uh, think once I died it green for St. Patty's day."

She chuckled. "You did not."

I nodded and grinned. "And my mom kicked my ass for it too. Well not literally, but I almost wish she had. She wouldn't let me wash it out or anything. I had to walk around with green hair for a whole week. Sister Louisa made me sit in the corner, and I got in more fights than usual. I had to go to church with it, to the store, everything. I was even outside trimming the hedges with green hair, it was awful."

Wade wrapped her hands around my neck and threw back her head in laughter. "So I take it you learned your lesson?"

I rolled my eyes. "For a whole year I wouldn't go near the hair products aisle in the Wal-Mart. It was traumatic." We shared a laugh and a light kiss. "You going to answer my question?"

She was twirling the ends of my hair around her fingers. "Just a question."

I squeezed her sides gently. "It wasn't just a question, you were going somewhere with it."

She started looking around. "Where are the dogs, I haven't seen them, I wonder--"

I covered her mouth with my hand and cut my eyes at her until she hung her head. "Wade?"

She removed my hand and held onto it so she could trace the lines in my palm. "I think we should mail the book to Carlo and high-tail it to Bali or something."

I sat back, supporting myself on my arms and regarded the woman in my lap, looking down and toying with the hem of my sweater. She seemed to be lost in her own world, so she left me to my silent musings without comment or even raised brow. Maybe it was the cabin and the mountain air (or even the sex), but something had clearly changed. Wade had changed. It wasn't like she did a 180 on me or anything, but for the first time in the past week, I could honestly say that I enjoyed spending time with Wade. It wasn't about a job, or an obligation, I was actually having a good time. We had spent the whole previous day hiking and taking pictures. I couldn't wait to see the one where she realized a little garter snake was crawling around and over her boots while she was sitting down taking a break. It took me almost an hour to convince her it wasn't poisonous, but it also led to some interesting measures of reassurance that I'm not complaining about.

Perhaps this was the Wade I knew all along, and she just had to be scared shitless to relax and step off stage. More than anything, I knew I was rationalizing. I was trying to make it okay for me to fall in love with her, or at least in very very deep like. If I imagined her to be some normal girl I met and not the daughter of one of the most powerful men in the free world, things looked different. If Wade was normal, then I had just lucked out and stumbled onto possibly the best thing to happen to me in a long time. If Wade was normal, I wouldn't hesitate at flying to a remote island on the other side of the world. But Wade was none of those things, even normal, and it would have indeed been the practical thing to state the obvious, and nip this in the bud while I still had all my vital organs in working order. (One day when I grow up, I'm going to learn from my mistakes, I promise.)

She looked up at me and I smiled at her. "So you want to go to Bali, Wade?"

"Fine, somewhere else then, but it's possible."

"Anything's possible, Wade. I mean, the Yankees might not win the pennant this year, but that doesn't mean it's not going to happen."

She smiled. "Yankee fan?"

That should have been my sign from God, but I let it slide. I sat up and leaned into her until our noses were almost touching. "I was born in raised in Baltimore city along with the thirty other relatives in my family, do I look like a Yankee fan?"

She sat back and held up her hands in surrender. "My bad, my bad."

I growled at her and then nipped her nose, making her laugh. "Considering where you live, you shouldn't say that too loud."

"I was born in the bible belt, we do football."

"And tractor pulls."

"Yee haw!" She twirled an imaginary lasso and we both laughed. "Anyway, is it really such an insane idea?"

"Technically, it's not a bad one. I wonder if they have extradition laws in Bali?"

Wade looked at me oddly and then nodded her head as understanding swept over her. "Ah yes, Barberry."

"Tell her what she's won, Regis."

She started playing with my hair again. "So would you do it?"

I sighed. "Just mail the book, and skip the country. We'd be on the run, because I'm sure your dad would look for you."

She waved her hand through the air. "He won't even miss me."

"Yeah, right."

"Fine, I'll call him every few months and assure him I'm healthy."

"I don't know, Wade, I mean, you and me, me and you. We might kill each other."

"A balance of good and evil is necessary in all relationships, Charlie. And if that's the problem, then we'll just have lots of sex and read Shakespeare all the time."

I looked up to the sky as I contemplated her scenario. "Lots of sex, huh?" She nodded her head. I put no promise into my voice as I spoke. "I don't know, Wade."

She pouted and batted her eyes at me, but I refused to budge. She leaned into me and nibbled on my earlobe as she whispered into it. "I'll let you tie me up."

I held in my laugh. "Already did that."

She sat back and stuck out her tongue at me. "You're no fun, Charlie." She started to get up and I grabbed her around the waist and held her in place.

"Hey, look at me... Look at me." I held her hands and waited for her to look at me. "Stop pouting and let me be serious for second." She did I let out a little breath. "Is that what you really want, Wade? Me and you, and some island paradise where we either kill each other arguing or die from exhaustion when we make up?"

"I thought you were being serious?"

"That was as close as I could get." I shrugged. "But really, Wade, is it worth the risk?"

"What risk? The risk of getting killed or being caught?"

"That and maybe the risk of getting your heart broken."

She caressed my face and kissed my cheek. "Charlie, you wouldn't break my heart."

I drew my eyes away from her and then back. "Yeah, but you might break mine." The words were out of my mouth and I was afraid she was going to cry. Instead she just hugged me tight. I just held onto her because I couldn't think of what to say. I didn't really know if there was anything to say. I made my point and she seemed to be making hers. She released me and sat back. We stared at each for a small moment and then she smiled.

"Well how about we get the book to Carlo, get all this straightened out, and then we can worry about who's going to break whose heart?"

I nodded and ran the back of my hand across her cheek. "Wade, whatever you're running from won't stay away even if you're with me, you know that."

She nodded as she held my hand and kissed the palm. "It's going to catch up to me, won't it?"

I shook my head as I really noticed the sadness in her eyes. "In the worst way, kiddo." She let out a silent 'Jesus' as she continued to hold my hand and I saw a lone tear fall down her face. My stomach was turning and not in a good way. I cupped her face in my hands. "Will you tell me what's wrong, 'cause this is beyond your father and the government."

She let out a laugh that was more of a sob and more tears came, but I could tell she was fighting them. "I don't know how."

"You can try, like 'Charlie, I need to tell you something·I've got three kids and a husband in Puerto Rico'."

My comment had the desired effect as she started laughing. We both wiped at her tears. She wiped up stray drops with her tongue and let out a heavy breath that shook her body a little. "Charlie, if that were true I'd leave them just to stay right here."

I rubbed her back and grinned. "I'm happy to be a homewrecker." She leaned in and kissed me soundly. I shook the dizziness from my head when we broke apart. "You trying to distract me?"

"When I am, I won't have to try." She raised her eyebrows and I for one was so happy to see that little evil spark in her eyes. "I do need to talk to you, but I just need to figure things out."

"I can understand that."

"Can you really?"

"Well, really I'm completely lying and I'm itching to know what's wrong, but if you think it should wait, then it'll wait. We got a whole trip to California, so we've got a little time."

"We do? Yeah, we do." She clapped her hands together. "Time, Charlie. I've got time and you've got time, okay?"

"However, our time here is up, we need to get out of here. We're already a day late."

"Are you complaining?"

"Have you looked at my face lately? Can you see the million dollar grin plastered to my face ?"

"And here I thought you were getting high off nail polish."

I gnashed my teeth at her and started tickling her sides until she attracted the dogs with all her screaming. I stood up as she caught her breath. "C'mon Wade, the road awaits" She let me help her to her feet and then she jumped into my arms. The shock sent a little jolt to my ribs, but I only grimaced. "You trying to kill me?"

"Not quite. Can we play before we leave?"

I groaned. "We don't have time, Wade." I whined and she only giggled.

"I'll just make you pull over on the side of the road, or not pull over at all." We both arched our eyebrows. "That sounds even better."

I dropped her to her feet and we both bolted back into the house. "Get your shit and I'll call Smitty so he can get the dogs. Let's move!"

I heard her squeal with laughter and just shook my head and dialed Smitty.

* * *

CH 2:

We had been driving for a few hours when we were nearing Ohio and decided to stop for some gas. Besides, that was the only way I could keep Wade off of me long enough to see straight out of the windshield. Thank God some of these roads were deserted. I just shook my head at her as she skipped off to the bathroom. I took longer than normal in the store as I paid for gas, bought cigarettes and bought candy. When I came back out, I saw Wade near the bathroom, slamming down the receiver on the phone extra hard. I actually didn't freak out, I didn't even grit my teeth or glare at her. I knew she was just checking her horoscope or something inane like that, so there was no reason to be mad.

I waited for her by the gas pump as I put the nozzle back and closed the door on my Jeep. She smiled when she saw me and got in. She didn't look guilty, so that was a good sign. I decided to take the high road and inquire casually and not plow right into accusing.

"What's up, kiddo?"

"Huh?" She jerked her head in my direction. "Oh, that. I was trying to get in touch with my dad, maybe meet him half way or something."

"Oh." I started the car and we pulled off. "Any luck?"

"Answering machine." I looked at her and then turned onto the highway. "Don't worry, I didn't leave a message, Lord knows who was listening."

I looked bewildered. "I didn't say a thing."

She pursed her lips at me. "Sure Charlie, sure."

I let out a little laugh and then we found something new to talk about as she rifled through my CDs. We drove non-stop through the night until we were well into Indiana, headed towards Chicago. Hopefully we'd reach Iowa by nightfall and be on a plane to California before midnight. Wade had been really quiet the last hour, but I figured she was just letting me sleep, so I thought nothing of it. We pulled into a gas station a little before noon and I started taking the top off the Jeep while she went inside to pay for the gas.

In hindsight, I had been checking to see if we were followed. I had tried to stay to the back roads and off the main thoroughfares since day one. I knew what I was looking for, and even who I was expecting. The thing was, when it all went down, it didn't happen how I had expected. I couldn't see the main road as I was on my knees putting air in the tires. I guess I was expecting helicopters or big black Suburbans. I wasn't expecting four door Lincoln Continentals. I knew Wade was in trouble even before I heard her give a yell.

