Beneath The Brambles, Chapter 22
As planned, by nine the next day they were on the road. Both were sipping vigorously from large travel cups that held the nectar Twyla brewed and which she laughingly referred to as coffee. The first few miles were fairly quiet with only the basics covered. They exchanged good mornings and answered, when asked, that they were both fine and slept well. Harley volunteered that shed gotten Nancys address from her brother, Emerson and hed gotten it from the alumni register when theyd last sent out the reunion letter. According to the register, Nancy McKinney lived in Glendale and was, according to the reunion questionnaire she filled out last September, currently working as the Administrative Assistant to the Chairman of the Board of a company called V. Alaska Enterprises.
So far, J.D. hadnt been able to find out much about the company, only that it was privately owned and not traded on Wall Street, and according to their website, they were in the business of property acquisition for discriminating buyers. The site boasted of its coups in finding film shoot sites as well as land and buildings for company relocations and private estates. He was going to keep looking and call when he found the owner and any more information.
By the time they hit Santa Barbara, the traffic was fairly clear and the day was beautiful. The only thing missing, in Emilys estimation was conversation. She made several attempts to draw the woman out a bit and got back only polite, but guarded responses. After they hit the 101 south, she stopped trying.
She couldnt seem to stop thinking, though. When she came in the night before, Twyla had been waiting for her. Since the woman hadnt had a chance to speak with her daughter, Twyla didnt have any definitive answers for the writer, but the older woman tried her best to reassure Emily.
"Whatever it is thats bothering her, it isnt all you Emily. I know that she must have this whole case on her mind and shes more than likely worried about your safety. I know too it drives her to distraction when she cant get to the heart of a matter right away." The older woman gave a small chuckle. "Thats one thing about her that hasnt changed. She hates it so much when she cant figure out a mystery. She gets so focused that nothing else matters to her. When she was ten or eleven her tutor gave her a problem to solve over the Christmas holidays. What she didnt know was that it was really an ethics problem and had no real answer. The teacher just wanted her to use her brain and her own set of morals to describe how she would handle it. Harley didnt know that though. She fought that question from every possible angle for the whole two weeks. It wasnt until the day before vacation ended that she figured it out. I just happened to be looking at her when she got it. The old cartoons that always showed the light bulb going off above the head of the character was just about true. Her whole face lit up and the smile that came over her was brilliant. She ran out of the dining room and upstairs to her bedroom. She was back down stairs not twenty minutes later, and for the first time all vacation, she actually paid attention to the gifts she got for Christmas."
"I know how that goes. Im that way myself." Emily smiled at the benevolent look of love and admiration on the older womans face and envied the maternal pride that glowed so fiercely from her for her daughter. Emily also ran through a mental checklist of all the other things she and the officer had in common. It was longer than she expected and the dissimilarities seemed to be as complimentary as the similarities. They just seemed to compliment each other. She wondered again if the officer saw it as clearly, and if she did, why Harley suddenly seemed to be distancing herself from her. Was that the reason? Was there someone else? Someone in her past that damaged her? Was she afraid of what was happening between them? That thought gave her a little hope. She could overcome that, if that was all it was. It would just take patience and persistence. She never gave up before on anything she wanted and she wanted this thing with Harley to happen. More than anything else she could think of, ever.
The Sheriff brought her out of her memories with a question.
"Do you know the Glendale area well?" The officer finally gave in to her need to keep contact of some kind with the enchanting blonde in the passenger seat. Harley knew shed been unreachable for most of the morning and shed done it deliberately, but it was twice as painful as she expected it to be and before she knew it the question just popped out of her mouth. This whole distance thing is getting to be way too hard, for both of us. Maybe Mom is right. Just let it go for today. Well be spending all of it alone together for the most part. Just let it go and see what happens. She tried to remember the reason why shed distanced herself from the object of her most obvious attraction, but her emotions just seemed to push that aside. Let it go. It wont help any to fight this. It will either happen or it wont and I cant seem to keep it up long enough to make a difference anyway.
The question was certainly non-committal and had no personal inflection attached to it, but the writer sensed that in it was the seeds of a change in the Sheriffs attitude and instantly tried to make the conversation as engaging as possible.
"Yeah, pretty much. When I first got out of college I had my first apartment there. I liked it. It was closer to all the action in Hollywood without the parking problems or the crime. Of course that was four years ago and like all suburbs of a city like L.A. that means it changes really fast. Where exactly are we headed?" She made sure to keep a smile on her face and turned slightly towards the officer trying to make as much eye contact as possible.