I stood up quickly and narrowly avoided getting clubbed in the head by some guy in a suit behind me. I wrapped the air hose around his wrist and twisted until he flipped over. I commenced to hog tie him in record time and then headed for Wade. She was certainly putting up a fight as she was being dragged to the open door of a car parked across the street on the road. I picked up one of the windshield squeegees as I crossed the island, and jogged straight towards the three guys headed for me. They were average height and average build, and to be honest, they didn't look that menacing. Maybe they thought a girl with a squeegee wasn't that scary either. It's always funny when people realize that you're taller than they think you are. I saw their expressions alter slightly as it became clear that, from 50 yards away, I only look five feet tall, (who doesn't?) but I kept growing the closer I came. As for the squeegee, I'm a firm believer in the Jackie Chan school of martial arts, in as much as anything is a weapon. I can beat you up with a tampon and a lawn sprinkler just as easily as I could with a staff.

I managed to make my point to my would-be captors without even breaking a sweat, or my stride. Wade yelled out my name as I ran towards her, and the guy holding her shoved her back toward the car and came at me. Now, he did look his size, which was only a head taller than me, but he was twice as wide. It was an easy exchange of kicks and punches and I really couldn't tell if he was being conservative or waiting for an opening. It turned out to be the latter, and the opening came in the form of a taser shot into my back. Now, I don't care how butt-crazy in love you are with somewhere, or how angry you are, or anything. 50,000 volts of electricity is 50,000 volts of electricity. Needless to say, as if someone had pulled out the chair from under me, I fell to the ground convulsing and twitching. Wade screamed and my insides groaned.

As I began to get my bearings back and ignore the pain, some of the conversation around me became coherent. "Try not to kill her·.may need her later." I was thinking that was a good thing. I must have moved because I got kicked in the stomach, (at least they missed my ribs.) Reflexively, I curled up from the pain and I heard Wade screaming again. Actually, it wasn't a scream, but more like authoritative yelling.

"You son of bitch! Fucking stop it! Let me go, damn it!"

"We're not discussing this, Grier. In the car!"

"Fuck you! I said I needed time, you stupid shit, this is not time!" I was starting to stir now, and I got kicked again. "Jesus Christ!" I heard the sound of a fist hitting a jaw and the shuffle of feet. "You fucking touch her again and I'll rip your head off!" On the inside I was cheering Wade on, and I was probably also bleeding, but I mainly just wanted to get up.

"Get in the damn car. I don't want to do this the hard way, but you're not making this easy."

"The hard way? What's that, the red carpet and Limo, you shit?"

"Fuck this. Get her up, so she can see."

I was moving again and trying to be helpful. I started to open my eyes and I saw Wade with her hands up, backing towards the guardrail along the road. She was shaking her head a lot and it was enough to say that the guy walking towards her was holding a gun.

The good thing about adrenaline is that when it kicks in, it kicks in. You might be sore for a month afterwards, but you get a good workout in about 60 seconds. I was yelling deep from my gut and I'm sure I said Wade's name, but it didn't matter. I was up on my feet and pummeling my way through the second of three guys when the shot went off. She didn't even scream as the bullet disappeared into her chest and sent her backwards. There was no blood and there was no sound. There might have been, but to this day, I think I blacked out. I remember taking a long blink as the world exploded on the inside. When I opened them back up, there was nothing but blood, and not surprisingly, none of it was mine. I stepped over , what I hoped to be three carcasses, and walked toward the guardrail where she must have gone over. If the fall didn't kill her, maybe she was still alive, and maybe I was going to heaven due the fact that I blame everything on love-filled rage.

I never made it to the guardrail. I don't remember hearing the clicking, but I heard the release as the wired prongs shot out from the taser and lodged themselves in my back. The world around me matched the world on the inside. It was quiet there, and mostly it was dark. Too dark to see and too dark to think. Mostly, gratefully, it was too dark to remember. At least she hadn't broken my heart, but if I ever woke up, I was going to find the guy who had done this and eat his.


When I finally came to, the gas station attendant was hovering over me with a towel. It took everything I had not to lash out and punch him. I think he anticipated it as he flinched when I tried to sit up. I managed to raise myself up on my arm, only to collapse to the ground in pain. I'm not sure if it was pain from my aching body or simply from the grief and shock of seeing Wade being shot and falling. I just lay on the ground in the fetal position and cried until my tear ducts were dry and my body was numb. The attendant helped me to my feet, and back inside. When I looked back out for the carnage, I could see that all that had happened there had been erased. The bodies were gone, the cars were gone, there was nothing, not even blood stains.

I guzzled a liter of water and looked to the old man handing me a towel. "The girl?" I choked out. The old man didn't even try to look me in the eye. If he saw even half as much as I had, he knew, just like I did, that she was gone. I just nodded as I wiped my face with the towel and crumpled the plastic bottle. "Where's the bathroom?"

"Round back."

I nodded and stood up as I reached into my back pocket and threw down a couple one-hundred dollar bills. "You never saw me and this didn't happen." He nodded. "Thank you." I was back outside heading for the bathroom before he could even wave. Although it wasn't the shower I would have preferred, the gas station bathroom turned out to be a halfway decent clean-up spot. I shucked the comfy khakis and fleece vest I was wearing for my dark jeans, my boots, my turtleneck, and my leather jacket. I raised up my backseat as I pulled out my gun case and checked to make sure that I had all the rounds for the matching Colts. Chrome with pearl handles. They had been a gift from my dad, and the last time I used them I was with him. I promised myself it was going to be a cold day in hell before I ever pulled these things out to use in anger. As I slid on my glasses and slipped on my leather gloves, I was pretty sure I could have walked right into the sun and frozen the core.

* * *

CH 3:

When the Red-eye landed at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport, the sun was just beginning to set, and I had been on autopilot since I had put the key in the ignition of Jeep hours ago. I caught a cab into the city and made him put me out into traffic somewhere between Pico street and 20th. I decided to take off my gloves, and I exchanged my turtleneck for a black t-shirt. While I knew I wouldn't look conspicuous in all black, I figured the turtleneck and gloves might put me over the top. All though some passerby might just assume that I was an over-zealous superstar on some freak diet and sun-deprecation regiment. It made me no matter as I spotted a guy filling his Land Rover at a gas station. He walked inside to pay and I eased into his car and sped off. I couldn't help but smile as I watched his flailing arms get smaller and smaller as I drove away. California did have its perks.

I settled Barberry's book in my inside coat pocket and took the 405 that would lead me into route 2, towards Beverly Hills. It wasn't that hard to find the place, as I just followed the Rolles Royces. I was making my way well into the hills when I looked at the address and found my way up the winding drive. The moment the front drive came into view I knew this was Carlo's not so little hideway. All the place needed was a few towers and it would have been some Victorian castle. I knew I was going to get hassled if I walked up to the gate, so I decided to test this guy's security. I wasn't thinking that Carlo had gotten cocky in his old age or even sure of himself, but nine times out of ten the people that work for folks like that think they are as good as gold and can do no wrong.

I put the car in neutral and stepped out of it as it rolled down the hill towards the gate. By the time it hit the gate, I was jumping over the wall and into Carlo's garden. I was taking my time walking, actually admiring the flowers , as his henchmen zoomed passed me all rushing to the commotion. I took the three steps on the back patio in one stride as I walked into the house. Perhaps, under different circumstances I would have checked out the kitchen, but I was making my way through the hallway to the office. That's what I loved about that fat fuck Barberry, he was one organized son of bitch. Even if he was a sloppy excuse for a human in the flesh. I knew I was close when I saw a bodyguard standing in front of a doorway. I tossed a pretzel stick in his line of sight. His body went to the left, and I caught him on the jaw with a right. I was feeling devilish, so I put his fingers in thumb cuffs and walked through the door, with my gun drawn.

To my surprise, the two guys standing in the foyer were holding open the wooden double doors. The one on the right looked past me as he spoke. "You can go in, but holster your weapon."

I did as I was told with the most amused look on my face, and walked into the office as I holstered my gun.

"Can I offer you a drink?"

From behind, Carlo didn't look that impressive as he stood at the bar. I nodded and then spoke. "Jameson on the rocks."

"To what do I owe the honor, miss?"

He turned around and handed me a glass. He was only slightly taller than me and he looked every bit a middle aged man, but he was definitely handsome. He had businessman written all over him, and a carefree charm that said, 'yes this is still my real hair and I can date 20 year old women, but I like women who have a good sense about them.' He smiled at me as I took the offered glass and I sat at his gesture.

"It's Rossi·Charlie."

"Charlie?" He sat down behind his desk as I took a seat in the plush leather chair behind me. "Charlie? Why does that name ring a bell?"


"Ahh." Thick black eyebrows raised high and the corners of his eyes creased. "That Charlie. Seems you're in trouble, no?"

My stomach dropped. Jesus, he was going to rip my spine out and smile the whole time. "Um, sir, I need to speak with you about something important."

"Well, I'm sure since you come to my house unannounced and got your way inside. Impressive, by the way."

I nodded and downed my drink. I wanted to stand up, but I opted to sit forward in my seat and fidget with my hands. I let out a breath and ran my hands through my hair. "Sir your·um how do I say this? God, I'm sorry, I'm sorry... so sorry...." I took another deep breath, looked Carlo Worthing in the eye, and kissed my ass goodbye. "Sir, I'm sorry but your daughter's dead."

I closed my eyes and contemplated falling to my knees so I could just take it like I deserved. I was waiting for a hammer to be pulled back on a gun or a knife to be unsheathed. Instead, after a moment of silence I lifted my eyes to stare my looming death in the face, and Carlo Charlemange Minos Worthing--repudiated mob boss, killer of men women and children, future Senator of California...

Was smiling at me from ear to ear.


I could only sit and stare at him slack-jawed as I picked up my glass only to realize it was empty. I seriously considered pissing in my pants, and then he started to laugh in a way that sounded more like a snicker (but it reminded me of the cat from 'Hong Kong Fuey'), and I squeezed my legs together. He wore a grin when he spoke to me.

"Ms. Rossi, Charlie." He waved his hand through the air. "I must say I uh, appreciate the timely-ness of your condolences for my daughter." I know my eyes looked like they were about to fall out of my head, but I couldn't help it. "Your sincerity intrigues me, and I must marvel at your," he paused and squinted his eyes as he mentally searched for a word, "at your moxy, your determination to convey your grief to me personally, but--" He stopped and leaned forward on his desk as he entwined his fingers. "Eight years ago, my daughter died in a plane crash with her mother. She was 12."

All of a sudden all the lights came on in the house, the wall fell down, and there was the late Allen Funt and the camera crew from Candid Camera along with an audience of hundreds laughing at me. In my head, it happened exactly like that. In reality, I swooned. I didn't fall out of the chair, but slumped down in it and froze. It was like I had been dipped in liquid nitrogen÷nothing moved. My pulse faltered, my heart stopped, my salivary glands dried up, and I even stopped blinking. The world snapped back on me when I looked down at the fresh gash in the palm of hand. I had squeezed the glass so hard it had shattered. As the pain registered and the blood seeped from the wound, I remembered where I was. Most of all, I remembered what happened, and as I looked up at Carlo I remembered what he said.

I held my head in my hands and just kept shaking it from side to side. I was getting blood in my hair, but I really didn't notice. This was impossible. This was a fucking urban legend. (I had just become an urban legend!) Wasn't there some story about the Farmer's daughter, or the hitchhiker, or some such. And here was the version for the new millenium. I couldn't tell if Carlo was concerned or amused, but I was on the verge of vomiting and I had an empty stomach. At that point I would have expelled my pancreas just to get rid of the sickly sensation in my gut. Not like it mattered because it was filtered through my entire body. I managed to stand up, only to lean on Carlo's desk. I turned my back to Carlo and leaned back on the edge of the desk and just sort of shook. It was this uncontrollable vibration, like I was suffering from alcohol withdrawal or MS, but I couldn't stop. I was cold all of a sudden and I wrapped my arms around my body. I could barely focus straight, and my heart was about to pop out of my chest. It was a classic panic attack and I was just hoping I passed out sometime soon.

Instead, I took the drink Carlo silently offered me and gulped the liquid down. I gave no thought to protocol as I held out the empty glass only to have it refilled. We stood like that for a few moments, me leaning against the desk draining glasses and him standing in front of me holding a bottle and refilling my glass on request. I guess after about 6 glasses I held up my hand. He took my empty glass and sat them down on the bar. He walked back to me and stood behind the chair that I once occupied and looked at me.

"So Charlie, I think you've been screwed." His tone wasn't mocking, but more curious than anything.

I managed to focus my eyes on him. "Screwed, eh?" (I was speaking, that was good.) I shook my head. "Sir, this is not screwed. I've just been fucked up the ass with a broom handle, and not at a comfortable pace." My tone was so dry, I guess it was funny because he laughed. He patted me on the arm and I found myself chuckling a little as well. It was either that or cry, so I just thought it better to laugh.

"You want a bandage for that, Charlie?" He pointed at my hand. I pulled my hand to my body with a snap, afraid the blood would drop on his carpet and nodded. He handed me a towel and then told one of his door men to grab a first aid kit. "So, Charlie, you want to tell me what's going on? Come and sit."

I followed him over to a leather couch on the back wall and sat down, with my hand in my lap. "I'm trying to find an explanation for you, because I don't have one for myself. I came here with the notion that I knew what I was going to say. I knew what theory I wanted to present for you, and then I was going to go lay down in the middle of the highway and die." I let out a breath. "Now... now, I-I don't know what the hell is going on." I blinked my eyes about six times in rapid succession and shook my head, like that was going to turn everything right side up.

He handed me the first aid kit. "Why don't you tell me about my 'daughter'?"

I heard the word daughter and I groaned. (I wonder if it's possible to get an instantaneous ulcer.) "May I, I mean, do you have a picture of her?" He nodded and went to his desk. When he returned he handed me an oak-framed photo. It was his daughter and his wife. I blew air into my cheeks as the acid rose up in the back of my throat. I managed to keep my hand steady as I held the picture and asked a question. "Wh-what was her name?"

"It was Wade." He grinned at the memory.

I wanted to cry again, but I could only giggle. I didn't even care if it sounded maniacal or hysterical, because this was all too much. He eyed me oddly. "What's so funny?"

I curtailed my laughter, but not my silly grin as I looked up at him. "Just thinking that um, your daughter, looks, um, very much like her mother."

He smiled and nodded as he caught my meaning. "Meaning, she could no more pass for Greek, than I could pass for an Asian."

I nodded. "Something like that." I handed him back the picture. "They were both very beautiful."

He took it and sat it down on the end table. "That they were. My father had a fit when I brought home a black girl from Harlem. Then Wade was born, and the midnight marauder turned into a marshmallow." I laughed and he poured us both drinks. "So what can you tell me about the other Wade?"

"Ugh." I took a drink. "The other Wade is about 8 years older. The other Wade is a handful of trouble. And uh·I don't know..." I groaned again and then ran a hand through my hair. "My Wade," I choked on my words, "whatever her name is, I don't know what she is, I'm very confused right now, but she's dead, so it doesn't matter."

"You sure?"

I closed my eyes as a small wave of grief flooded my insides. Regardless, of who she was, I couldn't deny that I felt something for her, and I couldn't deny that when she went over that railing I felt like I had fallen too. "I saw it." I sighed. "I don't know how she fits or where she fits into all this, but the point was, or is, we were running from the C.I.A. and from Cabron."

Carlo didn't even blink. He just tapped his chin and nodded. "For what?"

"Barberry's book." I patted my coat.

He nodded again. "I knew I liked you Charlie, good girl." He sipped from his glass. "But why come to me?"

"Without trying to sound like I'm kissing your ass sir, I figured it was the smart thing to do. Shit, I don't want this thing, but I think it might keep me alive a little longer, if I can think of a reason to live at this point."

He smiled. "Don't be so hard on yourself Charlie, we all get blindsided and caught up. Those of us who survive learn our lessons, take our lumps, and never forget."

"That's just the thing, I want to forget any of this ever happened. I'd just as soon hand this book over to you and then fall off the face of the earth."

"I could help you with that." It was a reflex, but I sat back and went rigid. Carlo grinned and held up his hands. "Sorry, sorry. You'd think I could say that and not have it sound sinister." He smiled and I visibly relaxed. "Why don't you hang here for a few days and we'll straighten this out, and if you want to walk, I'll give you a one-way ticket to Alaska if you want."

"I hear the weather's nice." We both smiled. "So, sir, can you maybe shed some light on anything for me. I mean, you must know why Cabron is hot for you?"

He blew a breath out. "Cabron has always been hot for me. With Barberry dead, he thinks he could take the book and crush whomever he wants. The thing is, it's not that easy. Without the right connections, and not to mention presence, the information in that book won't get you anything except a release from parking tickets.

"As for the C.I.A., Charlie, I've got at least a dozen books just like Barberry's. How long do you think it would have taken Barberry to rip apart Maryland?"

I shrugged. "Probably less than a week."

"True. It would take me 24 hours, Charlie, and you can pick a country. C.I.A.'s on my ass because they think I'm going to be an advocate for their personal wars. They figure with a so-called mob boss who has Federal perks, I could clean up their messes faster than they could make them."

"And make them rich at the same time." I added.

"Exactly. Cabron's a worm, he can't see the big picture. You know those pictures that are made up of individual pictures?" I nodded. "Cabron's the type of person that looks at each picture before he ever sees the entire photo. On the other hand, The Spooks see a picture that's bigger than the canvas. And besides, they can't decide if I'm an asset or a liability. As much as they want me in their corner, they have no idea how to contain me. And for Uncle Sam, even the dark corners need to be in order."

"So what did she have to do with all of this?"

Carlo shrugged. "Maybe Baberrry set you up, I don't know. For all you know she could have been working with The Spooks."

"But who the hell am I? I'm not being self-loathing, but seriously?"

Carlo grinned. "Charlie I can't answer that for you, but guess what÷you've got the book, don't you, and you're in my house." I looked up at him as he stood. "You must be somebody."

I just shrugged and finished my drink. "Come on, Charlie, let's take a tour. I'll ask you to be my guest and we'll take care of all this. You rest for a couple of days, you can take leave of that book, and Charlie Rossi can vanish."

I stood up. "I'm there with you, but with one request." He turned to me. "I need a shower."

"Sure, Charlie, sure." He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked out of the office. "You freshen up, we'll eat, smoke some Cuban cigars, and I'll show you around. How about it?"

I smiled. "You got anything stronger than a Cuban?"

He laughed heartily. "Charlie, my dear, there is nothing stronger. This should be fun." He released my shoulder with a squeeze. "Roman will show you where to go." I gave him a slight bow which he returned and then I followed my guide to my temporary sanctuary.

* * *

CH 4:

The rest of the afternoon seemed to move in a haze for me. It was if I was still in the shower, my arms outstretched, my palms pressed against the damp tiles, letting the strategically placed jets pummel me with near-scalding water. I think I was trying to disappear into the steam, but it was no matter. At least the pulsating water felt good against my sore muscles. I really wanted to cry, but even as I felt my face twist to accommodate the onslaught of tears, I found that none would come forth. I wasn't even sure what it was that I was supposed to be crying about anymore. Was I relieved that it seemed I had found safety with the one person I had been more fearful of than even death this entire time? I'm sure that was a part of it, but I can admit to being in a state of mourning. I just didn't know what the hell I was grieving for, or who, for that matter. The fact of the matter still remained: Wade, (or whatever her name was), was dead. She was gone, and to top it all off, I didn't know why. Just as equally painful was the fact that I had been betrayed. It doesn't quite pack the same punch when you put it all down on paper, but it was like no pain I had ever experienced before, and let's face it, I had been through some painful stuff--emotional and physical.

I guess at best, it's safe to say I was unstable, and I had every right to be. I didn't know if I was coming or going and I was seriously beginning to contemplate just staying here with Carlo. On the one hand I was all ready to go be a hermit on some remote pacific island, or just go practice being a bum for a while. On the other hand, I was thinking that if I didn't keep busy I was going to go insane, and what better way to keep busy than working for Carlo? Shit, I could rub elbows with politicians, and maybe even break some. Truth was, I was starting to feel despondent, and worse than that it was beginning to manifest itself in visions of murder and mayhem. I was starting to lose touch with reality and I knew it. I found myself sharing Cuban cigars and sipping on single malt Scotch, surrounded by people who never strayed from duty. We were swapping war stories and anecdotes with subject matters that never made the six o'clock news on account of the gruesome nature.