"Eighty-five twenty-seven Doran, apartment 6. Know it?" She turned to look at the blonde as she spoke and saw the smile. Guess she was as miserable as I was. Thats the first smile Ive seen all morning.
"I know where it is. I used to live just off Doran on Los Feliz. Since she works during the day, are we just going to wait for her to get home? I mean, did you call to find out if shell be there or something?"
"Well, actually, Id planned just to locate the place and then find a spot to eat something and wait for more info from J.D. I assume shell work nine to five and if he cant find her business address, well just stop by her place around then and wait for her to get home." She gave the blonde a grin as she added, "In spite of what you crime writers insist on in your books, most of law enforcement is sitting around waiting. Its tedious, boring and repetitive." She tilted her head as she continued. "Hope you brought a book along."
That brought a real laugh to the blonde. "Nope, no book. I figure youll just have to keep me entertained."
Quite without her permission, she responded. "And just how would you have me entertain you? I could recite some verse or perform a local folk dance, or we could always try my personal favorite." With the last two words, her voice had dropped to that deep, seductive growl and even though Emily knew she wasnt going to say what she hoped she would, she couldnt help but feel her body respond to it.
"Which would be?" The green eyes twinkled as she smiled her words to the officer, and though the Sheriff knew Emily wasnt aware she was doing it, she watched as the writers left hand began to stroke up and down the outside of her own left knee. Even though the blonde was touching her own denim clad knee, the officer felt it as though it was happening to her. She had to swallow quickly before she answered.
Even though she was half expecting something along that line, she was not expecting that and her laughter came spontaneously. In between spurts of it, she managed to get out, "Right. Of course. I cant wait to see it." More laughter and then, "Just another of your" she took a breath, "many talents, huh?"
The sheriff bit her lip to maintain her reserve and said confidently, "Of course."
It got easier after that. The conversation kept pace with the miles they traveled and covered every subject under the sun like childhood experiences, family, travels, up to and including personal philosophy and the only thing they didnt talk about, almost by tacit agreement, was their respective love lives.
The sheriff did notice something odd though, and thought long about whether to bring it up or not. The closer they got to L.A. the more the small woman smoked. Shed known her for less than a week, but shed seen her everyday and, even though the woman had that small panic attack when she was afraid shed forgotten to buy her cigarettes, shed only seen her smoke twice. Now, as businesses and residences of the San Fernando Valley surrounded them, she was nearly chain-smoking. She decided to put it off for later. It was so obviously symptomatic of the womans reaction to being here you didnt need more than first year psychology to see it. What it meant was another story all together.
Still listening to the small woman relate another most embarrassing moment story, this one having happened at a book signing in Denver, the officer filed the question she wanted to ask away for a later time, and signaled to get off the freeway at Glendale Blvd.
"Im sorry, Dear but Ive thought it over and I just dont think I can sell it to you at that price." Polly Pechter worried at the phone card and twined it about her fingers. Even now, when shed finally made up her mind to reject the over generous offer for her property, she had reservations. She really wanted to move down to Florida with her daughter and son-in-law and she just wouldnt be able to make it without the kind of money she was being offered. She half-hoped to be talked out of it.
"All right." This time the voice sounded angry instead of cajoling and charming and Polly felt a little intimidated by it. "Well go as high as $300, 000.00, but not a cent more. Its more than you could hope to get for that place if you waited years for another offer."
"What?" Polly had to sit down hard before her knees went out on her altogether. Evidently. She hadnt made her point clear. "I cant do it. You dont understand. My conscience just wouldnt let me."
Before she could go on, she was interrupted. "You just give it a little more thought, Mrs. Pechter. Call if you change your mind." The next words were no veiled threat. They were definite. "You have until tomorrow to change it, or well take action. Think hard, Mrs. Pechter."
Polly realized the cramping in her lower intestines was fear and she still had her mouth open when she heard the dial tone in her ear. What to do? What to do? Before she could formulate a rational thought her lower intestines seized, and as always happened to her when she was very distraught, barely made it to the toilet before her bowels let loose.
The place was easy to find. It was just an apartment very like all the other apartment buildings on this street and the one next to it. Harley guessed it catered to an average income level resident. Nothing was special about it and being unfamiliar with the area she relied on Emily to confirm or deny her suspicions.
"So, what do you think? How much a month would a place like this go for?" She asked, as they sat staring at the white stucco building across the street. The black wrought iron security gate in the center front gave a glimpse of the pool just beyond and the two-story complex looked to be at least twenty years old.
Emily ran a discerning eye over the door to window ratio of the apartments and noted the entrance to the carports was not gated. Considering the proximity to the financial district that began just up the block and the state of the landscaping of the building, average but not unkempt, she answered. "Id say around $700.00 a month, tops. Why?"
The answer confirmed her own ideas and she shook her head as she responded. "Thats about what I thought too. Its odd because for the last several years, all Ive heard from Nancy or about her from her family and friends is how well shes doing. According to them, shes making a very good living and according to that alumni list, shes the right hand to the CEO of a very profitable company. Now, that to me implies a salary of at least fifty or sixty thousand a year, and that sure doesnt jive with her living in a place like this. See what I mean?"
The blonde smiled and shook her head. "Yeah, I do. Somethings wrong with this picture. Is she lying to Mom and Dad about her financial situation or is the information we have wrong?" Before the sheriff could respond, Emily turned in the seat and was attempting to open the door. "Ill be right back."
The sheriff caught her shoulder and turned her. "What are you doing?"
Fixing the dark haired woman with her sweetest smile, she said, "Im, just going to see if my good friend Nancy is home and if, maybe the manager has a vacant apartment. Ill be right back." With that she got the handle open and slid out the door.
Harley just shook her head and let her go. Better her than me. Hell, Id tell her anything she wanted to know if she looked at me like that too. What a racket that girl has going for her. With that whole sweet-young-thing, girl-next-door persona, that woman could talk the Pope into carnal knowledge. Shes not going to have any trouble with a mid level apartment manager. Harley had to smile then. It started in appreciation of the womans ability to talk her way into the hearts of strangers and gather information, but it stayed because she just appreciated Emily. It changed only a fraction as the trace of melancholy she felt with her next thought colored it. Ah, Emily. If only things were different.
Before she could let the thought go, the writer was setting beside her again and trying hard to close the door. Harley leaned past her and pulled it shut. So? Howd it go, Nancy Drew?"
Emily just gave her a disgusted look and said, "We were right. She doesnt live here anymore. Evidently, according to Mr. Hahn, the manager, she got a new job almost a year ago and moved to the beach somewhere. He doesnt remember which one, only that she gave only a weeks notice and he kept her deposit." She didnt smile, but the twinkle in her eye said it all.
"Very good." Harley conceded, "Now, we just have to find out where she went from here. How about we find someplace to eat and Ill make a couple of calls." She started the engine and Emily fumbled with her seatbelt. Seeing the writer struggle, she leaned over her and clipped the belt in. As she rose up, she continued, "Well, since this is your turf now, do you want to recommend someplace to do that?"
Emily gave it serious thought for less than a second before she answered. "Sure, just get on the 10 freeway going west and follow my lead." It might not be exactly what the sheriff was asking for, but it would work better in any number of ways. Besides, she really wanted to do it, and she just hadnt had enough practice in self-denial yet to make any other choice. Just shut up, do it, and deal with the consequences when you get there.
The pain was better now, even though it looked worse. The swelling around her eye and across her cheek was down but the color of the bruise was a vibrant deep purple and black at the edges. Only the red line of stitches where the ring sliced her just below her right eye broke the continuity of color. The rest of the bruises and marks were concealed beneath her clothing, but she still couldnt walk straight enough to make it to work.
Holding onto the wall and whatever furniture was along the way, she made it into the kitchen for the fourth time that day. She needed to replace the warm ice packs for the cold ones again, and she had to get a
drink to help her swallow the pain pills. She knew she should eat something or she risked getting sick from them, but the thought of food just made her nauseous.
Shed just taken the pills with water from the tap and was opening the freezer for the ice packs when the phone rang.
It made her jump and the tensing of her muscles made her gasp in pain. She grabbed the wall-mounted phone in fury for it causing her such misery, and growled out, "What?"
"Now, now, now. Is that polite, Nancy?"
God how she hated that voice. That patronizing, manipulating, condescending tone. She hated it but she wasnt stupid enough to say anything about it. She was also terrified of it.
"Yes, youre right, it was rude, Im sorry." The words came out fast and with as much sincerity as she could inject. She only hoped it was enough.
"Of course, Im right, whore. Im always right. I can just bet how sorry you are by now. Must be kind of pretty by now, all black and blue and red. You must be a real sight, huh?"