Normally I would have been trying to hide in a corner, but I was feeling right at home. Carlo had gone and bought me new clothes, even though Roman washed all my clothes anyway. I found myself sitting on the edge of the pool table, one leg still on the floor (so the shot was regulation,) in what was more or less a four hundred dollar outfit. I swear it was just jeans, a black t-shirt, a new pair of boots, some really nice socks, and underwear so soft I was forgetting I had any on. (Sometimes, this job has the best perks.) I didn't even feel uncomfortable wearing my gun holster, that just made me fit in with the rest of the guys. It was surreal, seeing as how this was the life I had been trying to avoid. I mean, I hung out with my friends, but we always checked our weapons at the door, and did our best to talk about sports, whose kid needed braces, or how much money it was going to cost to send Junior to college. These people wore the likes of Ralph Lauren and Armani everyday. They didn't have families to worry about or girlfriends steady enough to be called girlfriends. The only duty these men had was to Carlo, and I was thinking that this might not be such a bad life.

I made a trick shot, sunk two balls including the eight, and got a round of applause for my efforts. I stood and winked at my partner as I chewed on the end of my cigar and they set up a new game. Carlo tapped me on the shoulder and I sat down my cue and followed him to a quiet corner of the room. I guess he had been reading my mind, or just aware of an opportunity presenting itself.

"Can I ask what you're thinking about?" He managed to smile at me without being condescending.

I gave him a lopsided grin and raised my hand as I shrugged. The new jewelry on my wrist jingled and I glanced down at the watch and bracelet. "I was thinking that this is a really nice watch." (It was, actually.) It was the kinetic kind that drew it's energy from my movement, and it matched nicely with the sterling silver bracelet I was wearing.

"Roman said you needed a watch." He spoke like it was completely trivial that he had spent almost a thousand dollars on my arm alone.

I shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not sure if I can accept this," I tugged at my shirt. "Any of this."

"Consider it a gift." He said and then glanced up my empty glass. "Need a refill?"

I nodded and we walked over to the bar. He rolled up the sleeves on his shirt and went behind the bar to pour the drinks.

"A gift for what?"

"Maybe I feel a little at fault."

I scoffed. "I can't imagine what for. Barberry got me into this, she betrayed me, and it was me and my smart mouth that put me in this position, so none of this is your fault."

He handed me a new drink. "Maybe I'm bribing you then."

I met his brown eyes and could clearly see the truth in his statement. "The book is yours Carlo." I turned towards my jacket, that was on a hook by the bar, and started to move towards it.

He held up a hand and stopped me. "Maybe I think you should stay." I laughed and blushed a bit. "The boys like you."

I looked in the mirror behind the bar and easily got a look at the dozen men scattered through out the room. One or two even waved to me as they caught my eyes in the reflection. I lowered my eyes and drank from my glass. "Not that I'm tooting my own horn, but I don't think their admiration has anything to do with my ability to make friends."

Carlo rolled his eyes. "Fine, they're horny bastards, but I know you can take of yourself." He sipped from his drink and leaned down onto the bar. "Besides, Charlie I think you could be useful here."

I shook my head. "I don't know."

He caught my wondering eyes and held my gaze. "Don't say you weren't thinking about it."

"Okay, I won't say it."

We both smiled. He lightly tapped his hands on the counter and stood up straight. "I just think it's an idea, that's all. You said yourself that you don't have much going on right now, and I don't think you should be too eager to head back to the east coast." I shrugged. "Look Charlie, you're a beautiful woman and you intrigue me." He grinned at me as I lost the battle of trying to hide my blush. "I haven't been intrigued in a long time, and I think you would fit in exceptionally well, only because you stand out. Charlie, I know you were a pain in Barberry's ass, but he kept you around because you were good."

I raised my brow at him. "I thought you didn't know who I was?"

"Well, technically, I had never met you and your name did sound familiar, but once I put two and two together I figured out what Charlie you were." I nodded my head. "So, will you at least think about it?"

"I don't know if I'm in any shape to be of service to you. I mean I couldn't tell when somebody was lying to me. I don't follow orders really well, I have a tendency to change my mind a lot, and right now I'm so mixed up between grief and anger that I just might go off the deep end."

"Charlie, Charlie. That's all the more reason to be in a place where people can take care of you. It's obvious you're teetering on the edge, so why not stay here and give me the opportunity to reel you in and keep your feet on the ground?"

"I don't know, I really don't know." I sighed.

"Well, hang here for a few days and seriously think about it. I'll give you a run down on how things work and if it's something you can deal with then great. If not...I'll make it work." We both laughed. "Seriously, Charlie, just think about it. Give it a few days. If you really think you've done all you can do, then I'm not going to stop you from walking. Hell, I'll send you on your way. But," he held up his finger, "I really think you'd do a lot better here then running off to become a recluse." I nodded and he squeezed my shoulder. "Come on, I think your pool buddies are missing your presence."

I smiled at Carlo and allowed him to lead me back to the table. I fell back into the game easily, since it was a lot better than thinking about the offer on the table. I decided I'd deal with it in the morning, or better yet in a couple of days. I racked the balls and then leaned down on the table as I prepared to break. The break was hard and clean, sending balls flying all over the felt of the pool table. The slyest of smiles crept to my face as I heard the sure fire sound of balls falling into pockets. I stood up and chalked my cue as I got ready to take the next shot. Carlo was right, they were admiring me, and as much as their thoughts were sexual they were genuinely curious. I winked at my partner and leaned back down on the table. As I sent the low ball to the opposite corner pocket, I was beginning to think that I could really get used to this.


Carlo had been right about those Cuban cigars, so when Milo came into the parlor room to say there was trouble, I was a little slow to react. Eventually, I did sit up straight in the chair I was sitting in as I reached for my gun. Carlo just held up his hand and the lot of us waited for his word. I shook my head as if that would sober me up, and then sat up straight as I listened to Milo.

"Cabron and about two carloads are out front."

Carlo looked down at his watch and I looked at mine. It was going on midnight. Carlo sighed and looked to Milo. "Do I even dare ask what he wants?"

"Says he wants to talk to you. Something about making you an offer."

Carlo sighed. "Milo, if it's worth your time, you tell Cabron, that he can come back at office hours sometime tomorrow." Carlo turned away from Milo and back to the poker game. The phone rang two minutes later and Carlo picked up. "What now?"

"He says he'll just sit here and wait until you come out."

"Jesus Christ! You tell that stupid..." Carlo huffed and composed himself. "Milo, if he wants to wait, then he'll be waiting 'til tomorrow morning and that's that. You tell him to get in his little car and twiddle his thumbs. And if he steps out of that car to take anything but a piss, blow his fucking head off." Carlo hung up the phone and looked in my direction. "Hey Charlie, if you want to go outside and beat the piss out of Cabron without my permission, be my guest."

I smiled lazily and then propped my feet back up in the chair across from me. "I think I'll wait till the morning."

Carlo chuckled out, "good girl", and then turned his attention back to the game.

* * *

CH 5:

Sunrise came and went and it seemed like I was just beginning to close my eyes to go to sleep when I saw Gerard and one of the other guys stand up put on their gun holsters. I rubbed sleep from my eyes and sat up straight. "What's up guys?"

Gerard yawned. "Nothin', chief. Cabron's still outside and we're just going out there to take care of all this, shouldn't be too much trouble. Make this nice and fast."

"No shit, man, I need to go back to sleep." The man beside him shook his head and stretched.

Gerard grinned. "There's a room for you upstairs, you know."

"Yeah." I answered and stretched my hands above my head.

"Yeah, you might as well get some sleep, this shouldn't be a big deal. And I know the bed is more comfortable than that chair."

I grinned. "Got a point there." I stood up. "Call me if you need me." Both men nodded and then left the room. When I opened the door to the parlor to leave I ran into Carlo and Milo. "Morning."

"Just coming to get you." Suddenly I was alert and Carlo could tell. "Not for that, I was going to tell you to go to bed, the guys are handling Cabron."

"Goody. Oh wait, let me get my jacket." I moved quickly to the chair I had been in and picked up my jacket and my gun holster. "You think Cabron wants the book?" I was smiling when I asked the question.

"Yeah right." The three of us laughed.

Milo opened his mouth to say something else and then the house began to shake. My wide-eyed stare was matched by both Carlo and Milo as we stood our ground. "Christ! Is that a fucking earthquake?!" I was genuinely scared, and to make matters worse, neither Carlo or Milo looked they knew what was going on.

"That's no earthquake." said Milo and looked to Carlo.

"Well, what the -" My question was interrupted by another tremor and then the sound of explosion. "What the fuck did you send them out there with, rocket launchers?" Carlo didn't answer as we all moved down the hallway and looked out of the sliding glass doors that led to the patio.

Carlo was craning his neck as he looked out. "It's a chopper."

Milo's mouth hung open. "What! Where? I can't see it or hear it."

His comment got my attention as I was looking out as well. "It's Spooks."

Milo turned to me. "C.I.A.?"

"Yeah, they got choppers you can't hear until they're right over you."

"That shit's for real?"

I turned to Milo and spoke dryly. "Yes, Milo, that shit's for real." He could make no other comment as the house shook with the sound of another explosion. "What the fuck are they shooting at?"

"Hey, there they are!" I followed Milo's finger and sure enough a lone black helicopter hovered by the window. "Was that a Gatling gun?"

"What the hell is going on?" I asked.

"Charlie, go with Carlo. We need to get to the back."

"Right." Carlo spoke and grabbed me by the arm. "Ten minutes, if that much. Just get the hell out of here." Milo nodded and then ran from the room. "Come on, Charlie, we need to move."

Surprisingly, my hands were steady as I put on my holster and then my jacket. My arms crossed each other as I took out both guns and cocked the hammers. "Tell me where to go."

"Back down the hallway and down the steps. We'll take the tunnel." I thought it was going to be an easy stroll down the hallway, but the simultaneous sound of broken glass on the floors above and around us proved otherwise. I looked to Carlo and neither one of us had to say it: they were in the house.

I have never wanted to go to war. The military never appealed to me, although the idea of being a sniper did call to me. There was something romantic about bell towers and quiet alleys that appealed to me. A quiet wonder and fascination that resonated in the idea of stalking a victim and making your move without a whisper of a sound. However, the shattering of glass and the sound of trampling feet only brought to mind the images of chaos. When the lights went out, and the only illumination came from track lighting throughout the house and sunlight, I longed for the sniper's advantage and prayed that I could do justice for myself and the man at my back.

We moved down the hall with ease, staying close to the wall, as I held both guns held out before me. I was a split second from turning to go down the hallway when I heard the soft footfalls of someone moving up the stairs. I didn't let the barrel of an M-16 phase me as I slammed the butt of my gun down on his wrist and grabbed him by the throat. I threw him into the opposite wall and sent a kick to the back of his head. He slumped to the ground and I was pushing Carlo back when gunfire ripped through the hallway. I could hear gunfire behind us and I knew we were about to be trapped. I grabbed the man on the floor and hoisted him up. I didn't know if he was dead or not, but he was about to be. Carlo took his M-16 and aimed it down the hallway so I could deal with whomever was at the bottom of the steps. I swung his body around just as the stairwell echoed with gunfire. For a second, I thought the man's body armor was going to keep him alive, but the round that ripped through his skull put that notion to rest. I heaved his body towards the dark of the stairwell and fired into it blindly with both guns.

After that, Carlo and I turned tail and ran down the hallway. Carlo shot off a few rounds around the doorway into the main room and we took cover as gunfire answered. I leaned into Carlo as we both stood flush against the wall. "What now?"

He fired a few more random shots out into the room. "I guess we got to do this the hard way. We have to get out back."

"Won't they be there?"

"Perhaps, but staying inside this house is a death trap. We can't see shit and I don't know what we're dealing with. Outside, it's open and outside we can deal. Only advantage right now is that I know where I'm going." We both flinched as bullets pelted the opposite wall. "You ready to do this?"

I took a deep breath and released it. "Yeah, yeah, but let me lead." Carlo was trying his best to not look surprised. I gave him the cockiest grin in my arsenal and shrugged. "Sir, you may know where you're going, but I'm just crazy enough to cut us a path, so don't be too flattered."

Carlo smiled. "I'm not, but I'm willing to be impressed if you pull this off."

"You just fire that gun like you're trying out for the lead role in Rambo, and I'll take care of this."

Carlo winked and sent several sporadic rounds out into the great room. I dove through the door and rolled out into the room under his cover and started shooting at kneecaps. I saw three men fall to the ground and four more seemed to still be standing as I scurried behind the couch. Carlo fired again and I took the respite to lift up the couch. I heaved it out and dove over it as it fell. I twirled my guns, so that the barrels pointed inwards and the butts pointed out, and used the guns like sais. I was fending off punches when I found myself driving my shoulder into his stomach, more for the aim of dodging gunfire than changing my strategy. I cracked my gun against his temple as I rolled behind the bookcase for cover.

Gunfire ignited all through the room and I thought Carlo had lost his mind until I took a quick glance. What I saw gave me the urge to want to throw up (because I was really confused now.) The very same men I had been firing my guns at were firing at one another! This was getting crazier by the minute. It was easy to tell Cabron's men from The Spooks, only because none of them were wearing vests, and all the sweatsuits were sort of a dead giveaway. What was most confusing, though, was the man firing at Cabron's men. He was absent of the double breasted suit and mandatory shades. Carlo then fired into the room and the remaining men dove for cover. I took advantage of my location and drilled two of Cabron's men. I pointed my gun towards the C.I.A. guy and fired wildly, and watched him scamper from the room. I didn't bother to shoot at his retreating frame.

"Carlo, it's clear." He emerged and dropped the machine gun to the ground and scooped up a handgun off the floor. "Carlo," I stood up. "That guy was F.B.I."

His eyes grew wide in genuine confusion. "What?"

"It was on his jacket and yes, that was my question."

"Whatever, let's go."

I exchanged the clips in my guns and we headed off towards the back of the house. It seemed that we might make it outside, until the flight of bullets crossed our path. I dove into Carlo and sent us both to the ground. I fired rounds into the air just to buy us some time. We both were crouched behind the armoire in the sitting room.

"What do you want to do?" I asked.

"You think we can down this guy?"

"Not that." I flinched as the sounds of gunfire both inside and outside the house rattled the building. "You think we can get out of this?"

"Charlie, I got a campaign rally on Monday."

I tried not to look at him like he had two heads. "Sir, with all due respect, won't your rally be in jeopardy after this?"

"Not in the least. It's all about the spin, Charlie. And if this is the C.I.A., they'll be eager to clean this up."

"That was F.B.I., though."

"And money's money, Charlie, I'll get us out of this, let's just get rid of this goober and get outside."

I nodded. "Yessir." I said with a grin and then I stood up and fired. Gunfire headed my way and then I heard the distinct sound of a chamber being empty. I pointed my guns toward the wall. "Hands on your head and come out." Fingertips edged out from behind the wall. "Slowly, shit head!" Just as his head peeped out from the corner, gunfire forced me to the floor. The gunfire had come from both directions. I looked over at Carlo and he shrugged back at me as if to say I was taking too long. Before I could voice my argument, we were up and running and avoiding the gunfire headed our way. We were almost to the kitchen and out the back, when I stopped abruptly in my tracks as if I had been hit in the chest by a clothesline. I saw his face, and suddenly I was outside of a random gas station watching Wade go over a railing... watching her being shot by this man. At least I knew he was an F.B.I. agent, the letters screamed that out to me in bright yellow on the back of his jacket.

With both guns, I fired at his running form, unloading both clips even after no one remained in the stairwell. It wasn't until Carlo's voice called my name that I realized I was shooting at nothing.

"Charlie! Let's go."

I turned in Carlo's direction, chest heaving with exasperation, my muscles rigid. I couldn't even form a word. He knew what I was going to say, because he shook his head at me. "Damn it, Charlie, no time." I thought it best not to whimper, so I responded. "Carlo..." I could only shake my head, since I hadn't the words to voice the chasm of anger that had opened up. I can't even say if it was really revenge that was driving me. Maybe I was just pissed off that he took part in what I could only deem as the ultimate of betrayals. If Wade couldn't pay, then he damn well could.

Carlo ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "Two minutes, Charlie." He held up two fingers. "Do your deed, and then I want you headed down the kitchen stairwell and out the back. Two fucking minutes! You got me?!"

I nodded and managed to say "yes sir." I don't know if he watched me run up the stairs, but it didn't matter because my mind was focused. I didn't even bother to reload my clips, since it was my intention to beat him to death. I stood in a doorway and waited for him to come back down the hallway. Moving on pure instinct, I stepped out of the doorway when I thought he was close and drove the butts of my guns into his gut. He doubled over and I brought the guns down on his back. His knees buckled and I tossed my weapons off to the side. (Now, in small circles, I will admit to watching wrestling, and given his current position, it seemed only appropriate that a patented Stone Cold Steve Austin move would do the trick.) I grabbed him around the neck and dropped to the ground, which drove my shoulder up into his throat. I hopped to my feet and he collapsed to the ground.

"C'mon you stupid fuck, get up! I want you to see it coming." My fists were raised and I was bouncing on the balls of my feet. He groaned. "Get the fuck up!"

He spit as he made it to his knees, and glared at me. "Fuck off, Rossi! This has nothing to do with you."

He knew my name, and it pissed me off so I kicked him. He blocked most of the kick but it still stunned him. I let him get to his feet. "Fuck you, shit head! This has everything to do with me." I started punching at him and he was just doing his best to keep on his feet, and not really trying to retaliate. He shoved me back and wiped blood from his nose.

"Damn it Rossi, just get the fuck out of here while you're still moving, and get your ass a one-way ticket to anywhere!"

"Uh uh... You and I, we got a score to settle, so I suggest you get to your feet and defend yourself, or I'm going to pull your organs out through your nostrils!!"

He rolled his eyes at me like I was wasting his time, so I wasted none in advancing on him. He was fighting for real this time, because when he hit me in the chest with an open palm, I was driven back into the bedroom I had come out of. I was back up on my feet quickly, and countering. Perhaps, in another lifetime, we could have sparred together at the local dojo, but at the moment I was switching from Kenpo to Tang Soo Do. At the rate I was going, this was going to get really ugly, and I was going to be trying my hand at Water Boxing. I found an opening and caught his wrist, giving it a turn and slamming my palm upward into his elbow. I didn't need to hear it to know that I had snapped the bone, since his squeal of pain was enough. I whirled him around and started kicking him back towards the French doors. I didn't really know where they led to, but being on the second level assured me that the exit was going to be up and out. I dropped my shoulder and ran at him, connecting with his midsection. It was just like the sled in football practice.

We exploded out through the French doors and onto a deck. I had no time to admire the design, as our momentum carried us through the wooden railing and over the side. It was only my instinctual preservation of life that made me reach out for the ledge as I went over. I held fast to the deck as I felt the weight of his body hanging heavy from my feet. With one good hard shake he fell to the ground. It actually wasn't that far, but there was lots of lawn equipment that didn't look like it was going to be cushiony when I fell on it. If possible, maybe I could pull myself up, but I was exhausted and hurt. I was about ready to let go when I heard Carlo's voice beneath me.

"That was longer than two minutes Charlie."

I looked down and saw him standing there, hands in his pockets. "Yeah, well, I told you I had a problem following orders."

"Whatever, come on down and lets straighten this out."

I managed to turn my head a little and look behind me. Damn, if I wasn't in the middle of World War III, then I was in somebody's twisted nightmare. Most of Carlo's back yard was dry earth, apparently he was remodeling. At the time, it was littered with burned out cars, still ablaze, and bodies. The ones that showed movement were face down and cuffed. Other stood with hands clasped behind their heads. Mostly, I saw guns and F.B.I. agents. The chopper was down, but the blades still whirled. I was trying to figure out a way down without breaking something when I froze. The voice that froze me rang out from a bull horn, which just made it clearer.

"Everybody hold your fire and stand down! No one moves!" My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to burst from my chest. It was Wade's voice and even my insides knew it. I let one hand go as I turned myself around so that I still hung from the deck, but now I was facing out. She was about 100 yards away, and (at the risk of sounding like a love-sick fool) she was radiant. Blonde hair billowed out around her face as the blades of the helicopter created a fan effect. She didn't shield her eyes from the sun with sunglasses, and the orbs of deep blue were visible even at that distance. Even if she hadn't been wearing the creme colored linen suit I would have known she was in charge. She spoke again, and now I was sure it was her. I couldn't bring myself to laugh or cry so I just let go, in the hopes I'd impale myself on a piece of gardening equipment.