She didnt know whether to respond or not and the not knowing was making her stomach jump. She didnt want her mad at her again, but she just didnt know if she was supposed to agree with her or be silent. Before she could make up her mind, she found out she made another mistake when the voice on the phone changed from irritated to furious.
"Answer me, bitch! When I ask you a question, you damn well better answer me."
"Ye yes Mistress, Im sorry, of course youre right. Its very pretty now with all the colors." She was swallowing furiously in an attempt to keep what little bit was in her stomach from coming up.
"I know it is. Ill bet you look just, oh," She heard the woman take in a deep breath, "lovely." She held the last word as though the thought of it gave her great pleasure. Before Nancy could decide if a response was required her mistress went on.
"Now, baby, are you taking care of yourself? Hmn?"
She tried to fight it, but it was even harder than controlling her fear. This was the voice of the woman she loved, sweet and tender. These were the words of her lover, and even though she knew deep down inside they were lies, she just couldnt let go of it. She wanted her. She loved her.
"Ill bet youre not eating, huh? I knew you wouldnt take care of yourself, so I made some arrangements. Eli will be there in about ten minutes with some lunch and I want you to eat all of it, ya hear?"
She began to shake now, hard and it tool all she had to keep her voice steady. If Eli was coming, it couldnt be good. Besides that, she knew he hated her. He had been her Mistresss chosen before she came along and he never let an opportunity go buy to let her know that she was in his rightful place. She was in no shape to defend herself and her mistress wasnt here to protect her from him. Even worse, her Mistress had sent him. Oh god, oh God, oh God, Im going to die. Jesus, help me.
"Please, Mistress, Im eating. Im taking care of myself, you dont have to bother with "
She got no further.
"But I do, beloved," the woman purred. "You belong to me and I take care of what belongs to me. Eli will be there in eight minutes now. Be sure to let him in and do as he asks, as though it was me speaking. You will do that for me, baby, wont you? I need you well, baby, I miss you. Ill be home Monday and Im going to want a little loving from my baby. Ill expect you to be much better by then. Bye, bye love."
Eight minutes later the front door bell chimed and Nancy was standing in the kitchen, still holding the phone receiver to her ear, crying quietly. When it rang a second time, she hung up the phone, made her way painfully to the front door and opened it. Without looking up, she turned and made her way back into the living room. She stopped in the middle of the room, hoping.
He said, "Lets take this to the playroom. The mistress doesnt want the neighbors alarmed." She didnt have to see him to see the sadistic smirk he wore. He was finally going to get his own back..and she was just going to have to take it. Again.
She nodded and headed down the hall as he followed, taking only an extra second to set down the paper bag of take out food on the cocktail table as he passed it.
Harley had the feeling from the beginning that this was where they were headed, but for many reasons she held her tongue. Now as they drove into the gated parking lot, past the armed security guard, she finally spoke.
"Well, the price is right, but I dont know about the availability of fresh food. After all the cook has been gone for almost a week." She smiled on one side of her mouth as she made the final turn into space seven and turned of the ignition.
"Salright, the housekeep , I mean the assistant manager took care of the deliveries. The kitchens fully stocked and ready for the breakfast crowd."
The elevator to the second floor was barley five feet from the writers front bumper and the trip upstairs was a matter of seconds. As Emily opened the front door, the dark haired woman was nearly blinded by the sun shining on the ocean and sparkling through the enormous glass doors facing her.
"I know. That was my reaction the first time I saw it, too. Its the reason I took the place." She paused a moment to consider the view and then made her way too the kitchen door on the right, leaving the sheriff staring at the ocean and the beach below.
A moment later the wooden shutters over the pass thru bar opened and Harley turned to see the writer as she started to assemble things to eat. She took another quick look at the view and made her way over to the stools in front. As she pulled one out and sat down, she looked at the room shed ignored in favor of the scene outside the glass. It was very exotic. She was a trifle surprised by that. Everything held an Eastern influence of some kind. The large square table was black lacquer and surrounded by legless chairs. They were wood framed and woven through with linen in shades of plum and forest green, like patio furniture and consisted of seats that rested directly on the floor. The wood seemed to be beech that made up the frame, backs and arms. They had thick velvet cushions in matching tones resting on the seats and backs. Three were facing the window with one on each end and another three had their back to the view. The floor was covered in several complimentary and contrasting shades of expensive oriental carpet. Against the walls were several tables and chests that might have been from either Japan, China or India, Harley didnt know, and the ornaments ran the gamut from a large Chinese gong and near life-sized bronze Buddha to a pink and green jade chessboard and an old, but very well used, brass, pewter, glass and lapis lazuli hookah. Harley couldnt help but smirk at that and she shot the writer a look.