Let's face it, I've never been that lucky, so the big gas can I landed on just did the job of leaving a big bruise more than anything. I was hoping I could just play dead, but Carlo was standing over me before I could even feign unconsciousness.

"Charlie, you still in there?" I groaned and he chuckled. "Nice try. Just get up nice and slow."

I was about to say something when Wade's voice rang out in the distance. "I said stand your ground! Nobody fucking move! Geenese, tell your dogs to keep still, I'm serious. Everybody hold your fire. Carlo! Carlo! We don't have all day!"

I opened my eyes as I looked up at him. "Guess she's mad at you."

He wiggled his eyebrows and held out his hand to me. "You think she'd let me go."

I stood up. "I wish I could say I knew the answer to that, but I don't know what I know anymore."

"By the way, Charlie, she looks nothing like my daughter."

"Don't remind me. What's the plan?"

"I know you've got authority problems, so maybe this'll help." I looked down and raised my eyebrows in anger at the gun pointed at me. "Don't get all bent out of shape, it's got to go down like this or none of us will walk out of here. Just go along with me and I'll get you out of this." I nodded and let him stand behind me, the gun barely present at my back. "When I tell you to, give me the book and we'll start working our way out of this, okay?"

I could only nod as I started walking forward with my hands raised. I was listening to him, or I was trying to, but I made the mistake of looking out to the agents standing in a wide semi-circle, guns raised, and I my gaze fell on Wade. I'm surprised I didn't collapse on the spot. My knees couldn't decide if they wanted to lock up or turn to mush, so my first steps were wobbily to say the least. However, Carlo's hand at my back got me moving. He was still saying stuff about handling this, but I couldn't hear anything on account of the sound of my heart pumping in my ears.

I couldn't take my eyes off of her, and to make matters worse, she stared back at me. God, she looked relieved at seeing me. I wanted to mirror that sentiment, but my ego was raising havoc and reminding me that this woman had turned on me. She had lied to me, led me astray, and more than once almost got me killed. I wanted to be angry, just like I wanted to be elated. The emotions canceled themselves out, and more than anything I was just numb. (I guess shock can be a good thing.)

A man's voice bellowed out across the yard as we walked out about 50 yards and stopped. "Hey, Carlo! You see all the trouble you caused?"

Wade broke her stare with me and turned to the right. "Shut the fuck up, Geenese!" The man in question was being held at gun point with his hands clasped behind his head. "You started this and I'm finishing it! One more word and the C.I.A.'s not going to have to worry about covering up your corruption! So shut it!" She turned back to me and Carlo. She was talking to Carlo, but looking directly at me. "Carlo! Let her go, put the gun down and step away."

"No deal!" He answered back.

"Hey, I'll make you a deal, Carlo!"

"Geenese! God damn it, shut the hell up! One more word, you fuck, and I'll shoot you myself. Would somebody please turn off that fucking chopper!" Wade ran a hand through her hair and turned back towards me. "Carlo, let's just make this go quickly."

"Young lady, if you want to make this quick, I suggest you take Cabron and his men, and your buddies, and leave my property. My lawyers will meet you in the morning and we can sort this mess out, since I'm sure Geenese has violated my civil rights."

Wade shook her head. "No deal, Mr. Worthing. Sorry for the inconvenience, but everybody goes in. You can call your lawyer from the field office. Everybody goes in. Cabron, Geenese, and you. So, just move away from the girl and let's wrap this up."

I heard Carlo chuckle. "Charlie, I think she's trying to protect you." He nudged me gently with the gun. "Take your time and give me the book." He spit on the ground. "Hey Geenese, how about I give you the book and you get these trespassers off my property?"

Geenese laughed smugly. "Now you're talking, Carlo I can handle that."

"Christ, Geneese! Just stop it!" Wade was holding up her hands. "We outnumber you three to one. Just stand down, because I am not having a fire fight. Just cool it."

Maybe I should have been paying attention to what I was doing, but I guess I really believed there was a way out of this. The entire time, my hand had been moving at a snail's pace towards my jacket, and I should have known that the itchy trigger fingers of the two dozen agents posted outside the house would be my undoing. More than anything, I guess I believed Carlo. More the anything I wanted to believe Carlo. I could see where he was going with all this. I had the book, and I was his bargaining chip. Truth was, that was a lie. Truth was, I was his bullet proof vest, his armor. Nobody's going to shoot me just to hit him, right? Then again, why not?

I remembered telling Carlo that I was nobody, and it was the truth. When he said I was somebody, I believed it because it was a lie that made sense. It was practical after all. Sure, I should have been skeptical, but the truth was, I was off my game just enough not to care. Just like I didn't care that I was reaching towards the inside of my coat pocket, going for a book that no doubt looked like I was reaching for a gun. The world around us moved like time-lapse animation as I gazed across the bruised landscape and held a pair of blue eyes desperately seeking mine. The betrayal that had stopped my heart coursed through her eyes. I recognized the sincerity of it and I recognized the shame. What I didn't recognize was the alarm in those blue eyes as I continued to absently reach for the book inside my jacket.

The space we occupied moved in slow motion, but those around us moved in real time. Blue eyes grew large and the spit flew from her mouth as she screamed what I think was my name. She had dropped the bull horn and the dust in my eyes kept me from reading her lips. The sound never reached my ears. The first bullet ripped through my collar bone, but I remained standing as I held the book in my hand. Wade began to push forward in my direction only to be stopped by the arms of another officer. The air around me grew too heavy to breathe as another bullet tore through my thigh. This time I fell to my knees, never breaking her gaze. My ears filled with a hollow noise, and I was grateful for that because I couldn't bear to hear her screaming, even though, as I watched her face turn red from struggling, she was calling my name, trying to reach me.

The world grew quiet again, until all I could hear was my manic heartbeat, and the far off echo of what was Carlo's voice behind me. He had no intention of protecting me, in fact I had been his shield. Bullets meant for him passed through me, but I wouldn't go down--I couldn't. I wanted to cry out in anguish as I watched Wade break free of an officer and rush towards me only to be stopped by the force of a bullet. It wasn't her skin that was pierced with the hot metal, however. No bullet tunneled its way through her back only to exit out of her chest, in an explosion of matter. It was mine. I couldn't even feel the bullet, or the book being taken from my hand, as I began to careen forward., holding her eyes the entire way. At the time, I probably had every right to be angry with her. I had every right to hate her, but I couldn't. Even as I felt the warmth of my own blood pool around me, it was only the vision of her that gave me peace. I didn't hear the rattle of gunfire that filled the air moments later, nor did I register the rush of feet by my head, as agents and officers stormed the house and one another.

I did hear her wailing, though.

I was long gone by the time she cradled my body in her lap, but it was a haunting lullaby that guided me to my rest.

* * *

Spin Doctor's Paradise


For all intents and purposes, Charlie died on a Tuesday in early March, outside of Carlo Worthing's compound. For the record, she was just a stepping stone in the plot to arrest and convict Carlo Wothing, aka Charlemagne. Charlie would be accredited with not only bringing charges against Carlo, but she would be the key player in the government's case against nine rogue C.I.A. agents who were attempting to use Carlo for their own agenda. Technically, Charlene Theresa Rossi died on the operating table three months later in a hospital in Colorado, due to complications of a coma.


Let's face it, comas are funny things, especially when you're in one for two months. I don't remember dreaming much, but the things I do remember always replay the last few moments of my Life. Realizing Wade (or whatever her name is) was alive, and realizing that I was about to die. It was all just sounds of gun fire and images of blood, and then her eyes and her smile. For a while there, I figured I was in hell and this was my torture: to watch hours upon hours of Wade's image. To see her face, and hear her voice. Hell, I could even smell her sometimes. And to make matters worse, some days she would read me Catcher in the Rye. It was all quite traumatic and I was all set to give the Devil his kudos for making this the worst experience of my non-life---and then I woke up. It was gradual, but I woke up, and no, she wasn't there when I did. I had barely gotten my eyes open before a whole flock of nurses and people with really cold stethoscopes and harsh flashlights started hovering over me. For a second, I thought I was getting strip-searched by the NYPD, but the only questions they were asking were, what's my name and what year is it and how many fingers am I holding up?

I survived the interrogation until it was just me and Karen, my nurse. My throat was raw from the tube that had been stuffed down it, and she kept giving me the evil eye every time I attempted to talk. She just shook her finger at me and threatened to not let me see my dogs if I kept on trying. At least I hadn't lost the ability to smile, because the mention of my dogs made me want to hop out of bed. Karen was telling me to relax, since I insisted on trying to sit up.

"Take it easy, sweetie, your friend went to go pick them up. Apparently, the puppies are almost on their way."

It was probably more the monitors than the pained look on my face that drew Karen's concern. But she was pushing me back down on the bed, then checking my I.V. drip and waving her flashlight in my eyes. I opened my mouth to speak and could only cough. She rubbed my forehead and shushed me. "It's okay, just lie down and get some rest. When the little blonde comes back we'll have a nice talk." I shook my head violently. If I couldn't talk, I was going to make my point somehow, even if I had to smother Karen with the pillow. I could tell she was confused and frantic at my wild and erratic gestures. I watched her pull out a syringe of god awful proportions and I tried to settle myself, but my heart rate was still going a mile a minute. She raised a brow at me and put the needle down. I was trying to look contrite and I think she got the point.

"You trying to tell me something?"

I nodded, whereupon she gave me a pen and a pad. I quickly discovered that two months without using your hands is not a good thing. After unsuccessfully making even the letter 'I', I threw the pen across the floor in frustration and looked at Karen. I didn't care how much it hurt or if I pissed her off as I rasped out, "What girl?"

"Real sweetie. Blonde hair, blue eyes, little bitty thing." (My heart sank.) "Been here since they brought you in here looking like Swiss cheese."


She chuckled. "I love your priorities, sweetie. She's been taking care of them and sneaking them in every so often. Might I add you're about to be a grandma, since that girl's about to pop at any moment." She smiled.

I was trying to keep calm, but I had to get out of there. ""

"She said something about getting the dogs and that she'd be back in here tomorrow."

I started trying to sit up again and Karen pushed me back down. "Can't be here. Don't·want to be here. Nononono."

She looked at me oddly and touched her hand to my clammy cheeks. "Honey what's wrong? What do you mean?"

"Need to leave."

She smiled. "Sweetie you haven't walked in two months, you try to take a step and you'll be lucky if nothing breaks when you hit the ground."

I shook my head. "She's going to kill me." I knew it wasn't true, but I figured I had to try something that had some shock value.

"What?" Karen's eyes went wide and I nodded. "Honey, that is absolutely crazy. That child is not trying to kill you, seeing as how she's had plenty of time."

I didn't know what to do. I was nervous and upset and even if it wasn't clear from the monitors, she could see it in my face. I don't actually remember the last time I cried to get my way, but I did now. I didn't ball or sob, but I think my lower lip was actually trembling. It was the only thing I could think to do, and well, Karen, skeptical or not, took me at my emotion and wheeled me into a new room. After about ten minutes of raspy talking, really bad hand writing, and crappy charades, Karen and I had formulated a plan. The gist of it was, that she'd tell Wade I died. Simple as that. I had a heart palpitation during the night, my heart stopped, they tried to revive me, and after doing everything they could, I died.

After that, I convinced Karen to transfer me to Canada, where I would undergo my physical therapy, and then after that I was on my own. I hadn't quite figured out how I was going to get the dogs back, but I was hoping that somewhere along the way I had stored up some good karma in the universe, and that maybe, just maybe, Wade would have sense enough to give my dogs to Smitty. It would be the least she could do for killing me anyway.

I was on a slow boat to China when Wade came back, with dogs in tow. I could smell the fresh air of Canada even in my dreams, as the ambulance drove. I really didn't care if Wade believed Karen or not, and truth be told, Karen struck me as the type of person that would at least hint at the fact that she was covering for me. I just wanted her to get the point, to just leave me be. She was alive and I was alive, woop de-fucking doo. Hey, I did my job and that's all that mattered. The road to recovery was going to be long and horrible and to be honest, the last thing I wanted to deal with was trying to figure out a way to forgive Wade. It was easier just to be angry and upset at myself. It was simple to walk away and do my best to forget. But how would I really forget when I had the bullet wounds to prove it, and the pictures in my mind that matched the Polaroid's in my wallet.

8 Months Later....

So, as you can see, I decided to not use my real name. When I first got here, I changed my name everyday, just because I could, and since I hadn't settled on one yet. With the tan I had perfected, I was looking just like one of the natives, so I was thinking some nice Hawaiian name might do me well. You know the kind with fancy meanings, like "tall woman with many bullet holes." Stuff like that. Whatever, my view was great, the air was great, even better since I stopped smoking. (Well, cigarettes anyway.) The dogs are really great. I've got the entire cast of The X-Files at my disposal, and it's wonderful. I thought about giving the little mutts away, but when little Krycheck gimped his way over to me after being born, I knew I had to keep all of them. It had nearly been a year since my old life did a jack knife in the middle of the highway. I suppose I could have kept abreast of all that happened to Carlo and the lot of them, but I found that I hadn't much use for the newspaper outside of the crossword puzzle. I didn't much care about the mainland, and more than that I was happy I could call it the mainland.

I bought myself a nice little place on a small island with about four neighbors that I never see. I even got a cute little Catalina that I'm gonna get out on as soon as I get my sea legs back. I've just gotten used to walking without a cane, so I'm not sure if I'm ready to get on a boat and go sail around the world and what not, but I'm getting there. I don't think about Her much. I call her that, only because I'm afraid to utter her name in the air, on account of it might shatter the world I've built for myself. I couldn't bring myself to toss out her pictures, but I like to think I held onto them because the blood on them reminds me of where I never want to be again. I must say it's been interesting putting my life back together, especially since I've been given the chance to start anywhere I want. Right now, I've got about three jobs and none of them really pay the bills, but I managed to save enough money, so I'm just having fun. I teach a self-defense class to the mainland kids, and even show tourists how to fish. When I can walk for more than two hours without cramps, I'll start giving tours through the lava fields. My world is wide open and I feel like I've left so much of the ugly stuff in my life behind.

As I rubbed lotion on the tattoo on my back, I smiled to myself out of habit. I remembered sitting in a whirlpool reading Sylvia Plath poems, and came across the Line: 'Out of the ash, I rise with my red hair, and I eat men like ash." When I read it, I got all teary-eyed, because I couldn't believe that this woman went and stuck her head in an oven a few months later. On the other hand, I got all teary-eyed because here was my opportunity to rise. The tattoo itself went the span of my back from shoulder to shoulder, and the fire crept up over my deltoid and covered the entrance wound of one of the bullets. I had the wound on my thigh turned into the Chinese character for: longevity. I let the exit wound on my chest remain. It was so close to my heart, that I feared trying to cover it might break what was left of my heart.

I pulled the straps back up on my sports bra and reached for my shirt as I followed the dogs to the door. They were more hyper than normal, but it was almost time to go outside, so I thought nothing of it as I watched all nine of them crowd to the front door like the UPS man was standing there with a side of beef. I was so busy smiling at the puppies yipping and yapping that I barely took notice of the figure in the doorway until I had opened the door. Well, at least she hadn't grown. The blonde hair was cut short, making her look older and definitely less like a recent college co-ed. Her khaki pants were frayed at the edges, and she left her shirt open to expose a pale pink tank top. Her eyes were still the same deep blue that I remembered them to be, except now, there seemed to be something else behind them. Gone was the frivolousness of a 22 year old who threw all concerns to the wind, and here stood before me a woman who had probably seen just as much as I had done. I must admit that I was amazed. Not because she was unerringly beautiful, but she still seemed to remain innocent. Even though I knew she was far from being so, there was something within her that struck me.

Granted, I had a new lease on life, and the world was coming up roses, but that didn't mean that I had lost my mind. I wanted to slam the door in her face, but the dogs were in my way. I turned around and went to pick up my shirt when I realized it was in my hand. I heard her take in a breath as she viewed my back and I quickly slipped on my shirt and tried to button it up as fast as I could. When I turned back toward the door, she was still there filling the frame in all her impish glory. I couldn't make eye contact, fearing I would vomit, and then when I saw Scully actually licking the palm of her hand I thought I was going to hurl right there.

She looked up at me and tried to grin, but I was focusing my eyes on the waves of the ocean and the sun that was making its descent into the horizon. I wish I could have been inside the sun, on fire, because that would have been better than standing there. Then she spoke, and I thought I was just going to have a coronary right there.

"It wasn't easy to find you, you know." She was trying to make light of the situation. I could tell the haircut was still new because she went to brush a stray lock of hair behind her ear and then realized it wasn't there. "Can I talk to you?"

It was the perfect opening for me to speak, so I took advantage of it. "Well, agent, I wasn't aware that you couldn't." I moved past her and ushered the dogs out of the house.

I heard her sigh. "You know then."

"What's to know?" I shrugged and kept moving.

"Will you listen, then?"

I didn't look at her as I took off down the path with the dogs barreling out without any regard to me "I have to walk the dogs." It would have been nice if they were walking with me, but it's times like these when, as humans, we should realize that we are at the mercy of fate. The sand was warm beneath my feet as I followed the shoreline path that would bend as we made it to the first dune, and then curve in on itself to make one big loop leading back to where we started. It was a good mile and a half and damn good therapy even when I didn't want it.

I started my stroll and she was at my side, careful to keep her distance. "I guess we're walking then. I can do that. Look, um, all I'm asking is that you listen, and really, you don't even have to do that, I just think I need to say this out loud to you and for once have you actually be in front of me when I do."

I could see her out of my peripheral vision as I watched her face contort and grow somber and then try to relax again as she spoke. It was only making sure the puppies didn't run to far into the surf that kept me from focusing on her.

"First off, my name is Wade. Well, Samantha Wade Grier. But it's Wade. Nobody really calls me Samantha anymore, but I wanted you to know that it was my name. Wade." God, she was babbling and fidgeting. I would have smiled if I was sure nothing would break when I did. Instead, I clasped my hands behind my back and kept on walking. "I'm not here to apologize, because I know that wouldn't make any difference, and besides that I don't have enough words to say how really sorry I am, so I'm not even going to try. Things got turned around at some point·and I didn't do my job."

Thank goodness Scully brought me a stick to toss for her, because I heard Wade swallow the lump in her throat and my heart started breaking all over again. I tossed the stick out in the surf and continued to act as if I was out walking by myself. She took a breath and started talking again. "I guess mostly I want to explain. I feel like I should do that, I mean I have to·at least the therapist thinks so." She mumbled the last part and I raised my brow in reflex. Hopefully she didn't see it, but she made no comment either way. "I've worked for the F.B.I. going on seven years now." This time I did turn to her in surprise. I know she saw me turn my head, but she continued to look forward. "I'll be 27 in November. Anyway, um, I wasn't there for the book and I wasn't even there for Carlo, or Charlemange, or whatever the hell his name is. I was there for the C.I.A. It was odd, as much as I detest the police 'police' that was what I had become, but after a speech on infringement of civil rights and all that bullshit I was ready to dismantle the Pentagon." She sighed. "So, the point was, The Spooks knew Carlo would be useful to them, but Carlo wasn't exactly contained or controlled. They could have cared less if he became a Senator, that would have been the best thing possible. But it's better to have a Senator who knows all your secrets on a leash than out roaming free."

"At some point they found out about the book, which they realized meant they could get rid of Carlo whenever they wanted to. They hired out some of Cabron's boys to look for the book and then told Cabron that they'd help him get rid of Carlo. It was a lot of double crossing and under the table deals, but it was only my job to get the agents." She stopped talking as she noticed me waving my hand to the dog. I was trying to get her to bring the stick back in, but she was too busy jumping through the breaks in the waves to notice me. I heard Wade clear her throat and she called out to Scully. "Here girl, c'mere."

Perhaps it was a sign from God that the dog turned and rushed out of the water. If I wasn't suffering from confusion and heartache at the time I might have taken notice. I watched Wade grapple with the stick and finally wrench it from the dogs mouth. She let out a yelp as Scully shook and sprayed water on both of us. I refused to be phased and I started walking again. Wade gave the dog one last pat and tossed the stick again, sending Scully on a chase. I didn't slow my pace as Wade caught up with me.