As Emily registered what the officer was smirking about, she bit her lip and dammed herself for not remembering the place of honor her well-used utensil held in her living room. She looked down quickly and continued to beat the eggs as she spoke, trying in part, to avoid a conversation about her obvious drug use.
"So, how do you like your scrambled eggs?" She could feel the blush rise up her cheeks again and just hoped the fluorescent light above her hid it a little bit in the shadow of her bowed head.
"Scrambled will be fine. Although why the question should make you blush, confuses me. Is there some kind of double entendre Im missing in the whole scrambled egg issue?" That pale pink crawling up the blondes cheek once again enchanted Harley. For such an obviously worldly woman, the site seemed at once, incongruous and very natural.
"Huumm." Emily cleared her throat. "Uhm, not that Im aware of. Why dont you go ahead and make those calls, this will take a few minutes and maybe, by then, Ill be able to get this stupid blushing thing under control, huh?" She turned her back to the brunette and started to chop some green and yellow peppers with purpose, as Harley gave her the break she needed and said, "Ill do that." But even with the writers back turned she could hear the smile in Harleys voice and Emily could do nothing but chop harder and let out a little groan. She opened the drawer beneath her hips and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. She lit one and took a long drag, placed it in the marble ashtray to her right and went back to chopping with enthusiasm.
A few minutes later as she folded her phone and put it in her pocket, Harley returned to the stool at the pass thru bar. Shed taken to wandering the living room while she spoke or waited for one of her brothers or Gunny to try to retrieve information for her. The living had at its opposite end a small hall with four closed doors and it took a lot of self control to resist making that short walk down the hall and peeking into what was obviously, Emilys more private spaces. As she sat down again, she saw that her timing was very close to perfect as she watched the little strawberry blonde add a sprig of parsley to two full plates of scrambled eggs and bacon. She was about to ask it she could do anything to help. She felt a little bad. The woman had done all this with one arm in a sling and she was being a very rude guest. Mom would have my ass for this.
"If you could just set these on the table in the living room, I can bring the muffins and butter." Emily pushed the plates on to the pass thru and turned to get the basket.
"Please, Emily if my mother ever found out how I let an injured woman fix me breakfast and never once offered to help, shed kill me. Please, just go sit down and let me get the rest of this, okay?" She grabbed both plates and fan carried them in her left hand, and came around and through the kitchen door to place the basket with the muffins on the inside of her left arm as well as the butter. As Emily watched with her mouth open, she slid the silverware encased by the napkins under her left middle finger and picked up the two glasses of juice her right hand.
"Ill be back for the coffee in just a second." She just stood there waiting for Emily to leave before her and when she didnt she bent a bit at the waist and said, "After you, Miss."
Emily finally got her mouth closed and fumbled her way through the door and to the low table where she sat down rather ungracefully watching as the beautiful, Sheriff did a perfect bunny dip and placed the food on the table.
Before she even had a chance to remove the flatware from her napkin the woman was back, pouring coffee into her cup and then sitting beside her.
Harley shook her head at her and said, "You dont really think my mother would allow any of her kids to grow up and not no how to serve at the table, do you. I waited tables for two years, prep cooked for one year, cooked and worked the front desk for six months and washed dishes and bussed for three months each. We all did." After a moment she added, "Oh, I also bartended for a summer after I turned twenty-one and helped the cleaning crew for six weekends when I was eleven. I didnt get paid for that though, that was punishment for egging some cars at Halloween."
Emily couldnt help but smile. This is no spoiled rich kid. How did they manage that? Shes rich and so smart. Shes far and away the most beautiful woman Ive ever seen and theres not a nasty bone in her body. No selfishness, no resentments, no superior attitudes and no stuck up behavior. How can she have all that stuff going for her and have missed out on all the crap that comes with it? Ye gods, shes perfect. Argh! I gotta find another word, here!
Harley noticed the writer shaking her head and the look of near disgust on her face and had to comment on it. "Whats wrong? It cant be the food." She said is she took another bite of the excellent fluffy eggs.
"Nothing. Really, its nothing, youre just so, so "
"So-what?" The sheriff asked as she took another nibble of the bacon and gazed out at the waves beyond the balcony.
"Perfect!" Emily proclaimed, as she dug into her eggs viciously.
Harley sucked in a surprised breath and immediately began choking to death.
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