"It's all in the voice." I didn't look at her, but I sort of grunted in response. I'm not saying that I wouldn't have come if she called me like that, but I felt like Scully had turned traitor on me. "Just for your information, she did finally bite me. Still have the teeth marks. Six stitches to be exact." I didn't mean to grin when I glanced down at her outstretched forearm, but I couldn't help it. She rolled her sleeve back down and put her hands in her pocket. "Well, we made up after that...but I'm getting off topic aren't I."

"Where was I, oh yeah, I was explaining, why I am a worthless miscreant who should just dive into the water and let the sharks have their way." I smiled deliberately this time and I know she saw it. I wasn't really sure if I wanted to know, but since she was spilling her guts I figured I deserved the entire story. After all it could be no worse than all that I had imagined.

"The gas station?" My voice was hoarse.

She groaned and sighed as she put her hands in her pockets. "Wasn't my idea. I simply ran out of time. I keep wondering if I would have just gotten in the damn car, if you would have walked." She shook her head. "The gun was full of blanks and the railing was just some freak accident of irony. For a second I honestly believe you'd just walk."

I was boiling on the inside and I made sure I kept my face turned just enough so she wouldn't see the vein in my forehead pulsing. There was so much I wanted to say, but my voice had left me. She continued on, not expecting me to say anything.

"Then when we saw what you had done to Simpkon's and the other two I knew there was no way in hell you were going to walk. I just prayed we would be faster than you. Apparently, taking those guys to the hospital got us off schedule, but I think you would have made it there first anyway."

She was quiet for a while as we continued to walk and I cleared my throat in an effort to talk. "Why me?" I managed to voice my question without my voice cracking---I was impressed.

I swear her face lit up as she began to talk again. I guess she was relieved or shocked I was actually listening. "Why you? Jesus, why me." She spoke under her breath and then spoke up as she ran a hand through her short hair. "You were Barberry's idea." I expelled air which was somewhere between a laugh and grunt. "Actually, I was Barberry's idea. We had exhausted all most every angle until it was decided that we should just go to the source, and get next to Carlo. Charlemagne was practically a fucking saint and there was no way a little blonde hair and blue eyed girl was going to walk up to one of Carlo's goons and say hey I want to be in your organization. Barberry, said he could find me somebody that could get me to Carlo and he dropped your name.

"Shit, I told my supervisor that it was too easy, but he swore to me we were out of time and Barberry was just doing his job." We both uttered the words 'yeah right' to ourselves. "He set you up, sold me up the river, and got him self killed in the process. The Spooks had him killed by Cabron's men to send a message to Carlo. They found out about the book after the fact and went back. Unfortunately, your fingerprints were everywhere and the pieces fell into place. You were standing between C.I.A. and Carlo and Cabron and Carlo. You had the book, which everybody wanted and you had me. My cover had been blown, probably by eye-candy, and I knew when we got to my apartment. "Sure, I should have fessed up then, but..."

"I was all ready dead." I mumbled out. She nodded. "So, did the real Wade have an attack of conscious or something?"

She turned to me and furrowed her brow. I was conveniently tossing sea shells into the water so I didn't have to look at her. "There's no fake Wade. I may have distorted some of the larger pieces of information, but the details were all true. Yes, I had, excuse me I have a drug problem. I did go to boarding school. I was the one who taped the roach inside Sally's lunch box. When Kelly Reyos cut up the Dean's tires I didn't rat on her. None of that was fake. Admittedly, it was a little over the top and extremely exaggerated to comic proportions in my mind, but it was me. I know you think I'm a liar, and I'11 agree, but..." She reached out and put her hand on my arm just as I was about to throw another shell. ",the cabin was not a lie. You bleeding in my arms was not a lie, waiting in the hospital day after day was not a lie."

I jerked my arm away from her light touch and opened my stride wider as I picked up my pace. I wanted to run, but I knew I'd only make about 50 yards and the pain would start. I was stuck. Water to the right of me, sand to my left, and as we made it towards the Dune I knew I still had almost a mile between me and my house. "Is that all?"

She sighed heavily and I could hear the hitch in her voice but she spoke through the urge to cry. "Is that all?" She chuckled. "I expected this you know. Hell, I don't know what I expected. I wanted to come find you just so I could see you up and moving and not breathing through tubes and machines. I know I'm responsible for everything that happened and I've played the what if game so many times, I have the answers before I even ask the questions. I honestly don't know what I wanted out of this. You probably think I'm just out here trying to appease my conscious, but nothing can do that and it's not my conscious I'm worried about.

"I don't know, maybe I thought if I came out here and told you that I loved you and that I haven't stopped loving you and that I just want a chance to start over, that you'd eventually say okay." She shrugged. It was out of reflex that I turned my head in her direction and glared at her. I was gritting my teeth and biting my tongue sensing that I probably couldn't trust myself to say anything. She looked like she was about to start talking again and I turned away and turned around to start walking back towards the house. I knew I couldn't make it the rest of the way with her next to me.

How the hell could she tell me she loved me. That's not what I needed to know and I damn sure didn't need to hear it. It was easy to hate her when it was just me in love. It was easy to think evil, (yet harmless) thoughts when it was only me. And now she flies clear across the U.S. to tell me she loves me and she never stopped. If I had the strength I would have picked her up and drowned her. Hell, if I had any sense I would have drowned myself. I couldn't hear her behind me, and I guessed she stopped to take her sandals off. I don't know why, but I stopped walking and let her catch up to me, "And if I don't say okay, you'll just walk away?" I asked.

She turned her head to look at me, but I was focusing on my house in the distance. "If that's what you want. Of course, if you want me to cook you a seven course meal and be your personal slave for the rest of my life than I can do that too." She was trying to be funny, but I didn't want to laugh for fear I would burst into tears. "God, you're making this hard." The words were barely audible, and I probably wasn't supposed to hear them, but I did. "I know I can't ask you to forgive me, you have to want to do that, but it's taken eight months and an indefinite leave of absence from the Bureau to get me to even think about forgiving myself."

I glanced at her and she read the question even if I couldn't voice it. "They wanted you to come testify at the trials. One time for Carlo and another for internal affairs. I told my Director hell no and that the book was enough. He suspended me and then when you conveniently turned up dead later that week, I took a leave. It was for the best, so don't worry I'm not all busted up about it." I saw her smile as the puppies ran in and out of her legs as we continued to walk and made for the house. "So how does it feel to have the whole cast of X-Files at your disposal." I turned to her with amusement and question in my eyes, meeting her eyes briefly and then turning away. She shrugged and smirked. "Lucky guess." I knew it wasn't and she knew that I understood that. "So, I guess my time is almost up, huh?"

The house was about 200 yards away and I was making no move to stop walking. "So, fine, um, I guess I came and said what I came to say. Um, god, I feel like I'm on Jeopardy and that damn music is playing. I wish there was one thing I could say that would make this go away. Or maybe just erase the past year and start over. And this time I'd tell you the truth. I'd tell you everything, I'd tell you how I felt the moment I knew it. Which was actually between the moment I slapped you and the second you threw the Martini in my face." She quietly chuckled.

I think I almost wanted to laugh with her but my head was spinning. It felt like my heart was on the verge of exploding and my insides were at war with one another. Every muscle in my body was tensed to the point of bursting. I knew my blood pressure was sky rocketing and maybe if I was lucky I'd just pass out and have a massive coronary. This was too much to take. I wanted to turn to her and believe that we could just rattle off a bunch of 'I love you's' and the sun would come back up, and all the little munchkin's from munchkinland would sing us a love song and we'd skip off together to NeverNever Land. I wanted it to be just that easy. If my dog could bite her and move on, why couldn't I do the same thing? Just suck it up and move on. Wasn't my life too short for this? Hadn't I stood at the mouth of hell and seen my eternity? Didn't I know that life was too short to be wasted on arguments and the things you couldn't change? Those were my words and I heard her utter them as she kept talking. "What's done is done." And she was right (well technically I was right), but it was the truth. It was done and we couldn't go back, but I didn't know if I had it in me to go forward. Let's face it, I couldn't bear the thought of opening my heart up to her and finding out down the road that it was all a lie or just done out of pity.

A few more yards and I could just run the last 30 to safety and lock myself in my room. She was still babbling about something and it was just too much noise for me. Between the dogs roughhousing with each other, the occasional call of the birds, and the relentless pounding of the surf, my ears were over saturated. I took a breath and spoke with exhaustion. "Would you please just shut up?" I could see blue eyes open wide and then a pink tongue snaked out behind white teeth and quickly disappeared as the faintest of grins settled on her face. I don't know what she was thinking but I knew what I was thinking. I was thinking maybe... maybe I could do this. Maybe we could do this. Maybe I could just reach out and take her hand and we'd walk into the house together and figure it out from there. We couldn't start over, or could we? Did I even want to? Maybe this was all too insane to analyze, and not worth me thinking about it. I knew I wasn't ready to sweep her up in my arms, kiss her senseless and tell her I love her too, and yeah let's go raise dogs together.

But, maybe later, after I let her make me dinner, and we ran through my exercises, maybe we'd wrap ourselves around each other as we curled up in bed and maybe then I'd kiss her. Maybe then I'd tell her I love her and that what was done was done. Maybe, I'd say that I didn't know if this would work out, and that we're probably setting ourselves up for a shit load of trouble, but I've lost it all and I'm still kicking. She'd probably do that tongue and teeth thing and giggle. I'd smile at the intensity of it all and we'd spend the rest of the night between rediscovering one another and keeping the puppies off the bed. It would be exhausting, and the dogs would probably win; but we would definitely make quite the picture in the morning.

Maybe it was possible. Just maybe.

We walked quietly the last thirty yards to the house, and after toying with the idea for a moment, I brushed against her hand for the third time and took firm hold of it. I felt warm lips brush against my knuckles as I opened the front door. Let's face it, I had probably just made the most nonsensical decision of my life·.but hey, I've never been one to be practical, now have I?


So, it would appear that Charlie and Wade made it to the end in one piece. Perhaps they'll stay together, or maybe they'll rip each other apart. And perhaps some island visitor will find two dead women in the surf surrounded by puppies·who the hell knows, but the point is - they made it this far·and in love and war, isn't that the real point?

I'm just blowing smoke now, but thanx for taking the ride, and yes, I'm sure Wade would like to tell her side of the story, but she's busy atoning, seeing as how Charlie took her up on that whole slave thing...


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